Read about this year's Best of L.A. Food & Drink issue here.
Best Ice Cream: Wanderlust Creamery
Want to travel the world but have a tight budget? You're in luck. Wanderlust Creamery's internationally inspired flavors let you globe-trot without all the hassle. Its original ice cream flavors include sticky rice and mango (vegan) and the trademarked ube malted crunch, which blends the Filipino sweet purple yam with classic American malted milk. Recent monthly special flavors have included the Parisian-inspired croissant and coffee (cafe au lait ice cream with pieces of flaky, buttery pastry) and Armenian green walnut (fresh cheese ice cream with Armenian candied green walnuts). Wanderlust also recently debuted its chocolate-dipped Escape Bars ($6.50) exclusively at Smorgasburg, with flavors such as Japanese Neapolitan (hojicha — green tea — ice cream dipped in matcha white chocolate, drizzled with black sesame white chocolate, covered in puffed rice and black sesame seeds). —Jessica Hamlin
18511 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; (818) 774-9888, wanderlustcreamery.com.
Best Lemon Tart: The Lemon Leaf
If you are looking for exceptional baked goods, check out the Lemon Leaf Cafe. The lemon tart is like a little piece of heaven, it's so light and lovely! The tangy lemon custard practically melts in your mouth. Lemon Leaf bakes the tart using its signature shortbread crust. Another item loved by locals is the lemon sherry pecan bundt cake — you're just not going to find this in any other place. Also to die for is the orange coffee dream cake, homemade orange chiffon cake topped with a yummy coffee buttercream frosting — it's perfect for a special occasion, or just to turn that frown upside down. —Susan Hornik
653 W. Lancaster Blvd., Lancaster; (661) 942-6500, lemonleaf.com.
Best Indian Food: Grand Bawarchi
If you want to taste really great biryani, you'll go to Hyderabad — or Canoga Park. Hyderabad is the biryani capital of India, home to the finest examples of this sumptuous meat and rice dish. It's in South India, co-capital of the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. And Canoga Park? You could call it Hyderabad East, thanks to the opening of Grand Bawarchi. Bawarchi means chef, and the restaurant's grand bawarchi is Nagabhushanam Kothakonda, also from Hyderabad. A whopping 60 percent of the long menu is Hyderabadi food, not just biryani but street snacks, curries and even dessert. Sure, there's lots of biryani around town, some of it authentic, much of it a mix of premade curries and rice. But not at Grand Bawarchi. The main ingredient, which could be meat, chicken, seafood or vegetables, is marinated with a base sauce made from 40 ingredients. These include green and black cardamom, dried rose petals, black cumin, bay leaves, cloves, star anise, cinnamon and dagad phool, or stone flower. Chilies too, because Hyderabadis like their food spicy. The seasonings, which are sourced in India, are customized for each type of biryani. The rice is the highest grade of basmati, with the longest grain. —Barbara Hansen
7257 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park; (818) 340-7500, grandbawarchi.com
Best Cakes: Cake Bash Studio
Founder Karla Peguero has been cooking since age 4, when she fell in love with baking at her parents' La Panadería y Repostería del Pueblo in Puerto Rico. This cake artist and YouTube star's base flavors start with guava and cheese or passion fruit colada and include standards such as coconut, red velvet, pistachio, funfetti, marble, orange and lemon, which are ready-made to go, depending on availability. It's best to call ahead or pre-order, but there's always something satisfying in the case to pick up on a whim. Her specialty is custom orders, which can be anything as amazing as you'll see on Cake Wars, in every shape and size. Whether you're looking for unicorns, boomboxes, mermaids or superheroes, the sky is the limit at Cake Bash Studios. There's a plentiful selection of cupcakes and pies as well. —Michele Stueven
17246 Vanowen St., Lake Balboa; (818) 578-3085, cakebashstudio.com.
Best Cafe: The Original Saugus Cafe
This little old-school diner opened its swinging doors in 1886 with the dedication of the Saugus train station and has been in its current location since 1952. The longest-operating restaurant in Los Angeles, located in a favorite Hollywood filming location, the Original Saugus Cafe has hosted everyone from President Theodore Roosevelt to Marlene Dietrich, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and John Wayne. More recently, you might just catch Drew Barrymore or the cast of CSI at the counter. It's a great nostalgic road stop for an ample breakfast of chicken-fried steak and eggs or a big bowl of chili and glass of beer for lunch. And it's one of the very few places in L.A. where you can get a decent plate of chili spaghetti. —Michele Stueven
25861 Railroad Ave., Santa Clarita; (661) 259-7886, the-original-saugus-cafe.cafes-usa.com.
Best Taco: Carrillo’s Tortilleria
Whether it's beef, carnitas, carne asada, lengua or wondrous chicharron, tacos at this San Fernando staple are cradled in the tortillas made by hand on-site since 1975. Customers line up on Sundays for menudo and at Christmastime for the famous tamales from the second generation to run the steeped-in-family-tradition Carrillo's Tortilleria. And as far as Taco Tuesdays go, this is one of the best deals anywhere at $1 or $2 per taco slathered in guacamole and piled high with onions. If you are inspired to make your own, Carrillo's also sells masa and prepared masa to go. —Michele Stueven
Carrillo's Tortilleria, 1242 Pico St., San Fernando; (818) 365-1636.
Best Beer: The Surly Goat
With almost 30 draft beers in the Encino outpost of the West Hollywood original, the Surly Goat, despite its name, knows how to keep patrons happy. There's live music on Thursday nights and enough beer to make you an expert. Tap into sweet Nitro Merlin stout from Paso Robles, a light Manticore lager from San Diego or a pumpkin ale from the Kern River Brewing Company. And yes, there's a wonderful Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier from Bavaria to go with your three-pretzel plate, which comes with pub cheese and house-made pale ale mustard. —Michele Stueven
17337 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 745-5012, surlygoat.com/encino.
Best Tiki Drinks: The Tonga Hut
This NoHo institution is L.A.'s oldest operating tiki bar — it first opened its doors in 1958. Benefiting from a recent remodel, this has become a local's hangout that also attracts drinkers on a tiki treasure hunt. Belly up to the bar for a mix of affordable old-school tiki classics such as the Navy Grog, boozy house specialties and seasonal selections like hot pumpkin buttered rum. —Janelle Bennet
12808 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 769-0708, tongahut.com.
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