The scent of warm cinnamon rolls -- or buns, the terms are interchangeable -- wafting through the air can either transport you to a happy place or trigger severe mall anxiety. But either way, it's an American specialty that comes in two very distinct iterations. Built from a bread-like dough, or whirled from super flaky butter-enriched laminated dough. The variations don't end there, but it is a good launching point for a top-ten list.
And before anyone starts crying foul -- Cinnabon is not on this list. We focused on house-made, local products, not mass produced food-court fare. Did we try one? Yes. Was it good? Sure. They built a whole business around it, so that's not a surprise. But it didn't meet our criteria, so it isn't making an appearance here.
We traversed the city, bought and sampled as many as possible and came up with a list of the best of the best. The aim was to find one that met our expectations of being chewy, sweet, not dry and doesn't treat the spicy cinnamon as an afterthought -- in other words, one everyone would want to eat. After trying tall ones and flat ones, sweet ones and savory ones, we were able to appease our inner Goldilocks, and truly found one that is just right.
10. Tarte Tatin:
In this Beverly Hills café you're always faced with a caseful of baked goods where nothing you choose will ever be wrong, but the cinnamon roll will for certain be oh-so-right. The gently twisted and twirled puff-style pastry is looped back upon itself, given a light dusting of cinnamon, then baked to a fragrant crisp. Is it really a cinnamon roll? That's debatable, but it is outstanding and works as the perfect French-influenced foil to your morning café au lait. 9123 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 550-0011.
9. Jamaica's Cakes:
This shop, known for its funky-fun, high-quality cakes, also has a chestnut-toned, photo-friendly, cinnamon roll. It stands alone on our list for having the thick frosting on the side in a little cup, allowing that extra step of sweet, sweet personalization. When they emerge from the oven, the rolls are ready to be taken home. Hours later, if any remain, they should be reheated to bring back that initial spring. 11511 West Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles; (310) 478-1971.
Weave through the Original Farmers Market and your senses will be bombarded with something to eat from every corner of the world, but probably none is as enticing as what's beckoning you from Bob's Doughnuts. No frill, no fuss, no muss, the option here is just a gigantic swirl of sticky dough that's been dipped in finger-licking glaze. Cash only. Smiles guaranteed. 6333 W. Third St., # 450, Los Angeles; (323) 933-8929.
Turn the page for picks 7 through 5...
In Atwater Village's chicest coffee and baked-goods storefront, the cinnamon bun goes by the coy moniker
"breakfast roll" "morning bun," but to us it's a truly gifted baker's version of a cinnamon roll. Each toothy bite gives you a mouthful of salty butter, bread and heady spices in a way cinnamon toast aspires to. If you're craving one, we suggest calling ahead, since they are made in limited quantities and may have run out before you get there. 3156 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 664-8633.
It's a fried donut with cinnamon swirled in. It's huge and costs $3. Any questions? Made fresh daily by Stan in the same Westwood spot they've occupied since the 1970's, the plate-sized roll is sticky joy. It also comes in blueberry-cinnamon, raisin-cinnamon and chocolate chip-cinnamon. While the original is perfect in its way, the chocolate chip is worth trying as well: consider it a Mesoamerican twist. 10948 Weyburn Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 208-8660.
If morning comes and you aren't able to pop in to the welcoming Little Flower Candy Company Cafe in Pasadena but still want to try Christine Moore's irresistible cinnamon rolls, now there's a way. With the release of Little Flower: Recipes from the Café, anyone can try to replicate them at home. Moore explains the secret is her quick puff dough and a confident hand. With a small sprinkling of chopped nuts for texture and a hint of salty crunch, these are more than just cinnamon buns -- they are a positively delicious way to start the day. 1422 West Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 304-4800.
Keep reading for number 4 on ...
What have we here? Well, it's a frosted, fresh-baked, tall, fluffy, sugary, pull-apart cinnamon infused breakfast fantasy come true. What more could a person ask for? We love everything about this decadent, share-able version, except that it's only available on Saturday. Of course that makes it more covetable; but the fact also bumped it to number four on our list. 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 552-1080.
At Hans Röckenwagner's eponymous bakery they've managed to create a crush-worthy sugar bomb that meets and exceeds all expectations of a doughnut-style cinnamon bun. Handily available at his Santa Monica location, it's the sinful counterpoint to that oh-so-healthy bounty from the farmers market popping up just outside their door twice a week. Try tearing it apart and dunking it in to unsweetened coffee to really taste the bliss.311 Arizona Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 394-4267.
The barely sweet dough is sliced into tall ribbons, tightly rolled and baked in a muffin tin. In the oven it rises, turns a deep luxurious brown and emerges resembling a winter rose with a dusting of sugar. The exterior has the right amount of give and the tender crumb encircles the light handed cinnamon with a uniformly satisfying give. Equally good at room temperature or warmed up. 519 South Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 932-1500.
And for our top pick...
Primo's handily won the number one spot for having a superior product, but also for having been owned and operated by Ralph and Silvia Primo and their children since 1956. Their flawless baked cinnamon roll manages to be everything to everyone. It's airy and rich, sweet but not cloying, and threaded through with a dark mahogany ribbon of fragrant cinnamon. Order individually or by the dozen -- but just don't wait to long to unspool it, dig in and relish the magic. 2918 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 478-6930.
Just in case that list isn't long enough, you may want to try a few of our runners-up, including: Huckleberry, B1 Bakeshop, Spudnuts and Joan's on Third. All of them are house-made and worth a try.
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And one last word for those of you who think we forgot spots like MB Post or Sycamore Kitchen (for instance), we gently remind you that they don't actually make cinnamon rolls. They make sticky buns -- really, really good ones -- so keep an eye out for our top 10 on that topic at a later date.
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