Restaurants Where You Should Read The Dessert Menu First
These spots make our favorite desserts in NYC, so we recommend considering the sweet stuff first.
We are firm believers in the fact that one of the key differentiators between a good restaurant and a great one is the dessert menu. Even if you're the kind of person who typically prefers a cheese course to a creme brûlée, it's worth giving the sweet stuff your full attention at these restaurants. We're experts on sugar in all of its glorious forms (blame our insatiable sweet tooths), and these spots make some of our favorite desserts in New York City. So save room.
Gage and Tollner
Dessert nerds already know that Gage & Tollner’s pastry chef, Caroline Schiff, is the real reason to stand outside at 4:30 PM if you can’t manage to snag a reservation here. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that you should skip the full meal, get a seat at the bar, and have drinks and dessert. Not only are these the strongest sections of the menu, but the thing is, you simply must order the baked alaska, which serves two—allegedly. But you should also get the chèvre cheesecake and the amaretto coffee sundae. See? Now you’re full. No need for an overpriced steak.
The food at abcV, the plant-based youngest child of the ABC empire, is fine. The desserts, though, are decidedly above average. The pastry chef, Karen DeMasco runs the dessert program at all three ABC restaurants, so this rule applies across the board if you're dining in Jean George’s little corner of Union Square. Heirloom grains and seasonal produce are front and center in the desserts, and the sorbets are some of the best in the city.
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French desserts are tricky. Too often, they’re all style and no substance, but that’s not the case at La Mercerie. Their profiteroles, our personal benchmark for French desserts, are the best in the city. The choux is light and airy, the vanilla ice cream has depth and floral notes, and the profiteroles are sauced tableside with a gravy boat full of warm, bittersweet chocolate. There’s also a gluten-free chocolate cake that’s better than lots of the gluten-filled cakes in NYC.
We literally dream about the creme caramel at Ernesto’s, which tastes like cream and lightly charred sugar with hopes and dreams on top. It’s a textbook perfect example of the form. Like their savory options, the dessert menu here changes periodically. We actually think the sweets are more exciting than many of the large plates, so stick to pinxtos to start, then try one of everything on the dessert menu.
Anthropomorphic sweets hold a special place in the uncanny valley of our hearts, so it’s no surprise that Thai Diner is on this list. Aesthetically, Thai Diner’s tiny, monster-shaped coffee cake sets our hearts aflame. But the best tasting dessert we’ve had here remains the Uncle Boons Coconut Sundae, served with candied peanuts that taste exactly like the inside of a Heath bar.
Leo is a good place for pizza and natty wine, but it’s a great place for soft serve. Maybe we follow them on Instagram just to keep track of the flavor they’re serving. It’s always a twist, and the combination is usually something that seems ever so slightly off-kilter—like concord grape and salted caramel—but is actually a perfect match. Sometimes we come here just for ice cream.
Crispy, floral, sweet, nutty, stretchy cheese. Those words by themselves should be enough to get you excited about Tanoreen’s knafeh, a dessert with a serious cult following. You must order this when you go, but it shouldn’t be the only sweet thing you order. We’re also obsessed with the sahlab custard, flavored with mastic that tastes like about a dozen different things and also like nothing else you’ve ever tasted. You probably want some date cookies semolina cake as well. Since the savory food here is some of the best in Brooklyn, we recommend coming with a big group so you can have a little of everything.
It’s a little hard to define what is and isn’t a “dessert” at Kopitiam. There are entire menu sections dedicated to kuihs and sweets, and you can easily make a full meal out of things like Penang-style hand rolled, peanut-crusted muah-chee and pulut inti, a steamed bundle of pure joy in the form of morning glory-infused sticky rice and palm sugar. But then there are things like kaya butter toast and a Malaysian-style french toast that involves a generous amount of Milo chocolate malt powder, which aren’t technically desserts, but also kind of are. We recommend getting at least one spicy thing (our favorite is the otak otak) to temper your sugar rush.
photo credit: Adam Friedlander
You’re guaranteed to have a good time no matter what you order at this Filipinio BBQ joint in Woodside, but we once made the mistake of not looking at the dessert menu first and were devastated when we were too full of meat and lumpia to get halo halo. This guide exists, so that you don’t fall into the same trap. You can get icy, creamy, dessert-y drinks made with avocado, mango, corn, or banana. Our most aggressive take is that you should start your meal with one of these and still get halo halo at the end.
Cake is hard to do well. It can be dry, crumbly, and just kind of boring. However, the Principessa cake at Sant Ambroeus is something we’d go out of our way to eat again. Layers of sponge are soaked with an amount of syrup that feels borderline inappropriate, sandwiched between two different kinds of cream, and topped with a pink marzipan shell that feels very princess-y indeed. Once you have this, it'll be hard to convince yourself to try other desserts here, but you should. We recommend ordering a freddo cappuccino, which has toasty, slightly bitter notes that compliment the cake suspiciously well. Almost as though they planned it.
If we can only say one thing about Wenwen, it’s that you should order the fried tangyuan with ice cream. It's the best thing here, and having it is an essential experience—like living in NYC and leaving your phone in a car because you were too drunk. So much is going on in this bowl: fried tangyuan with tempura-like batter, peanut butter powder, condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, black sesame sauce, and, surprisingly, garlic chives and cilantro. If we could nominate this creation for awards, it wouldn’t just win an Oscar. It would win an EGOT.
We actually think you should only read the dessert menu at Mel’s, a pizzeria on the west side. The pizza leaves a lot to be desired (we prefer a 2 Bros slice), but the gelato sundaes are certifiably delicious. Since you’re only coming here for dessert, order at least three of the five options. We particularly love the triclolore straciatella, which has a mascarpone-flavored gelato as its base, and comes garnished with shaved rainbow cookies. Our other favorite is the coffee coconut sundae, which gets a delightfully crunchy texture from cocoa nibs prepared two different ways.