Sweet Treats in Orange County: Your Best Bets For Dessert Any Time

From shave ice to s’mores to scones.
Photograph by Patrick Manalo

Ube Pie

No meal at Irenia is complete without a slice of ube pie ($7). It’s made in-house with three layers: oatmeal cookie crust, ube halaya (purple yam jam), and brown-sugar custard—each of which must be set for eight hours. Once you’ve had a slice, you’ll want to order a whole pie ($85). Don’t miss the bibingka, a caramel-covered rice flour cake topped with shredded coconut, cured egg yolk, and candied peanuts ($9 a slice, $81 for a whole cake). Santa Ana, 657 245-3466

Guava Puffs

The guava and cream cheese pastelitos (puff pastries) at Bakery Habana are stuffed with fresh guava jam and whipped cream cheese and glazed with honey. Each bite is perfectly sweet and crispy ($3). Peruse the bakery for other Cuban-style treats. Irvine Spectrum Center, 949-419-0100

Scrumptious Scone

Few treats go better with coffee than a scone, an indulgence usually off-limits for a gluten-
free crowd. However, sweet redemption is found in the version made daily at
Scratch Bakery. Sturdy, ample, and slathered with just the right amount of icing, you’d never know it’s wheat-free ($2.50). Laguna Hills, 949-859-2253

Classic Island Desserts

Known for Balboa bars, brightly colored hippo-shaped sugar cookies, and chocolate-dipped bananas ($3), Dad’s Donut Shop & Bakery has been a local favorite for decades. With a giant banana perched on the roof and a line out the door, this quaint Balboa Island bakery is anything but a secret. Newport Beach, 949-673-8686

Photograph by Ralph Palumbo

Coconut And Mango Paradise

Head to Union Market’s All Coco x MNGO for a lush paradise of coconut- and mango- themed desserts. A twist on the classic Thai mango sticky rice, the OMG! plate ($8.95) includes freshly sliced mango, three warm, pastel-colored sticky rice balls, mango custard, mango sorbet, and a drizzle of coconut cream. The added flower garnish transports you to the tropics. Tustin, 714-389-9138

Swedish Mini Pancakes

Malibu Farm Lido owner Helene Henderson is Swedish, and her pancakes are thrilling for us non-Swedes because they are pixie-cute, light as a feather, griddle-hot, and bejeweled with glossy fresh berries and whipped cream ($13). Newport Beach, 949-791-2096

Puffle Cone

The puffle ice cream cone is a waffle pastry that originated in Hong Kong and provides a photoworthy twist to the classic dessert. At  Cauldron Ice Cream, pair it with selections of nitrogen ice creams such as Thai iced tea or H2O rose, a rose-flavored ice cream coated with rose sugar ($6.50). Santa Ana, 657-245-3442; Irvine, 949-988-0924

Kitty Pumpkin Treats

This fall’s menu at Hello Kitty Grand Cafe features everything pumpkin, from tarts to pocket pies and even hot chocolate ($4.75 to $8). Make a reservation at The Bow Room for two Halloween-themed drinks, including “I Want Candy” with botanist gin and house-made candy corn syrup, and the “Hello Kitty Brew” with vodka and pumpkin butter ($17 to $23). Irvine, 949-536-5357

Photograph courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Avocado Meringues

Longtime pastry chef Lee Smith at Montage Laguna Beach deserves more attention. The miracles he performs at high tea, events, and various resort restaurants are edible blessings. Right now at Studio, do not miss his avocado meringues with blond chocolate sponge cake, lavender honey ice cream, and limoncello foam in a sugar cylinder ($15). Laguna Beach, 949-715-6030

Churro Sundae

Ice cream or a churro for dessert? Get both at The Loop: Handcrafted Churros. Choose from a build-churr-own menu with a cinnamon or plain churro or a more colorful one, such as a matcha Fruity Pebble or white chocolate Oreo churro. The treat is completed with soft-serve ice cream flavors of your choosing ($6). Orange, 714-363-3992; Fullerton, 657-217-5008; Westminster, 714-617-5207

Adorable Macarons

Since the French confections soared in popularity in O.C. five years ago, Honey and Butter has led the pack, growing from an Airstream trailer at The Lab to a brick-and-mortar location at Irvine Spectrum and a second trailer at Anaheim’s Farmer’s Park. The secret to the bakery’s success? The cookies, which can come in fun designs such as corgis and pandas, taste as good as they look ($3 and up). Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Irvine

Photograph by Ralph Palumbo

Cookie Cup

Dipping your cookie in a glass of milk is so passé. The Dirty Cookie creates cookies in a variety of flavors in the shape of a shot glass and filled with your choice of milk ($4.50). You can even order custom cookies with candy icons on the front, including emojis such as a peach, unicorn, or smiley face. Irvine, 949-324-1574

Matcha In a Cone

The matcha soft serve at Mr. Matcha is made with organic milk and premium-grade matcha powder sourced from Japan, resulting in a rich, creamy swirl. Get it in the signature charcoal black cone ($5.25) or try the matcha sundae with mochi, red bean, and cornflake toppings ($6.25). Garden Grove, 858-432-3958

Decadent Cheesecake

Sushi Roku’s Carnival Cheesecake ($14) is hard to miss, featuring cotton candy drizzled with Bacardi 151 rum and set alight to reveal creamy New York cheesecake surrounded by strawberries and topped with vanilla ice cream. The contemporary Japanese restaurant offers a dessert that will make anyone feel like a kid again. Newport Beach, 949-706-3622

Waffle Pops

The honeycomb shape and caramelized texture aren’t the only things that make Sweet Combforts waffle pops stand out. A unique variety of toppings—from the classic powdered sugar to Oreo cookie butter with a white chocolate drizzle—has made the treats eye-catching since their debut at Coachella in 2017 ($4). The dessert can be found at Trade Food Hall. Irvine

Cookie Monster Ice Cream

The handcrafted ice cream at B.Candy doesn’t need to be as good as it is—kids and adults will be lured by the brightly colored candies, cookies, toys, and decor. But we can’t resist a scoop of the Cookie Monster, with bits of fresh chocolate chip cookies, Oreo chunks, and house-made cookie dough ($3.75). Corona del Mar, Huntington Beach

Tropical Parfait

Chè ba màu is a quintessential Vietnamese dessert, a tropical parfait of sweetened coconut cream layered with squeaky jellies and starchy, sweet beans ($3.50). At Thach Che Hien Khanh, it’s vibrant (the dish translates to “three-color dessert”) and refreshing—the perfect treat for warm weather. Garden Grove, 714-537-5105

Do-No-Harm Doughnuts

Doughnuts might be the last treat you’d think of if you have dietary restrictions, but the ones at Sensitive Sweets can be enjoyed by those avoiding gluten, dairy, nuts, and other ingredients that can spell trouble. We’re fans of the shop’s soft, moist, bite-size pumpkin doughnut holes ($12 per dozen). Fountain Valley, 714-968-9169

Blueberry Doughnuts

You might have to wait an hour or two to get a taste of M&M Donuts’ famous blueberry variety, but the crisp exterior and soft interior make these worth the wait (starting at $1 each). The doughnuts are fresh starting at 9 p.m., when the shop opens, so try to grab a spot in line early! Anaheim

Cereal Pie

Try a slice of The Pie Hole’s Cereal Killer pie to enjoy breakfast for dessert. The cheesecake-like filling is mixed with white chocolate ganache and Fruity Pebbles and is topped with your choice of Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, or Lucky Charms ($7 per slice). Don’t forget a glass of milk on the side. Orange, 657-236-4100

Mexican Favorites

At La Espiga de Oro, a full-scale panadería and cake shop, just about everything is delicious. So load a tray of your favorite pan dulce: crumbly conchas, sweet pineapple empanadas, and tender marranitos, which are pig-shaped, cinnamon and sugar pastries perfect for the holidays. Costa Mesa, 949-646-5154

Bodacious Brownie

The moistest, richest, most chocolate-intense brownie you’ll taste just happens to be gluten-free. The one served at organic bakery Cloud 9 features a gooey, unctuous interior that all but overflows like lava after you bite into its crispy, chocolate-chip crust ($4.25). San Juan Capistrano, 949-388-8311

Photograph courtesy of @eisweltgelato

Shaped Gelato

With unique flavors such as honey dragonfruit and black sesame walnut scooped and shaped as you order, once-basic gelato is transformed into intricate shapes that include unicorns, chickens, and teddy bears at Eiswelt Gelato in Little Saigon, an inventive presentation of the classic Italian and German dessert ($4). Westminster, 657-245-3141

Avocado Ice Cream

Made with California avocados, sweetened condensed milk, and topped with crushed Nilla wafers, the avocado ice cream from Nitrolado Cafe is a sweet take on a versatile staple ($6.50). Get it in a coconut-pandan churro bowl for $1.50 at the spacious new digs. Westminster, 657-233-5263

Warm Ensaymadas

Best enjoyed while warm, the Filipino-inspired ensaymadas at Paderia Bakehouse are made with brioche and mouthwateringly slathered with sugar and butter ($3.75). The savory twist? A topping of grated 2-year-aged white cheddar. Fountain Valley, 714-916-5977

Middle Eastern Cheesecake

Knafeh Cafe is dedicated almost exclusively to knafeh, a dessert that’s something like a rich Middle Eastern cheesecake: mild, molten cheese, a crust of crisp, shredded dough, and a showering of ground pistachios all drenched in a sweet simple syrup ($5). Anaheim, 714-442-0044

Amore S’more

At Flights & Irons Urban Kitchen, most dishes are prepared in cast iron, including s’mores featuring vanilla bean marshmallows and dark chocolate on a house-made graham cracker crust roasted in a wood-burning oven ($9). It’s a decadent finish that won’t leave you smelling like a campfire. San Clemente, 949-388-3991

Durian Desserts

Some people liken the smell of durian to sweaty tennis shoes—yet many find the taste of its creamy pulp appealing. Among the “most loved” items at SweetHoney
are durian pancakes; durian mochi is on the most popular list ($6.25 for three), and other favorites include baked mashed durian sago pudding. Garden Grove, 714-591-5040

Photograph by Meg Strouse @megstrouse

Korean Shaved Ice

We love the fluffy Korean shaved ice with house-made condensed milk and syrups at Mealtop Café ($9.25 to $11.25). Try the Injeolmi flavor made with five-grain powder, rice cakes, sweet red bean paste, and chopped almonds. The elegantly decorated cafe also offers a range of treats, including flavored lattes and pan-fried rice desserts. Buena Park, 213-718-3434

Iconic Cheese Rolls

Made with a flaky puff pastry dough and signature cream cheese filling, the cheese rolls from Porto’s Bakery are as famous as they are addictive. The caramelized sugar on top sweetens the deal. Grab a dozen for $10. Buena Park, 714-367-2030

Sustainable Boba Fix

Now that plastic straws are being phased out, we can’t help but remember that Snow Monster was one of the first milk-tea spots in the county to offer reusable containers (they now sell stainless-steel boba straws as well). Top your drink with a freshly spun
cotton-candy cloud for an extra bit of whimsy (drinks $4 to $6, reusable jar $3). Anaheim, Irvine, Westminster

Osmanthus Jelly

The scent of flowering osmanthus, or tea olive, has been compared to “plums, apricots, and prunes hidden in the suede pouch upon a warrior-poet’s belt.” Its flavors are more simply floral and creamy. You can experience them at Tim Ho Wan, Michelin-starred in Hong Kong and new at Diamond Jamboree: osmanthus jelly with floating goji berries is the restaurant’s cubiform, Jello-like dessert ($5). Irvine, 262-888-8828

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