Indulging in the delightful world of desserts is a journey that takes place both on the palate and on the road. Indeed, there are countless spots to get a delicious dessert across the United States, many of which are worth a detour from a normal route to work or on a dedicated road trip. Beyond the glittering lights of patisseries and renowned bakeries, the true joys of desserts often emerge in the most unexpected corners, waiting to be discovered by the discerning palate.
But the ones we want to focus on today are those dessert spots that are truly iconic -- the ones that have made a name for themselves with the sheer quality of their offerings, but also those that have become famous due to historical accidents, media attention, word of mouth, wild gimmicks, or pure persistence over time. Such iconic spots span the full range of the dessert world -- from a comforting strawberry shortcake to the avant-garde delights emerging from trendy urban eateries. Each sweet creation is a testament to the rich tapestry of American culinary ingenuity.
Read more: 30 Types Of Cake, Explained
Peninsula Grill In Charleston, SC
You can hardly get through your stay in Charleston without someone mentioning the iconic coconut cake from the Peninsula Grill. The city is so proud of this dessert that even some of the restaurant's competitors will suggest you skip dessert at their establishment to save room for a massive slice of coconut cake.
Rest assured that if you can't make it to Charleston, you can order this cake online for overnight delivery through the restaurant's website. But if you do happen to be in town, it's worth visiting the Peninsula Grill in person. With its verdant decor and bright but calming colors, walking into this restaurant just for a spot of dessert and a late-night tipple feels decidedly decadent.
112 N Market St, Charleston, SC 29401
Cafe Du Monde In New Orleans, LA
Between the po' boys, French influences, and cajun and Creole seasonings, the New Orleans food scene is the stuff of legend and doesn't get nearly enough credit in the overall American culinary landscape. But one item that stands out in particular is the beignet from the Cafe du Monde, a veritable tourist attraction and the spot for the absolute best beignets in New Orleans.
The beignet, a classic French donut covered in powdered sugar, finds pride of place in the most French city in America. Cafe du Monde first started making it back in 1862, when it opened its first outpost in the French Market. It serves the beignets alongside good coffee 24/7 -- except on Christmas Day or during a hurricane.
Multiple locations in New Orleans
Kermit's Key Lime Shop In Key West, FL
With a name like Key Lime Pie, it's only natural that the most iconic place in America to get a slice would be Key West. In fact, many restaurants in Key West serve this dessert; Blue Haven and A&B Lobster House both serve pretty decent pieces. But for the cream of the crop or for the most Instagram-worthy shot, head to Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shop on Elizabeth Street. It's at the same original location established just over 30 years ago.
Try the beautiful key lime pie topped with whipped cream, but while you're at it, you can also sample other key lime products, like candy, salsas, jams, and even just plain key lime juice. It's an ideal place to stock up on foodie gifts from Key West.
Multiple locations in Key West, FL
Brennan's In New Orleans, LA
Bananas Foster was invented by Ella Brennan right here at this New Orleans restaurant in 1951. It was prompted by a visit from the New Orleans Crime Commission chairman, Richard Foster. Brennan's owner at the time asked Ella to come up with a stunning new dessert at the last minute. As it happened, plenty of bananas were on hand due to the Brennan family's connections to an unsavory banana shipping company, though those connections soon dissipated when New Orleans lost its supremacy in the banana trade.
Even so, the dessert, which is made with bananas, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, ice cream, and rum that is then flambéed at the table, was a smashing hit. To this day, it remains a popular item on the menu at Brennan's.
417 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Maison Pickle In New York, NY
The popular entrée at Maison Pickle in New York City is some variation of the French dip sandwich. But be sure to save room for dessert because its 24-layer chocolate cake is just as iconic as anything savory on the menu, if not more so. And if you're not into chocolate, there is also a 24-layer vanilla confetti cake with your name on it.
You might be thinking that 24 sounds like a lot of layers, but anything less than that would yield something not nearly as impressive. It's not about the flavor -- a dessert at Maison Pickle is bound to be good no matter what the product looks like. But appearances are important too, and the sheer enormity of this dessert is part of what makes it so enticing.
2315 Broadway, New York, NY 10024
Harucake In Los Angeles, CA
Korean food in the U.S. has been dominated by high-end restaurants and street food establishments. But thanks to Los Angeles-based Korean-American baker Ellie You, we now also have the perfect Korean dessert spot with her Harucake Cake Shop.
The ingredients used in this shop are high-quality and organic, and food coloring is used sparingly, if at all. See for yourself by trying the mugwort injeolmi cakes, a riff on a traditional Korean snack of rice cakes with roasted beans and mugwort genoise. You might also be glad to find variations with such elements as sweet potatoes, chestnuts, kabocha, and Earl Grey, alongside more traditional flavors like chocolate and banana.
3450 W 6th St #107, Los Angeles, CA 90010
Matsumoto Shave Ice In Haleiwa, HI
Cool down from a hot Hawaiian afternoon at Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa. The place opened in 1951 as a grocery store, but it moved increasingly toward shave ice once it became clear how popular it was.
There are almost 40 flavors to choose from, including somewhat expected ones, like coconut or blue raspberry, as well as more imaginative options like shave ice doused with Japanese sodas like Ramune. All in all, the place issues upward of 1,000 shave ice orders per day spanning all the colors of the rainbow. You can even get a "rainbow" combo of shave ice, which is made with strawberry, lemon, and blue pineapple flavors and the associated artificial colorings.
66-111 Kamehameha Hwy #605, Haleiwa, HI 96712
Smith Island Bakery In Ewell, MD
The official state dessert of Maryland is the Smith Island Cake, and what better place to sample it than at a shop called the Smith Island Bakery on Smith Island? This beloved dessert is packed with up to 10 layers of alternating yellow cake and chocolate frosting and is a sight to behold.
But quite aside from how delicious and stunning this cake is, you better hurry up and try it before its namesake island sinks into the ocean. Between sea level rise and coastal erosion, the island may be mostly underwater in less than 100 years.
20926 Caleb Jones Rd, Ewell, MD 21824
Westside Drive-In In Boise, ID
Generally speaking, ice cream and potatoes don't go together. Combining them would most likely result in a textural and temperature nightmare. But all bets are off in the potato-loving state of Idaho, and the Westside Drive-In in Boise has proven just that.
Let it be clear, though -– no actual potatoes are involved in this venture. Instead, it's a potato-emulating dessert that will make you look twice. By drawing on its extensive experience of living amongst the spuds, the ice cream parlor is able to use vanilla ice cream and strategically deployed cocoa powder to recreate the appearance of a potato, upon which it plops whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
Multiple locations in Boise, ID
Twede's Cafe In North Bend, WA
For fans of "Twin Peaks," the cult drama series that premiered in 1990 and returned for a brief reprisal in 2017, Twede's Cafe in North Bend, Washington, is a sort of mecca. The dessert to get here is the cherry pie, which should be rigorously combined with a good cup of coffee, just as Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) did in the show.
Indeed, Twede's Cafe served as the filming location for the Double R Diner in the show, so dining here is as close as it gets to a full Twin Peaks immersive experience, especially if you get the cherry pie. Just keep your eye out for strange happenings. You never know.
137 W North Bend Way, North Bend, WA 98045
Parker's Restaurant In Boston, MA
While a Boston cream pie can be enjoyed anywhere, it's probably safe to say that the best place to order one is in Boston, and specifically at Parker's Restaurant, where the dessert was invented. This restaurant has been operating since the late 1800s, and the decor looks like it hasn't been updated since -- in a good way. The intricate wood paneling, crown molding, and stately chandeliers are worth a trip in itself.
Your meal won't disappoint, either. The restaurant was host to famous chefs like Emeril Lagasse and Jasper White, both of whom went on to build stellar careers in the food industry. According to the restaurant's website, there is also some indication that former Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh also worked there as a baker from 1912 to 1913 before changing careers forever.
60 School St, Boston, MA 02108
Yasukochi's Sweet Shop In San Francisco, CA
All of the incredible restaurants in San Francisco will deliver an amazing dessert any day of the week, but not all of them can be considered iconic. However, one item that does fit the bill is the coffee crunch cake at Yasukochi's Sweet Stop. This unassuming bakery has gained a cult following over the years, and in 2023, it was shortlisted for the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Bakery award. And honestly, it was about time. This family-owned joint has been making cakes under our noses since 1974, including its specialty being the coffee crunch cake -- a soft vanilla sponge with hints of lemon, whipped cream, and crushed coffee candies.
1790 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94115
Lloyd's Carrot Cake In New York, NY
Lloyd's Carrot Cake, with locations in East Harlem and the Bronx, makes several delicious cake varieties, but the carrot cake is the pièce de résistance, as the name of the establishment suggests. When a place only makes a few things, it better make them well or it won't survive the cut-throat bakery environment. Lloyd's Carrot Cake, surely, has nothing to worry about.
Stop by one of its locations to grab a slice or order a personalized cake with or without raisins and walnuts and slathered in a delightful cream cheese frosting. You can order it with or without decorations, and it also ships nationwide.
Multiple locations in New York, NY
Leopold's Ice Cream In Savannah, GA
On a hot day in Savannah (which is most days), an ice cream from Leopold's really hits the spot. This old-fashioned ice cream joint has been making frozen desserts for more than a century, and thanks to a healthy tourist industry, local supporters, and a vibrant student population, it's still going strong today.
Milkshakes, malts, and banana splits are still prepared using the original recipes, and many of the equipment from the original parlor, now antiques, can still be seen in the flagship store on East Broughton Street. Come here for delicious ice cream and a blast from the past.
212 E Broughton St, Savannah, GA 31401
Commander's Palace In New Orleans, LA
If you're looking for an old-timey experience of New Orleans, head to the Commander's Palace to sample its iconic bread pudding soufflé. The restaurant dubs the Creole bread pudding soufflé "the queen of Creole desserts," and finishes it tableside with warm whiskey cream.
The food here is predominantly Cajun and Creole, as it has been since its inception in the late 1800s and during the reign of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. Because of its reputation for serving high-quality food and being a favorite among locals, patronizing this establishment is an iconic experience in and of itself. Practically anything on the menu will make you feel like you're participating in a slice of history.
1403 Washington Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
Serendipity 3 In New York, NY
NYC's Serendipity 3 was already famous by the time it lent its name to the 2001 movie starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. The flick depicts the trials and tribulations of two people who, after having dessert at the establishment and hitting it off, decide to go their separate ways before serendipitously meeting again years later.
This might not be your experience when you stop by Serendipity 3, but you can certainly make it worth your while anyway by trying one of their famous sundaes or their iconic "frrrozen hot chocolate." Not only that, but the restaurant -– adorned with bright pink everything -– exudes joy from its pores.
225 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022
Freed's Bakery In Las Vegas, NV
The strawberry shortcake at Freed's Bakery in Las Vegas was made famous by the Food Network's "Vegas Cakes."But it isn't like your usual homemade version made hastily with Bisquick biscuits, syrupy strawberries, and whipped cream. This one is an actual sponge cake with layers and frosting in addition to the strawberries and cream.
This is no oversight on Freed's part. This cake has been popular in Las Vegas for more than 30 years and helped transform the reputation of a bakery that has been operating for 60 years from a local wonder into an international sensation. While you're there, also grab a slice of the chocolate shortcake, which is also embellished with strawberries.
Multiple locations in Las Vegas, NV
Eileen's Special Cheesecake In New York, NY
The most iconic cheesecake spot in New York City is probably Junior's, a legendary chain started by one Harry Rosen in 1950. Since then, it has hosted theater-goers, sports fans, and politicians on the campaign trail, along with locals and tourists alike.
But for an iconic cheesecake that might also be the best in the city, Eileen's Special Cheesecake is the place to go. This business has been kicking since 1975, making light and airy cheesecakes in at least 25 flavors, not counting limited editions. If that sounds like too many to choose from, go for the sampler plate, where you can pick up to 12 different flavors -- which we assure you, you'll still struggle to choose.
17 Cleveland Pl, New York, NY 10012
Gibson's Bar And Steakhouse In Illinois
Don't be fooled by the name -– the macadamia turtle pie at Gibson's Bar and Steakhouse in Chicago does not contain turtles. It does, however, contain macadamia nuts, along with vanilla ice cream, chocolate, and caramel sauce. Try not to gorge on steaks too much before you get to dessert, as a single slice of this cake weighs up to two pounds.
As former executive chef of Gibson's, Russell Kook explained in a YouTube video for Localish, the turtle pie is "everything that Gibson's is about." The pie is made with ice cream from Homer's, a local parlor, then layered with graham cracker crumbs and chocolate sauce before being topped with nuts.
Multiple Locations in Illinois
Delmonico's In New York, NY
Delmonico's is already recognized as an institution in New York City due to the fact that it is one of the oldest restaurants in the United States and perhaps the nation's very first fine dining establishment. But it is also famous for having invented the Baked Alaska, which was originally called the "Alaska, Florida" and made with banana ice cream, walnut spice cake, and torched meringue.
The Delmonico's pastry chef at the time, Charles Ranhofer, likely intended to make a comment on the recent purchase of Alaska from Russia and draw from his culinary experience in France, where a similar dessert already existed. Whatever the case, you can still order this dessert at Delmonico's, which keeps the recipe remarkably true to the original.
56 Beaver St, New York, NY 10004
Restaurants were chosen based on the quality of the dining experience, which was determined by a combination of personal experience, professional reviews, and a Google reviews query. Media attention was another important factor considered, which was a matter of consulting news coverage on the techniques, methods, and history of the desserts.
Most bakeries were excluded from the roundup because they mainly focused on breakfast foods, while confectionary stores were also excluded as they mainly sold items that could be purchased and consumed later. Instead, this roundup features individual portions of desserts meant to be consumed at the table.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.