In my mind, a good sweet shop has to stand on two main pillars: great-tasting offerings and an enticing variety. Friendly staff, an appealing aesthetic and cute packaging are just icing on the cake. Some of the following shops lean more toward bakery or confectionery, while others combine ice cream, elaborate cakes and more in one tiny shop.
Besides the obvious classics, like The Chocolate Bar and Dessert Gallery, here are ten awesome sweet shops in Houston to satisfy all your sweets cravings:
Phoenicia, 1001 Austin, 832-360-2222: It's hard to take a wander through this grocery store without picking up something from the array of options. There are trays of baklava, which are probably some of the closest to authentic you'll find in Houston; a wide variety of exotic cookies; bars of chocolate spiked with smoked bacon; fantastic pastries; made-in-house chocolate ganache cake; and more. The "healthy cookies," made with oats, craisins and honey, are surprisingly delicious and a perfect midday pick-me-up for those who work nearby.
Sweet, 801 Town and Country, Suite A120, 713-647-9338: The sister bakery to coffee shop Tout Suite, Sweet bakes a variety of assorted classic and seasonally influenced goods daily. Sweets include mint chocolate cake truffles, triple chocolate almond cookies, pots de crème (flavors rotate seasonally), cakes, cupcakes and macarons. Stop by for a macaron ice cream sandwich (ice cream flavor of your choice sandwiched between an extra-large macaron shell) and enjoy it on one of the many lawns in CityCentre.
Sweets by Belen, 6001 Hillcroft, 832-203-7565: Belen is famous throughout Houston for her mouth-meltingly delicious alfajores, but her Hillcroft shop offers a wide variety of other Peruvian-inspired sweets. Chicha morada slushies — a refreshingly chilled, slightly fizzy vivid fuchsia drink — is the perfect thing to wash down a slice of her cinco leches cake, a mini passion fruit tart or a cup of purple corn rice pudding. Don't miss any of the desserts featuring lucuma, a subtropical fruit native to Peru that has a mellow sweetness similar to mango.
Cacao and Cardamom, 5000 Westheimer #602: Annie Rupani turns chocolate into art in her classy Galleria haven. Step into her shop and you'll find racks upon racks of wine to be paired with her chocolate. The chocolate is made from globally sourced ingredients (think Venezuela, Bolivia and Madagascar), and you'll find off-the-beaten-track flavors such as garam masala pistachio, lychee basil and Szechuan peppercorn. For the less adventurous, worry not — more traditional flavors like S'mores are equally beautiful and still delicious. Tasteful highlights of edible glitter and decorative sprays of color could stand up to actual works of art. Alongside the chocolate, you'll also find a well-edited selection of housemade gelato.
Three Brothers Bakery, 4606 Washington, 713-522-2253: One of the classic bakeries in Houston that make my personal favorite pecan pie is one of the only bakeries in town that sell really delicious Jewish baked goods like rugelach, challah and hamentashen. Three Brothers Bakery has a cult following for its super-thick and fluffy gingerbread men, and rose to viral fame with its "Pumpecapple" piecake, an 11-inch-tall, 23.5-pound behemoth that has rightfully been dubbed the turducken of desserts, with layers of pumpkin, pecan and apple pie all baked into respective layers of cake and finished with cream cheese frosting. For a less intimidating offering, stop by for an assortment of cookies or an elaborately frosted cupcake.
Pondi Bake Lab and Shop, 2800 Kirby, B132 , 713-522-2022: Located on the second floor above Pondicheri, the Pondi Bake Lab is a light-filled expanse of hobo-chic mismatched chairs, rustic tables and nooks that are perfect for grabbing a housemade chai and a freshly made carrot beet muffin. Pondi Bake Lab is one of the few bakeries in town that consistently keep vegan, gluten-free pastry options in rotation — try the lemon square cookie, a lustrous green from avocado, with a base of rice and almond flour (you'll never miss the gluten or the butter). It also adds unique flours to its mix with the irresistible Texas mesquite pecan cookie, which gets a smoky flavor from the mesquite. Expect unusual spices and flavors, as in the masala cookie, which will blow your mind with the powerful burst of cumin, turmeric and chile in a bright yellow shortbread.
Red Dessert Dive, 1045 Studewood, 832-649-2977: The homey Red Dessert Dive in the Heights features well-executed classics like salted chocolate chunk cookies, banana pudding, cupcakes and cheesecake. It caters until all hours. Kolaches, scones, croissants and coffee made with in-house syrups are available first thing. Stop in for a jalapeño/bacon/egg salad or peanut butter and pear preserve salad for lunch, then stay late for a beer or glass of wine with the daily flavor of cake. For diehard fans, there's even cute T-shirt swag that you can pick up to display your loyalty. Happy hour runs from Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m., where you can get $3 off wine and $1 off beer (closed Monday).
Fluff Bake Bar, 314 Gray, 713-522-1900: Any bakery that has items named Unicorn Bait and Couch Potato purveyed under the glow of neon signs is bound to be fun. With a glass window into the kitchen where you can watch the bakers at work, the Fluff location in Midtown is small but cheery. I have an especial soft spot for Rebecca Masson's cupcakes, which aren't your typical cupcake — rather, they're a layer cake in a cup so that you can use a spoon to consume the proper ratio of frosting with each bite of cake and chocolate pearls that are often incorporated into her cakes. Saturday morning bake sales often feature guest bakers. Sales start at 10 a.m. and your best bet is to get there early before Fluff Bake Bar runs out of special off-the-menu items like savory kolaches, homemade pop tarts and more.