There’s dessert and then there’s dessert — the uniquely Houston, show-stopping kind that might warrant a birthday treat, showing off to an out-of-town visitor or just obsessive contemplation. Many of the following sweets have achieved cult-like status among Houston diners. However, those who don't like the suggested dessert offerings here can rest assured that they will likely find something else on the dessert menu at any of these restaurants to suit their palates.
Here are ten of the best classic desserts in Houston.
10. Bayou Goo from House of Pies, multiple locations: The charm of this pie starts with a thick base swirled with cheesecake, pecan chunks, rich custard and chocolate. It ends with plumes of whipped cream layered on so thickly that there's almost a one-to-one ratio between filling and cream: It's pure, trashy diner indulgence. Plus, extra points for the nostalgic quality of House of Pies plus the fact that you can procure this pie at any hour, day or night.
9. Soufflé from Tony's, 3755 Richmond: The masterpiece of a chocolate soufflé at Tony’s arrives hot from the oven, whipped egg whites puffing the foamy walls to ethereally light peaks. It rides the line of being airy yet doughy in the center, doused in a glossy accent of rich chocolate sauce. Soufflés can be made in a variety of flavors, including Grand Marnier, pecan praline and Bananas Foster, but is there really any choice aside from chocolate?
8. Italian Cream Cake from Dessert Gallery, 3600 Kirby: The Dessert Gallery gets it right with practically every decadent layer cake it makes, but the Italian cream cake is a particularly dreamy offering. That's especially true for those who may eschew chocolate. The shaggy, slightly crumbly layers of white cake are punctuated by chopped nuts. While the cake tends to veer just slightly toward the drier side of the scale, an ample blanket of dense cream cheese frosting provides any needed moisture and plenty of texture thanks to a roll in toasted coconut flakes.
7. Sticky Toffee Pudding from Hunky Dory, 1801 North Shepherd: This date-studded cake is so legendary that Hunky Dory brought back a version to fill the void that Feast left when it closed in 2013. The little round of sticky, gooey steamed cake comes soaked in a toffee sauce with undertones of molasses until it's extraordinarily moist, served alongside a dollop of clotted cream.
6. Mom’s Chocolate Cake from Benjy’s, multiple locations: The fudgy yet light chocolate cake served in wedges at Benjy’s is the actual recipe of the owner’s mother and is rumored to be made daily by the owner's mother herself. Slathered in a decadent, pecan-speckled ganache, the rich cake can be replicated at home thanks to several recipes published online, but an equally delicious outcome isn't guaranteed. It's probably better to just go have one from the master.
5. Chocolate Chip Cookie from Tiny Boxwoods, 3614 West Alabama. The humble appearance of this cookie belies the homemade-flavor magic that the Tiny’s folks have managed to capture in their recipe. This cookie, the nearly universal people’s choice pick for the best chocolate chip cookie in Houston, offers crisp, buttery edges, supple and slightly gooey centers, melting ripples of high-quality chocolate and the indefinable flavor of nostalgia. Cookies are baked off in small batches multiple times an hour to ensure a fresh supply.
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4. Tres Leches from Américas, 2040 West Gray: The Américas version of the three-milk-soaked cake stands out thanks to the departure from the typical soft whipped cream topping. Instead, the topping veers toward a stiffer marshmallow-kissed consistency that is glossy and lick-your-fork sweet. The coarse, open crumb allows the cake to take on a decadently lush, rather than soggy, quality from a thorough milk soaking. A few perfectly ripe strawberries accent the milky dessert.
3. Bananas Foster from Brennan's of Houston, 3300 Smith: This is a dessert that can convert just about anyone into a cooked-fruit lover. A fiery tableside show yields warm, boozy caramelized bananas that are piled into a bowl over vanilla ice cream. The combination of warm caramel and ripe bananas against cold ice cream is utter bliss.
2. Coconut Cake from Holley's, 3201 Louisiana: Even ardent chocolate lovers might find that this is one of the most perfect cakes they've ever eaten. It’s insanely sweet, to be sure, but the ratio of endlessly fluffy white cake to sugary yet light white frosting is perfect and worth the splurge. The accents of toasted coconut, candied nuts and generous drizzles of caramel are what really sends it over the top.
1. Banana Split from Cloud 10 Creamery, 5216 Morningside: This banana split is a masterful interplay of textures and flavors. The dense, silky, high-quality ice cream that forms the base of the sundae (customers can choose the flavor) almost fades into the background considering the wealth of toppings. Banana halves are torched on the spot until the caramelized edges can be shattered with a fork. A small shower of Nutella dust (yes, Chris Leung dehydrates Nutella for this creation) and candied pecan bits nudge their way between soft mounds of freshly whipped cream. For the crowning touches, a thin, brittle layer of hard chocolate coating encases each scoop of ice cream and a small pool of berry jam adds a fruity pop to this delight of a sundae.