The perfect pie — flaky crust, filling you can eat on its own and a topping that makes all the components sing — is like the holy grail of baking. Sit down with a slice of your favorite, whether it be pumpkin, apple, banana cream or Key lime, and the effect is instantaneous. It's nostalgic, it's comforting, it's potentially transformative.
Los Angeles is home to many great pies. Here are four you should likely seek out as soon as possible.
Apple pie from Alcove
It stands tall in the bakery counter at this Los Feliz restaurant, a dessert that holds its own beside the more "interesting" items around it. Sure, there's a cake full of Oreos and another stuffed with Reese's peanut butter cups. But the real star is the apple pie, made for the restaurant by the same secret bakery (they won't share the name) since Alcove opened in 2004. It's four inches of paper-thin sliced Granny Smith apples tossed in enough sugar and cinnamon to tame the fruit's tartness. They're piled onto a thin, buttery pie crust and topped with a crunchy streusel and a drizzle of lemon glaze. Each slice is an impressive, individual tower, built like a game of apple Jenga. The strategy of attack is up to you, but it's fun to pluck out individual slices until the entire thing collapses into a perfect heap of apples and topping on the plate. 1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 644-0100, www.alcovecafe.com.
Banana dulce de leche cream pie from Cassell’s
When you think of banana cream pie, chances are you think of rich cream studded with slices of banana — and a lot of whipped cream on top. Whatever you're expecting from a banana cream pie, the banana dulce de leche cream pie from Cassell's, the hamburger joint on the ground floor of the Hotel Normandie in Koreatown, is different. It's also better. Chef (and former "Top Chef" contestant) Elia Aboumrad, who is married to Cassell's chef Christian Page (he's responsible for the diner's excellent cheeseburgers), says the pie is a family recipe, one that was a "must" at all her family gatherings growing up in Mexico. Rather than a classic cream filling with slices of banana, the entire middle of the pie is made of banana slices, layered like bricks to form the base of the pie. The crust is graham cracker, extra buttery and made with Plugra European-style butter. There are dollops of lightly sweetened whipped cream on top. And the best part? The layer of dulce de leche that spills out from under the banana, over the crust and onto a pool on the plate. 3600 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 387-5502, www.cassellshamburgers.com.
Buko pie from Sari Sari Store
Margarita Manzke, pastry chef at the new Filipino food stall Sari Sari Store at Grand Central Market in downtown L.A., and at Republique, the French restaurant she runs with her husband, chef Walter Manzke, is making the best coconut pie in the city. Only it's not exactly coconut pie, it's buko pie. The coconut custard pie popular in the Philippines is typically made with sweetened condensed milk and young coconut (buko in Tagalog), and it's just about the most luxurious thing you can eat on top of crust. Manzke's version features a silky pastry cream mottled with slices of fresh, young coconut and a layer of coconut jam that together give the pie a real but subtle coconut flavor. And that crust? It's laden with butter, the texture creating that perfect trifecta of flaky, crunchy and tender, allowing it to hold the pastry cream without getting soggy. Crowning the pie is a streusel-like topping that adds a little more sweetness and some extra crunch. The flavors and textures are so perfectly balanced that even your friend who swears he "hates coconut cream pie" will go in for another slice. 317 S. Broadway, (323) 320-4020, sarisaristorela.com.
Key lime pie from HiHo Cheeseburger
This is not a fancy Key lime pie. There is no elaborate topping. It is not green. But after one of the recently opened Santa Monica restaurant's cheeseburgers (these are very good cheeseburgers, made with 100% Wagyu beef), you need to order a piece for dessert. HiHo's four owners (Matt Levin, Jerry Greenberg, Ajay Sahgal and Lowell Sharron) collaborated on the recipe for the pie. It's a compact slice with about an inch of Key lime filling and about the same amount of smooth whipped cream on top. But that small slice of pie is packed with the zing of tart Key limes in a rich, dense custard filling. The whipped cream offers more of a relief from the tanginess of the limes than any real sweetness. And the crust is textbook perfect graham cracker with just enough butter and crumb. You should probably order a slice to go too. 1320 2nd St., Suite B, Santa Monica, (310)-469-7250, www.hiho.la.