Outsiders pillory L.A. traffic, but the uninterrupted time with a hot latte and a sweet breakfast pastry I get while inching down the 110 is one of my happiest times of the day.
This is my road-ready list of my favorite sweet breakfast breads in Los Angeles County. To qualify: 1. They must be easily eaten out of one hand (so, no gloppy toppings to stain your work clothes or cause a crash). 2. They cannot be croissants or doughnuts; those are wholly separate lists. 3. They must be firmly “breakfast” baked goods — no slices of cake — that are sweet in and of themselves (no toasts, bagels or biscuits, which are sweet only when sweet things are globbed on top).
Cinnamon Sugar Brioche from Milo & Olive
The cinnamon sugar brioche at Milo & Olive takes the traditional form of a cinnamon bun — a vertically faced spiral — and turns it sideways; biting into the mini loaf reveals the swirl inside. Director of bakery operations Kelsey Brito inherited the bun recipe from proprietor Zoe Nathan, whose larger, berry-laden spirals were the thing of legend when they debuted at Huckleberry Cafe. The sourdough brioche is spiraled with cinnamon and crowned with a large band of cinnamon-dusted turbinado sugar for a hearty crunch against the soft dough.
Average availability: About 60 mini loaves a day.
2723 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 453-6776, miloandolive.com
Chocolate marble pistachio loaf from Gjusta
The banana-buckwheat loaf is a constant presence at Gjusta — a reliable choice for a drive to the office or to pick at when you’re loading up at the Santa Monica farmers market — but I often opt for the seasonal choice, which right now is a pistachio and marbled chocolate loaf crowned in the vibrant green ground nuts. It’s moister and richer than your typical breakfast loaf thanks to a mostly pistachio- and almond-flour base swirled with cocoa. Pastry chef Jenna Fuchser says the flavor is around only for another couple of months and will change in the spring, replaced, almost certainly, by something just as excellent, so get it while you can.
Average availability: 2 loaves per day on weekdays, 3 per day on weekends.
320 Sunset Ave., Venice, (310) 314-0320, gjusta.com
Seasonal scone from Sqirl
Scones are by far the most subdued-looking pastries in the case at Sqirl, but they are as much a representation of the ethos Jessica Koslow creates there as any avant-garde grain bowl or flower-strewn cake. Pastry chef Catalina Flores uses a mix of all-purpose flour (combined with Sonoran wheat and spelt flour), sourdough starter, honey and creme fraiche for the scone dough, which results in a masterful example of the type of crunchy-on-the-outside, tender-and-fluffy-inside qualities that all scones should aspire to. A healthy dose of salt highlights all those ingredients and keeps the sweet quotient in check for your morning cup of joe. Flavors change seasonally and often (in the last year alone I’ve eaten blood orange and raspberry; persimmon, mandarin and cacao nib; and rhubarb and tangerine variations), so you too should go often to sample the rainbowed variations of dried fruits, jam swirls and crunchy nubbly toppings that make their way into the scones.
Average availability: 10 to 12 scones per day on weekdays, more on weekends.
720 Virgil Ave., #4, Los Angeles, (323) 284-8147, sqirlla.com
Fresh Citrus Cake from Lodge Bread Co.
When popping in to this Culver City bakery/restaurant, you’ll be gobsmacked by the hilariously large cinnamon buns on display, as big as a loaf of bread and topped with a generous swoop of buttercream icing. But don’t be distracted, the real star here is the fresh citrus loaf cake. Pastry chef Julia Webb says she devised the damp-crumbed cake to get more interesting the longer you eat it — and it works. Seasonal citrus zest — often from navel oranges but sometimes blood orange, Cara Cara, tangerine or a mix with lemon — is ground into the sugar; the olive oil-based batter is flavored with citrus juice; and chopped fruit segments are folded in at the end, melting into the batter as it bakes. It’s on regular rotation on the menu all year long, so you can have that citrus-season brightness anytime you need it.
Average availability: 2 loaves (10 to 14 slices) per day on weekdays.
11918 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, (424) 384-5097, lodgebread.com
Lemon poppyseed loaf from République
Margarita Manzke’s pastries at République are all so good, and often made in small quantities that salute the fleeting bounty of whatever microseason we’re in at the farmers market, that it feels almost sacrilegious to steer you to her lemon poppy seed loaf, a year-round staple. But the small cake is the Platonic ideal of what that flavor promises: super tart lemon balanced with floral, bitter poppy seeds. Its texture is dense but incomparably moist thanks to yogurt in the batter and a filling of tart lemon curd and poached Meyer lemon slices baked into the top. In a sea of pastries meant to wow you with their seasonal inventiveness, it’s her simplest option that will be your most constant companion.
Average availability: 10 to 15 mini loaves per day on weekdays, more on weekends.
624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 362-6115, republiquela.com.
Vegan strawberry muffin from Go Get Em Tiger
Many of the pastries in this list offer a feeling of fleeting pleasure that a snarl of traffic, or an overeager production assistant buying out the case for that day’s shoot, can rob you of. Not the vegan strawberry muffin, the stellar stalwart offering at all eight locations of Go Get Em Tiger, across the city. The vegan batter, made with macadamia-almond nut milk, is supremely moist and earthy, a great balance to the sweetness of fresh strawberries. Marilei Denila, GGET’s research and development chef, said, “It’s definitely one of our top three sellers, so we make a lot to make sure we never run out of it.”
Average availability: 50 to 60 muffins per day on weekdays, 80 to 100 per day on weekends.
Multiple locations, gget.com.
Banana bread from Bon Temps
This past year, each time I was in the Arts District for work, I’d stop by Bon Temps for a latte and a slice of chef Lincoln Carson’s immaculate banana bread. Carson — an accomplished and meticulous pastry chef — adorns his banana bread in white chocolate ganache speckled with crunchy dried banana chips. The batter is more than 60% mashed, super-ripe bananas, enhanced by traditional suspects like butter, brown sugar and vanilla beans. The ganache, however, takes it over the top: Made with burnt honey, a flavor Carson deploys to balance out the sweetness of the cake, it strikes the perfect note between a substantial breakfast treat and dessert. Weekday breakfast service recently ceased there, but you can still get the banana bread and Carson’s other pastries during the stellar weekend brunch. The takeaway: Support your local bakery during the week or else you’ll only be able to get your fix on the weekends.
Average availability: 2 loaves (20 to 24 slices) on weekends only.
712 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 784-0044, bontempsla.com
Thai coffee jam concha from All Day Baby
This all-day restaurant from the team behind Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown specializes in the kind of maximalist food that has drawn rave reviews from Silver Lake locals and the East Coasters alike. So it’s no surprise that its signature breakfast pastry, a spin on Mexican conchas, matches that style. Made with a milk bread dough enriched with a roux — it gives the dough an exceptional softness and helps it stay fresh for hours — it’s a stark contrast from the simple lightly sweetened buns covered in a striated, crumbly dough that you get to dunk in your coffee in panaderias across the city and Mexico. At All Day Baby, however, the coffee comes to the bun in my favorite of three flavors, Thai coffee jam. Coffee beans are steeped in milk and sugar and reduced to a perfectly jammy consistency before getting piped, jelly doughnut style, in the middle of the concha bun. On days when my pastry needs to do double duty as my morning hit of both sugar and caffeine, it’s the flex.
Average availability: About 6 of each concha flavor per day on weekdays, double that on weekends.
3200 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 741-0082, alldaybabyla.com
Pineapple caramel sticky bun from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
This flashy bakery imported from San Francisco, sitting on a quiet side street in Highland Park, is famous for its outlandish dipped and decorated croissants and cruffins (a muffin-shaped croissant), which dominate the display case. But if you look past them, you’ll spy the hidden gem of the bunch: the pineapple caramel sticky bun. The bun presents demure — shellacked in pineapple-spiked caramel sauce and topped with a single wedge of fruit on top — but once you bite into it, the layers of brown sugar and tangy pineapple, accented by a finishing touch of Maldon sea salt, come alive. Get it while it lasts because the bun will change flavors come spring. The next iteration is sure to be just as ludicrously delightful as this one.
Average availability: About 2 dozen per day on weekdays, 4 dozen per day on weekends.
111 S. Avenue 59, Los Angeles, (323) 739-0473, mrholmesbakehouse.com