The Best Cheesecakes in America
It’s hard to say no to a slice of dense and creamy New York–style cheesecake, but that doesn’t stop pastry chefs from reinventing the American favorite. From fruity to ultra-light to sugar-free, here are our favorite cheesecakes from across the country.
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Eileen's Special Cheesecake, NYC
You can’t talk about New York City–style cheesecake without mentioning Eileen’s. The owner (Eileen Avezzano) is an institution, making classic cheesecakes from her SoHo shop since 1975. She makes her light and creamy cakes in over 40 flavors—a new one added each year—with at least 25 flavors on the menu at all times. From Mandarin Orange Marble to Maker’s Mark to Sugar-Free Rocky Road, Eileen has you covered. She even insists that she will do her best to accommodate a special flavor not on the menu. If you can’t decide between the 20, there’s a sampler plate. And Eileen’s ships nationwide via FoodyDirect, so no matter where you are you can enjoy a slice of NYC’s original.
Måurice, Portland, OR
While Kristen D. Murray was pastry chef at Aquavit, then-head chef Marcus Samuelsson encouraged her to develop her own unique approach to cooking. The result: Black Pepper Cheesecake, which Murray says epitomizes her whimsical style. “I like the juxtaposition of a light cheesecake with hand-cracked pepper to further help digestion and cut the fat that most associate with cheesecake,” she says. Murray’s recipe uses equal parts cream cheese and homemade crème fraîche, lemon juice, vanilla and aquavit. It’s always on the menu at her luncheonette, MÅURICE.
Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, NYC
The light and fluffy, lemon zesty Heavenly Cheesecake at Mah-Ze-Dahr swaps out the usual graham cracker crust for one made with dark chocolate cookies. “There’s something divine about black cocoa mixing with the citrus and vanilla flavors,” says owner Umber Ahmad. She came to cheesecake through a circuitous path, studying genetics and business, and working in finance before starting Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, which she named after the Urdu word that describes the magical essence that makes food delicious. The cheesecake (delivery only) is made with a combination of sour cream and cream cheese.
Zanze’s Cheesecake, San Francisco
“All you need is one good item and it can work, as long as it is very good,” said Sam Zanze, the 82-year-old proprietor of Zanze’s Cheesecake shop. He’s been making cheesecake (just cheesecake) for the past 36 years. “Not overly sweet, very delicate, not heavy at all, with a very good aftertaste,” is how Zanze describes the crust-less European-style cheesecake, which he learned to make from his father, a Croatian who trained with German pastry chefs. Zanze’s shop doesn’t have a website and is only open four days a week. Zanze keeps the menu simple, with a handful of optional toppings like sour cherries in kirsch or chocolate shavings. Over the holidays, he adds a pumpkin cream flavor, but otherwise, the only option is his one cloudlike, ethereal cake. 2405 Ocean Ave, San Francisco CA, (415) 334-2264
The City Bakery, NYC
There are more reasons to visit City Bakery aside from the cult-favorite pretzel croissants. Reason number one: chef and owner Maury Rubin’s Single Origin Ecuadorian Milk Chocolate Cheesecake. When he first heard about single-origin milk chocolate from Ecuadorian chocolatiers, he knew he was on to something. “It was like getting a secret tip about a great horse at the track,” Rubin says. “I'm always looking for great chocolate. We've made a dark chocolate cheesecake for years, but this one is a pure milk chocolate experience. Most milk chocolates hit you over the head with sugar. This has a clear milk chocolate taste with an edge of caramel.”
Nico Osteria, Chicago
There’s no cheesecake on the menu at Nico Osteria, but there are pistachio profiteroles with lemon cheesecake mousse. “I decided to put a cheesecake mousse on the menu instead of a slice of cheesecake because I like the silky texture,” says pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky. “Plus, it's less of a commitment than a slice of cheesecake.” The secret ingredient is her house-made crème fraîche, which lightens the mousse and adds a tangy quality that Omilinsky really loves. “It’s nice to have acidity to the dish,” she says. “And it really complements the salty pistachios.”
db Brasserie, Las Vegas
Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud’s db Brasserie in Las Vegas falls in perfect line with the go-big-or-go-home mentality of the Strip. The chocolate cheesecake tart is an over-the-top pairing of French technique with the rich, bold flavors of a classic American cheesecake. An orange tart shell contains a custardy cheesecake made with delicate orange blossom mixed with mascarpone, orange zest and juice. It’s topped with an extra layer of rich milk- and dark-chocolate ganache. Boulud further ups the ante with a garnish of orange cream sherbet made with sour cream for a velvety texture, and segments of confit orange marinated in caramel and grenadine. dbbrasserie.com
The Commissary, San Francisco
Traci Des Jardins’s Spanish-influenced restaurant The Commissary features a delicious and healthier version of cheesecake. Goat cheese-based with a crushed sunflower seed crust, the secret ingredient in this cheesecake is the cheese itself. “We use Harley Farms chèvre, an extremely fresh and nutritional local cheese,” says pastry chef Kristi Gauslow. “It’s whipped with a bit of mascarpone which adds to its creaminess.” Then there’s the sunflower crust. “The sunflower sablé is as much the star as the cheesecake itself,” says Gauslow. “It’s tasty, light and pairs extremely well with the different seasonal garnishes that we serve with it.”
Tatte Bakery & Café, Boston, Cambridge and Brookline, MA
“It started when I was 9,” says Tatte Bakery chef and owner Tzurit Or. “My mom made this cake every other week. She used to hide the crust from me because I couldn't resist eating it all!” Her fluffy and light best-selling vanilla cheesecake is so popular, Or can’t take it off the menu. “It has a dreamy texture and flavor, far from the traditional American cheesecake,” she says. Although Or modified her mother’s recipe a bit, she sticks with the original Israeli quark cheese. “It is not easy to get it to the States, and I took a big chance knowing we might run out from time to time,” she says. “When we do, it is a huge issue for customers. Like the end of the world is here.”
Craftbar, New York
Abby Swain, pastry chef at Tom Colicchio’s Craft and Craftbar, makes seasonally inspired cheesecakes that go beyond the basic strawberry. Recent cakes include a summery confection made with chamomile cream and a pumpkin cheesecake for fall with pepita brittle and toasted nutmeg marshmallow. But the crowd favorite has to be the s’mores chocolate cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and a gooey marshmallow on top. Swain’s two personal favorites are carrot cheesecake with carrot cake base, fried walnuts and maple whipped cream; and a curried cheesecake with Sicilian pistachio and curried pineapple.