Decadent desserts: they’re not something you want to eat every day —but when you want to indulge, it helps to know where to get the best. Here are five dessert favorites we recommend in Santa Cruz County.
The Soft Serve Sundae at Mutari Craft Chocolate is not only delicious, it also features vegan ice cream. Chocolatier Mutari added plant-based soft serve ice cream to its offerings in 2021. The sundae includes creamy, delectable chocolate or vanilla ice cream plus toppings which rotate. Depending on the particular toppings, the dessert may or may not be vegan. One non-vegan example features ice cream, honey, bee pollen, and a housemade butter ganache truffle. While you’re at Mutari, purchase a box of truffles to take home for another time: made in-house, these yummy bites focus on collaborations with local and regional artisans and farms.
The Chocolate Meltdown at Shadowbrook Restaurant is what you’d call “decadence squared.” You start by eating scrumptious chocolate cake and after you eat a few bites you get to the center. Warm, rich chocolaty goodness flows out—hence the use of the word ‘molten’ on the menu. Part of what makes this dessert so special is the high-quality chocolate; Shadowbrook utilizes both Guittard and Scotland-based Oman. And a generous scoop of Marianne’s vanilla bean ice cream accompanies the cake. Chocolate Meltdown, which is gluten-free, has been on the menu for many years; this particular version has been offered since about 2009.
The Mango with Sticky Rice at Pacific Thai may sound simple but don’t let that fool you. The restaurant’s dessert features a unique, nutty-flavored “Purple Rice” which is a combination of White Glutinous Sticky Rice (typically used for this classic Thai dessert) and Black Glutinous Rice. The rice is mixed with a sweet, salty coconut milk after it’s cooked. Before the dessert is plated, Pacific Thai coats the rice with coconut syrup. It’s served alongside slices of fresh, luscious mango. The dish’s components perfectly enhance each other. It’s no wonder Mango with Sticky Rice has been the most popular dessert on Pacific Thai’s menu since the restaurant first opened in 2005.
Ohana Pie at Hula’s Island Grill & Tiki Room, a signature creation, is also Hula’s top-selling dessert. It’s been on the menu since the restaurant’s Santa Cruz location opened in 2006 (there is also a Hula’s in Monterey). With Marianne’s macadamia nut ice cream on an Oreo cookie crust topped with hot fudge and fresh whipped cream, it’s a fantastic taste and texture combination. Occasionally, Hula’s offers slight variations with a different ice cream flavor but the original recipe (with macadamia nut ice cream) is what’s available most of the time. The Hawaiian word Ohana means family, and it’s safe to say the entire family will enjoy this dessert.
The Butterscotch Pot de Crème at Soif Wine Bar & Merchants is silky and luscious. The taste is reminiscent of butterscotch pudding you enjoyed as a child, but way more complex. The intense butterscotch flavor—with a hint of smokiness—makes this dessert feel like a special treat. Soif uses a recipe that cooks the butter and sugar longer than a lot of recipes do, which helps create the concentrated flavors. The pot de crème is topped with Chantilly cream, basically a whipped heavy cream with a bit of vanilla bean and a small amount of sugar.
Santa Cruz County is blessed with too many divine treats to discuss here, but we do want to include a few worthy honorable mentions that didn’t make it to our main list: the decadent Chocolate Souffle from Oswald Restaurant (served with a small pitcher of cream to pour on top), the wonderful Bread Pudding from Café Sparrow (flavors vary, but the most popular are Blueberry with Lemon Cream and Chocolate Almond with Creme Anglaise), and Chocolate’s yummy chocolate Sin Cake (served warm, it is drizzled with dark chocolate ganache and made with almond flour). Craving more sweets? Here are five more to consider.