Choose Your Own Adventure on a Sawtelle Japantown Dessert Crawl

From shaved ice to boba to cream puffs to bread pudding to fried dough, this is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth
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Don’t call it Little Osaka anymore. The West L.A. food-lover’s heaven on and around Sawtelle Boulevard between Santa Monica and Pico Boulevards is now officially known as Sawtelle Japantown, thanks to a unanimous vote by the Los Angeles City Council. According to the Sawtelle Japantown Association’s Facebook page, the name “pays deserved homage to the historic former City of Sawtelle that became part of Los Angeles in 1922, as well as the cultural Japanese roots of the area.”

While Japanese fare like sushi and ramen dominate the strip, other choices, from Southern food to burgers, have been making their presence known. Also thriving are a number of dessert spots, from boba to cream puffs to iced treats. Many of these shops feature unusual ingredients and flavors and a sort-of Choose Your Own Adventure menu, with layers of options. Sawtelle is ideal for a delicious dessert crawl.

Soon, visitors will be able eat the fancy soft-serve at Honeymee, whose headquarters office tells Los Angeles magazine that, “We’re planning to open our Sawtelle location in the end of May this year…hopefully sooner.”

The simplicity of Honeymee defies the “more is more” ethos inherent in dessert. There are just five choices on the menu, all using the same base of “true milk ice cream.” The namesake option tops the cup of soft-serve with a “100 percent natural honeycomb chip.” The Sweetie adds a drizzle of honey on top, while the Dear mixes it up with Ghirardelli chocolate or caramel and a dash of French sea salt. The Babee goes down a slightly different path by coming in a bun. With three locations at the moment and another two on the way, Honeymee must be hitting a sweet spot.

Honeymee’s ice cream will be in good company among Sawtelle’s dessert spots. Here are a few treats to satisfy your sweet tooth in the meantime:

Located right next to Honeymee’s forthcoming shop, Brian’s Shave Ice combines a Hawaiian staple with a bit of Japanese flair perfect for the neighborhood. This more refined version of a snow cone features a much finer texture and comes in nearly three dozen flavors. The range of options, from blue bubblegum to li hing mui (a sweet and salty plum), should please all kinds of palates. You can fill your mountain of frozen goodness with Fosselman’s ice cream for a combo reminiscent of a 50/50 bar. Add-ons like sour spray, adzuki beans, a sweetened condensed-milk “snowcap,” and passion fruit pearls all conspire to melt your heart.

Known for its terrific and gooey burgers, Plan Check on Sawtelle strays from the Asian path of many of its neighbors. But the restaurant’s desserts are as decadent as anything you’ll find on this street. The fresh and hot cruller donuts, twisty and dusted with cinnamon sugar, come two to an order. Easily large enough for two, the dish is augmented with whipped cream and a luscious crème anglaise, as well as coin-sized slices of banana. You might never go Hostess again.

Bursting with possibilities, the Taiwanese Volcano Tea House incites daring in those unaccustomed to trying new things. The small shop offers teas, iced blended drinks, fruit-flavored beverages, and smoothies. The basic milk tea with boba is the most popular choice, but why stop there when you can savor a green-bean iced blended, a red-grapefruit jelly juice, or a lavender milk tea? All of the drinks are sweetened with brown sugar and can be infused with grass jelly (made from the extract of a plant in the mint family), lemon jelly (actually made from an Asian fruit related to figs), aloe, or barley. Top a honey chrysanthemum tea with sea-salt whipped cream. Partake of a snow bubble with tapioca balls, or even add something savory, like fried squid balls. Choose your own eruption.

One of the unlikeliest-looking desserts ever, Blockheads Shavery’s black-sesame snow cream with red beans and rice cakes comes in shades of gray, maroon, and cream that bring to mind the color palette of an ’80s office building. Don’t let the drabness fool you: This iced sweet packs a flavor wallop. The lightness of the snow cream, juxtaposed with the chewy rice cakes (nothing like the cracker-y things you buy for diet-related reasons), powdery beans, and syrupy condensed milk make for a visionary sundae. But if the flavor profile freaks you out, try the strawberry with brownie bites, rainbow sprinkles, and chocolate sauce. Eat and repeat.

Beard Papa feels distinctly Japanese, lasering in on the concept of a cream puff and expanding on it to a near fetish. You begin the process of building your dessert by selecting a shell—original, éclair, Paris brest, or the new crunchy “cookie.” (Small, bite-size cream puffs are also available.) The second step involves the filling. Chocolate and vanilla are always on tap with a revolving third option, like caramel, green tea, strawberry, hazelnut, or cookies and cream. Lastly, a dusting of powdered sugar. Voila! You’ve been Beard Papa’d.

B Sweet Dessert Bar manages to simultaneously feel of the street and apart from the street of Sawtelle. The treats are mostly not Asian-inspired, but the café does capitalize on the idea of building your own dessert from a plethora of options. Specializing in bread pudding, this bakeshop rotates its varieties weekly from a stable of about 40 decadent versions. The salted caramel, the favorite, is always a staple, while honeycomb, maple bacon, and s’mores cycle through. Add on whipped cream! A drizzle of chocolate ganache! Ice cream! And make this dessert sing. For those who don’t want bread pudding, B Sweet’s cake options include a vegan ube—Filipino purple yam. Or try the Sluttiest Brownie with bits of chocolate chip cookies, Oreos, graham crackers, and marshmallow. Patty Lee, a customer, proclaims this brownie so good, her “husband dropped it on the floor, got dog hair all over it, and still ate it.”

redarrow B Sweet Dessert Bar, 2005 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-963-7213

redarrow Beard Papa, 2120 Sawtelle Blvd., #110, 310-479-6665

redarrow Blockheads Shavery, 11311 Mississippi Ave., 310-445-8725

redarrow Brian’s Shave Ice, 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., #103, 310-231-3450

redarrow Honeymee, coming soon to 11301 W. Olympic Blvd., #104

redarrow Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, 1800 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-444-1411

redarrow Volcano Tea House, 2111 Sawtelle Blvd., 310-445-5326

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