America's Best Apple Pies

America’s Best Apple Pies: Whiffies; Portland, OR
Photo: Photo © Gregg Abbott

Unlike cakes and fancy pastries, pie generally doesn't have dazzling looks to fall back on: Perfection lies in the taste and texture of the filling and the crust. From totally traditional versions with flaky crusts and cinnamon-spiced apples to deep-fried variations and others made luxuriously rich with caramel, here are the country's most delicious apple pies.—Tommy Werner

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A la Mode; Seattle

America’s Best Apple Pies: A la Mode: Seattle
Photo Courtesy of A la Mode Pies

After leaving a PR gig, owner Chris Porter used the baking tips he learned from his mom to start an online pie delivery service. Porter's flakey crust, with bits of butter that melt into the filling, developed such a following that he later expanded the business to include this modern café with metal stools and a walnut butcher-block counter. His Gala apple–and–Bartlett pear pie, redolent of cinnamon and ginger, is popular for fall. When ordered to stay, it comes with a softball-size scoop of local Bluebird ice cream.

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Slightly North of Broad; Charleston, SC

America’s Best Apple Pies: Slightly North of Broad; Charleston, SC
Photo © Stacy Howell Imagery

Local-before-it-was-cool chef Frank Lee opened his kitchen in 1993 with two goals: use seasonal ingredients and honor Taoism, a philosophy that emphasizes balance. The apple pie pairs sweet Carolina apples with a tangy zip of sour cream. His eggy French pâte sucrée crust is offset with crunchy, toasty walnut strudel.

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Three Babes Bakeshop; San Francisco

America’s Best Apple Pies: Three Babes Bakeshop; San Francisco
Photo © Colin Price

Sourced from Central Valley, California, farmers, the mix of apples in this beautiful pie changes through the season, starting with orange-red Gravensteins and finishing the year with Pink Pearls. Best friends and owners Anna Derivi-Castellanos and Lenore Estrada stick to all-butter for their delicious, well-browned crust. They also leave the skin on the fruit so the filling takes on a beautiful rosy color.

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Pie Shop; Atlanta

America’s Best Apple Pies: Pie Shop; Atlanta
Photo © Rinne Allen

The state may be known for peaches, but controversial as it may sound, owner Mims Bledsoe believes Georgia apples are required for the ultimate apple pie. The decadent caramel apple pie at this tucked-away spot is made with a mix of unique north Georgia apples including Winesap, Mutsu and Braeburn, which provide tartness, firmness after baking, and depth in flavor. Each apple is quickly stripped of its skin with a sturdy circa-1800s cast-iron peeler; the fruit is heavily doused with clove, and topped with buttery streusel dotted with house-made caramel and touched with just a hint of salt.

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The Apple Pan; Los Angeles

America’s Best Apple Pies: The Apple Pan; Los Angeles
Photo Courtesy of The Apple Pan

This L.A. landmark has been selling Hickory hamburgers since 1947. Dedicated customers allow little change: When the horseshoe-shape diner introduced new fries, people noticed and demanded the old style's return. Equally famous is Apple Pan's pie, a perfect example of the diner pie: flat, with a thin crust and sweet, soft-cooked apples. Owner Sunny Sherman's grandmother came up with the restaurant name out of the blue. It might be random, but the name stuck. No website; 310-475-3585

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Four & Twenty Blackbirds; Brooklyn

America’s Best Apple Pies: Four & Twenty Blackbirds; Brooklyn
Photo © Gentl & Hyers

This Brooklyn café and bakery specializes in pies with sweet-savory elements like pear-bourbon crumble and salty honey, and their flavors have attracted high-profile clients like Danny Meyer's Untitled at the Whitney Museum. The salted caramel apple features a golden caramel made with heavy cream, which flows over fruit spiked with deliciously complex Angostura bitters.

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Whidbey Pies; Seattle

America’s Best Apple Pies: Whidbey Pies; Seattle
Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Pies

Located at Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island (about 30 miles outside Seattle), Whidbey Pies has an idylic fall location. The "people's favorite" pie at the 27-year-old bakery is caramel-cardamom-apple made with Washington Granny Smiths. For the pastry crust, the bakery uses unsalted butter and coconut oil—which they feel is healthier than shortening—making a rich pillow-like topping. em>

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Mission Pie; San Francisco

America’s Best Apple Pies: Mission Pie; San Francisco
Photo © Anita Bowen Photography

In fall, the menu at this Mission District corner café is loaded with California's finest apples and pears. The apple-blackberry pie has a crumb top and features Gravenstein apples in the early season and tannic Black Twigs later in the fall. Since the whole local blackberries are frozen, the combination is often available through winter.

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Pies-n-Thighs; Brooklyn

America’s Best Apple Pies: Pies-n-Thighs; Brooklyn
Photo © Winnie Au

Flawless fried chicken and oversize biscuits get the most buzz at this homey restaurant run by comfort food mavens Erika Williams, Sarah Sanneh and Carolyn Bane. But there's a reason pie gets top billing in the name. Their apple version uses tart Granny Smiths and has an expert crust made with flavorful Plugrá, a European-style butter low in moisture and high in creaminess.

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Hoosier Mama Pie Company; Chicago

America’s Best Apple Pies: Hoosier Mama Pie Company; Chicago
Photo © Brian M. Heiser

Around Thanksgiving, owner Paula Haney hires country musicians to entertain customers lined up around the block outside her eight-seat café. Apple is the only flavor pie sold every season; without them, Haney predicts riots. Why is it so special? She flavors the apples with Chinese five-spice (star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel, clove, cinnamon), which tempers the sweetness with peppery heat. The crispy crust also incorporates vinegar to retard gluten so it doesn't get tough, and the bottom is dusted in a flour-sugar mixture to avoid sogginess.

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Scratch; Durham, NC

America’s Best Apple Pies: Scratch; Durham, NC
Photo © Lissa Gotwals

Pastry chef Phoebe Lawless opened this café to focus on what she does best: pie. The apple with benne seed streusel, a toasty and nutty take on a crumb top, makes brilliant use of regional products. The benne (sesame) comes from Charleston, South Carolina, and adds a subtle texture to the firm North Carolina mountain apples, such as Jonathan or Blushing Gold. By using a delicate crumb top and firm apples, "You can taste the nuances of the fruit," says Lawless.

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Sweetie-Licious; DeWitt, MI

America’s Best Apple Pies: Sweetie-Licious; DeWitt, MI
Photo © Clarissa Westmeyer from Sweetie-Licious Pies by Linda Hundt

This pastel bakery's best seller is Laura's Sticky Toffee Pudding Caramel Apple Pie. The idea came from owner Linda Hundt's twin, Laura. On a trip to Hong Kong she had a revelation to to combine English toffee with American desserts. The final result: a sticky and creamy pudding layer of toffee, praline pecan–filled cake, homemade caramel and tart (Michigan only) Idared apples, for a crunchy, buttery whole — unified thanks to a crust holding everything together.

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Royers Pie Haven; Round Top, TX

America’s Best Apple Pies: Royers Pie Haven; Round Top, TX
Photo © Whitney Steinke

Proprietor/philosopher Bud Royer took a failing chicken-fried steak hovel and transformed it into a funky café serving fresh seafood. People make the drive from Houston or Austin to Round Top (population 90) for Royer's syllogisms but most importantly, his Texas-proportioned pies that ooze with globs of brown sugar and cream. Not My Mom's Apple Pie comes from Royer tweaking his family recipe by adding a crunchy pecan-granola topping, which he's been known to sample for "quality assurance" on the pie's way out of the oven.

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The Elegant Farmer; Mukwonago, WI

America’s Best Apple Pies: The Elegant Farmer; Mukwonago, WI
Photo Courtesy of The Elegant Farmer

Call it a line in the sand over the top of a pie: Wisconsin residents are divided between ice cream or local sharp cheddar as a suitable dairy topping for pie. This 65-acre farm offers both on top of an unusual sugar cookie–dough crust, invented after a baking accident. The domed crust caramelizes in a paper bag, keeping Idared apples crisp yet sweet and the crust brown, not doughy. Three generations of owners and countless contests later, this is the authoritative Wisconsin pie, with or without cheese.

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Blue Duck Tavern; Washington, DC

America’s Best Apple Pies: Blue Duck Tavern; Washington, DC
Photo Courtesy of Park Hyatt Washington

Chef Sebastien Archambault and pastry chef Naomi Gallego rely on a wood-burning oven for most of the upgraded tavern classics served at this restaurant in the Park Hyatt. Texas-born Archambault trained in Paris (under Alain Ducasse), and both locales influenced his 6-inch apple pie. A nod to French pastry, this version of the American classic has a crispy and butter-heavy crust, with a dark caramel and an acidic swirl of Granny Smith apples. Though the award-winning menu changes every six weeks, the pie has remained untouched since its introduction in 2006.

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Pie Lab; Greensboro, AL

America’s Best Apple Pies: Pie Lab; Greensboro, AL
Photo © Brit Huckabay / Food Stylist-Kelley Whatley

This lab is dedicated to charity, conversation and fruit fillings: Kelley Whatley's bakery donates all of its profits to HERO, which coordinates housing and temporary shelters in Hale County, Alabama. Whatley grew up taste-testing pies her grandmother wanted to sell in downtown Birmingham. Inspired, she developed her own gooey apple pie with the crunchy rhythm of a pecan filling and a dollop of juicy cranberry sauce, instantly evoking the holidays.

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The Dutch; New York

America’s Best Apple Pies: The Dutch; New York
Photo © Abby Hocking

F&W Best New Chef 2000 Andrew Carmellini leaves the pie at his eclectic American brasserie in the hands of talented pastry chef Kierin Baldwin. She calls her specialty G.O.A.P. (good old apple pie). She boils cider into a syrup for the filling, which is made with Pink Lady or Honeycrisp apples cooked in tangy cider vinegar. For another smart trick, she parcooks the crust to avoid sogginess.

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Random Order Coffeehouse; Portland, OR

America’s Best Apple Pies: Random Order Coffeehouse; Portland, OR
Photo © Paul Rich Studio

Not one pie on the menu at Tracy Olson's Portland hot spot is traditional. The bakery's late-night menu features cocktails and boozy pies such as the New Deal Coffee Cream, made with coffee liqueur. The Tahitian Vanilla Sugar Salted Caramel Apple has an earthy, floral flavor and tart Granny Smith apples.

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Pie Kitchen; Louisville, KY

America’s Best Apple Pies: Pie Kitchen; Louisville, KY
Photo Courtesy of Pie Kitchen LLC

Owner Adam Burckle has a legacy to protect: the hometown ice cream counter. Burckle calls his sweet shop one of the remaining "micro-churns," and uses only regional dairy products. The apple pie here benefits from his dedication to homespun desserts: The Dutch apple streusel has a one-of-a-kind layer of caramel icing on top, mimicking caramel apples and smoothly coating the pie.The kitchen spreads on the hot caramel, gushing from a steam kettle, and it's always made from scratch.

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First Slice Pie Café; Chicago

America’s Best Apple Pies: First Slice Pie Café; Chicago
Photo © Joe Tighe /

In addition to baking fantastic pies, this nonprofit bakery-café directly funds the First Slice soup kitchen. Proprietor Mary Ellen Diaz left the renowned Lettuce Entertain You group to start the program, which now serves thousands of meals each month and has expanded with new ventures, including StreetWise, a program to aid the homeless. Her apple pie is simple, with just a touch of cinnamon spice, lemon juice and a whopping 25 Granny Smiths per pie.

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Simple Things; Los Angeles

America’s Best Apple Pies: Simple Things; Los Angeles
Photo © Courtesy of Simple Things

Residents of Vermont or Wisconsin would be more likely to slap some cheddar on a slice, but the bakers at this contemporary L.A. sandwich stop have put cheese into the actual crust. The Tillamook cheddar in the rustic dessert adds a sharpness that goes well with a juicy filling of Granny Smith and Fuji apples flavored with bourbon and golden raisins.

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Soda & Swine; San Diego

America’s Best Apple Pies: Soda & Swine; San Diego
Photo © Carissa O'Connor

After earning two Michelin stars for Ria in Chicago, chef Jason McLeod went to San Diego for good weather and a more relaxed approach to food. He found it at this popular meatball shop where he updates dishes like chicken meatballs with rustic mushrooms and seeping provolone. His warm apple pies combine caramel sauce folded with firm maple apples and toasted pecans. The heat starts to melt the swirl of soft-serve ice cream that diners can order alongside.

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Whiffies; Portland, OR

America’s Best Apple Pies: Whiffies; Portland, OR
Photo © Gregg Abbott

Owner Greg Abbott scaled down his family's thick-crusted, 18-inch apple pie recipe for preparation in a deep fryer. He ended up with Whiffies, empanada-shaped pastries that are uniformly browned and surprisingly light. The apple Whiffie, a riff on the Hostess pies Abbott ate as a kid, has a salty crust, a nice foil for the Granny Smith–and–brown sugar filling.

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