The Best Cheesecakes in America

cheesecake new skete nuns
Photo: AlexPro9500/Getty Images

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. –Maisie Wilhelm

01 of 15

Eileen's Special Cheesecake, NYC

Eileen's Special Cheesecake
Courtesy of Eileen’s

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. eileenscheesecake.com

02 of 15

Måurice, Portland, OR

Måurice
© Kristen D. Murray

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. mauricepdx.com

03 of 15

Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, NYC

Mah Ze Dahr Bakery
© Vanessa Rees

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. mahzedahrbakery.com

04 of 15

Zanze's Cheesecake, San Francisco

Zanze’s Cheesecake
© Caroline Wang

"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

05 of 15

The City Bakery, NYC

The City Bakery
Courtesy of City Bakery

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." thecitybakery.com

06 of 15

Tatte Bakery & Café, Boston, Cambridge and Brookline, MA

Tatte Bakery & Café
Courtesy of Tatte Bakery & Café

"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." tattebakery.com

07 of 15

Commander's Palace, New Orleans, LA

Commander’s Palace
© Commander’s Palace

The Creole Cream Cheese Cheesecake at New Orleans' institution Commander's Palace takes five days to make. At the heart of the 20-plus-year-old popular recipe, first developed by the late chef Jamie Shannon, is "Creole" cream cheese made with milk from local cows who spend their days feasting on the salty marsh grass. On the first day of cake making, the milk is mixed with a vegetable rennet and left to rest at room temperature for 48 hours. On the third day, it rests another 24 hours in the refrigerator. On the fourth day, chefs make the batter and leave it to sit for another day. Then, finally, it is baked. commanderspalace.com

08 of 15

Joule, Seattle, WA

Joule
© Anna Lisa Chacon

You might not expect to find some of the country's best cheesecake at a modern Korean restaurant, but Joule is churning out some of the most unusual and delicious cakes that straddle the line between sweet and savory. The cheesecake changes seasonally from something like goat cheese with pickled beets to blue cheese with Chinese sausage crumble and candied jujube. "We always love brining a little bit of savory in all our sweets," says co-owner and chef Rachel Yang. joulerestaurant.com

09 of 15

Kiki's, NYC

Kiki's
© Nicholas Spanos

Chef Nicholas Spanos learned how to make his no-bake cheesecake while working at his friend Petros Kousathanas's restaurant, Bourazza, on the Greek island of Mykonos. Spanos added his own spin but still uses Greek brand Papadopoulos Digestive whole grain cookies mixed with butter. He mixes the cream cheese with Nounou, a sweetened condensed milk, a splash of fresh lemon juice and a shot of heavy cream. "It is well-balanced, not sweet, and tastes better the next day," he says. "I crush the cookie by hand to get some bigger pieces in there for a richer bite, and of course, a whole lot of love." 130 Division Street, New York, NY (646) 882-7052

10 of 15

Departure Restaurant + Lounge, Portland, OR

Departure Restaurant + Lounge
© Sage Restaurant Group

Chef Gregory Gourdet, whom you may recognize as a Top Chef runner-up, doesn't focus on dishes that cater to restrictive diets, per se, but many of his modern pan-Asian dishes happen to benefit vegans and celiacs. His gluten- and dairy-free cheesecake is made with cashew "cheese," and served with peach and ginger sorbet, wakamomo (early-picked peaches), and matcha. departureportland.com

11 of 15

Zingerman's, Ann Arbor, MI

Zingerman’s
Courtesy of Zingerman's

Zingerman's original New York Cheesecake uses their own fresh, handmade cream cheese, local sour cream, real vanilla beans and sweet butter, and has a buttery cookie crust, baked in a water bath to develop its texture. There are four rotating flavors, including pumpkin with fall spices and a ginger cookie crust; dark chocolate cheesecake with a crust made from Zingerman's Black Magic brownies; and a must-order Muscovado brown sugar cheesecake, which has a sour cream glaze and graham cracker cornmeal crust. zingermans.com

12 of 15

Ristorante Rafele, NYC

Ristorante Rafele
Courtesy of Rafele Ristorante

"It's very simple," Ristorante Rafele chef and owner Raffaele Ronca says of his baked ricotta cheesecake. "It's a spinoff on a cheesecake I learned from my mom." Ronca uses real vanilla beans and buffalo milk ricotta, which makes for a silky interior. "The texture becomes so light," he says. "I whip it for a very long time and that is the secret." Ronca also uses a homemade orange blossom simple syrup, rather than lemon, to brighten up the cake. "It's actually quite healthy," he says. He does sneak in a layer of seasonal fruit—usually caramelized figs or pears—on top of the pie dough crust, so you can count a slice as a serving of fruit. rafele.com

13 of 15

Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC

Dominique Ansel Bakery
© Thomas Schauer

It's not all Cronuts and cookie shots at Dominique Ansel's bakery. Ansel makes an ethereally light, mini cheesecake, as cute—and miraculously as fluffy—as a cotton ball. The aptly named Cotton Soft Cheesecake's light texture comes from a combination of ricotta and fromage blanc. For a crust, Ansel makes a moist almond cake instead of using graham cracker. But the best part is the crunchy top, which is sprinkled with sugar and lightly torched like a crème brûlée. dominiqueansel.com

14 of 15

Jin Patisserie, Los Angeles, CA

Jin Patisserie
Courtesy of Jin Patisserie

"There are no secret ingredients," pastry chef Kristy Choo says of her no-bake strawberry cheesecake. "We just use good quality cream cheese and 100 percent pure strawberry paste." Dainty in color, the cake is anything but demure. "It is creamy and the perfume from the strawberry will explode on your taste buds," she says. jinpatisserie.com

15 of 15

New Skete Monastery, Cambridge New York

cheesecake new skete nuns
AlexPro9500/Getty Images

This small monastery tucked away in upstate New York is the source of something absolutely heavenly: perfect handmade cheesecake. For over forty years, nuns at New Skete have made a limited number of cakes a day, and thanks to Goldbelly, they are orderable online. Try raspberry ripple cheesecake, or creamy key lime, or a sampler of everything. goldbelly.com/new-skete-monastery

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