Orange County, meet ube. Ube, meet Orange County. While the ingredient—commonly used in Filipino desserts—has been popular amongst Los Angeles eateries and local turo-turo joints, it’s only making its introduction as a hot trend in our county this year. This is only the warm-up of what could be the next big trend—though we won’t see anything like Café 86 in Chino and Pasadena (ube central, essentially) popping up anytime soon. In general, Filipino food and its extensions are difficult to find here, but—hurrah—we’re starting to see local chefs experiment with it in interesting ways.
Scoops OC (Santa Ana)
Scoops OC’s take on ube is one of the more creative ones around. I present to you ube Oreo: contender for most unique flavor of the year. But, of course, this seemingly odd combination makes sense in the world of Scoops, where black sesame and apple pie exist in ice cream-form the same way vanilla does. 605 E Santa Ana Blvd, Santa Ana, (657) 210-0399; facebook.com/scoopsoc
UJelly (Fountain Valley)
If anybody understands food trends it’s Andy Nguyen and Scott Nghiem of Afters Ice Cream, who—along with LysaThuy Pham—opened UJelly earlier this year. Among the shop’s wacky flavors is a normal one—ube—which looks like a purple version of Homer Simpson’s donuts. The taro donut is thick, cake-like, and topped with icing, merging Asian flavors with that of the West. Inside the donut is a light and thin taro-flavored filling. 16051 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley; Instagram: @ujellyujelly
Milk Bar (Fountain Valley)
Naturally, a place as trendy as Milk Bar (where rainbow bar ice cream sandwiches exist) would do something with ube. To elaborate, I shall quote myself:
Architecturally, the ice cream sandwich consists of two rectangular rainbow bars holding a large scoop of ice cream in the middle—their ends creeping over ice cream-less edges. You don't want to eat this like a sandwich, unless you're okay with bright stains on your clothes. Instead, eat the dessert in steps: first, take the provided spoon and scoop some ice cream (I tried ube) into your mouth. Then, pick off a piece of the rainbow bar with your hand. Thin and moderately sweet, it adds subtle bouts of crispiness to each bite the way a waffle cone does. The ube ice cream is thick and melts so quickly that, five minutes into the dessert, it begins seeping through the remaining rainbow bar. Now—grab some napkins first—you'll need to finish the rest with your hands.
16051 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, (714) 884-4269; Instagram: @milkbaroc
Inside SKUP (Fullerton)
This is where you go for not only ube ice cream but ube iced cookies too (where—duh—you’ll turn into a double ube ice cream sandwich). I wrote about Inside SKUP last summer:
These days, colleges come with ice cream sandwich shops. UCLA paved the way with Diddy Riese, UC Irvine acquired Stax Cookie Bar, and now Cal State Fullerton has Inside SKUP. But Inside SKUP is different from the rest, and there are several reasons for it: first of all, they carry Asian-inspired ice cream flavors like lychee, Thai coconut cream, Vietnamese coffee, and ube. And secondly, they don't just serve cookie ice cream sandwiches but also brownie and donut ones.
575 N Commonwealth Ave, (714) 869-3110; facebook.com/insideskup
DK’s Donuts (Tustin)
Bacon donuts and cronuts ain’t so unique anymore, which makes DK’s a basic donut shop in today’s terms. Naturally, then, you’ll find ube donuts here—one version plain and another covered in fine coconut flakes (you know which one to try…) These donuts are not too sweet, soft, and thick in texture—a great breakfast/dessert option for anyone who’s not too big on sugar. 1082 Irvine Blvd, Tustin, (714) 731-1431; facebook.com/dksdonutstustin
Zero Degrees (Westminster)
This dessert shop has done it all, from boba sundaes (genius-ish idea where you simply put boba on ice cream) and ice cream burritos. Naturally, they make taro ice cream which can too be turned into a boba sundae. 9822 Bolsa Ave, Ste C, Westminster, (714) 839-8664; facebook.com/ZeroItalianIce
Red Ribbon Bakeshop (Anaheim and Irvine)
Enough with the trendy stuff for now; let’s discuss a classic. Red Ribbon is a bakery that never shows up without Seafood City and Jolibee (they’re clique-y like that) and is known for cakes and halo-halo. One of its standout items is the three-layer ube cake, which is simple at best but is the only cake of its kind in Orange County. 601 N Euclid St, Anaheim, (714) 780-0051; 2180 Barranca Pkwy, Irvine, (949) 660-1510; redribbonbakeshop.us
Eiswelt Gelato (Westminster)
If you’re a fan of taking photos of your food, you’ll go nuts for the adorable desserts at Eiswelt Gelato (ice cream cones designed as bears? 100,000 Instagram likes here I come!) With ice cream shaped as critters and flowers, you might as well care less about what it tastes like. But we’re happy to report that everything from taro to durian (YES, DURIAN) is as creamy and smooth as the Word of Godly Gelato Law demands. 9605 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, (657) 245-3141; Instagram: @eisweltgelato
Friendly’s Donuts (Orange)
For a time period, endless lines were forming in front of Friendly’s Donuts for its ube donuts—the first of such a kind in the county. The hype, of course, died down as foodies’ moved along to the next thing. Yet, Friendly’s remains loyal to the ube game and even released an ube donut sandwich (you guessed it: ube donut with ube ice cream inside.) Here’s more on the shop’s ube origins from Anne Marie:
Friendly Donuts understands the cult nature of our Filipino flavor bomb. Two varieties were available: original glazed and organic blueberry frosting. Containing the signature color throughout, this particular dessert was gorgeously royal in stature. Built like a hearty cake doughnut, an original's taste was not very sweet— despite the inclusion of coconut in the mix to bring out that intended flavor. I found it was more on the mild side, pairing them with a cuppa hot cocoa to coax a little more of the natural sweetness.
4442 E Chapman Ave, Orange, (714) 538-4942
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To put it lightly, Ensaymada Project is amazeballs. Anne Marie’s got the scoop:
For those not familiar with a pastry from The Ensaymada Project, you've possibly encountered similar from other cultures (like how I equate an eggroll to lumpia). When I shared an order with coworkers, I described one as being comparable to a cinnamon roll. Each ensaymada is individually wrapped, its curious cream hue appearing more Easter egg treasure than exotic dessert. One bite, and doughy goodness takes over. This buttery baking project almost melts in our mouth. We inhale ours in barely a minute, after hesitating over the final chomp. An episode of The Chew could be themed around this online-only business, but we digress.
Order online at ensaymadaproject.com.