Aria Tuscan Grill
100 N. Tryon St., 704-376-8880
Aria’s sweets options mirror the rest of the menu in their simplicity and excellent execution with choices like a house-made ricotta topped with fresh, juicy berries and lavender honey. The rich tiramisu may tempt you on chillier nights, and the pleasantly tart Lemon Semifreddo made with plump blackberries and limoncello should be mandatory come spring.
1800 E. Seventh St., 704-377-9017
While this Big Easy–themed neighborhood restaurant offers desserts like Oreo Cheesecake or Key Lime Pie, if you’re going to be dining at a place that features live jazz every night, you should be eating something rich and sticky. The Bourbon Bread Pudding, made with doughy French bread, fresh peaches, raisons, and cinnamon, is coated in warm caramel sauce and served with a scoop of fast-melting ice cream. Order it with a cup of strong coffee and you’re as close to the French Quarter as it comes outside the Bayou State.
The Blue Taj
14815 Ballantyne Village Way, 704-369-5777
At this sleek and modern Ballantyne restaurant, authentic Indian dessert choices abound. Kheer, an Indian rice pudding mixed with heavy cream, almonds, and cardamom, is sweet and satisfying. Malai Kulfi, an ultradense Indian ice cream made with condensed milk and flavored with saffron and rose water, is the best way to cool your mouth after a spicy curry.
Bistro La Bon
1322 Central Ave., 704-333-4646
Owner and chef Majid Amoorpour has worked as a pastry chef in England and Chicago, which is evident on the dessert menu, where you’ll find delicious house-made pecan pies, cranberry apple cobblers, and bread puddings. Don’t miss the Flourless Chocolate Cake. Garnished with seasonal fruit and served alongside a house-made sorbet, the lush cake is dizzyingly sweet.
210 E. Trade St., 704-971-4440,
A chain saloon in the middle of the city’s largest nightlife complex may not be where you’d expect to find some of the area’s tastiest pastries, but the BlackFinn Hot Chocolate, an oversize mug filled with warm chocolate and peanut butter soufflé, topped with ice cream, and drenched in caramel, will make you wish licking your bowl were socially acceptable.
The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
4310 Sharon Rd., 704-365-1922
Like the rest of its menu, Cowfish’s selection of desserts is extensive—and offers a twist on the ordinary. A crème brûlée is flavored with orange zest and ginger for an Asia-meets-France version. And Asia meets America in the Apple Pie Wontons, featuring fried wontons stuffed with homemade apple pie and served with caramel cream dipping sauce.
The Diamond Restaurant
1901 Commonwealth Ave., 704-375-8959,
The desserts at this Plaza Midwood diner are exactly what you’d expect from a place where the waitresses call you honey and the regulars’ favorites include fried chicken and meatloaf. Banana pudding, pecan pie, and peach cobbler are made daily, but for the classic diner experience order up the old-fashioned Apple Pie à la Mode.
1710 Kenilworth Blvd., 704-332-7525,
At this unassuming gelateria turned full-fledged Italian restaurant, order the house-made Vin Santo, a panna cotta gelato topped with Vin Santo dessert wine, fresh mixed berries, and whipped cream—perfect for sharing. If your sweet tooth demands a dessert of its own, try the Tortino, a decadent Godiva chocolate mousse cake with a champagne cream sauce, or the Limoncello Layer Cake, a light, airy cake with a hint of tartness.
1535 Elizabeth Ave., 704-377-7976,
Most nights at this gorgeous Elizabeth bistro, you’ll find a delectable cheesecake as well as a variation of an imaginative chocolate pastry. The Crème Brûlée, which rarely leaves the otherwise-rotating menu, is made with organic eggs and served with a seasonal fruit garnish. The custard is smooth and not overly sweet, and the caramelized top is just thick enough for the perfect balance of crunch and cream.
4620 Piedmont Row Dr., 980-219-7409
This SouthPark-area spot has the feeling of a Parisian bistro. And, in the true spirit of Paris, order the classic Profiteroles. The airy pastries sit atop scoops of smooth ice cream and are drizzled in a warm, house-made chocolate sauce. A taste of these and you’ll be inspired to enjoy another Parisian tradition: lingering over your meal.
4521 Sharon Rd., 704-442-9525,
There’s a good chance that by the time you’ve polished off your first three courses at this contemporary French restaurant, you’ll be tempted to resist a fourth. Don’t. The desserts here are exquisite and include simple and homemade sorbets and a warm chocolate cake served with salted caramel ice cream. Ask your waiter for a wine suggestion to pair with the delicious Pistachio Dacquoise Torte.
Luna’s Living Kitchen
2102 South Blvd. (in Atherton Mill), 704-333-0008
You don’t have to be vegan or even vegetarian to appreciate the fresh desserts at this little veggie hot spot, tucked into the far corner of the Atherton Mill complex. Try the raw crème brûlée ($9.50), a creamy flan-like dessert made with young coconut flesh and cashews, but don’t miss the refreshing, dairy-free Raw Banana Ice Cream, with its delicate raw cacao sauce and candied pecans.
Good Food on Montford
1701 Montford Dr., 704-525-0881
This stylish and convivial restaurant is the perfect spot to pop in for drinks and dessert. Occasionally, the selection can be a little over the top (see: pear cake with avocado ice cream and salted caramel), but the Chocolate-Espresso Pot de Crème is a heady mix of rich chocolate with a hint of espresso.
274 S. Sharon Amity Rd., 704-817-9721
This Cotswold restaurant is dedicated to working with local farmers; desserts are no exception. In cooler months, a pear bread pudding in a creamy vanilla sauce is soothing comfort food at its best, while summer brings a traditional peach cobbler with fresh peaches and crunchy crust. In the spring, don’t miss the light and fluffy Strawberry Short Cake made with fresh, local berries.
Fern, Flavors from the Garden
1323 Central Ave., 704-377-1825,
Chef Alyssa Gorelick makes it clear here that vegetarian and vegan dining do not have to be boring. Diners will find gluten-free carrot cake and vegan doughnut holes in chocolate. For a dish as rustic-meets-chic as the place itself, try the Warm Apple Tart. It’s a house-made tart topped in an Italian semifreddo and fresh, seasonal fruit, making it an ideal—and semi-guiltless—end to one of Fern’s health-focused meals.
Foskoskies Neighborhood Cafe
2121 Shamrock Dr., 704-535-2220,
Walter Rushton, the owner of this charming neighborhood spot, makes the desserts from scratch every day. Look for favorites like the apple-butterscotch cake drizzled in caramel sauce or the citrusy pineapple-upside down cake. If you happen to stop in on a day when he’s serving the OMG Coconut Cake, pull one of the oak bar stools up to the 1950s-style counter immediately. With dense layers of shaved coconut and cream, this moist cake more than lives up to its name.
Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen
6601 Morrison Blvd., 704-366-8688
At this upscale SouthPark restaurant, the thick chocolate cake is likely to bring back sweet childhood memories, while the coconut cake gets a sophisticated twist with a pool of crème anglaise. Try the Buttermilk Panna Cotta, a perfectly wobbly dish with accompaniments like brandied apples or tart huckleberries.