For six weeks, the editors of New York Magazine and Grub Street are publishing a series of definitive lists that declare the absolute best versions of 101 things to eat, drink, and do. Here, the top chocolate-chip cookies in New York. It turns out that, yes, there is a conversation to be had beyond popular favorite Levain Bakery; the iconic American treat is masterfully interpreted by French, Israeli, and Greek bakers — and even a British sandwichchain.
Gus Reckel is a French investment banker turned baker, and his Bushwick establishment is mostly devoted to his homeland’s elegant baguettes, croissants, and tartines. But he does make certain concessions to the junkier American appetite — chief among them his chocolate-chip cookie, based on his mother’s recipe. Its surface crispness is balanced by an enticing interior chew, and a smattering of sea salt serves to counteract an almost indecent quantity of dark French chocolate.
Dominique Ansel’s stunty cookie milk “shots” get all the Instagram attention, but it’s his unassuming chocolate-chunk cookie that’s won us over. Puffy and pillow-soft, it’s endowed with that critical thin, crisp shell that provides the perfect foil for slightly underbaked innards. And while the melting dark-chocolate chunks might appear few and far between, on the palate, the ratio is just right.
Domed in shape and lush in texture, Maman’s contribution to New York’s cookie pantheon is an artful marriage of French and American tradition. The batter is precisely (under)cooked, the chocolate top-notch. To be honest, we’re not sold on the legitimacy of macadamias and almonds as chocolate-chip-cookie nuts; the texture is a bit jarring. It’s nice that they’ll offer to warm them up for you, though.
It’s true, the craggy monsters at this cookie mecca are underbaked bordering on raw, and hefty enough that lesser appetites will concede midway. But the turnover is so high, the mouthfeel so sumptuous, and the flavor so rich and buttery that Levain’s chocolate-chip-walnuts are nearly impossible to dethrone as the city’s most popular cookie. (A silent minority considers the dark-chocolate-peanut-butter-chip the one to beat.)
Gluten-free is usually the sad also-ran of the baking world, but at Danny Meyer’s Whitney Museum restaurant, it’s the glorious default. When pastry chef Miro Uskokovic was recipe-testing his jumbo triple-chocolate-chunk cookies, he experimented with a batter made from Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup GF blend and preferred it to the conventional-flour control. The menu (wisely) doesn’t bill the confection as gluten-free, and you’d never know otherwise, though the dough does possess a certain granular crumbliness. Clarified butter, though, and lots of it, is what gives it its richness and ultrasoft texture, which is most apparent when the cookies are at their optimal warmth and freshness. That’s when the chocolate (melting disks of Guittard milk, dark, and white) shows best, too. And if you don’t feel like staying for the plated dessert, which comes with a mini bottle of vanilla-scented milk, you can grab a cookie to go at the bar, or at the eighth-floor Studio Cafe.
Nothing about the triple-chocolate-chocolate-chip’s appearance (cratery flat surface, uniform dull brownness, lack of protruding chocolate shards) hints at its excellence. It’s the epitome of the thin, flat, caramelized style — the anti-Levain, if you will — and its various charms include a crisp outer surface, a soft, chewy interior, and a thorough dispersion of milk, dark, and (not to the cookie’s detriment, notably) white chocolate.
Adding salt to balance out sweet is a necessary tactic, but no one takes it quite as far as this Soho shop. The wide, flattish cookie is instantly recognizable, both in appearance and tongue-tingling taste: Guittard dark-chocolate disks decorate the surface under a flurry of Maldon sea salt flakes.
Chocolate chip is undoubtedly the most basic cookie Claire Welle bakes, considering the rest of her Brooklyn-café repertoire: cherry cornflake, smoked fig and oatmeal, bittersweet chocolate with coffee and cured olives (yes, olives; the brininess actually works). But it’s not all that basic: Welle makes her own vanilla extract by steeping spent beans in vodka, adds molasses back into white sugar to make it brown, and lets her high-fat-butter-enriched dough rest for several days, so the flour can absorb everything and the cookies stay thick and high during the bake. The result is a kind of Levain light — half the volume of that behemoth, but equally rich, gooey, and underbaked, with an almost imperceptible crackly shell.
Better known for its baklava and spinach pies, this Greek stall inside Essex Market dispenses a surprisingly winning cookie, flavored with not only chocolate chips, but orange zest, walnuts, and the signature ingredient: grape-must syrup.
11. Pret a Manger
Multiple locations; pret.com
What makes these chain cookies so tasty? They’re baked fresh throughout the day, and held in a warmer to preserve their crisp-edged, melty texture. This heat-lamp approach might sound kind of lame, but the result is lowbrow brilliant.