In my 20s, I traveled all over the country as a low-level professional cyclist, trying to crack the big leagues in Europe and make it to the Tour de France. Bike racing burns a lot of calories, which meant that between Clif Bars and kale shakes, I could still indulge my lifelong love of cookies, but as a pro athlete, I still had to eat healthy. The obvious solution was quality over quantity. Uniquely qualified, I began an important ten-year mission to find the greatest cookies* in America, resolving to never waste my time on a crappy dessert.
Now that I’m retired from the pros, I’m ready to report my findings (and trying not to get fat):
*Note: Oatmeal raisin does not appear on this list, nor do sugar cookies. Oatmeal raisin is a breakfast—not a cookie, and sugar cookies are the cheese pizza of desserts: they’re for children. Come at me.
10. Chocolate Chip from Mama’s Kitchen on Top of Palomar Mountain, Ca.
Everything tastes better if you just rode your bike up a mountain, but Mama’s Kitchen doesn’t use that as a crutch. This would be a noteworthy cookie—even at sea level. Plus, it’s always warm, often served straight off the oven rack.
9. Cowboy Cookie from Handlebar Coffee in Santa Barbara, Ca.
Speaking of sea level, you can smell the ocean from Handlebar Coffee in Santa Barbara, which complements the salt from the crushed pretzels mixed into the dough.
8. Chocolate Chip from Sweet Salt in Toluca Lake, Ca.
Tucked into a small neighborhood between Hollywood and Burbank, Sweet Salt is rightfully crowded when the studios take off for lunch. It’s a good place to spot a celebrity (or a certain former professional cyclist working on an article about cookies…) or snack on their selection of cookies, cakes, and macaroons.
7. Chocolate Chip from Mary’s Mountain Cookies in Fort Collins, Co.
I’ve never set foot in this establishment, but since I was known to cycling fans as the “cookie guy,” every year, when the Tour of Colorado passed through town, kind strangers would deliver gift boxes to my team bus. I was very popular among other racers those days.
6. Pistachio Chocolate Chip from Gideon’s Bakehouse in Orlando, Fla.
You can’t improve on the chocolate chip cookie, and I resent the ego of anyone who tries, as if they found what was always missing from this time-honored, perfect dessert. You can, however, respectfully do it justice, as we see here.
5. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip from Woodstar Cafe in Hadley, Ma.
The perfect cookie already, and then they sprinkle some sugar on top. Genius.
4.Double Chocolate Chip from Meeting Street Cafe in Providence, RI
Size matters with cookies and bigger is better, Meeting Street is a rare example of an oversized cookie (approximately the size of a manhole cover) that still holds up to the quality over quantity standard. Their sandwiches are also good, but don’t fill up on bread and lettuce. That’s just empty vitamins.
3. Chocolate Chip Walnut from Levain Bakery in New York, NY
My dentist brought these all the way to L.A. for me, at the risk of giving me cavities. Three days after he purchased them, and after they were broken from his long trip, they still tasted incredibly delicious, so they’ve earned a high spot on this list.
2. Rice Krispie Treat Chocolate Chip from M Street Kitchen in Santa Monica, Ca.
If you watch cooking shows, you’ve likely seen Jeff Mahin as a chef or judge, and if you come to my annual charity bike ride, you’ll get to experience his cookies at our rest stops. Jeff’s classic chocolate chip earned my respect, but when he topped it with cubes of Rice Krispie Treats, he earned my friendship.
1. Fudge Brownie Chip from Cafe Solterra in Glynn County, Georgia
My respect for good cookies might have started here, where my family went on our annual summer vacation when I was a kid. I hadn’t been there in a decade, so when I visited last summer, I feared that sentimental value had been a factor and the cookie wouldn’t live up to my memory of it, but the damn thing was just as good as I’d hoped. They don’t make this one every day, so call ahead and order a dozen. Trust me.