Strawberry Lava Fudge Cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake
This Washington, D.C. transplant—founded by sisters and stars of TLC's DC Cupcakes—set down roots in SoHo a few years back, and turns out some of the city's best cupcakes. The gluten-free versions, made with a blend of rice, potato, and soy flours, are no exception, since they manage to avoid being too dry and overly dense. The oozing lava center of the Strawberry Lava Fudge cupcake ($2.75) won me over, as did the frosting, which is made with fresh strawberries and is good enough to eat with a spoon. Note: this flavor is only available on Sunday. Other top contenders are peanut butter fudge (Saturday) and salted caramel (Tuesday); look online for the full schedule.
Chocolate Chip Cupcake from Billy's Bakery
A former Magnolia Bakery employee founded this retro-inspired shop which now boasts three locations in Manhattan. Gluten-free cupcake offerings rotate daily, but this rich, dark, super chocolate-y one ($3) studded with chocolate chunks stands out. (Other flavors are carrot and banana, both with cream cheese frosting.) Opt for the thick and smooth chocolate buttercream frosting over the somewhat bland vanilla. Bright-colored sugar pastels add a nice crunch.
Red Velvet from Sprinkles
The self-proclaimed world's first cupcake bakery—and the company behind the first-ever cupcake ATM, in Los Angeles—set up shop on the Upper East Side in 2011. The red velvet cupcake ($3.75) (which has a sugar red "G" on top instead of the signature dot) is the only gluten-free option—but it's outstanding and (bold statement alert) just as good as the regular one. The cake is moist and fluffy, while the cream cheese frosting is perfectly silky.
Brownie Mocha Cupcake from Babycakes
According to the girl behind the counter at Babycakes—a Lower East Side bakery where everything is gluten-free, organic, vegan, soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and kosher—this is the all-time best-selling cupcake flavor. The brownie part was thick, cake-y, and intensely chocolate-y. The mocha frosting was creamy and subtle; you can see traces of ground up coffee beans. At $4.95 a pop, they are on the pricier end.
Carrot Cake Cupcake from Crumbs Bake Shop
This famed brand made waves last October when it debuted its first-ever gluten-free location in the East Village. The versions there are just as colossal as the originals. Of the flavors I tried, the Carrot Cake ($3.95)—topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting, crushed walnuts, and a buttercream carrot—was the clear favorite. Moist and fluffy, it was the only one that truly could have passed for non gluten-free. Though it's worth noting that I took multiple flavors, including Cookie Dough and Blackout, to a dinner party and the guests noticed a difference only after I made the big reveal—and then still finished every bite.
Carrot Cake Cupcake from Jennifer's Way Bakery
Like Babycakes, this is one of the few 100% gluten-free bakeries in New York City; they also avoid using soy, dairy, peanuts, and refined sugar. The pint-sized shop is owned by the actress Jennifer Esposito, who opened it last March a few years after being diagnosed with celiac disease. It was the coziest and best-smelling of all the places I visited. The carrot cupcake ($4.50) was moist, though a bit oily, with a welcome hint of nutmeg and the crunch of crushed walnuts. My only complaint was the frosting: there wasn't enough of it, and what was there was somewhat sloppily spread on top and had an almost grainy texture. Though I still happily polished off the whole thing.