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Mesero Miguel's awesome cinco leches cake (photography by Kevin Marple)

Bite Fight: The Best Tres Leches Cake in Dallas

Every month, we compare multiple renditions of a single dish served at different restaurants and pit them head-to-head to find the winner.

A fine tres leches cake is a beautiful thing. When there’s creamy vanilla sweetness coupled with a curious balance struck between light and rich, that’s when you know you’ve hit the jackpot. Pastel de tres leches is a dessert with a history soaked in Latin American cross-culturalism, burgeoned by canned milk production in the 1940s, and widely popularized in Texas by the 1990s. Dallas is rife with restaurants offering their own take on this ubiquitous, fluffy dessert, often upping the ante by changing its nomenclature. To find out how many milks it really takes to exemplify this cake, I tasted the tres leches at the health-conscious Kozy Kitchen, the cuatro leches at the trendy La Duni Latin Cafe, and the cinco leches at 2013’s Tex-Mex newcomer Mesero Miguel.

Kozy Kitchen's tres leches cake
Kozy Kitchen’s tres leches cake

Kozy Kitchen
4433 McKinney Ave.

Although offering organic and local-sourced ingredients is a point of pride in Dallas’ restaurant scene, Kozy Kitchen holds the unique distinction of composing a nearly complete gluten-free menu. Its tres leches cake, described lovingly to me by a friend as one of the best in the city, is no exception. The cake mix flour is an amalgamation of gluten-free sources: white rice, tapioca, arrowroot, and potato. And though my slice arrives before me with no fanfare or accoutrements—still chilly from refrigeration—it is texturally perfect. The dusting of cocoa on top functions as an afterthought; it does nothing to slow the sweetness of this monolith: a slice of sponge cake that retains moisture yet showcases texture. This is not a consolation prize for celiac patients, and there is no compromise in its construction that lends itself to the reluctant health-food dessert category. It is indulgent and creamy—a rice pudding dressed as a great tres leches cake.

La Duni's tres leches cake
La Duni’s cuatro leches cake

La Duni
Multiple locations

Dining at La Duni has never been a favorite experience, but this Latin concept kitchen boasts a reputable bakery offering up a litany of award-winning cakes. Among them is the cuatro leches, an attractive confection that arrives at our table baptized in a pool of sauce, decorated with ribbons of Arequipe reduction and powdered sugar. Curiously, however, it is not technically a tres leches cake. “The cake itself is only made with one milk- regular,” the waiter tells me. “The sauce is made with three milks.” Although the generously poured puddle features evaporated milk, condensed milk, and Arequipe, it functions poorly as the pièce de résistance. One bite and it’s clear the cake’s languid bath in the sauce is purely ornamental. It is dry—painfully dry—like a manager’s special pound cake decorated in expensive accessories. La Duni would’ve been better off investing all four milks into the cake itself, to produce a dessert that could live up to its looks.

Mesero-Miguel
Mesero Miguels’ cinco leches cake

Mesero Miguel
2822 N. Henderson Ave.

Mesero Miguel, Mico Rodriguez’ latest venture at Knox-Henderson, boasts a cinco leches cake on its menu. Eager to discover the extra ingredients, I was disappointed to learn that it truly is a traditional tres leches cake that advertises its whipped cream topping and dulce de leche decoration as the additional milks. It feels similar to when stores mark up their merchandise before putting it on sale. A cheap marketing tactic. But Mesero Miguel didn’t need to rebrand its cake to help it stand out. From the moment it arrives, it promises the next level of leches, quivering and jiggling at the slightest provocation. My friends jostled the plate obscenely, mesmerized by a cake so aerated and wet that its very structural integrity seems miraculous. Tasting it is a lesson in states of matter; a barely solid cake that dissolves into liquid immediately gives you the curious sensation of eating milk. “It’s like ice cream,” my friend marveled. If Mesero Miguel intended to advertise the moistest tres leches cake in town, they succeeded with ease.

Winner

It may not break records for ingenuity, but Mesero Miguel’s cinco leches takes the cake this round. For gluten-free diners, Kozy Kitchen’s tres leches is a solid choice.

Mimi Hoshut is an aspiring fiction writer and disorganized home cook.  When not scouring Dallas for the best Sichuan dry-fried green beans, she podcasts about fantasy novels and manages a healthcare practice to fund her love of dining.

30 comments on “Bite Fight: The Best Tres Leches Cake in Dallas

  1. I couldn’t agree more on La Duni and Mesero Miguel’s quatro/cinco leches cakes. (I’ve never had it at Kozy.) The jiggliness at Mesero mesmerized me, as well. Some people think La Duni’s cake is moist, but they are mistaking the cake for the sauce because it only gets moist where the sauce touches cake. Glad to know they only use 1 milk in the cake, that may explain the dryness. Mesero is my favorite, too, but I’ll have to try it at Kozy.

  2. It’s really not close… the Cinco Leches cake is the best dessert in Dallas. IT’s amazing. Hell, I may have to go tonight for a bite.

  3. My son and I had the quatro/cinco leches cake at Mr. Mesero last week.
    It was fantastic! I’m sure it was the same cake as pictured for Mesero Miguel.

  4. Traditional tres leches cake does in fact always have one milk baked into the cake. The second leche is in the milk drenching the cake and the third is the cream on top. This difference in moistness comes from if the cake is drenched hot out of the oven or if it’s after the cake has cooled when it often doesn’t really absorb into the cake.

    La Duni certainly isn’t “not investing” in having 4 milks in their cake. The dryness probably comes from their preferences on the preparation of the desert. That commentary didn’t make sense and shows that you haven’t ever actually made a tres leches cake.

  5. I’m a cake LOVER and love to bake.. I tasted the 3 leches cakes just about everywhere and the best one that I have had, surprisingly is from HEB. The texture, the moistness, and the icing is just perfect!!!

  6. Mena’s in Carrollton’s is the most moist I’ve had, and I love the kiwi garnish. It’s also my favorite Tex Mex spot. Lots of care goes into everything and service is almost always great.

  7. I’ve never been impressed with La Duni’s. Jorge’s Tex Mex at One Arts Plaza has my favorite in town and never gets any mention.

  8. The best tres leches cake is at Revolver Taco Lounge in the West 7th shops in Fort Worth.

    Absolutely nothing comes close in my experience. I no longer drive to Dallas for Cuatro Leches.

  9. +1 for Cheesecake Royale – a holiday favorite for us when we have to take something to the in laws.

  10. Any chance that any of these “contests” will ever include a restaurant North of 635? I am sure you can find at least one that is worthy of the time and travel – as well as the oxygen masks that you have to wear when you go that far North…

  11. I live in North Dallas, so I’m definitely on the lookout for restaurants above 635 to review.

  12. If you really want to know what a great Tres Leches cake really tastes like, get one at Fiesta – better than all the others –

  13. We have ordered them twice from Crème de la Cookie – the Preston and Royal location. They make the best one we have ever tasted. To die for rich and delicious.

  14. Definitely written by a fiction writer. I ate at Mesero Miguel last week and had the Cinco Leches cake for dessert. This has to be the most over-rated restaurant in Dallas. The entire meal was disappointing. As for the cake, it was no where near the level of La Duni. It would come in fourth in a three-cake race. It was dry, bland, and had a rough texture, like it was left over from the prior day. Won’t be going back for the cake or anything else.

  15. aww man.. wanted to see more reviews. I have been wondering where to find good tres leches cakes. anyone else know where the best is?

  16. Awww 3 places?? lol.. I wanna know more. Anyone else had the best 3 leches cakes and wanna let me in on the secret? Thanks :)

  17. Glad I’m not the only one who was seriously questioning D Magazine judgment. Mesero Miguel was average. The Cinco Leches cake was not memorable. I’ll stick to La Duni for my leches cake cravings.

  18. Their original location is in Snider Plaza. Same great pastries, sweets, and cakes.

  19. I’ve ordered this dessert many times with no luck & have reassured my wife that my search would be worth it….
    But I’ve never been able to express the way you articulate the bliss of finding good tres leches–
    Awesome.

  20. “Kozy Kitchen holds the unique distinction of composing a nearly complete gluten-free menu”

    I am shocked to read this in the article and realize the author is apparently unfamiliar with Company Cafe, which has a “nearly complete gluten free menu” and also has an extensive selection of gluten free cakes. A larger selection of gluten free desserts than Kozy BTW.

  21. The difference being that Company Cafe doesn’t have a tres leches cake (that I remember).

    Also, keep in mind that many people reading this article may have never heard of either restaurant. So it’s not necessarily a faux pas that she explained Kozy like this.