the best red velvet cupcakes in san diego (redux)

About three years ago, Heather, Laura and I had a red velvet cupcake tasting where we sampled 8 different cupcakes between the three of us. Pretty impressive actually, though we probably each had like one or two bites per cupcake. Recently I found out that our winner from that tasting (Influx Cafe) no longer makes red velvet cupcakes and therefore my past post was no longer valid! Nooooo! I could not let that stand and quickly formulated a plan to have a “do over” tasting in time for Valentine’s Day. I wrangled a few friends and bloggers into my sugar crazed idea and this past weekend we forged ahead into Sugar Overload Land – all in the name of foodie research!

I was joined by Jake, T, David (my minion) and his wife Allison, Laura and CC of Pink Candles at Ridgemont High, Kirbie & Mr. K of Kirbie’s Cravings, Darlene & Paul of My Burning Kitchen and Faye of Faye’s Fork. The twelve us delved deep into cupcake land after a lunch at Social Life Pizza (who were really nice as we stole a whole section of their restaurant for my evil plans).

Every one who came got “assignments” to fetch two cupcakes from each location. I labeled every box and made a master sheet recording the locations and prices. If you’ve seen my past crawls, you know I’m kinda hardcore about this and make judging sheets and everything. Makes it feel official. And I like making stationary, I guess.


Judging Rules

Cupcakes were judged on three categories: Presentation, Frosting, and Cake. The maximum score a cupcake could get was 15. The numbers were all tallied together to determine the winners.

Everyone has their own idea of what “red velvet” is exactly, but to me, it is a buttermilk cake that is a sort of “middle ground” between vanilla cake and chocolate cake since it has a little bit of cocoa in it – but not enough to really classify it as a chocolate cake.

The Red Velvet Cupcakes

We tried 13 cupcakes that day because I am insane. I’m going to post these from the lowest ranked cupcake to the winner, with notes and comments from all of my lovely, wonderful judges who I’m sure are not mad at me in any way whatsoever.

We actually had a tie for second place, so my list starts out at 12. Don’t think I’m trying to fool you here. We really did try thirteen because we’re crazy pants.

The highest possible score a cupcake could get is 180, to put the scores in perspective.

12) San Diego Desserts / $3 / Score: 72.5



Kind of looks like a poo swirl, don’t it?


“Sour frosting, fruity cake.” “Frosting very sweet.” “Bad cake! Very artificial, dry, fruit tang.” “Fat & stout. No red velvet flavor.” “Uh oh, yuck.” “Disgusting, butterscotch. Yucky velvet.” “Orange flavor, doesn’t taste like chocolate.” “Weird sour aftertaste.” “Large cupcake, nice vanilla frosting, tight crumb.” “Liked the wider cake format, but that’s about it. Sour frosting, fruity cake.” “Costco-like. More chocolate taste to cake. Don’t like butterscotch frosting.” “Huge – muffin size. Dense/heavy/butterscotch like frosting.” “Not very good, tastes like orange.”

11) Bread & Cie / $2.95 / Score: 76.75


This is one of the cupcakes that Kirbie & Mr. K missed because they had to leave early… and I averaged scores in for this one which is maybe the only reason it isn’t on the very bottom. I swear they must have used bread flour instead of all purpose flour in this one…


“Not appealing visually.” “Super dry cake, almost sickeningly sweet.” “Dry cake, weird color.” “Crumbly, dry flavor. Bounces on the plate, not a good sign.” “I didn’t even swallow my piece!” “Frosting too sweet. Pink, not red and very, very, VERY dry.” “Extremely dry, light red cake.” “Frosting very sweet.” “Dry cake, too sweet frosting. Nice paper wrapping.” “Horribly dry.”

10) Ralph’s / Score: 78


I sent David to a grocery store for a cupcake since one of his places uh, wasn’t there anymore… but they didn’t have cupcakes! Oh well. Same thing, right?


“Liked the presentation – it’s a cake.” “Tastes like cake mix and frosting trying to cover it.” “GIANT IMPOSTER CUPCAKE! Very generic tasting.” “Not too sweet frosting. Tasted like cream cheese.” “Store bought cake, tastes exactly like I expected.” “Just bland all the way around.” “Average, mild cocoa flavor.” “Sucked. This was a cake.” “Store bought cake.”

9) Sweet Sisters Bakery / $1.25 / Score: 92.9


The pretty version.


The smooshed version.


“Frosting was white icing – fail.” “Piping is a pretty swirl, too red, dry cake.” “Cute size. Horribly sweet frosting, moist cake.” “Balanced red color, non cream cheese frosting made this less interesting.” “Darker red, weird aftertaste. Little bitter.” “Light, fluffy frosting though I wished it was cream cheese.” “Cake is deeper flavor, tangy. Frosting has a lighter whipped texture but very sweet.”

8) Elizabethan Desserts / $3.25 / Score: 96.5



Elizabethan Desserts was a spot I really wanted to be in the last tasting three years ago, but it was just too darn far. I made an effort to go to Encinitas this time around to make sure North County had some representation!


“Very light pink, weird grainy texture.” “Cake is mealy.” “Orange-red color. Artificial looking.” “Bright red, mellow frosting, not a fan of the generic cake.” “Pretty presentation with red heart. Cake was horrid – dry – left chemical taste in my mouth.” “Very bright red, bizarre grainy frosting.” “Cake had no taste, weird orange/pink fluorescent color.” “Bright color, looks like plastic.” “Tasted like box mix, color way off.”

7) Yummy Cupcakes (cocoa frosted) / $3.50 / Score: 111.5



“Small amount of frosting.” “Frosting sweet.” “Chocolate cream cheese, moist cake, lighter than expected frosting.” “Frosting is way too sweet, nice moist cake.” “Liked the cocoa added to the frosting.” “Cocoa frosting a bad combo with red velvet.” “Frosting a bit of a sour taste.” “Cocoa frosting, liked this better than (other Yummy Cupcake).”

6) Sprinkles / $3.75 / Score: 113



“Liked the dot on top. Frosting too sweet.” “Modern dot. Super sweet frosting. Nice cake color.” “Just ok.” “Very sweet frosting. Looks prettier than it tastes.” “Middle of the road – hipster cake!” “Super moist, almost gummy. Perfectly coiffed.” “Hipster cake. Boo.” “Over rated. Very tasty cake, frosting no good.”

5) Yummy Cupcakes (cream cheese frosted) / $3.50 / Score: 114



This is the original red velvet from Yummy Cupcakes. They also have a “half and half” that has half cream cheese, half cocoa cream cheese.


“Small amount of frosting, cake a little dry.” “Moist, bright cherry red.” “Little gummy, good color.” “Thick swirls of frosting, moist cake not much chocolate flavor.” “Frosting really sweet.” “Good frosting balance with cake. Moist but not flavorful.” “Standard red velvet, but moist.” “Cake semi-dry, good texture, good color.””Moist cake, didn’t crumble. Not too much frosting.” “Tasted just right with a good frosting.” “Piped okay. Moist.”

4) Babycakes / $3.50 / Score: 115.5




“Crumbs on top, cake was bland.” “Bright red cake, sour but sweet frosting.” “Bloody, horror cupcake! Frosting too sweet – too cream cheesy.” “Unfortunate choice of decorative elements – looked bloody. Almost spicy, cinnamon flavor.” “Friday the 13th cupcake – berry flavor is mismatched (from sauce).” “Bloody-like. Raspberry flavor. Nice cream cheese texture frosting.” “Better than decent.” “Scary looking – I wouldn’t buy because of presentation, surprised by raspberry flavor.” “Good frosting. Good. Scary presentation.”

3) Pure Cupcakes / $2.50 / Score: 122




“Cake is really good.” “Nice brown/red color.” “Gloopy frosting.” “Favorite tasting.” “Light but melted frosting.” “Crumb on top – what what. Nice dark flavor.” “Smaller size. Pretty good.” “Moist cake, liked the chocolate flavor. Little too much frosting but worked well with cake.” “Vanilla bean in frosting. Good cake flavor.” “Sprinkled with red crumbs, pipped pretty. Cake a bit chewy.” “Gooey frosting, decent flavor. Not too sweet.”

2) Love Cupcake Cafe / $3.50 / Score: 132 – TIE



Who would have thunk we’d have a tie?!


“Heavy cupcake, nice moist crumb. Well balanced.” “Liked heart confetti on top. Frosting not too sweet.” “Gloopy frosting but tasted good.” “Frosting almost savory cheesy.” “Love the heart sprinkles, frosting too sweet, cake only mediocre.” “Really liked the taste of the cake – moist + chocolatey.” “Hefty! Sprinkles! Very moist.” “Savory frosting aftertaste.” “Frosting not too sweet, cake somewhat crumbly.” “Way too moist.”

2) Heaven Sent Desserts / $3.50 / Score: 132 – TIE


Heaven Sent scored in the top three last time.


“Good frosting.” “White chocolate garnish not too special. Crumbly cake.” “Fancy white chocolate bark. Mild chocolate.” “Delicious frosting.” “Crumbly dry cake, too much frosting piled on.” “Liked the brownie-like cake flavor and creamy frosting.” “Thick frosting, not too sweet. Cake was moist, also not too sweet.” “Huge! Tasted more chocolatey.” “Good cake. Good frosting.”

1) Sugar Scribe Bakery / $4.00 / Score: 137.5



Sparkles = win.


“Glitter! Very dark, more chocolatey. Tangy frosting.” “Very very cute presentation. Dense, deep chocolate. Most cream cheese frosting.” “Very dense, rich cake. Loved the glitter presentation. Very creamy tasting with strong cream cheese flavor.” “Great chocolate taste to cake, strong cream cheese frosting.” “Purple glitter, dark/dense, lots of cocoa flavor.” “Cake a little too rich but frosting helped lighten it.” “Too chocolatey.” “Purple glitter very pretty. Moist, chocolatey doesn’t taste like red velvet.” “Way too much frosting.” “Edible glitter! Dark chocolate – almost bitter. Lots of frosting!” “Tastes more like dark chocolate.”  


After the tasting was done and people started trickling out, I found out about this “cupcake spittoon” box that housed all of the leftover pieces. It looked… truly revolting, actually, all of those pieces…


T somehow got wrangled into trying to eat from the box… and teased and maybe taunted a little… and he actually did take a bite. But then spit it back into the box. Ugh.

Afterwards I felt like I had sugar running through my veins instead of blood and we promptly went home and made ourselves a large bowl of salty popcorn to offset the insane amount of sugar we consumed that day.

Hopefully if you’re looking for something for your sweetie for Valentine’s Day next week and you don’t want to do any baking but don’t want to get another box of chocolates, you’ll consider one of these fine, fine red velvet cupcake choices.

Do you agree with our choices for top red velvet cupcakes? Did we miss your favorite spot? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

Read about the cupcake tasting from another blogger’s point of view:
– Faye felt a little bad about eating this many cupcakes
– CC thought of this as a Red Velvet Taste-Off (which is a good name, too)

12 thoughts on “the best red velvet cupcakes in san diego (redux)

  1. Your post SO made my morning Mary. I was laughing so hard at all the cupcake comments b/c it totally brought back memories from Saturday. Some of the comments were truly hilarious. I’m glad Purple Glitterina won 🙂

    I didn’t even *think* about eating something salty to offset the sugar afterwards.

    Thanks again for planning this – let’s never do this again ok? J/k 🙂

  2. This was so much fun! I hope we can do this again. I’m so sorry I had to leave early and possibly messed up the results.I love that we tasted it blind because I was really surprised with some of the results.

    1. Hi Kirbie – Oh, it’s okay, I don’t think they were messed up heehee. I’m glad you could make it, it was great having everyone there for it! Some of the results were surprising, but I liked how you could see a general agreement on the cupcakes from the comments.

  3. I’m amused that people were disappointed that the Ralph’s cake was not a cupcake. I am also appalled that a bakery would try and top a red velvet cupcake with butterscotch frosting or plain white frosting!!

    Now I’m curious how your Top 5 red velvet spots would rate with a plain vanilla or chocolate cupcake? Like, are all their cupcakes of the same caliber or is the red velvet better/worse? Sometimes I think red velvet cupcakes are a little like cheating because they come with cream cheese frosting, which makes most things better than normal.

    You have to most awesome food crawls – even if this one had the “crawl” part in advance.

    1. Hi Leanne – That’s a good question. A few of the top 5 I haven’t been to and I’d like to check out in the future. I’m sure I’ll post about it! I have some ideas already about my next crawl. Maybe chicken wings…

  4. Great post Mary! Now I have to crank mine out, haha! Great idea and made for a fun but sugarfilled day!!!!

    The cake “spittoon” box was pretty gross!

    The worst was Bread & Cie! I feel bad that Darlene spent money on those. As for Babycakes’ version, I actually wanted BLOOD to ooze out from it. “My Bloody Valentine” cupcake I call it.

  5. Love the post! I just looked at Elizabethan Desserts website because that color is so wrong. Their picture of the “signature” RVC doesn’t look anything like what you guys had. Much prettier on their website. I mentioned to CC that I’ve had so many awful, down right spittable RVCs in the past that I’ve stopped ordering RVCs.

    1. Hi Carol – Well, maybe you’ll order one of the red velvets our group liked now! 🙂 Maybe they were having an off day or something. Elizabethan Desserts has a really different feel to it now that they moved to a new shop. You can no longer see them baking and everything was in a larger fridge/cooler area. I hope it’s just an off day for them because I have liked their other cupcakes in the past.

  6. Not sure how I found your post, but it was fun to read. Sounds like a great day! I am not surprised to find Sugar & Scribe at the top of your list – they are sooo good and definitely one of my favorite bakeries. I am curious if you have ever tried Cupcakes Squared? Their “red” velvet isn’t actually red, but it’s really good and their other cupcakes are too. I think they have the very best vanilla cupcake in town and their lilikoi cupcake is really good too. I get at least those two every time I go in. I have only tried their mini cupcakes (just $2) – not sure if the cupcake size makes a difference in moistness, etc. The minis are great.

    1. Hi Becky! I tried Cupcakes Squared a long time ago and don’t remember it. They were supposed to be in this tasting but the La Jolla location wasn’t open and it was too far for someone to go to OB – oh well! Maybe I’ll do a vanilla cupcake one next time & will include them for sure. Thanks for the tip!

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