Walk into any Asian grocery store right now, and you can’t miss it: rows and rows of red-and-gold boxes, bearing labels like lotus seed, red bean, mixed nuts, and egg yolk. In the weeks leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival, stocking up on mooncakes — petite, dense pastries packed with sweet or savory fillings — is a tradition synonymous with the festival itself.
Falling on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar (which takes place on September 29 this year), the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important Asian holidays, celebrating the bounty of the autumn harvest when the moon is at its brightest and most beautiful. As a gesture of auspiciousness, mooncakes are commonly exchanged and enjoyed among friends and family. The cakes are often stuffed with salted egg yolks, which symbolize the moon — the more yolks inside the cake, the greater the prosperity.
Mooncake variations are endless, and everyone has their own fiercely held opinion on which styles and flavors are the best. Personally, I’m partial to lotus-paste mooncakes containing as many eggs as possible, and when I was growing up, my parents would slip me extra yolk from their own slices. (When they brought home anything with dates or nuts, however, I was totally uninterested.) If you don’t have the good fortune of living near an Asian bakery or grocery store, we’ve chatted with various cool people about their favorite mooncakes that are available to purchase online. (And if you’re looking for some strong tea or fine china to serve with your mooncake, check out our list of AAPI-owned businesses to support.)
White lotus-seed paste is a classic mooncake flavor, one that food photographer and blogger Peggy Chen calls a guaranteed win. “The white lotus-seed paste is smooth and nutty, and the salted egg yolk has a savoriness that balances out the sweetness,” Chen says. Michelle Hsu, founder of Ilha Candles (which makes a mooncake-shaped candle), also says you can’t go wrong with the classic combination. Though Walmart isn’t typically the first place to come to mind when buying mooncakes, Hsu says this Joy Luck Palace box set is “so affordable and surprisingly really good!”
James Beard Award–winning cookbook author Kristina Cho prefers to bake her own mooncakes, but for long-distance friends and family, she’ll send them offerings from the Hong Kong–originated Kee Wah Bakery. She’s a lotus-paste and egg-yolk fan as well, and harbors a fondness for “their adorable mini-mooncakes!” Kee Wah is also Black Bean Grocery co-founder Brandon Ly’s go-to supplier, since it carries “a huge range from the traditional bean pastes to low-sugar/high-fiber alternatives and more modern custard creations,” Ly says. So whether you prefer mung bean or red bean, pineapple or date paste, meat or mixed nuts, you’re likely to find what you’re looking for from Kee Wah.
Multiple people mentioned the popular Asian bakery 85C as a reliable source for Taiwanese-style mooncakes, which, according to Hsu, feature “a flakier outer layer and are usually stuffed with mung-bean paste, braised minced meat, and other delicious things that give the mooncake a perfect sweet and savory balance.” Chen also finds that the round Taiwanese mooncakes “have a better filling-to-yolk ratio than square ones.” Both Chen and food writer Clarissa Wei agree that 85C’s taro mochi flavor is one of the best, especially since “the mochi adds a chewy twist to it,” Wei says.
Kevin Wong, co-founder of Lunar Hard Seltzer, always had a box of Sheng Kee mooncakes at the dinner table growing up. It’s filled with an assortment of flavors, including date, lotus, pineapple, and red bean — but Wong’s favorite filling has always been “jujube dates because of its sweet, smoky, and sour complexity.” These cakes do not include the egg-yolk center; Wong has never been a fan, though he’s “been told it’s a grievous sin, one I should be ashamed of committing,” he jokes.
When food TikToker Cy Nguyen can’t find her favorite mooncakes at her local Asian grocery store, she also turns to Sheng Kee, whose “assorted collection is my go-to for gift-giving.” As a kid, her favorite was a “date, nut, and egg-yolk combination,” but this more contemporary set also includes fun fruit flavors such as strawberry, mango, and honeydew.
Growing up, chef and Bonnie’s founder Calvin Eng would have “so many different tins of mooncakes at the house — my mom would find a way to upcycle them and use them for dry goods, office or sewing supplies, or just to keep because they were too nice to throw away.” Though this mooncake collab between Cantonese restaurant Potluck Club and streetwear brand VandyThePink contains plenty of delicious flavors, including hazelnut-chocolate and coconut and peanut butter, it was the thoughtful packaging that blew Eng away. “It was beautiful all the way from the custom bags to the individual boxes and wrappers, which made these even more special,” he says.
Kim Pham, co-founder of Omsom, was introduced to these pandan-flavored mooncakes from chef Jimmy Ly of Madame Vo. “Something about that smooth, fragrant pandan paste is so comforting — and the beautiful green color makes such a wonderful contrast when you first bite into it!” she says.
Actress and influencer Viveca Chow moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong 11 years ago, and “homesickness hits me especially hard around the Mid-Autumn Festival,” Chow says, adding that every bite of these mooncakes from AAPI-founded dessert and baking brand Kitsby “tastes like a burst of comfort.” This four-piece set includes a traditional lotus-paste flavor along with black sesame, black tea and salted egg, and green tea and azuki bean flavors.
Kitsby’s collaboration with Umamicart was also name-checked by Christopher Lu, the resident chef at Asian pantry brand Bowlcut. “I love this new twist on mooncakes with a shortbread-cookie crust,” Lu says, which provides a pleasingly crumbly texture. The set also includes two teochew mooncakes, which use thousand-layer pastry to create a delightfully flaky crust. The overall mix combines “traditional flavors like lotus and sesame, which taste like home, with a whimsical approach,” Lu says.
Serious Eats culinary editor Genevieve Yam has a soft spot for “snowy” mooncakes. “Unlike traditional Cantonese mooncakes, which are baked and typically have an egg yolk in the center, these have a thin, chewy exterior with a texture similar to mochi and are filled with custard or ice cream,” Yam explains. These MeiXin ones taste just like the popular Chinese dessert mango pomelo sago.
Though Lady M’s flavors aren’t traditional (think yuzu milk or lychee rose), its mooncakes — made in collaboration with Kee Wah Bakery — are “absolutely delicious,” according to both Yam and Sesame LA founder Linda Sivrican. These cakes are a little smaller than average, but Chen promises that Lady M “is always a solid choice for quality and flavor.” Plus, she likes how the packaging “is interactive and comes with a shopping bag and greeting card so it’s ready for gifting.” Unfortunately, this set is sold out online, but you can still purchase the mooncakes in-store.
For an even more deluxe experience, Hanli Su, owner of pho restaurant Pho Ever, recommends Moonchi. Infused with unconventional flavors such as Musang durian and Takesumi charcoal, purple yam and butterfly pea flower, and Godiva chocolate, the brand’s sculptural mooncakes are hand-shaped and -painted by founder Lani, then topped with a dusting of gold flakes. Su says that the only downside is “how hard it is to cut into these beautiful cakes!”
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