Although there are Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee & Tea a plenty, when visiting San Francisco, you should live like a local and pick up a cappuccino and muffin at one of the city’s many high-end bakeries. Here are our top five recommendations.
Craftsman and Wolves
The Mission District’s Craftsman and Wolves offers an unparalleled bakery experience. Opened in June 2012 by acclaimed pastry chef William Werner, Craftsman and Wolves is an edgy and happening spot with menu items that are as beautiful as they are tasty — his cakes could literally be works of art. Werner’s mind-blowing signature treat is a savory muffin called The Rebel Within. The moist, chewy muffin is dotted with sausage, Asiago cheese and green onions, and in the middle is an oozing soft-boiled egg. As you bite into the muffin, it’s easy to wonder how he possibly did this. But instead of asking questions, it’s best to simply enjoy the crafty culinary artistry.
A simple piece of toasted bread and butter isn’t normally a dish that would have people thinking twice, but Josey Baker’s The Mill does just that. The Divisadero Street bakery doesn’t offer a variety of intricate items; instead, it specializes in one thing only: toast. However, the toast is quite possibly the most memorable toast you’ve ever eaten. The bread (try apricot sage toast with butter and honey) is baked in-house, in a wide-open kitchen that’s quietly busy with five to six people baking coffee cake, brewing Four Barrel espresso drinks and slicing inch-and-a-half thick slices of dark bread. The space is stark, but inviting with white tiled walls, a high wooden beamed ceiling and lots of small tables for intimate groups. There is a sense of focus and skillfulness at The Mill that leaves the diner feeling peaceful, satiated and centered.
Tartine Bakery & Café
Tartine is the city’s most famous café and bread shop, and arguably the mother of the modern San Francisco bakery. This Guerrero Street standby was opened in 2002 by award-winning pastry chefs and husband-and-wife duo Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. Today, a long line wrapping around the corner of the bakery is standard. If you have the patience to wait for greatness, or can come on a slow day at an irregular time, grab a seat and order one of the scrumptious hot-pressed sandwiches — we recommend the sopressata, fontina and broccoli rabe pesto on country bread. It’s salty and gooey, but not too rich; the bitter bite of the pesto balances the sandwich in the most flavorful way. Pressed for time? Order a loaf of their to-die-for sourdough bread, which is available for pickup daily after 4:30 p.m.
Le Marais Bakery
Are you dreaming of the flaky croissants that can only be found in the pâtisseries of Paris? Head to Le Marais, a tranquil oasis of a bakery on bustling Chestnut Street. If you’re lucky, they’ll be pulling a fresh batch of the light, incredibly buttery, melt-in-your-mouth pastries out of the oven. The ham-and-ricotta carré is a personal weakness: Cubes of salty ham sit on a bed of creamy and light ricotta, and the whole thing is nestled into a flaky mess of pastry crust. It’s très bien! Designed by Paxton Gate, one of San Francisco’s leading landscape and design firms, Le Marais features reclaimed wood, a sunny blue façade and intricate bakery details such as light fixtures made from shiny vintage baking molds. The space is tight, but the friendly staff and delicious food make up for the cramped quarters.
With its sunny yellow bistro chairs and enticing fragrant aromas, b. patisserie is a welcoming bakery and café on California and Divisadero streets. This chic pastry shop is a collaboration between a native Frenchman, Michel Suas, and Belinda Leong, a pastry-chef-turned-pop-up-queen-turned-restaurateur. The kouign amann, a French pastry that’s a crispier, square-shaped, smushed version of a croissant, is b. patisserie’s most well-known item. But don’t be narrow-minded when browsing the menu; the bakery’s tartines — especially the flammenküche with caramelized onions, red onions, fromage blanc, Gruyère and lardons — and tarts (try the Meyer lemon tart — it’s sheer lemon heaven) are must orders.
Photos Courtesy of Bruce Damonte, The Mill and Alanna Hale