Insider’s Guide to the Best Bakeries in San Francisco

Photography by Kassie Borreson

by Jenn Yee

Baker, pastry lover, and rock star Instagrammer Jenn Yee shares her picks on where to find the city’s sweet spots. For Jenn’s Lavender Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Curd Filling, her sweet and floral ode to a popular Craftsman & Wolves cookie, click here.

San Francisco is a pastry wonderland. Classics such as croissants, morning buns, and egg tarts continue to draw crowds to well-known bakeries, while a new wave of pastry shops has emerged in the past five years, offering creative treats worth standing in line for. When I’m not in the kitchen whipping up something sweet (at least once a week lest I suffer from baking withdrawal), I’m out and about tasting pastries from the city’s top chefs and bakers. I can’t resist the avant-garde cakes from Craftsman & Wolves’ William Werner or the black sesame kouign amann from b.patisserie. Many of these finds appear on Instagram (@pastrywithjenn), where I’m often asked to share my favorite bakery. It is impossible to narrow down to just one, but top five? That, I can do. Bring a friend, a few wet wipes, and enjoy my must-have pastries from San Francisco’s best bakeries.

Golden Gate Bakery

1029 Grant Ave.

I love the hustle and bustle of Chinatown. On a Saturday morning, you’ll find me in line at Golden Gate Bakery, eager to get egg custard tarts. Trust me, they’re worth the wait. The tarts are commonly found at dim sum spots and Chinese bakeries, but when it comes to texture and flavor, Golden Gate Bakery gets it right. The crust is flaky and paper-thin, similar to phyllo in the way that it shatters when you take a bite. You want a thin crust like the one at Golden Gate so the silky, sweet, eggy custard shines. (If the crust is too thick, it can overwhelm the delicate filling.) The bakery puts a generous amount in each shell so it is extra satisfying to eat—the perfect filling-to-crust ratio. Tarts are made throughout the day to keep up with demand, but it’s best to call the day of to find out when they will be available (and if the bakery is open).

Jenn’s Pick: Custard Tart, a thin, flaky pastry shell with a sweet, eggy filling. Because the tarts are prepared throughout the day, they’re incredibly fresh and served while still warm and glistening from the oven.

20th Century Cafe

198 Gough St.

Quaint is the word that comes to mind when I think of 20th Century Cafe, my favorite weekend afternoon spot. From the Big Band music playing through the speakers, to staff in patterned half aprons serving treats on mix and match china, the Eastern European-inspired café makes me feel like I was plucked and dropped in another decade. It’s a nice little escape from the day-to-day, where I can spend a couple of hours nibbling on strudel, pierogi, potato knish, slices of layered cakes, and house-made bagels topped with smoked salmon or pickled beets. There are so many options and yet, every visit, I must have the Russian Honey Cake. It’s 10-to-12 layers of moist sponge cake separated by the tastiest honey cream frosting. The amount of salt is just right so te overall flavor is not too sweet. Consider it my birthday cake of choice going forward.

Jenn’s Pick: Russian Honey Cake, a multilayered sponge cake with sweet-salty honey frosting. I have never had a cake as fluffy and moist or so well balanced in sweetness.

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