La Maison du Pain ($4.25)
One of the prettier loaves out there, with its flaxen crust and beautifully crisscrossing braided strands. The texture, a firm outer skin with a chewy, soft interior, is also spot-on, though the loaf itself could use a touch more salt.
San Diego Challah at Schwartz Bakery ($5.50)
This misshapen loaf, slightly flat and coming to an odd protruding point on one side, may not be the belle of the challah ball in the looks department, but as soon as I ripped into its golden crust, through the eggy sheen and into the soft, pliant center, I knew I'd found my challah home. Made with extra eggs and a touch more sugar than a traditional egg challah, Schwartz's San Diego challah (available at the bakery's multiple locations) is sweetly fragrant, with a perfectly chewy bite and an impossible richness—you would never need to make French toast or bread pudding with this because it's already there—luscious, velvety, decadent. While no one at the bakery could tell me why it's named after our friendly neighbor to the south, if this is the way they do things in San Diego, it may be time for a serious road trip.
The sweet, yeasty aroma that wafts from this gorgeously braided loaf only hints at its potential. While it's good the first day, with a supple, pull-apart interior and hint of crackly crust, Clementine's challah, available in raisin or plain, is that rare bread that gets better with age. If it's well wrapped, this sleeper is near-perfect the second or third day after buying, chewy, eggy, and just this side of sweet.
Pretzel Challah at Got Kosher? Provisions ($5.50 for two kiddush size loaves)
With its deep mahogany hue, slick, smooth crust, and hearty malted richness, the plain pretzel (water) challah at this gourmet kosher market already stands out from the traditional braided bread pack (and is a fantastic platform for a pastrami sandwich). But it's the special flavors that have folks lining up outside the door on Friday afternoons. The Belgian chocolate chunk—not too sweet but bursting with generous chips of deep, dairy-free chocolate—cries out to be made into bread pudding. And the Kalamata olive and rosemary (pictured) is teeming with plump, juicy olives and rosemary, making it a delicious savory snack on its own or the ideal complement for dipping in hummus.
Viktor Benes ($4.95)
Don't be deterred by the pale, almost wan coloring of this sesame sprinkled loaf. It's surprisingly hearty with a robust yeasty flavor, a fantastic chewy interior, and just a touch of crunch to the crust. The challah skews neither sweet nor savory, meaning it can go easily from sweet French toast fodder to an ideal sandwich platform. The one pictured here was purchased at Vicente Foods in Brentwood, but the challot are available at spots throughout the city and the Valley.
La Brea Bagel Company ($5.99)
This kosher bagelry does great white fish salad, a solid everything bagel, and a stellar squishy egg challah. Slightly squat, with an almost rectangular shape, it has a homemade look to it, mimicked by a comforting, slightly sweet, tender interior.
7308 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90036 (map); 323-965-1287
Unlike traditional challot, this crusty loaf contains butter, giving it an inner texture closer to brioche (in fact the bakery receipt even refers to it as such). While the Santa Monica eatery's braided bread wasn't the best eaten plain, it toasted like none other, making it a fantastic option for a killer breakfast sandwich.