Thorough Bread and Pastry
This bakery in the Castro excels at making breads that are as pretty on the outside as they are flawlessly constructed on the inside. One prime example is the Rosemary Olive Fougasse. This Provencal loaf is made in the traditional tree shape, its branches spotted with bits of rosemary and green olive. The bread is chewy yet tender, with a hint of fruity olive oil. The chunks of olive are large enough to add a bit of brine and salt, while the rosemary perfumes every bite.
Delicious whole-wheat bread can be hard to find, but not at Thorough Bread. Case in point? Its Purple Whole Wheat Baguette. This bread has all the attributes of a traditional French baguette: a sturdy crust, a chewy yet airy interior with big, irregular holes, and a fresh and slightly sweet flavor. Thorough Bread also stocks a variety of other hard-to-find breads, such as a collection of demi-loaves and a terrific teff miche.
Noe Valley Bakery & Bread Company
This charming little bakery is located on a bucolic stretch of 24th Street, nestled between a chocolatarie and a flower shop. It will be hard, but tear yourself away from the cute, Hostess-inspired cupcakes and head straight for the challah. With plain, sesame, poppy, and cinnamon (not to mention a five-pound “special event challah”) there is a loaf here to meet all your challah needs. Another great option is the fruit bread, which include flavors such as double raisin, organic fig and cherry chocolate. The Apricot Ginger Bread is a personal favorite. It has a noticeable spice and simply humongous pieces of plump fruit suspended in the dense, moist crumb.
4073 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114; 415-550-1405
La Victoria Bakery
Most people come to La Victoria for its assortment of Mexican pastries. And for good reason; the pan dulce here is soft and sweet with a crackly sugar crust. But if there is something to commend a bakery other than tasty pastries, it’s free bagels. La Victoria has both.
La Victoria sells breads made by Sour Flour, a local bread cooperative and baking school. Their signature item is the eponymous “Sour Flour Loaf,” a tangy sourdough bread with a dark brown, chewy crust. But back to the free bagels. On Mondays, Sour Flour provides bagels to La Victoria that are then handed out for free. Yes folks, it's a delicious Mission miracle.
The Acme Bread Company
There are times when I need a pain au levain instead of a baguette or a rustic batard. There are times when, without a loaf of New York rye, my reuben will flounder or, without a torpedo roll, my game-time subs will fall apart. This is why I love Acme. That and the fact that their bread tastes like heaven.
Acme has all that you could ask for in a bread bakery. First and foremost, they are focused on bread, not bread and an assortment of other treats. As a result each loaf is given the attention and special care that it deserves. The pan de mie are soft and slightly sweet. The walnut levain has a dense, malty crumb inlaid with chopped walnuts. In fact I’ve yet to come across an Acme loaf that I didn’t love, especially when paired with cheese from Cowgirl Creamery next door.
1 Ferry Building # 15, San Francisco, CA 94105 (map); 415-288-2978 ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/acme_bread_company.php
Italian French Baking Company
This place should be renamed Old-School-Italian-American Bakery. From the oversized biscotti to the regulars who stand at the counter chatting for ten minutes with the cashier while you hungrily gaze at the rows of individually wrapped baguettes, this place is classic North Beach all the way. Along those lines, don’t expect a traditional baguette or even an authentic Italian focaccia. The baguettes are more like the “French bread” you get at the grocery store; they have a thin crust and a big, airy interior. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t seriously tasty: the bread is baked in brick ovens until crispy and golden on the outside, and they toast up perfectly, making them indispensable for sandwiches and homemade garlic bread. Similarly, the focaccia might be a little doughy by Italian standards, but the sweet tomato sauce and scattering of green onions makes it a more than satisfying snack.
1501 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133 (map); 415-421-3796
If you’re looking for some Bay Area spirit to go with your bread, head over to Arizmendi Bakery. This worker-owned cooperative in Inner Sunset was launched in 2000 with the help of the folks at Berkley’s famous Cheeseboard cooperative.
Whether it’s because of the friendly atmosphere or the intoxicating smell of baking bread, it’s hard not to feel happy as you buy the extra long breadsticks or a loaf of chewy sourdough City Bread. Yet despite solid staples, it’s Arizmendi’s rotating selection of daily specials that really shines. Choices like Provolone-Olive bread, Sesame-Sunflower bread, and Corn-Cheddar bread are sold by the pound. If you stop by on a Sunday, make sure to try the Chocolate Cherry Sourdough. The tangy sourdough has a thick crunchy crust and an airy interior that’s liberally studded with dark chocolate and cherries. Toasted and spread with a little butter, it’s the perfect semi-sweet treat.
There’s only one type of bread to buy at Liguria Bakery, and that’s focaccia. Yet you definitely won’t find yourself with a lack of options. Rather you might get overwhelmed by the competing, equally delicious smells of the flavors on hand. Do you want piney rosemary, slick with olive oil and scattered with garlic? How about the pizza focaccia, which is so chewy and soft with its pockets of air and layer of bright, fresh tomato sauce, that you won’t even miss having cheese. And don't skip the jalapeno just because it isn't traditional. Your mouth will alternate between chunks of spicy, tongue tingling pepper and the soothing yeastiness of the bread. I guess you could try ordering two flavors, but be warned: each so-called slice is a monolithic slab that easily feeds four.
1700 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA 94133-2915 (map); 415-421-3786
There is usually such a long line at Tartine that when I finally arrive inside, I feel compelled to order half the menu. Especially the half that I won’t be making at home. And while the morning buns (see photo), croissants, and other French confections are ethereally buttery and delicious, the humble bread should not be overlooked.
The whole-wheat sourdough bread is a nice balance of tangy and yeasty. The rustic country bread is compellingly chewy, with large, irregular air pockets and a structured, flavorful crust. The sesame bread is equally delectable, and the olive bread makes great toast.
So go on and order that loaf as a side to your quiche. If you find yourself with extra, just do as they do- make some awesome bread pudding.