My San Francisco Favorites

People often ask me about the best bakeries and ice cream shops in San Francisco. Friends joke that I’m like a walking encyclopedia to San Francisco’s best desserts: name a neighborhood or dessert type, and I’m sure to have a tip. I’m always happy to help other people experience SF’s best. So after quite some time of planning to do this but not actually doing it… I finally built my own San Francisco Treat Map.

This handy map plots out my top picks for baked goods, ice cream and coffee. You’ll find a mix of celebrated gems and places that don’t seem to get much press–but should. You can find the full map at the bottom of this post or over on its dedicated page. Click on the map markers to see menu tips and other notes.

And just in case you don’t feel like clicking all over a map… here’s a quick guide to my San Francisco favorites:

Where to find the best…

Cookies: Nob Hill’s Batter Bakery is my go-to for delicious cookies with a great texture. I love the cherry ginger, and they’re directly responsible for getting me hooked on herbs in cookies (their lavender sea salt shortbread is incredible). They’re known for their “sand angel,” a sort of molasses/snickerdoodle hybrid. Bonus tip: they do a cookie happy hour every day from 3-6 PM.

Croissants: Neighbor Bakehouse is one of my favorite 20160327_105821bakeries in the city, and their croissants are incredible. Imagine layers of the perfect buttery croissant dough, complemented by flavorful fillings. My favorite is the pistachio, which also includes a layer of blackberry jam. Their savory tarts are incredible too. (Review here)

Scones: Arizmendi is a co-op with locations scattered around the Bay Area. I’m particularly partial to their scones: they have the best crusty top and fluffy interior. Their mixed berry scones are my #1 pick. Their menu rotates, so if you’re lucky enough to visit when they’re offering chocolate cherry sourdough, make sure to scoop it up!

IMG_1957.jpgSticky buns, morning buns, etc: Marla Bakery is one of my favorite spots in the city thanks to their delectable baked goods, laid-back atmosphere and stellar brunch. Start your brunch with a sticky bun, or whatever morning pastry is on offer that day. (Review here)

Cake: Alright, my answer here depends on what you’re looking for. Seeking slices of American cake-and-frosting classics? SusieCakes is your place, and you should get the Celebration Cake or red velvet. Looking for more of a Euro-style cake that pairs spongey cake with denser fillings (jam, pastry cream, etc.)? Go to Moscow & Tiblisi Bakery and pick up the Sunshine Cake. And for cupcakes, make your way to Sift Dessert Bar in Pacific Heights, where the almond cupcake makes me swoon.

10474609_10100721491442192_1525715483481751452_nIce cream: Swensen’s opened at the corner of Union and Hyde in 1948. They’ve since expanded into an international chain but this location is the classic, and way old-school. My favorite flavors are the Swiss Orange (chocolate orange) and the peppermint that appears during the holidays.

Gelato: Lush Gelato has a few locations around the Bay Area. Their gelato tastes very fresh and you can tell they use high quality ingredients. They offer a range of classic and edgier flavors. I especially like their cheese flavors: mascarpone, ricotta and the like.

Macarons: Chantal Guillon, without a doubt. They offer everything from chocolate to Persian rose to seasonal flavors like yuzu hazlenut. The shells have just the right amount of crisp, and all the fillings are balanced and delicious.

Bread: The Mill, which gets extra points because their lead baker’s name is actually Josey Baker. Mondays and Wednesdays are pizza nights, so you can grab tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s bread in the same fell swoop.

IMG_3047.JPGCoffee: I spend a lot of time at coffee shops, and Contraband Coffee Bar is my favorite. I get the Black Market every single time–it’s a medium dark specialty drip. Friends go gaga for their espresso. Contraband also gets bonus points for being the first place I tried a Neighbor Bakehouse pastry!

Avocado toast: Avocado toast is a strangely contentious category in these parts, and my vote goes to Cafe St. Jorge near Bernal Heights. Wheat toast is topped with a generous helping of smashed avocado, chili and lemon. Mmmm.

Spin on s’mores: Yes this deserves its own category, and the honor goes to Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission. Their version includes a homemade graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate ganache. They toast it to order, too!

Think I’m missing somewhere special? Drop me a line at culturecookies@gmail.com.

Travel Eats: Portland

I’ve found that one of the best ways to reset my brain is to wander a new city or neighborhood. Wandering provides the perfect mix of adrenaline, curiosity and relaxation. As I explore, my brain is so wrapped up in discovery mode that it forgets stressors and to-do lists.

I switched jobs recently and wanted to reset my brain a bit before heading into something new. Portland, Oregon has long been on my mind as a potential vacation destination. I’d heard such good things about its scenery, its people… and of course, its food. So when I realized I’d have a few days between jobs, I booked a rather last-minute trip and finally got to see what Portland’s all about.

We spent 2.5 days wandering every neighborhood we could, and sampling every dish we could. We also rented a car so we could drive to Multnomah Falls, the second highest waterfall in the U.S.

I’d compiled our list of “must dos” based on lots of advice from friends, websites like Eater and a bit of Yelping. We found so many delightful spots on our trip, but today I’m just going to share the very top eats. This was supposed to be a top 5  list… but I couldn’t narrow it down to 5! So, here are my top 8 places to eat in Portland:

1. Chizu 

IMG_0636 Chizu focuses on cheese, and its menu is mighty impressive. You can pick cheeses by the ounce to make your own plate or order “omnikase” style and let the staff pick cheeses on your behalf. We ordered $20 of cheese plus some duck charcuterie and were incredibly pleased with what we got. The platter included an awesome mix of hard and soft cheeses, served with accompaniments like honey and dried fruit. The staffe explained the back story for every single cheese we ordered. Plus the staff was super friendly and chatted with us about recommendations for our stay.

2. Hat Yai

IMG_0870Hat Yai is all over the “best new restaurant” lists for Portland right now, and the hype is definitely substantiated. We loved our meal of meat skewers, curry, roti and grilled corn. Everything was so flavorful, and so satisfying. We stopped here on our way back from the Falls and it was the perfect post-hike dinner!

 

3. MÅURICE

IMG_0907Maurice calls itself a “luncheonette” and is only open until early evening, so make sure you stop here for lunch! It’s adorable inside, and its food is simple but delicious. We got a wonderful shaved carrot salad, delicious scones and yummy open face sandwiches.

 

 

4. Shalom Y’All

IMG_0632.JPGThis recommendation came from my mom (hi Mom!). I love falafel, and Shalom Y’Alls take on falafel was truly incredible. Spiced with sumac, accented by the unusual additions of walnuts and feta – this falafel sandwich keeps calling to me in my dreams. I usually find falafel options disappointing and really wish I had a Shalom Y’All in the Bay Area! The PDX location is in a “food hall” with several other local favorites.

5. Nuvrei

IMG_0900This Pearl District bakery has the most beautiful display of varied pastries and croissants. I opted for the Kare Pan, a brioche bun stuffed with Japanese-style curry. This thing was SO GOOD.

 

 

 

 

 

6. The Meadow

IMG_0939This shop specializes in salts, chocolates and bitters. So in other words, it’s a foodie’s dream. I snapped up awesome saffron salt, and resisted the urge to buy every kind of chocolate they had in stock. There are two locations in Portland and one in NYC, plus an online store!

 

 

 

 

7. Cheese & Crack Snack Shop

IMG_0783I found this shop by Yelping “pickles” and man, am I glad we visited! We stopped here for snacks on our way to the Falls. We got a “cheese plate to go” that had a great selection of cheeses, crackers and spreads like honey and mustard. We ended up eating this overlooking a vista point. Turns out that cheese + vista points = the perfect combo.

IMG_06148. Simple Local Coffee/Sterling Coffee Roasters

Ok, I’m cheating a little, but both these shops serve the same brand of coffee. First we bumped into Simple Local Coffee, a charming shop downtown that serves Sterling Coffee. A couple days later, we sought out Sterling’s own shop over in the city’s Alphabet District. I drink my coffee black, and loved their flavorful roasts. Fun fact: there are remnants of an old tunnel in the lobby adjacent to Simple Local Coffee, complete with old tools. Pretty cool!

 

 

Here are just a few more snapshots of our wonderful trip. If you’re ever headed to Portland, let me know. I’ll give you all the dirt on different neighborhoods, eats, etc.!

 

(This entry is cross-posted on my other blog, Culture Cookies

Pi Bakerie, NYC

This story starts with my friend Scot (hi Scot!). I was in NYC a bit ago for work, but on a weird schedule. Still, I told Scot I was dropping by to see if it could possibly work to meet up. We’ve made weird logistics work before, so I had faith it might work out. And indeed, we decided to get a very early breakfast one day before I headed to Amtrak to train to D.C.

Scot suggested we stick near my hotel, so I went to look up options. We needed a good plan, because the last time Scot and I tried to wander and find an early breakfast in Tribeca, we ended up essentially failing: nothing was open yet! This time I turned to Yelp. When I set the “open at 7 AM” filter a few things came up- but one caught my eye right away. It was called Pi Bakerie and the minute I read it was a Greek bakery, I knew we had to go. I am a huge fan of Greek food, but aside from things like spanakopita and baklava, I hadn’t had many Greek pastries in the past. I was excited to try out Pi Bakerie and see what else Greek baked goods had to offer.

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Savory pastries

Pi Bakerie is in the south bit of Soho, pretty close to the Holland Tunnel. It’s conveniently near many subway lines, so it’s easy to get to from a good part of NYC. Let me tell you: going to this restaurant is a very good choice. It was just opening up as we got there, which meant no line and plenty of time to deliberate what we wanted to eat. We tried several things: a flaky pastry called the Egg Painerli, a piece of spanakopita, a salmon Koulouri, and some cookies to go.

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Our breakfast

Let’s start with the egg pastry. It was a most satisfying, delicious breakfast. Imagine layers of flaky dough with a perfectly cooked egg in the middle and warm cheese. It was so good, I was actually sad when I finished eating it. The koulori is closest to a bagel,  with a nice taste of sesame. Our koulori had really fresh toppings on it and helped round out our breakfast feast. The spanakopita ended up being my lunch that day and I was happy it still tasted amazing hours later. It was the perfect blend of cheese and spinach inside an equally indulgent buttery shell, more like a filled pastry than the usual slice format I find with spanakopita at restaurants. And let’s not forget the cookies: I enjoyed them all, but especially liked the ones tinged with honey (can’t remember the name!)

Pi Bakerie only opened in the last year, which explains why we didn’t find it the last time we went wandering Tribeca in search of breakfast. Now that we know it’s there, we’ll definitely need to go back! I have my eye on many of their lunch-time “pi” specialties (you can see the full menu here).

 

City Bakery, NYC

I keep a running list of bakeries I want to try, both in San Francisco and further afield. Since I travel for work I can never predict exactly where I’ll end up a given year. So I figure I might as well keep track of places I want to try, hope that I get the chance someday.

City Bakery in NYC’s Flatiron neighborhood has been on my list for quite some time. It was recommended by my colleagues in NYC. They raved on and on about the delectable pretzel croissants and rich hot chocolate. It’s been on my radar over the past several years, but I never managed to check it out until a couple weeks ago. I was off to Connecticut for a friend’s wedding and decided to stop by NYC for 24 hours along the way. It was a wonderful 24 hours, packed with so many dear friends and so many tasty things. I started my day with breakfast at City Bakery. And I’m really, really glad I did.

DSCN2290I ordered a couple pastries, because who knows when I’ll be back in that neck of the woods? Trust me, it was hard to keep my pastry count down to 2 – I wanted to try everything in the case! The esteemed pretzel croissant made it into my bag, as did a “Baker’s Muffin.” I also got a cup of the steaming hot chocolate, and a chocolate bar to share with my boyfriend back in SF.

Everything was wonderful. The pretzel was salty and buttery, with a great flake to the top and a perfectly soft interior. It was pretty rich, and really satisfying. The Baker’s Muffin was a fun discovery, since I hadn’t seen something like that before. It was essentially monkey bread baked into a muffin tin, with pieces of fruit studded throughout. And that drinking chocolate – wow. I am a huge fan of sipping and drinking chocolates, which are much thicker and richer than the hot chocolate we tend to be served at cafes. This chocolate was wonderful, but even I couldn’t finish the entire cup! Next time I suppose I’ll need to bring a friend along to split it with me.

I am so glad I prioritized City Bakery on this NYC visit. And what’s the priority for my next NYC trip? Dominique Ansel’s new bakery takes top billing, followed by a trip to the Upper West Side to get a dose of Levain Bakery‘s incredible chocolate chip cookies – it’s been too long!