America’s Favorite Cities for Baked Goods
After years of being told to avoid bread at all cost, our country has given into common sense and returned to the favorite of all comfort foods: carbohydrates. Thankfully, scores of bakers across the United States have perfected their skills, providing sinfully delicious croissants, pies, cookies, cakes, macarons, and (perhaps obviously) breads.
In Boston, Joanne Chang has turned sticky buns into a business model with her Flour bakeries, which continue to expand since opening in 2000. Rumor has it, her oversized meringue clouds have been hailed as one of the best desserts on the planet. Down in Arizona, Phoenix’s panaderías supply the city with fruit-filled empanadas and churros. And in one Southern town, a bakery’s motto of “all butter, all the time” translates into some seriously delicious cupcakes.
Visiting local favorite bakeries isn’t just a decadent afternoon (or lunchtime, or dessert-time) diversion. It’s a great way to sample local ingredients and unusual regional specialties (think: scratch-made recipes passed down through generations).
In the annual America's Favorite Places survey, readers of all stripes evaluate hundreds of cities and towns across a range of categories, from the friendliness of the locals to the quality of the pizza. Unlike Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards, which encourages readers to weigh in on travel experiences across the globe, the America's Favorite Places survey is a way for locals to share what their hometowns do best.
As the results make clear, loving bread is not confined to any region, although the Southwest and the Northeast dominate the listings. Noticeably absent is the West Coast. Perhaps Californians haven’t gotten the memo yet that bread, and all baked goods, are Oprah-approved and fair game.
No. 14 Boston, MA
Sports, seafood, and smart people are what usually come to mind when people mention Boston. But T+L readers have discovered the New England city is also a hotbed for pastries. James Beard Award-winning baker Joanne Chang has built a sticky bun empire with her popular Flour bakeries. Opened in the South End in 2000, the chain has since expanded to other neighborhoods including the Back Bay, Fort Point, and most recently, Cambridge. Chang has no plans to open up shop in the North End, however, where saturated fats have reached their saturation point. There, rival Italian bakeries Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry churn out made-to-order cannolis all night long.
No. 13 Pittsburgh, PA
You know a city’s baked goods scene is heating up when people start to know the difference between macaroons and macarons. In Pittsburgh, that pastry awakening started in 2009 when France-born Frederic Rongier and his wife Lori opened Paris 66 bistro in the East Liberty neighborhood. The confections from head pastry chef David Piquard, a Ladurée alum, proved so popular the Rongiers opened a separate patisserie just for him to show off his macaron talents. But Steel City has more than sweets. New bakeries like Five Points are bringing old-school sourdoughs and hearty ryes back on the tables.
No. 12 Fort Worth, TX
Ask locals where they go to cure their sweet tooth and they’ll invariably name Swiss Pastry Shop, open since 1973. The no-frills restaurant is a city institution, famous for an extra-fluffy Black Forest cake. Newcomer Stir Crazy Baked Goods is proving a hit as well. Along with serving their own cakes and cookies, the team is fostering local baking talent by selling breads and donuts from other local bakeries as well. In this year’s America’s Favorite Places survey, T+L readers also gave Fort Worth high marks for its Texan barbecue.
No. 11 Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix’s population has ballooned by over 1.5 million people in the last five decades. That growth can largely be explained by improved air conditioning, a booming tech industry, affordable real estate and, according to T+L readers, remarkable baked goods. Mexican-style panaderías, such as La Reyna Bakery, serve tres leches cakes, churros, and fruit-filled empanadas. More recently, the donut craze has taken hold. Head to Rollover Doughnuts for experimental flavors like Thai coconut and orange glaze.
No. 10 Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque has its share of French-style bakeries (go to L’Amour Baking Company for macarons, Le Chantilly for croissants), but the local specialty is green chile sourdough. Sample Bosque Baking Company’s chile bread, along with other hand-made artisan loafs at the Downtown Grower’s Market on Saturdays—or in the new brick-and-mortar near the zoo. A mile north, Golden Crown Panaderia makes a famous rendition of the chile sourdough that adds onions, tomatoes, and Parmesan. Albuquerque residents can enjoy their cheese-topped carbs guilt free: T+L readers also gave them high scores being active in this year’s survey.
No. 9 Richmond, VA
On top of having some of the country’s best barbecue, Richmond, Virginia, offers high quality baked goods. At Sub Rosa, which opened in the Church Hill neighborhood in 2012, brother-sister duo Evrim and Evin Dogu stone grind flours for their wood-oven-baked breads. On bustling Cary Street, Carytown Cupcakes keeps locals coming back with new, themed recipes each week. Visitors can grab a box of the gourmet treats to-go before venturing into Richmond’s Museum District, which helped earn the city a near perfect score for its arts scene.
No. 8 San Antonio, TX
Visitors to this central Texas city will be remembering the almond croissants more than the Alamo if they make it to C’est La Vie Baking Company. Taylor Becken started the business in 2012 while still an undergrad student at University of Texas San Antonio. After less than a year selling at local markets, he opened a shop, where visitors can try the airy croissants he tops with powdered sugar and roasted almonds. Another favorite bakeshop, Bakery Lorraine, has earned a local following thanks to its expertly crafted tarts, macarons, and (you guessed it), quiche lorraines.
No. 7 New Orleans, LA
Perhaps no city in America is more famous for its unique baked goods as New Orleans. The city’s French-Acadian history has left it with a love for King Cake at Mardis Gras, buche du noel at Christmas, and beignets on the other 363 days of the year. Café du Monde is the classic stop for the fried dough squares, having served them alongside café au laits since 1862. Out of the French Quarter, baker Lisa White and pastry chef Kelly Fields have opened Willa Jean in the Central Business District. Head there for the best chocolate chip cookies—with just the right amount of salt.
No. 6 Knoxville, TN
Millions of Americans pass through Knoxville on their way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but few realize that they’re missing out on one of the country’s leading baking destinations. T+L readers have taken notice, however, giving the Tennessee town high marks in the baked goods category. Cupcake fanatics will want to visit Magpies, where owner Margaret Hambright and her team whip up special flavors each week, following the motto “all butter, all the time.” Locals swear by the classic Italian cream cupcake, with pecans, coconut, and a cream cheese icing.
No. 5 Wilmington, NC
This under-the-radar food destination won over T+L readers with its Southern-style cooking, particularly in the baked goods department. One Belle Bakery, for example, serves single-serving trifles, buttery pastry squares and cakes (for belles and beaus) in a recently expanded café south of downtown. Another local favorite is The Peppered Cupcake, a regional chain that actress and North Carolina native Tabitha Meready founded in 2008. Its three Wilmington locations serve fresh-baked cupcakes with extravagant toppings like bourbon-soaked black cherries.
No. 4 Buffalo, NY
Buffalo’s appreciation for carbs helped convince readers to name the western New York town America’s Favorite City this year. At Five Points Bakery, owners Kevin and Melissa Gardner grind the flour daily before making their popular whole grain loaves, which then take another day to cook. Another popular spot is BreadHive, which opened in 2014 and just launched a sit-down café. Enterprising bread lovers can purchase shares in the new café, guaranteeing them financial returns, and, more importantly, free weekly loaves. For a true Buffalo classic, head to Wolter’s. The family-run bakery has served the best butter cookies in town since 1957.
No. 3 New York, NY
Little surprise that the country’s biggest city does well by T+L readers when it comes to all things baked. This is the city where Dominique Ansel invented the cronut, where Laduree flies its macarons direct from Paris, and where bagels are essentially an official food group. Ansel has since added to his repertoire with the DKA, short for Dominique’s Kouign Amann. Find the buttery cake—with flaky dough and a crispy, caramelized crust—at his recently opened Dominique Ansel Kitchen in Manhattan’s West Village. Across the East River, Brooklyn’s Butter & Scotch is bakery-bar that serves knockout pies and whiskey cocktails.
No. 2 Providence, RI
Rhode Island’s hip capital city is something of a baked good mecca on the East Coast—especially in West Side’s Federal Hill neighborhood. Locals rave about the fruit tarts at Pastiche, the inventive cookies at North Bakery (try the brown-butter miso ones) and the rustic olive bread at Seven Stars. Downtown, Ellie’s Bakery is another favorite. Opened in 2013, it sells some of the best croissants in Providence. In warm months, Ellie’s operates a pastry cart (named Millie) that wheels around town full of hand-made macaron ice cream sandwiches.
No. 1 Columbus, OH
A massive influx of German immigrants brought the arts of pretzel making and cake-baking (along with beer brewing) to Columbus in the 1800s. That love for baked goods hasn’t dwindled, and T+L readers have voted the Ohio capital the country’s favorite city for baked goods. At the popular North Market, highlights include Brezel (which keeps the city’s German heritage alive with its Bavarian-style soft pretzels) and Pistacia Vera. At this confectionery from a brother-sister duo, visitors can buy Paris-quality macarons and a revered chocolate buttermilk cake.