America's Best Bakeries
Theresa Velazquez’s D.C. bakery business is thriving, and just three months ago, she (with the help of her husband, son, and daughter) opened a new location in Downtown. “We really make ourselves part of the neighborhood,” says the co-owner of Baked & Wired and A Baked Joint, where hazelnut ganache cupcakes are playfully displayed in upside-down coffee beakers.
Many of America’s best bakeries are family-run establishments that take a similar approach and pride in their community. They’re appealing, one-of-a-kind spots where travelers can break to enjoy made-from-scratch pastries that often highlight local ingredients.
At Standard Baking Co. in Portland, ME, Alison Pray introduced Maine miche, an organic whole-wheat bread made with 100 percent single varietal wheat grown by a local farmer. “You couldn’t have imagined this 18 years ago when we started,” she says.
Great bakeries are not afraid to evolve or experiment, reinventing classic desserts as well as offering lesser-known European treats. So on your next trip, head to one of these bakeries for a sweet start to the day—whether an apricot puff pastry tart with almond cream or the gibassier, a French citrus-flavored bread.
Proof, Los Angeles
The owner and head baker at this pared-down Atwater Village bakery has a self-described “low sweet threshold,” but that may just be her secret to success. Na Young Ma’s seasonal-fruit-packed pastries like plum herb galettes and roasted cherry-almond hand pies never verge on cloyingly sweet and have attracted celebrity fans like Kristen Wiig. The offerings change daily and often include unorthodox ingredients. Black sesame financiers, for instance, are flavored with nutty black sesame powder, brown butter, and fresh raspberries or candied orange.
Must-Try Item: The flaky twice-baked almond croissant filled with a thin layer of almond cream. proofbakeryla.com
Originally a stand at Chicago’s Green City Market, Floriole is now a buzzy café in the Lincoln Park neighborhood with expanded offerings of sandwiches, salads, and wood-oven-fired pizza. Baker Sandra Holl’s honey pecan sticky buns, fruit galettes, and buttermilk panna cotta use the finest ingredients, from Valrhona chocolate to European-style butter. She has a knack for turning mistakes into inspired treats; a botched batch of pistachio brittle became pistachio croissants with a lemon glaze.
Must-Try Item: Gateau Basque, an almond cake filled with pastry cream and seasonal fruit. floriole.com
Baked, Brooklyn, NY
Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito rocketed to fame when Oprah named their dense, fudgy brownie one of her favorite things. Three cookbooks later, Baked’s owners are still accomplishing their mission of elevating classic American desserts. The Peanut Butter Crispy is an elegant ganache-topped crisped rice cereal treat, and dessert hybrids include the Brookster, a deep, dark brownie shell filled with a chocolate chunk cookie. You’ll find them at the un-frilly Red Hook shop, with its wood-paneled walls and faux taxidermy, as well as the new Tribeca storefront: less than a year old and with distinct nods to the space's history as a burlesque club.
Must-Try Item: A layer of salted caramel oozes throughout while baking, making for an incredibly moist and indulgent Sweet + Salty Brownie. bakednyc.com
Salty Tart, Minneapolis
It’s true that great things come in small packages—just consider this 400-square-foot bakery in the bustling Midtown Global Market. French windows on three sides let customers watch chef and owner Michelle Gayer (a three-time James Beard nominee) work her magic on rustic French pastries like seasonal fruit Danishes and pastry-cream-filled brioche rolled in vanilla sugar. Her crisp and chewy coconut macaroons have become so popular they’ve earned the nickname “crackaroons.”
Must-Try Item: Bostock, a French pastry typically made with brioche bread. Gayer’s is toasted sourdough soaked in orange simple syrup, topped with brown butter and blueberries, and baked in the oven. saltytart.com
Vergennes Laundry, Vergennes, VT
The owners of this bakery in a former laundromat are so devoted to serving simple, fresh food that every sweet and savory tart is made to order. Baker Julianne Jones was inspired after apprenticing with renowned Vermont bread baker Gérard Rubaud; Jones was reportedly one of the only students to last the entire three-month stint. Together with her French husband, a candy maker, they created a light-filled space featuring Baltic birch and a wood-fired oven where Jones bakes Bordeaux-style cannelés—think crème brûlée in mini-Bundt-cake form—and, come winter, perfect tartes flambées.
Must-Try Item: The seasonal berry tart filled with raspberries, strawberries, and husk cherries. vergenneslaundry.com
Baked & Wired, Washington, D.C.
As its name suggests, this Georgetown institution takes coffee as seriously as its homespun baked goods. Baristas train for months, and the concrete coffee bar serves only the best roasters in the country (Stumptown, Intelligentsia). Cupcakes are playfully displayed in upside-down coffee beakers, and decadent flavors include chocolate-pecan frosted, cinnamon-spiced chocolate cake. Other coffee-pairing options range from breakfast breads to strawberry pistachio pie.
Must-Try Item: The "Tessita," named after Velazquez's daughter, Tessa. It's a vanilla cake with dulce de leche filling, hazelnut ganache, and a toasted-hazelnut topping. bakedandwired.com
Le Panier, Seattle
This venerable Pike Place bakery opened in 1983 with a commitment to making Normandy-style pastries (one of the owners still makes regular reconnaissance trips to France). Stop in for tarte aux abricots—a traditional fruit tart with puff pastry crust, almond pastry cream, and sour apricots—or the Feuilletés, a Le Panier creation of puff pastry with savory fillings such as fresh asparagus in Emmental sauce. The salmon-colored space with a wooden communal table is cheery enough to brighten any gray Seattle day.
Must-Try Item: The flaky jambon croissant topped with Mornay sauce and a sprinkle of Emmental cheese. lepanier.com
Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffeehouse, Kansas City, MO
Mud Pie has managed to do the near impossible: bake vegan goods that taste as good, if not better, than their traditional counterparts. Baker Ashley Valverde says the secret is countless hours of experimentation and the range of vegan ingredients now on the market. Mostess (a twist on a Hostess cupcake) and French Toast (a maple cinnamon, maple frosted cupcake) are among the award winners. Located in a two-story 1880s house, the bakery has an old-fashioned feel as well as ultra-fast Google Fiber broadband Internet.
Must-Try Item: The flaky cheddar sausage scone made with vegan cheddar and seitan sausage. mudpiebakery.com
Sugar Bakeshop, Charleston, SC
Owners Bill Bowick and David Bouffard showcase the desserts they ate growing up, such as a Lady Baltimore cupcake of almond cake with sherry-soaked golden raisins and a meringue frosting (a special treat made-to-order). The duo meticulously restored the 1940s-era stucco building’s concrete flooring and distressed painted walls. Customers will also appreciate the ivy-adorned walled garden, which provides a dose of tranquility on downtown’s Cannon Street, as well as the honey, sold on-site and used in baked goods such as the chocolate-honey cakes, from the rooftop beehive.
Must-Try Item: The sweet and tart Lemon Curd cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting and homemade lemon curd filling. sugarbake.com
Tartine Bakery & Café, San Francisco
While the lines at this Mission District bakery can be an hour long, that hardly detours the fans clamoring to try Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt’s pastries. Inspired by time spent in France, the couple uses only organic ingredients in desserts like a shortbread cookie with kamut, an ancient grain, and local honey. Because the bakery makes small batches throughout the day, Tartine’s doughy croissants laminated in butter can often be enjoyed just out of the oven. Now that’s worth waiting for.
Must-Try Item: Tres Leches Cake made with organic goat’s milk cooked down to a caramel, or cajeta, sweetened coconut milk, and crema. tartinebakery.com
Standard Baking Co., Portland, ME
Follow your nose through the Old Port and down an alley to a 1920s-era brick warehouse, where Alison Pray and Matt James have been turning out the finest baked goods in town for two decades this year. Browse the bread selection—country boules, focaccias, fougasse, raisin pecan, organic pain au Levain, baguettes. Pastries include pain au chocolat, spicy gingerbread slices, and wild Maine blueberry hand pies, made with a cream cheese and butter pastry shell.
Must-Try Item: The Morning Bun, a croissant-like dough rolled up with brown sugar and cinnamon.
Levain, New York
Two friends opened this cozy Upper West Side bakery, won a following for their rustic breads and hockey-puck-size cookies, and now satisfy cravings in Harlem and the Hamptons too. The award-winning chocolate chip walnut cookie has the perfect consistency—a nice outer layer of crunch with a melt-in-your-mouth gooey center—and is loaded with semisweet chocolate chips and walnuts.
Must-Try Item: The cookies, whether oatmeal raisin or decadent dark-chocolate peanut butter chip, and the rustic blueberry muffins, which sell out most mornings. levainbakery.com
Pearl Bakery, Portland, OR
This Pearl District institution (est. 1997) has been a training ground for many of Portland’s new artisan bakers and remains on top of its game thanks to family involvement, ingredients sourced weekly from a farmers’ market, and commitment to quality control. The smell of fresh-baked baguettes, nutty and crusty, wafts through the light-filled bakery, and the pastry case seems near to bursting with chocolate chunk cookies, fruit bressane, and gibassier, a treat from Provence made with fruited olive oil, anise, and orange flower water.
Must-Try Item: A seasonal fruit tart like torta di pingoli with bright citruses and pine nuts in a buttery pie crust. pearlbakery.com
Upper Crust, Austin, TX
The cinnamon sugar–covered rolls for sale here in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood were created almost by accident when the bakery was trying to come up with a way to use its leftover Danish dough. The result is a denser, less flaky roll baked in a cupcake tin that has sparked countless imitators. Upper Crust’s fans also come for seasonal pies like cranberry apple, with currants and autumnal spices, and a coconut cream pie with a layer of Callebaut chocolate.
Must-Try Item: The chocolate Italian cream cake combines sweetened coconut flakes, buttermilk, organic Texas pecans, and chocolate cream cheese icing. uppercrustbakery.com
Elizabethan Desserts, Encinitas
Owner Elizabeth Harris bakes her strawberry rhubarb pie with a shortbread cookie crust and is so thorough that even the peanut butter in her chocolate peanut butter praline crunch cake is made from scratch. In fall 2013, she converted the original Sunshine Nursery space into Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon (serving sweet and savory pies) and moved the full-service bakery to a new El Camino Real location. There's a decidedly 1940s vibe—vintage cookie jars, a mint-and-white palette—and the welcome addition of air-conditioning to keep those Diggity Dang hostess-style cupcakes cool.
Must-Try Item: The St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake Bar, a vanilla cake filled with creamy vanilla custard and topped with fresh berries. elizabethandesserts.com
Pacific Way Bakery, Gearhart, OR
Baker and co-owner Lisa Allen works through the night to bring this Oregon beach town pastries on par with those found in France. The results are displayed in a case of rustic fruit tarts and croissants as well as American-inspired goodies like sticky buns. The self-taught baker makes everything you see—as well as desserts in the adjoining restaurant. Black-and-white-tiled floors and gilded mirrors lend a fitting French country look.
Must-Try Item: The not-too-sweet scone loaded with fresh Oregon marionberries. pacificwaybakery-cafe.com
Bakery Lorraine, San Antonio, TX
Bouchon Bakery and culinary school alums Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell own this bakery in the Pearl Brewery, which they moved to last year when they outgrew the 1920's homestead that originally housed their shop. The pair takes a refined approach to American and French pastries, namely, kouign-amann (bread dough layered with butter and sugar), Pop-Tarts™, and frangipane tarts with seasonal fruit. Another customer favorite: macarons in sophisticated flavors like dark chocolate lavender, salted caramel, and earl grey.
Must-Try Item: You'll want to order two Fig Chevre Tarts, filled with fig jam and vanilla-flavored goat cheese, topped with filo dough and fig. bakerylorraine.com
Muddy’s Bake Shop, Memphis, TN
Take one look at the pastry case, and it’s clear that owner Kat Gordon has a healthy sense of humor. Classic American desserts are labeled Prozac (chocolate cake with chocolate frosting) and Frankly Scarlett (red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting). Mismatched coffee mugs and vintage furniture complete the quirky vibe at Muddy’s, named for her grandmother. Yet the banana pudding, butter cookies glazed with lemon zest icing, and Shady Wake pie (possibly the best pecan pie in the South) confirm that this bakery means business.
Must-Try Item: The Nancy’s Boy pie, a classic chess pie with coconut. muddysbakeshop.com
La Mie, Des Moines
Marble-topped tables piled with rustic Danish, fruit tarts, and croissants take center stage within this industrial space in Des Moines’s Kingman Place Historic District. It’s a feast for the eyes, and patrons get the instant gratification of being able to serve themselves before paying at the counter. Daily offerings scribbled on a chalkboard often include more hearty fare like avocado and red onion tartines or fromage omelettes. La Mie also takes artisanal bread baking seriously, shaping and scoring all dough by hand before baking it in an on-site deck oven.
Must-Try Item: The chocolate chip pistachio roll or the chocolate caramel tart. lamiebakery.com
Bake Lab, Houston
Baker Anita Jaisinghani marries French technique with South Indian flavors to whip up inspired pastries like chocolate chili cookies and an award-winning chai pie made with a biscuit-like crust and filled with chai caramel. Classic Indian desserts like sindhi ladoo (a doughy confection made with almonds, poppyseeds, cardamom and pistachios) can also be found among the dizzying array that the bakery puts out each morning at 7:00 within her restaurant Pondicheri.
Must-Try Item: Bake Lab’s lighter take on gulab jamun is a spiced donut dipped in rose cardamom syrup then rolled in white poppy seeds, pistachios, and finely chopped rose petals (available only on weekends). pondichericafe.com
Little Tart Bakeshop, Atlanta
Baker Sarah O’Brien, who once studied at the Sorbonne, brings a slice of Paris to Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood with her pastries and tarts. A commitment to area ingredients means you’ll find crème fraîche quiche made with goat cheese from Decimal Place Farms and sausage turnovers with kale from a local purveyor. The light-flooded bakery shares space with Octane Coffee, so the scent is the perfect mix of just-baked croissants (out of the oven at 8:15 in the morning) and cappuccinos. Check out the new brick and mortar spot at Krog Street Market.
Must-Try Item: A seasonal galette featuring lightly sweetened and spiced fruits such as local apple and blueberry. littletartatl.com
Gracious Bakery & Café, New Orleans
Owner Megan Roen Forman worked as a pastry chef for 20 years in New York and at Sucré in New Orleans before opening this Mid-City bakery in 2012 within the LEED- certified Woodward Design and Build Headquarters. But word has quickly spread beyond those offices about her rustic American breads, pretzel-style croissants, and savory dishes like a pesto cruffin—croissant dough baked in a muffin tin that pulls apart like monkeybread—and the more familiar bacon and cheddar croissant. New weekend brunch brings items such as cheddar and green onion biscuits with house-cured ham and homemade pepper jelly to the table. To meet demand, Forman, along with her husband Jay, recently opened a second, quick-service loation called Gracious to Go.
Must-Try Item: Jay's latest favorite, the Cinnamon Morning Bun, spiked with cardamom and orange zest. graciousbakery.com
Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Portland, OR
With a popular wood-fired-oven pizza restaurant, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook, and a new bakery and bar concept on the way, Ken Forkish is Portland’s undisputed dough king. And his reign began in 2001 at this bright bakery with large windows and open kitchen. Forkish quickly gained a following for his rustic breads and pastries with a Pacific Northwest accent: croissants with local berries and hazelnut cream; croque monsieur sandwiches on country bread with local Tails & Trotters ham.
Must-Try Item: The honeycomb-flavored cannelé made in a mold lined with 100 percent beeswax. kensartisan.com
Sweet Bar Bakery, Oakland, CA
Mani Niall opened downtown’s first artisan bakery in a historic building that once housed MacFarlane’s Candy and Ice Cream. It’s the latest successful stint in a career that has included being Michael Jackson’s private chef and running an L.A. bakery for 20 years. His passion for natural and organic baked goods translates to gluten-free oatmeal sour cherry chocolate chip cookies and vegan banana cake with almond milk, raspberry preserves and almond nougat. The chocolate carmelized-almond salty caramel cake is a guiltier pleasure.
Must-Try Item: Rethink breakfast with the polenta upside-down cake. sweetbarbakery.com
Flour Bakery + Café, Boston
Joanne Chang’s original bakery in the South End exudes a relaxed, neighborhood feel and draws locals throughout the day. Breakfast items include scones (think lemon ginger, paremsan chive, and currant-spelt-oat) and cinnamon cream brioche; lunch brings sandwiches and savory items like a an Arugula and Barley salad with housemade kimchi and miso vinaigrette; and delicate, sweet pastries are always on hand. Three more Boston-area locations mean you’re never too far from a lemon lust tart or triple chocolate mousse cake.
Must-Try Item: The meringue clouds and ginger molasses cookies have proven to be addictive. flourbakery.com