San Francisco and sourdough bread are basically synonymous. Gold miners discovered this in the mid-1800s, and visitors to the city have been rediscovering it ever since.
It’s not just hometown pride either – the special flavour in San Francisco sourdough comes from the lactic acids produced by bacteria that gets into the bread.
I recently set out on a mission to find the best sourdough bread San Francisco has to offer. To choose the bakeries I’d visit, I consulted rankings from Serious Eats, Yelp,Trip Savvy and Foursquare. At each bakery, I ordered an untoasted piece of bread with no accoutrements to get the true taste and flavour. I ranked my slices based on overall flavour, crunch, and texture.
Four loaves of sourdough later, here are the results:
My first stop was Boudin Bakery on the Embarcadero.
Boudin is the definitive home of sourdough in San Francisco. It was established in 1849, and has since evolved into a chain with a full menu of baked goods, sandwiches, and soups.
It’s a pretty big tourist attraction too, and I was a little sceptical that it had been able to maintain its original quality. Sadly, I was correct. I ordered a small sourdough roll and it was difficult to bite into, and almost hard to chew and swallow. The sour taste was pretty overpowering, and I ended up abandoning my roll after only one bite.
Cost: Small sourdough roll, $US0.99
The Acme Bread Company is another San Francisco stalwart.
In hopes of saving my stomach, I ordered the smallest sourdough baguette they had.
Acme first opened in 1983 with the simple mission of making the best bread possible. It’s been successful, and is now carried in big grocery stores like Whole Foods and Costco.
I’d had Acme bread before from the grocery store, but had never really given it a second thought. My baguette was perfectly crispy, and had a great tangy smell. The innards of the bread were dense and soft, but tasted like it needed a bit more time in the oven. Overall, it was a great piece of bread.
Cost: Small sourdough baguette, $US2.00
Noe Valley Bakery was the underdog of the list.
Unlike the others, it didn’t set out to be a sourdough bakery.
It also has a wide array of baked treats, and I found myself eyeing the rugelach as I ordered my bread.
I forgot the rugelach as soon as I bit into the bread. It was light, fluffy, and pleasantly chewy. It had a soft crunch to it, and was the best crust I encountered by far. The flavour was a little bit bland, and if I hadn’t ordered it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell it from a regular loaf. After I wrapped it back up, I was impressed to be able to still smell it through the bag.
Cost: Round sourdough loaf, $US5.69
Tartine bakery is a San Francisco favourite, and both locals and tourists will wait in line for hours to get a taste of its goods.
The New York Times’ Suzanne Lenzer once said of Tartine’s bread, “As bread recipes go, it’s nearly perfect.”
After one bite of a Tartine baguette I would have to agree. Just by looking at its doughy caverns I could tell it was going to be good. It had a complex flavour that was absent from the other loaves, and the texture was smooth without being too soft. It was easy to bite into, but still had a satisfying crunch to it.
Despite, a full stomach, I had a hard time stopping myself from devouring the whole thing.
Cost: Standard baguette, $US5.80
Source: New York Times
So where can you find the best sourdough in San Francisco?
Without a doubt, Tartine.
Tartine is hands-down the king of sourdough in San Francisco.
The loaf was heavenly, and definitely worth the time spent in line. With that said, all of the bakeries had something special to offer, and I would definitely make a trip back to all.