Top 5 bakeries of San Francisco: We got that (sourdough) bread

Bread has been a part of the human diet since the Stone Age – a staple in nearly every culture and time period due to its nutrient-providing composition and accessibility. The food is a symbol of human civilization, and frankly, we’re big fans. Name any type of bread and we have probably tried it – if we haven’t, we have plans to do just that. When American icon Oprah Winfrey proclaimed her love of bread to the masses, we nodded in agreement. We are, and we cannot stress this enough, carb fiends.

While planning a winter break trip, we wanted to go to a city where the food is just as good as the location. It is no surprise then that we chose San Francisco – birthplace of sourdough.

Because we are completely normal humans with a completely normal relationship to bread, we’ve decided to taste and rank five of the supposedly best places for sourdough in the city.

The bread is ranked in ten different categories: value, flakiness, smell, ambiance of the bakery, fermentation, taste, softness, crust, pairing with cheese and eating experience. The scores are then added up for an overall ranking out of 100.

5.  Boudin Bakery

Taste – 7  | Flakiness – 2 | Smell – 5 |Crust – 5 | Pairing – 7 | Softness – 8 | Fermentation – 4 | Value – 7 | Ambiance – 4 | Experience – 6

Overall: 55/100

Boudin is a historic San Francisco landmark that’s been baking sourdough since 1849. If you think that means it’s going to be the best, you’re incorrect. Although as far as bread goes, it was fine, the sourdough taste left much to be desired.

We were able to try the regular sourdough round, which lacked most of the fermented bite we were looking for in great sourdough. If we are considering bread in general, it was a good loaf – but we don’t want a good loaf, we want a great one. We came to San Francisco for sourdough bread, and Boudin didn’t not deliver in the fermentation department that sets that type of bread apart.

The flakiness of the bread is a quintessential aspect of a great loaf. However, despite our high expectations, this loaf did not flake well – a sign of commercial baking – which hurt its score even more.

The bakery building also houses Boudin Museum, which earned it extra points for experience and made up for some of its low scores. The museum educated us about the history of sourdough in San Francisco and how the common Bay area fog helps ferment the bacteria to make tastier bread.

4. Noe Valley Bakery

Taste – 7  | Flakiness – 5 | Smell – 7 |Crust – 7 | Pairing – 9 | Softness – 9 | Fermentation – 6 | Value – 8 | Ambiance – 6 | Experience – 7

Overall: 72/100

Noe Valley Bakery is a small and quaint neighborhood bakery nestled within the charming Noe Valley neighborhood. This bakery is well loved by those within the neighborhood – while we there we witnessed the adorable sight of about 15 children all shuffling in and consuming cupcakes and other treats sold by the shop.

Overall, this loaf was delicious. The bread had a soft inside, great overall taste and paired excellently with cheese. However, points were taken off for lack of flakiness and that general punch of sour we wanted.

Due to the small size of the bakery and the lack of seating, we did not get to enjoy the bread inside the bakery. However, we still gave the experience a seven as we quite enjoyed munching on the bread while wandering around the adorable neighborhood.

3. Acme Bread Company

Taste – 7  | Flakiness – 8 | Smell – 8 |Crust – 6 | Pairing – 8 | Softness – 7 | Fermentation – 5 | Value – 9 | Ambiance – 10 | Experience – 9

Overall: 77/100

Acme Bread Company is located within the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace – a renovated historic train station and food market featuring products by local farmers, artisan producers and independently owned and operated business owners.

Acme’s sourdough bread scored solid marks all around, with the exception of the fermentation. Although it tasted like typical sourdough, it lacked that quintessential sour bite that we were looking for in our loaf.

Conveniently located next to Acme is Cowgirl Creameries – a European-style cheese shop featuring their own Cowgirl cheeses as well as American and European cheese selections. So, you better believe we swiped some cheese to accompany the bread.

We bought the Inverness – a creamy, tangy cheese made from Holstein milk an aged for two weeks. We paired this cheese with all of the different breads we tried because, as any good researcher knows, a good experiment is only as valid as its control.

The sourdough paired well with the cheese and the combination of the two along with our other purchases from the marketplace made for a lovely picnic.

We gave high rankings for value and experience because right outside the Ferry Building was the beautiful San Francisco Bay – the perfect setting for a picnic. We did, however, deduct a point from the Experience section because of the evil little birds that surrounded us on the deck. They were after us – our bread, our cheese and maybe our souls.

2. Tartine

Taste – 9  | Flakiness – 9 | Smell – 9 |Crust – 10 | Pairing – 6 | Softness – 10 |Fermentation – 8 | Value – 7 | Ambiance – 7 | Experience – 8

Overall: 83/100

Tartine is a local favorite and is supposedly one of the best places for sourdough. The love San Franciscans have for the bakery was clear from the start – the long lines let us know we were in for a treat. Our excitement overflowing, we ordered their sourdough country loaf.

This loaf was scrumptious and huge. It smelled and tasted like it deserved a line of patrons out the door every day, which it had. The crust had a perfectly strong exterior that flaked away to an uber-soft inside – a balance that is hard to attain.

Despite all of its deliciousness, Tartine’s bread did not pair well with cheese. The cheese took the limelight and made the bread hide in the background, which lowered its overall score because we firmly believe that bread should be the star.

Although the line of people waiting for Tartine’s baked goods was a sign of tasty products, it also led to an over-crowded venue with no seating available. The lack of space to enjoy our loaf lowered the points for Ambiance and kept this bakery from earning a higher overall score.

1.  Josey Baker Bread

Taste – 10  | Flakiness – 9 | Smell – 9 |Crust – 10 | Pairing – 10 | Softness – 10 | Fermentation – 9 | Value – 8 | Ambiance – 9 | Experience – 9

Overall: 93/100

Josey Baker Bread is located in The Mill – a cafe cooperative that houses both Josey Baker Bread and Four Barrel Coffee – near Alamo Square Park. This small bread company has been around since 2010, bakes with only whole grains and uses the same sourdough starter for every loaf.

Josey Baker Bread was everything we wanted from a sourdough loaf. We bought – and rapidly consumed – the whole wheat sourdough country bread. With a soft interior, a perfect crust and that sour taste of great fermentation we’ve been searching for.

As well, the ambiance of The Mill, coupled with the nearly perfect bread, culminated in a heavenly dining experience. We sat in a bay window, sunlight flooding in, and ate our bread while drinking our tea and coffee. It was at that moment that we realized, bakery after bakery, bread after bread, Josey’s whole wheat country bread was the perfect sourdough we’ve been searching for.

Boasting perfect scores in the Taste, Crust, Pairing and Softness categories, the bakery earned an excellent overall score of 93/100.  This means that Josey Baker Bread is the official – yes, we are the authority here – best sourdough in San Francisco.

Photos by Hannah Koehler and Savannah Hawley

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