When you just want some good, old-fashioned pastries.
With countless bakeries vying to produce the next trendy croissant-hybrid in San Francisco, sometimes it seems impossible to find your traditional pastry shop. But they do exist—you just need to know where to look. Here are three delicious bakeries that have seen the city through its countless changes.
La Victoria: 51 Years and Counting
Gabriel Maldonado first opened La Victoria Bakery when the Mission was still a predominantly Italian and Irish neighborhood, choosing the location due to the proximity to St. Peters Church. Years later, La Victoria is still known for its delectable variety of pan dulce featured in its windows. San Franciscan native Warden Lawlor, who lives only a few blocks away, first discovered La Victoria upon smelling the baked goods when walking past the bakery. Having lived in the Mission for over twenty years, he has become a regular customer and loves the bakery's fresh-baked sourdough wheat. "I believe it to be one of the best sourdoughs in the city," he said. "If you're lucky enough to get it while it's fresh and warm, even better!"
In 1992, Maldonado's son Jaime took over and La Victoria shifted to becoming more than just a simple Mexican bakery. While their most popular offerings are still their traditional Mexican sweets like conchas (shell-shaped sweet buns) and polvoran rosa (pink sugar cookies), Lawlor also loves their custard-filled beignets. Jaime has also transformed the shop into an innovative gathering space that hosts culinary events. Lawlor's favorite is La Victoria's baking class, especially when the students place their finished products out for anyone to sample for free. "On more than one occasion, I've brought home a fresh loaf of bread that anyone could swear was made by a professional," he said.
Located at the heart of the Mission in the 24th Street corridor, Lawlor attests that La Victoria is "truly a Mission district gem—it should not be missed." // 7:00am-7:30pm, 2937 24th St. (Mission), lavictoriabakery.com
Eastern: 93 Years and Counting
Having opened its doors in 1924, Eastern holds the title as the oldest bakery in Chinatown. "A lot of things have been changing [in San Francisco], but we are one of the few bakeries that are still around," Orlando Kuan, owner of Eastern, said. "We have customers who come in and say, 'Without you, it's not San Francisco anymore. Thank God you're still here!'" Mike C., born and raised San Franciscan native since the '60s, grew up with Eastern as his neighborhood bakery. "I grew up buying pastries like palmiers, lemon tarts, apple turnovers, and mooncakes during Moon Festival season," he said.
Although the ownership of Eastern has changed—Kuan took over Eastern in 1985 from its original founders, the Lee family—the bakery is still a favorite amongst loyal customers. Kuan has always committed to maintaining the authenticity of the bakery's traditional recipes, especially the beloved coffee crunch cake: a sweet sponge cake lathered with mocha cream and toffee crumbles. According to Kuan, multiple customers come back to buy the slice of coffee crunch cake they had as children.
Eastern is also known for their freshly-baked lotus mooncakes. "There was a time we didn't have any contact with China, especially with WWII. Because of that, we have to bake [our mooncakes] here," Kuan said. He explains that this is what keeps customers coming back—making everything locally eliminates the need for preservatives and makes them taste better. They are so good, in fact, that even former president Bill Clinton himself couldn't resist dropping by to try one of Eastern's lotus mooncakes when he was in town in 1996. // 9:30am-8:30pm, 720 Grant Ave. (Chinatown), easternbakery.com
Schubert's: 106 Years and Counting
Tina Hsu, a Bay Area native, first stumbled upon Schubert's upon exploring Clement St. in college. Seeing the bakery's selection of her favorite—fruit mousse cakes—she couldn't resist but walk in. What Hsu would discover, was that not only were the "cakes yummy, worth the price, and eye-catching," but the "the quality and taste of their cakes have remained consistent over the years." Hsu is just one of Schubert's many fans; the bakery has remained a local favorite since it first opened its doors in 1911. "A lot of people come back and ask for the same cake for their birthdays every year—they get upset if we don't deliver," said Ralph Wenzel, owner of Schubert's.
Alongside his brother Luz, the Wenzels are the fourth owners of the bakery. Hailing from Eastern Germany, the duo are fourth-generation bakers who had migrated to the States; fitting since Schubert's original founder, Oswald R. Schubert, was also a German immigrant. Since then, the Wenzels have produced the same pastries that first made the local shop popular. The Swedish princess cake, filled with raspberry and kirsch custard and topped with their signature marzipan icing, is certainly a favorite. Another is the opera cake, a rich hazelnut sponge cake filled with chocolate truffle and mocha-praline filling, topped with toasted almonds.
The fact that Schubert's has continued to flourish in Richmond is certainly a testament to the bakery's high quality. Hsu, who lived near Clement St. ten years ago, notes the presence of trendier restaurants replacing mom-and-pop shops whenever she visits Schubert's. "I'm glad that my favorite shops are still holding down, but I really hope [the area] doesn't lose its original charm," she said. Whatever happens, Clement Street certainly won't be losing Schubert's anytime soon. As Wenzel is preparing for retirement, he is looking to pass down the bakery just as the previous owners once did. He said, "I hope [Schubert's] is going to be around for another 100 years." // 7am-6:30pm, 521 Clement St. (Inner Richmond), schuberts-bakery.com