The best bakeries in Chicago
Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits poses some downright tough dilemmas: Pie or biscuits? Key lime or mint-chocolate? Candied bacon or braised greens? The good news is if you visit often enough, you'll be able to try it all. Come summer, diners might be able to grab a slice of lemon pie with tangy lemon cream, frothy lemon mousse and lip-smacking lemon curd. In the winter months, keep an eye out for more indulgent creations, like the chocolate-caramel pie with shortbread cookie crust. Key lime is available all year for good reason—it's an excellent example of what the little shop can do. Citrusy custard pools in a graham cracker crust before being topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. It's spectacularly simple yet inexplicably divine.
This Andersonville bakery and café pays homage to the neighborhood's Scandinavian roots in the most delicious way. Chef and owner Bobby Schaffer—whose star-studded resume includes Grace and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York—is the culinary mastermind behind a drool-worthy pastry program that encompasses cardamom-scented chocolate croissants, lingonberry almond cakes and calamansi meringue tarts. Savory enthusiasts have plenty to look forward to, too, with Lost Larson's selection of open-face sandwiches that are topped with fresh produce and quality meats. The shop doesn't close after the sun goes down, but instead turns into Vinbar, a natural wine bar offering pours by the bottle and glass plus composed plates that spotlight farmers-market–fresh ingredients. It's the kind of place you'll find the excuse to visit for breakfast, lunch and dinner—which is A-okay in our book.
We already loved the creative Macanese-centric cooking happening at Fat Rice in Logan Square, but when partners Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon debuted their next-door bakery, we were positively giddy. The pastry case is filled with fascinating bites like rice krispie treats that are layered with pork floss, seaweed and fish sauce caramel, or the deeply indulgent ceylon snickerdoodle cookies, which hides a gooey salted yolk custard filling. Just promise you won't leave without trying a pastel de nata, or egg custard tart; the version here is brimming with love and excellent flavor.
What this scrappy retail operation lacks in size it makes up for in expertise. Belgian chef Renaud Hendrickx is the creative genius behind 13 buttery croissant varieties, fresh-AF pastel-toned macarons and a variety of cakes and breads that make us never want to give up carbs. Though the front room is teensy-tiny, guests are invited to poke their heads into the kitchen to see what Hendrickx is baking (he might even offer you a sample if you're nice).
What with its range of Eurocentric items like petite, olive-stuffed brioches and super flaky kouign amann, no one could call the pastry program at Evanston’s Hewn an afterthought. It’s just that the bread here is so well crafted, it sort of takes the cake. Each day this snug, carry out-only bakery offers its signature country bread—a large, dark boule with a chewy crumb that’s mildly sour, thanks to a 17-hour fermentation—along with a couple of rotating choices from a menu that includes inventive loaves like caramelized onion rye and whole wheat Gruyere.
Few pastry chefs with the fine-dining pedigrees of husband and wife Jennifer and Eric Estrella would be caught turning out home-style cookies, cupcakes and pies. But who else could execute the classics so well? In a storefront that’s both kid-friendly and appropriate for adult-age lingerers, those pies are actually galettes made with butter-rich pastry, that cookie is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, and the chocolate-chip scone, with a welcome back note of orange, goes perfectly with a cup of piping-hot coffee.
Stephanie Hart turns out a number of “down-home delights” at her bakery, many of them smacking of the shop’s eponymous ingredient. Peach cobbler, pineapple upside-down cake and sweet-potato pie, as well as by-the-slice or whole cakes such as caramel, German chocolate and red velvet are just a sample of Hart’s cavity-producing creations. Celebrating? Custom cakes are Hart’s specialty, and she goes to great lengths to please with creative concoctions.
With an assortment of breads, tasty sandwiches and a popular weekly pizza night in its repertoire, this airy Lincoln Park bakery-cafe certainly has range. But Floriole’s soul is its French pastry, skillfully executed by owner Sandra Holl. Among our favorite offerings are the canelés, petite, fluted cakes with caramelized exteriors and custardy cores flavored with vanilla and rum. Another showstopper is the lovely gateau basque, a sweet, almond meal–rich cake filled with pastry cream and tart berries and baked till it's golden.
Considering it claims some of world’s most complex and exciting flavors, Mexican cuisine—at least here in Chicago—can be a bit uninspiring in the baked goods department, often represented by bone-dry cookies and bland empanadas. Pilsen’s spare-yet-inviting Kristoffer’s dispenses with such ho-hum stuff, instead focusing most of its energy on a few iterations of just one item: tres leches cake. It’s a strategy that’s paid off; Rick Bayless has praised the house specialty, a light sponge cake bathed in sugary milk. Our favorite flavor, caramel, has a hint of salt that tempers the cake’s sweet side.
Dim sum fans are accustomed to cart service and ordering cards, but the majority of the small dishes traditionally served originated in tea houses and bakeries in southern China. Chinese bakery Chi Quon has been making these delectable items for decades, attracting locals and visitors from around the city with dishes like fresh BBQ pork buns, sesame balls filled with bean paste and decorative mango mousse cake. Pop in for a snack or make a meal out of the various baked goods on display.
We know it's just a name, but there's nothing bitter about this sweet Lakeview pastry shop. Though guests can browse and order tarts, pies and stuffed macarons from the glass case, Bittersweet is known for its signature and custom cakes, which can be ordered in fun flavors like strawberry-white chocolate, vanilla crème brûlée and lemon-raspberry. Save this pastry shop for a special occasion, and they're sure to delight your guests.
Baking in the Lakeview neighborhood since 1922, this popular German bakery reliably turns out cinnamon-raisin stollen, German chocolate and butter cookies and its signature “sip’n whisky cake,” a moist Bundt cake made with sour mash whiskey. The real draw, though, is the strudel, which comes in several varieties, such as praline-pecan, cherry-cheese and poppy seed.
This no-nonsense Polish bakery gets a lot of love for its pączki, but the pastry case is packed with plenty of other candy-colored confections on a daily basis. Shop cakes and doughnuts, eclairs and cookies, bacon buns and whole loaves. A word to the wise: The shop often sells out before closing time (and no, they don't have a Twitter or Instagram account to check), so call ahead for special orders.
They had us at hello, those dreamy, creamy cupcakes. (Us and every other Chicagoan with taste buds.) This sweet-as-can-be little bakeshop may have cornered the local market with its simple little chocolate and yellow cakes slathered in a colorful array of buttercreams, but there’s much more to salivate over here. We like the puddings (butterscotch, chocolate, banana with Nilla wafers), the crispy, big-as-your-head cookies, the seasonal fruit crisps, the whoopie pies. We haven’t found a dud here yet.
Pierre Zimmerman (baking champion and instructor at the French Pastry School) has done an admirable job giving this long, narrow bakery a French sensibility. Rows of croissants, macarons, baguettes and other breads fill the shelves here, and they practically beg to be ordered and consumed on the spot with a cup of coffee. It’s hard to make a mistake with what you order. In fact, the worst mistake you can make is not ordering something—specifically, the lovely, pan bagnat–ish tuna sandwich.
One of Chicago’s oldest family-run businesses has operated out of the same storefront, distinguished today by its vertical neon sign and quaint painted lady facade, since its establishment in 1911. Today it’s a good all-arounder, with doughnuts and danish for breakfast, and a wide selection of cake slices and cookies (many in Chicago sports team motifs) for dessert.
This classy breakfast and lunch spot near the Art Institute has roots in suburban Hinsdale, but it may as well have been imported from Paris. The sprawling pastry case is full of all manner of European-style cakes, tarts and breakfast pastries. An almond Danish and cappuccino is a distinguished beginning to any day; a pan bagnat is an elegant middle.
Alliance is perhaps best known for its elaborate cakes, which are proudly displayed in the window. But this bakery also traffics in coffee drinks and other pastries, like cookies, macarons and tarts, which are available to take away or to bring next door to a seating area. A crucial note about that seating area: If you're looking to do some work, you may want to rethink your location—a note on the door very clearly states that the place "isn't a library."
Many of Delightful’s devotees swear by the Polish-inflected specialties, such as bismarck-like paczki and rum-soaked babka, which appear on its shelves each year in the lead-up to Easter. And to be sure, these items are winners, but there’s more to this shop than a few seasonal treats. Delightful’s French Market outpost (one of its three locations) is a great place to pick up baked goods that lean more lunch than dessert, like generous slices of lamb and spinach pie.
One of the Chicago’s finest Chinese bakeries offers up an impressive range of treats both savory and sweet from its Chinatown storefront. The cha siu bao—brioche-like baked buns filled with sticky barbecue pork—make a good option for an on-the-go lunch, and the oblong egg tarts have a fan following for their just-barely-set custard filling and crumbly shortbread crust. Between bites, sip on the Hong Kong–style milk tea, a creamy, sweetened black tea that’s refreshing over ice.
More than a century after its establishment, this family-run Taylor Street bakeshop continues to turn out spot-on renditions of southern Italian classics, like mildly sweet, cinnamon-scented cannoli that are filled to order and dipped in your choice of chocolate or chopped pistachios. With selections that many Italian-American bakeries offer only at Christmastime—tender, fig-stuffed cuccidati and crisp, pine nut-encrusted pignoli, for instance—the cookie section also impresses. On the savory side, the thick-crusted Sicilian pizza (a steal at $4 for a gargantuan square) is uncomplicated, salty goodness.
If you grew up in the Midwest, there’s a good chance your archetype of a bakery looks a lot like this Southwest Side institution. After all, the focus at this perpetually packed spot is on hearty, comforting fare that’s descended from German, Polish and Scandinavian roots, yet over time has evolved into its own regional character. Breakfast pastries are a particular strength here; the cheese sweet roll, with its silky filling and buttery streusel topping, is a worthy indulgence, while the cake doughnut, surprisingly light beneath an icing of chocolate ganache, is a customer favorite.