Like many cities where diverse cultures have long met and melded, Chicago has a bakery scene that’s sizeable and varied—so sizable and varied, in fact, that choosing the best of the lot is no easy feat. Just what makes a bakery great in our book? It might represent a particular culinary tradition with a faithfulness that transports us. It might win us over on the merit of a single item, like paczki, crafted with mastery. In other cases, its power lies in some less precise quality, a capacity to nourish our senses and our memories with pastries and cookies. From a boutique bread shop to Georgian bakery, here are our 10 favorite Chicago bakeries.
The best bakeries in Chicago
This spartan Rogers Park spot’s centerpiece is its toné, a traditional Georgian oven (something like a brick igloo) that stands, kicking up fierce heat, in the middle of the bakery floor. Baked against the interior walls of this rustic-seeming equipment are breads and pies that are simple but delicious. We recommend the hachapuri, a filling round of buttery pastry wrapped around three cheeses that are mild with a hint of funk. Perhaps best of all, though, is the lavash, a large disc of flatbread that’s crusty and soft in just the right proportions; it’s fabulous dipped in lemon-spiked tahini or just eaten in torn chunks straight from its brown paper wrapping.
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.
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.
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.
With its soda-fountain-by-way-of-a-Paris-flea-market vibe, Lovely is a refuge of artlessness in a neighborhood that sometimes feels governed by the tyranny of style. As such, it’s fitting that the shop excels at the chocolate chip cookie, an absolutely elemental American sweet that so often gets brushed aside by bakeries chasing the next big trend. Lovely’s chocolate chip cookies are smallish and, like a homemade batch, not perfectly round. Their butter-rich, crispy edges give way to a dense, chewy center heady with vanilla’s comforting scent.
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.
Comprising a bare rectangle of linoleum flanked by utilitarian display cases, Swedish Bakery isn’t much of a looker. No matter, though; with its old-school layer cakes and sprinkle-clad butter cookies, one gets the idea that this Andersonville fixture trades on a more valuable asset: nostalgia. Among the shop’s best sellers is the Princess Torte, three layers of light-as-air yellow cake separated by strata of whipped cream and vanilla custard and wrapped in tooth-achingly sweet marzipan. Want just a taste? Many of the bakery’s cakes are available by the slice.
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.