As the city that invented both the fortune cookie and introduced Irish coffee to America, San Francisco has after-dinner vittles on lock. It’s no surprise, then, that the city is home to almost every decadent dessert. San Francisco has everything from classic scoops of ice cream to Italian delicacies, and we tasked ourselves with finding the most creative (donut burger, anyone?), satisfying and delicious treats for every sweet tooth. You're welcome.
SF’s best dessert
This classic creamery’s reputation isn’t just hype: every Bi-Rite scoop is handmade in small batches with local ingredients, and all of the toppings and mix-ins—which include cookie crumbles and marshmallow fluff—are concocted in-house. For the ultimate Bi-Rite experience, look no further than the Trifecta. This holy trinity of the creamery’s most popular flavors combines sweet-savory salted caramel, brown sugar swirled with ribbons of ginger caramel, and malted vanilla with crunchy bursts of chocolate and peanut brittle. If the line around the block is a deal breaker, we have good news: there’s a second scoop shop inside Bi-Rite Divisadero.
Inspired by the wining combination of apple pie and cheddar cheese, NoPa’s Chile Pies Baking Co. brings this traditional American dessert into the now with a green chile and apple filling that’s sweet, spicy, and entirely satisfying. A savory cheddar crust balances the filling, and each slice is topped with walnut streusel, a scoop of Madagascar vanilla ice cream from local creamery Three Twins and a red chile honey drizzle. If that’s still too conventional for you, opt for your slice in milkshake form—Chile Pies will happily blend any of their pies with the ice cream of your choice for the ultimate confection in a cup.
Stella Pastry & Cafe has peddled breads and cakes out of Little Italy since 1942. While the bakery may be best known for its Sacripantina—a rum-laced sponge cake so special, Stella’s owns the patent on it—we were taken by a dark horse that stood out from stiff competition around the city: the cannoli. Unlike cream-filled imposters, this tubular treasure boasts a sweet-tart ricotta filling studded with chocolate chips. The pastry crust is golden, bubbly and thick enough that you can take a solid bite without crushing the remainder of your treat; a generous dusting of powdered sugar completes this Sicilian staple. Get yours with a cup of espresso on a lazy afternoon, or take advantage of Stella’s long open hours to satisfy a midnight craving.
Golden Gate Bakery’s bustling, no-frills atmosphere is at odds with the care evident in its pastries— take the counter person’s brusqueness with a grain of salt, and you’ll be rewarded with cookies, moon cakes and the bakery’s famous dan tat. Dan tat, or egg custard tart, boasts creamy custard in a warm, flaky shell. The result is buttery but not gut-busting, sweet but not overly cloying. They’re best eaten fresh out of the oven, but we won’t blame you if you pick up a few (or a dozen) for later. Pro tip: call before you visit; while theoretically Golden Gate is open seven days a week, many sweet seekers have been disappointed to make the trek only to find a “closed for vacation” sign on the door.
Humphry Slocombe is SF’s go-to for off-the-wall ice cream flavors like prosciutto and tarragon. Bestselling scoop Secret Breakfast may be meeker than some other flavors, but it’s no less fun: a decidedly adult (read: boozy) take on milk and cereal, Secret Breakfast is a winning combination of creamy bourbon ice cream and caramelized corn flakes. Ask for the Complete Breakfast, and you’ll get your Secret Breakfast paired with a generous serving of Vietnamese Iced Coffee ice cream. The latter scoop is made with beans from the artisan roasters at Blue Bottle, for a sweet but sophisticated kick.
In the 1950s, you could enjoy a slice of coffee crunch cake (then called koffee krunch kake) at Blum’s historic soda fountains around the city. Sock hops may have fallen by the wayside, but you can still find a near perfect replica at Yasukochi’s. Tom Yasukochi has operated out of one corner of a Japanese supermarket since 1974; for over forty years, his coffee crunch cake has had devotees calling days in advance to reserve a slice. It’s easy to see why: fluffy, lightly sweetened sponge cake is layered with fresh whipped cream and topped with “coffee crunch,” a crumbly, caffeinated, highly addictive candy reminiscent of honeycomb.
Inside this bustling bakery you’ll find petit fours, cream horns and other delights; these treats are a dime a dozen in San Francisco, but nobody does them like Dianda’s. Dianda’s napoleon, in particular, stands out for its moist-yet-flaky crumb and deep flavor. Layers upon layers of buttery puff pastry are sandwiched with a rich custard; the result is dense, sweet and every bit an indulgence. To balance the decadence of the pastry, Dianda’s forgoes frosting and instead opts for a topping of barely sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder. One serving is substantial enough to serve two, though we can’t guarantee you’ll want to share.
The lowly cookie may not be flashy, but there’s nothing quite like the warm, sugary comfort of a fresh batch. Behind Anthony’s unassuming storefront, hundreds of cookies are baked fresh daily using natural, local ingredients; the standby flavors are all accounted for, but it’s the innovative Cookies and Cream cookie that earns a top spot on our list. Crushed Oreos are mixed into Anthony’s award winning batter. While baking, the cookie bits crisp up while the crème melts, resulting in a truly phenomenal baked good. Get yours with a cold glass of milk—Anthony’s only serves Straus—for an inner-child-approved afternoon treat.
With pastel tea tables, vintage cake stands and every conceivable type of candy, this charming Hayes Valley sweet shop is somewhere between a mid-century soda fountain and a mad hatter tea party. Miette’s old-fashioned cupcake is a simple combination—chocolate cake with boiled butter cream icing—but the result is as magical as the shop itself. The cake is rich and moist, and the icing resembles a grown-up marshmallow fluff. Garnished with a candied peanut, this cupcake is heaven in your hand. (If you’re looking for a more substantial dessert, have no fear—the old-fashioned comes in a larger cake size, as well.)
At first glance, Minamoto Kichoan is less a bakery than it is a gallery of edible art. Avant-garde treats include cherries suspended in glass-like jelly molds and maccha-dusted mochi, though the true piece de resistance is the momosayaka. Beneath its delicate origami paper packaging, you’ll find a glossy pink dome of floral, slightly tart peach jelly enveloping one half of a sweet white peach. It’s an imaginative, refreshing and practically sinless way to do dessert. Dine in and enjoy your momosayaka with a cup of green tea, or pop it in the freezer at home for a sorbet-like summer treat.
While technically an entrée, we have to give props to Straw’s Ringmaster burger for bringing our favorite saccharine standby, the donut, onto the dinner table. This Hayes Valley eatery’s concept is carnival fare; if you’re craving corn dogs and funnel cake with a cosmopolitan twist, look no further. The Ringmaster—a perfectly prepared organic beef patty sandwiched between two house-made glazed donuts and topped with cheese, of course—takes the relationship between savory and sweet to new heights, along with our cholesterol.