San Francisco, CA

The Bread is the Winner at House of Bagels

J.M. Lesinski
A shot of the menu at House of Bagels in San Francisco, CaliforniaPhoto by J.M. Lesinski

When friends from the east coast visit San Francisco, one of the most common questions I hear is, ‘where can you get a good bagel?’ The answer I give, with absolute confidence, is House of Bagels.

The iconic New York bagel has been hard to replicate outside of the Big Apple for more than just authenticity reasons. The texture, oil, and everything else in the preparation has to be done to an exact science to achieve the perfect circle of flavor. House of Bagels not only nails the details in prep but brings their own flair and creativity to the meal table.

House of Bagels leads with bagels in the name, a mark of confidence that assuredly is earned within moments of stepping into the San Francisco breakfast scene staple. There are over two dozen varieties of bagels here, and more that switch in and out depending on availability or season, so finding the perfect bagel to match one’s personality is easier than it sounds.

The 9-Grain is an obvious health-conscious eater’s first choice, especially being at the top of the menu. The sweeter options like the blueberry, cinnamon raisin, cranberry, or chocolate cater to the sweet tooth crowd, with the chocolate being a crowd favorite. Nailing the texture of chocolate within the already doughy body of a bagel is hard, and House of Bagels somehow does it.

The hearty bagel staples, the garlic, onion, egg, plain, poppy, sesame, everything, and salt, are all top notch choices for the addition of one of House of Bagels’ homemade cream cheeses or lox. The house concoctions are superbly creamy and mounded on there, in true New York fashion.

The traditional bread varieties are all there too, pumpernickel, sourdough, rye, whole wheat, even whole wheat with seeds if one is looking for a variety or a dozen to share at work. Of course, the vegetable-infused bagels are there too, including corn, dill, jalapeno, spinach, and sundried tomato, as well as several cheese-topped bagels including the asiago cheese, jalapeno cheddar, double jalapeno cheddar, and pizza.

One of the newer, most popular treats in the pastry world, the cragel, has already been mastered four ways at House of Bagels. The staple plain cragel balances the thin texture of the croissant with the hearty bite of the bagel perfectly. The everything cragel brings the toppings, really embodying them as the main flavor, but still showcasing that delicate balance between the textures. The jalapeno cheddar cragel of course brings the heat, while the cinnamon cragel brings the sweet.

Croissants deliver similarly, with each of the six main croissants on the menu prepared a little differently each. The plain features the ends tucked in, retaining the original thin and flakey crust that makes it famous, as does the spinach and cheese with the ends more folded than tucked to showcase the melted goodness within. The chocolate carries the appearance of a Bavarian cream log, while the almond comes dusted with powdered sugar and almonds. The ham and cheese is topped with sesame, while the inside features thick sliced ham and gooey swiss, and the new Nutella cragel features the now iconic hazelnut spread.

Danishes are hearty, despite a simplistic appearance. The bear claw features the iconic rolled edges along a healthy slathering of glaze and almonds, while the sticky bun similarly comes rolled up like a cinnamon roll and topped with a mound of glaze and nuts. The raisin snail looks similar to the sticky bun composition-wise, though the delicious raisin inner core tastes otherwise. The apricot, cheese, and cherry are visually perfect images of danishes, with the filling displayed like a resting pool.

Muffins have the New York size down pat, their bulbous little heads like lampposts in the display right when one walks in. The banana nut comes topped with nuts in addition to being full of them, but never loses the sweetness of the banana bread in the process. The Ultra Chocolate does the same with chocolate chips, making the all chocolate muffin even more alluring for sweets lovers. The blueberry, lemon poppyseed, raisin bran, and carrot may all keep their fillings on the inside, but the texture and perfect rounded tops that show off as a result are even more proof of the bakers’ skill at House of Bagels.

When it comes to cookies, a bakery can fall into many traps regarding making too many types, or too few. House of Bagels does the core ones like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, rainbow sprinkle, and sugar cookies, all well and good, but also specializes in several less common treats that should not be overlooked.

A cross between a cinnamon roll and a scone from first glance, but much more texturized like a traditional cookie, the rolled rugelach comes in apricot, chocolate, or raspberry, topped with flecks of crystallized sugar. The hamantaschen, composed of a similar texture but looking more like a triangular turnover, comes in apple, apricot, chocolate, walnut, cherry, poppy, or prune.

Macaroons come in traditional coconut or chocolate dipped coconut, and the macaroon tart offers a unique blend of macaroon texture and scone fruitiness. The snowball cookie and Sweet Suzette each feature the same lighter, fluffier cookie base with the snowball topped with powdered sugar and the Suzette chocolate on top and around the edges.

A personal favorite for the unique take and attention to detail is the Linzer Tart cookie. The traditional Austrian pastry features a shortbread batter that produces a crisp snap when bitten into. Moreover, the center is topped with fruit preserves, while the rest of the cookie gets dusted in powdered sugar. House of Bagels’ Linzer Tart really delivers that signature taste blend of rich fruit and crisp cake in that simple, sweet cookie.

Iconic standalone sweet pastries like the turnover, available in apple or cherry, should never be counted out at a store whose name allures to the more savory side of breakfast like House of Bagels either. Another example, the morning bun, comes similarly composed to the classic cinnamon roll. The differences are key however, as the swirled inner part of the bun rises instead of staying all one level, and the topping of sugar provides a more textured bite over the traditional frosting or icing. No matter one’s tastes, House of Bagels satisfies the savory or sweet.

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Professional journalist for over five years, covering topics all up and down both coasts of the United States, including arts, music, food, politics, and culture. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno.

Buffalo, NY

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