For San Francisco's Sensitive Sweet Tooth: Get Your Gluten-Free Goodies Here

By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

The Bay Area has not only embraced but started many food movements. AliceWaters' famous restaurant, Chez Panise in Berkeley, practically spawned the entire organic food movement in this country. And the idea to eat locally sourced food has been practiced in the Bay Area for decades. So it was only a matter of time before gluten-free menus would cover this progressive place.

Unlike gluten-free dinner or lunch menus, gluten-free desserts and baked goods are a specific challenge since most flours and baking recipes involve gluten. If you're eating a muffin, a slice of toast, a piece of cake or just a plain old bagel, you're almost certainly eating gluten. Even oats can contain gluten because most oats are mass produced and can be contaminated with wheat products that contain gluten. 

Determining what has gluten is only the first step. Getting the gluten out can be tricky, since removing gluten can also involve removing some of the beneficial vitamins and minerals connected to gluten. The bakeries below are conscious of replacing the benefits, though. For example, instead of using wheat, some bakeries will use nutritious brown or white rice flour. And instead of using a standard but necessary starch in baklng, bakeries may use potato starch or tapioca starch as a substitute.

Whatever these bakeries decided to take out, rest assured there's one thing they decided to leave in: great taste. 

10. Balboa Cafe - Mill Valley
Photo courtesy of Facebook

Balboa Cafe Mill Valley opened in 2008 in the same tradition and spirit as the renowned Balboa Cafe in San Francisco. This location in the bucolic town of Mill Valley, has made an impression among locals and visitors as a classic American Bistro featuring a seasonal and innovative menu, an impressive selection of wines and an extensive cocktail list. In 2008, Executive Chef Rick Edge joined the PlumpJack Group in San Francisco where he brought simplicity and seasonality back to the Cafe's menus. Prior to Chef Edge's time at PlumpJack he was part of the elite culinary teams of The Highlands Inn Carmel and The Lodge at Pebble Beach serving as Chef de Cuisine for Pacific's Edge and Club XIX respectively. During that time he was featured in such publications as Bon Appetite, Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator.

9. Mariposa Bakery
Photo courtesy of Facebook

If you're looking for gluten-free, your search might start and stop at Mariposa. Mariposa's first few years were spent in a shared kitchen in West Berkeley, California. Their popularity grew, so they needed bigger ovens, which spurred a move in 2006. Instead of a standard, cookie-cutter design for their new bakery, Mariposa designed a gluten-free kitchen in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, California. This certified green bakery also housed Mariposa's first retail bakeshop. In 2009, Mariposa expanded to a second location, this time a kiosk in San Francisco's Ferry Building. Mariposa's presence in the Ferry Building enabled them to bring daily bread and hand-crafted treats to San Francisco's gluten-free community.

8. DeLessio Market & Bakery

Ask anyone about DeLessio's and their eyes will sparkle with delight as they mention the place's decadent macaroni and cheese, tasty gourmet sandwiches, and impressive buffets. When the topic of desserts and pastries comes up, however, those same eyes absolutely glaze over in awe. Folks can't praise the bakery's bounty enough, whether they go for mini-cupcakes, lemon decadence cake, flaky croissants, scones, chocolate brioche, bread pudding, or any of the other myriad temptations. Perfect for any meal or snack. Another unique aspect of DeLessio is that it's one of the few "hot item" places where you can load up on anything you want and get charged by the weight of your meal.

7. Crave
Photo courtesy of toolmantim

Crave is a neighborhood restaurant serving sandwiches, salads and breakfasts featuring fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Crave is also proud to serve Ritual Roasters coffee and espresso drinks, along with a thoughtful selection of wine and beer. Crave comfortably occupies a well-lit space in a fantastic building at the corner of Polk Street and Vallejo Street. The highest quality raw ingredients are the cornerstone of Crave. Over the last three decades, Lamkin and Ramsey have developed a network of local farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers and fishermen that provide the components for daily fare. If you want simple food prepared with simple but extraordinary detail, head to Crave.

6. Blue Bottle Coffee Café
Photo courtesy of Blue Bottle Coffee Café

While plenty of places serve up Blue Bottle's famous roast, the Mint Plaza location, housed in the elegant 1912 Provident Loan Building, is the original headquarters. Known for its individually brewed drip coffee, this San Francisco favorite treats patrons to house classics, as well as specialty drinks like macchiatos and lattes, all freshly prepared on the spot. The breakfast menu has everything from steel-cut oats to frittatas, while lunch features assorted sandwiches and salads. Blue Bottle also uses use vat-pasteurized, 100 percent Jersey milk from St. Benoît in all milk drinks.

5. Hayes Valley Bakeworks
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

If you want to ease your social conscience as you gobble down a blueberry muffin, swing by Hayes Valley Bakeworks. Besides offering delectable morning pastries, cookies, porridge bowls and signature sweets, this bakery trains and employs people with disabilities who are homeless or at risk. And just one visit will convince you that the eager and helpful staff are very grateful for the opportunity. The unique and imaginative interior is designed by award-winning San Francisco architect Jim Maxwell, using an eco-friendly design and cheery colors. So if you like helping both people and the earth as you eat your sweets, head to Hayes Valley Bakeworks.

4. Tartine Bakery

Devoted to premium, organic ingredients, this bakery willingly acknowledges that its menu selections depend on everything from seasonal goods to chef-driven whims. Even with such a (mild) disclaimer, it's pretty well certain you'll go away with a satisfied, happy tummy. The European-styled bakery has folks lining up for delicate tarts, fruit-studded brioche, artisan loaves, airy croissants, and addictive eclairs - and that's just to start. Later in the day, sandwiches are fashioned from great, homemade breads and dressed up with top-quality cheeses and herbs. Drinks include French wines, coffees, and a signature hot chocolate. If you can check their menu online and call ahead to order, it's advised.

3. Coffee Bar
Photo courtesy of toolmantim

You'll find much more than just delicious coffee at the aptly named Coffee Bar, but this charming cafe is definitely known for its java. The beans come directly from Mr. Espresso, a family-owned and operated Bay Area coffee producer since the 1970's. Breakfast items include pastries supplied by top local bakeries, and for lunch, you'll find options like the portobello sandwich, the B.L.A.T. (bacon, romaine, avocado and tomato) and an impressive selection of zesty salads. If you savor not just the taste of a good cup of coffee but a unique taste of San Francisco, check out the event calendar on their website.

2. Flour and Co
Photo courtesy of Flour and Co

The cheery bakery and cafe Flour and Co. sticks out among the upturned noses of Nob Hill's high-end restaurants like an unabashedly happy smiley face. If the gourmands of Nob Hill have you too self-conscious about which is the salad fork and which is the dining fork, head to Flour and Co, where most of the food can be eaten the best way: with two hands. Although it's justifiably known for delicious breakfast treats and munchies, don't discount their scrumptious lunch menu, which features a piping hot chicken pot pie and savory salads made from the best local ingredients. If you need a break for the heavy atmosphere that only comes from too many people concerned about too much money, head to Flour and Co for a reminder of the simple pleasures in life.

1. Arizmendi Bakery
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Locals love this cooperative bakery for its delicious pastries, artisan breads and gourmet pizza. Just two blocks from Golden Gate Park, Arizmendi offers its specialties on a weekly schedule, and depending on the day, patrons enjoy assorted focaccia flavors, baguettes and brioche knots. Regulars especially love the fruit scones and the wolverine loaf, a creative concoction nicknamed the "power bar-type bread." Gourmet pizzas of the day are available after 11:30am. If you need to pack a healthy-sized loaf for that long trek through the park, or you need that slice of pizza as a reward for you long hike completed, head to Arizmendi.