There’s something inherently intimate about baked goods. For some pastry chefs, it’s one of their last remaining connections to a departed relative, a piece of their family story kept alive in the form of yeast, flour, and salt. For others, it’s about storytelling, transforming a classic recipe by infusing elements of childhood or travel to make something delicious and uniquely their own.
If you haven’t experienced Houston through the art of baking, it’s time to save room for dessert. From bolillo and bolo bao to Kaiser rolls and manoush, Houston’s atlas of baked goods is diverse and ever-expanding. It’s the perfect combination of craft, passion, and science all rolled into delectable goods that can transport you to far-flung places like Cuba, Lebanon, and Italy. Or even bring you back home to Southern eats and sweets.
This Hillcroft Avenue mainstay has been serving up vegetarian Indian fare, including lunch and dinner offerings and desserts galore, since 1997. At Bombay Sweets, you’ll find a colorful confectionery with more than 100 varieties of mithai (Hindi for sweets), including jalebi—deep-fried, sugar-soaked pretzel-shaped or circular crisps—and many types of barfi, fudge-like squares or diamond-shaped treats.
Not sure what to order? Try the gulab jamun, a popular Indian dessert often enjoyed at festivals and weddings. These doughy, fried berry-sized orbs are soaked and served in a rosey sugar syrup. Whether you’re sampling one delectable morsel at a time or purchasing a box of sugar-laden treats to go, Bombay Sweets is your stop for Indian delights in Houston.
For Diego Chiarello, pastry chef and native Sicilian, experimentation is the name of the game. “I like to put a little twist on almost everything,” says Chiarello, adding that his inspiration most often comes from other cultures and flavors.
At Chiarello’s La Sicilia Italian Bakery & Cafe, you’ll find traditional Italian baked goods like cannolis and cornettos, and even breakfast and lunch options too. But to experience some of the best of this Montrose bakery, you’ll need to look beyond the menu. Take for example, Chiarello’s creation, or better yet, invention: the briochella. It’s a mixture of brioche, croissant, and ciambella (kind of like an Italian donut) that’s fried, giving it that golden glow and maintaining a flaky consistency with some saltiness from the inside.
It’s this type of culinary creativity that’s made La Sicilia a top bakery in town. But beware: Chiarello’s innovations often appear for a limited time only, sometimes only for a couple weeks.
For a little taste of Cuba in Houston, head straight to Azucar Cuban bakery on Westheimer. The coffee is strong, the food is authentic, and the desserts are sweet. It’s azucar, after all. “If you like sugar, you’re in the right place,” owner Francisco Moctezuma said.
At Azucar, more than 80 unique products are baked fresh daily, including specialties like capuchino, spongy yellow cone-shaped cakes drizzled with spiced syrup, and pastelitos (think flaky pastries loaded with guava, beef, or cheese). And of course, there’s flan, empanadas, and Cuban sandwiches. For a pick-me-up, try the cortadito or café con leche. If you’re feeling extra bold, order the café Cubano (you’ve been warned).
The world of Israeli baking meets the Bayou City at Bādolina Bakery & Cafe, an offshoot of swanky Mediterranean steakhouse Doris Metropolitan. Here, owners Itai Ben Eli, Sash Kurgan, and Itamar Levy are introducing “the flavors and pastries that they grew up with in Israel,” through one-of-a-kind goods like shakshuka focaccia and pistachio baklava croissants.
But the star of Bādolina may very well be its breads, a hardy, eclectic lineup featuring sourdough and other specialties like Blue Pea Flower sourdough and Nelson bread. A picturesque bakery with outdoor seating in the heart of Rice Village, Bādolina is the kind of place where craving and culture meet. Oh, and one of the best parts? A daily happy hour where you can snag most of the bakery’s goodies for half off.
Ms. Myrtle’s Bakery Shoppe originally started out as Not Jus’ Donuts in 2000. Since then, this Third Ward mainstay has established itself as a full-service Southern style bakery with a special focus on cakes and pies. Ms. Myrtle’s Bakery Shoppe was born out of Myrtle Zachary Jackson’s desire to leave a legacy for her family. But the legacy is more than just what Jackson built, it’s also in what she baked. Ms. Myrtle’s Bakery Shoppe boasts heirloom recipes and techniques passed down from generations of the Jackson family, including a great-great grandmother who was enslaved. (Great grandmother Delia’s teacake is one such recipe.)
Jackson was the type of woman who built relationships with her regulars, offering advice, hugs, and even prayers for those in need. “She was always touching someone’s life,” said Andrea Spears, Jackson’s eldest daughter. Today, Jackson’s two daughters and granddaughter, all of whom are employed at the bakery, are working to keep Ms. Myrtle’s spirit alive.
Imagine your favorite childhood treat, but better. Perhaps crafted by a notable pastry chef who studied at Le Cordon Bleu. And then baked to perfection right here in the heart of Houston Heights. That’s basically Fluff Bake Bar, the culinary headquarters of Rebecca Masson, a Wyoming native whose influence on the Houston food scene has earned her nicknames like “The Sugar Fairy.”
“The most important things I learned while attending school and in my internship in Paris was to respect the ingredients, respect the recipe, and respect the techniques,” Masson said. At Fluff Bake Bar, butter, cream, and sugar coalesce into dreamy classics like snickerdoodle cookies or creative creations like the Couch Potato cookie and Veruca Salt Cake. The Couch Potato cookie is a cozy-centric treat, complete with potato chips, pretzels, cornflakes, marshmallows, and chocolate chips. Yes, all in one cookie.
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El Bolillo Bakery, a Hispanic-owned and operated panadería, prides itself on offering recipes that “help people feel closer to home,” El Bolillo’s media specialist, Mariel Rascon, said. For starters, there’s bolillos, conchas, empanadas, and marranitos. At El Bolillo, there’s an abundance of conchas to choose from. You can have your concha, a light, airy sweet bread roll topped with a bright, sugary shell, filled with savory cream cheese or chocolate, or even topped with unicorn-inspired shades.
If the offerings at El Bolillo Bakery feel endless, that’s because they are. The crew work nearly around the clock to prep the day’s goods, even mixing as much as 500 pounds of dough a day just for concha. Whether you go for treats or noontime eats, there’s truly something for everyone at El Bolillo (even fresh, handmade tortillas if you time your visit right!).
Southeast Asian zest meets Brazilian, Mexican, and Italian influences (to name a few) at Koffeteria, an East Downtown cafe owned by celebrated pastry chef, Vanarin Kuch. Food has always been a link to his Cambodian heritage, Kuch said. And now, it’s our link, too, thanks to menu items like the Salty Cambodian latte and the top-rated Chinese sausage taco. At Koffeteria, the Khmer flair kicks in with special touches like fermented toppings, including the green papaya pico made of pickled green papaya and mustard greens. Other items on the menu have international elements too, from pão de queijo topped with Thai chili jam, to taro tacos topped with Oaxaca cheese.
It’s nice to see Cambodian influences becoming more popular, Kuch said. “It has its own sense, its own place in the cuisine.” Plus, with key Cambodian ingredients like lemongrass grown in his aunt’s backyard, Koffeteria is both so Cambodian and oh so Houston.
Otto Sanchez was born with ambition. One of his early aspirations? To be a foreign correspondent. These days, the El Salvador native and pastry chef continues to perfect
his baking craft, even after a decades-long career in the trade. For Sanchez, perfection is the name of the game. And with the science of baking under his belt, combined with years of experience in some of Houston’s top kitchens, Magnol French Baking is on its way to having the best French baked goods around.
A quality baguette is the mark of any good pastry chef, Sanchez says. He should know. Magnol French Baking turns out hundreds of baguettes each week, some going to beloved restaurants like Rosie Cannonball and Bludorn, others going directly into the hands of Houstonians themselves. If you’re looking for the perfect baguette, croissant, or other French pastry, look no further than Magnol French Baking.
Walking into The Original Kolache Shoppe feels like walking into a grandmother’s kitchen, and that’s because it was, at least for Kevin Dowd. Then, this 720-square foot space was passed down to his mother. And then, as of 11 years ago, it was passed to him. Here, traditional Czechoslovakian kolaches, round fruit-filled pastries handcrafted each day from a family recipe, move almost seamlessly from the prep table, into the oven, to the display board, and out the door, all in this tiny space.
When the bakery first opened in 1956, few people in town knew what a kolache was. But after more than six decades in the business, it’s not uncommon to find a line of folks wrapped around the Telephone Road building.
Since owner Dowd took over, The Original Kolache Shoppe has maintained its roots while keeping an eye on the future. Dowd has expanded the menu, including house-roasted coffee and crowd favorites like croissants. Forget what you think a croissant is and imagine this: the most buttery, flaky crust wrapped around fajita meat and topped with cheese. It’s practically the “UN of foods,” Dowd said. And it’s perfectly Houston.
The brainchild of Mohamed Shaker and Mohamed Kachach, We’re Dough is Houston’s landing spot for Levantine specialties like manoush and kaak. You can’t go wrong with any variation of manoush, a Lebanese flat bread topped with ingredients like za’atar, halloumi cheese, labneh, or meats like sujuk or ground beef. And then there’s kaak, a cheese-stuffed, sesame-glazed Lebanese street bread that’s equal parts crispy and chewy.
We’re Dough was established in February 2019, quickly blossoming into a popular community gathering spot. That’s just what Shaker and Kachach were hoping for—a Lebanese bakery that checks the boxes for both atmosphere and appetite.
Even if you haven’t been to Sinfull Bakery’s Midtown locale, it’s likely you’ve had a bite of its vegan offerings at any number of Houston coffee shops, from Black Hole Coffee House and Coral Sword, to Boomtown Coffee or The Doshi House. For 12 years, Sinfull Bakery has been the city’s go-to for vegan delights that have “all of the deliciousness and none of the sin.” Take their kolache assortment, for example. Warm buns filled with vegan spins on fillings like chorizo (soyrizo) or bacon, egg, and cheese. At Sinfull Bakery, savory and sweet live under the same roof. Try their pop tarts (chocolate cheesecake with candied pecans, anyone?) or jumbo cinnamon rolls. And the fact that all the offerings are 100 percent vegan, made from scratch, and free of artificial flavorings and preservatives? Even sweeter.
The story of Three Brothers Bakery begins in 1930s Poland, where twin brothers Sigmund and Sol Jucker learned the art of Eastern European baking at the tender age of 10. But in 1941, Sigmund, Sol, and their family were sent to a concentration camp. “The story of the three brothers is very unusual in that they all survived,” said Bobby Jucker, Sigmund’s son who now runs the Three Brothers Bakery alongside his wife, Janice Jucker. “They didn’t know anything else when they came to the United States except how to make bread.”
In 1949, Sigmund, Sol, and their younger brother Max, purchased a bakery on Houston’s Holman Street, serving specialty breads, like egg, rye, and pumpernickel, all originating from the Jucker family’s Polish roots. Today, Three Brothers Bakery is a Braeswood staple serving everything from specialty breads, Kaiser rolls, bagels, coffee cakes, pecan pie, and even gingerbread men (yes, they’re made year-round!).