Chicago has a long history of supporting small neighborhood bakeries opened by European immigrants, notably Swedes, Poles, Germans, and Eastern European Jews. In the past year or two we’ve seen a huge resurgence of bakeries, but this time around, the bakers — and the flavors — come from all over the world. Cakes and pastries from the Middle East, Mexico, Korea, and the Philippines have joined the sweets party, and we’re all happier for the abundance of choices.
If you’re scouting one of Letizia’s famous cakes, you’ll need to go pick it up. But if you’re hankering for a terrific cookie made with unbleached flour, then tack one on to your lunch order. Grilled panini sandwiches and perfect little pizzas for one are highlights on a menu on which you should pay attention to anything made with flour.
If your office has forgotten a colleague’s birthday, don’t fret. You can order a tasty and healthy steak-and-egg protein bowl for lunch and add on an assortment of sweet treats, including the prettiest Happy Birthday cookie in town. The multilayer rainbow cake is always a cheerful choice, and grab the Black Forest cheesecake, with Oreo crust and cherry topping, if it's available — it'll likely be the first item to go. Order a few extras.
These premium doughnuts arrive in a box fitted with cardboard dividers so each beautiful and lavishly iced specimen can shine. The chocolate glaze on the Boston cream is inky and glossy, the maple bacon comes festooned with a whole strip of bacon, and the pistachio is so craggy with coarsely ground nuts that it looks almost like green gravel. Don’t miss the coffee drinks or the bodacious fried chicken sandwiches on toasted brioche buns.
We love all the pastries at this Korean bakery — including the chocolate croissants, cloud cake with strawberries and fresh cream, and honey castella sponge cake — because they’re all just a smidge less sweet than expected and absolutely perfect with an afternoon cup of tea. Whole cakes, such as a delectable honey walnut roll cake, are available to order and ready to serve to company.
The chocolate sea salt cookies and Rice Krispies treats are big enough to cover a saucer. While you should definitely try those, don’t let them distract you from your main objective: cupcakes. The center-filled ones come stuffed with, say, cake batter or creme brulee custard, while the classics are exactly what you want from carrot cake, red velvet, or just plain chocolate.
This bakery, set in the heart of Asia on Argyle, serves soul-satisfying savory pastries, such as steamed buns filled with barbecued pork or black pepper steak. But just as much, it’s the creme brulee cups, seasonal fruit tarts, tiramisu mousse cake, and almond chocolate croissants that keep us coming back. Chinese and Vietnamese sweets, such as fried sesame balls filled with red bean paste, are available as well.
This Mexican ice cream parlor has a menu that is well worth exploring for its overstuffed tortas, cheese fries, and salchipulpos (octopus-cut hot dogs with fries and all the fixin’s). But who are we kidding? The sweets are the reason we’re here. Paletas (ice pops) galore, pints of ice cream, and the best mangoneadas — parfaits of fresh fruit, fruit ices, and sweet-heat chile sauce — can brighten any day.
Fried chicken sandwiches, creative grilled cheeses, and all kinds of tater tots front-load this menu. But an extremely fine slice of Oreo cheesecake and a giant chocolate chip cookie (baked to order!) bring up the rear. Pints of Jeni’s ice cream and a whole candy section round out the offerings.
Fans of this bakery and cafe often order the Nutella and banana panini and don’t look any further. But all kinds of panini, burritos, and sandwiches beckon, as well as a cheddar biscuit sandwich that makes for an ideal breakfast. Order a latte and check out the muffins, which include flavors such as coffee cake and blueberry lemon.
Chicago’s most ubiquitous doughnut shop is also one of its best. We find it can be almost as hard to scroll past Stan’s online as it is to walk past an outlet without having that little voice in your ear tell you that now is a perfect time for a lemon-pistachio old-fashioned, a maple Long John, or an apple fritter. The house-blend coffee is solid, the espresso drinks are great, and the breakfast burrito is a stealth contender for the city’s best.
Yeasty dough + hot oil + sugar. Here’s an equation where the sum is definitely greater than its parts. This bakery specializes in churros — both plain and filled with chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry cream. But if your tastes are simpler, look no further than the eight-inch funnel cake, which arrives under a cloud of powdered sugar. If you want to gild the lily, there’s ice cream and flavored syrups ready to turn any of these treats into a sundae.
Scroll through all the baked goods — the gooey, six-ounce cookies, the sour cream coffee cake, the chocolate-chip-studded brioche — and you can practically smell the pastry case. You’ll want a slice of lemon loaf and a raspberry bomboloncini to have with your morning coffee, and you can order a fresh country baguette or a loaf of ciabatta for dinner. If that isn’t a win-win …
The offerings from this bakery are few, but once you try them, you’ll want to reorder them. Cake slices are at least four layers high, in rotating flavors like classic carrot and a craveable salted caramel-vanilla crunch. There’s also a Basque cheesecake, with a souffle-like texture and caramelized surface, and a lemon curd square on a shortbread crust that is sweet and tart in all the right ways.
The cupcakes from this spot are as good as everyone says, especially the lemon-filled ones with raspberry buttercream. But pay close attention to the classic European tarts and tortes, an assortment of which would end any dinner party in style. Think beautiful glazed fruit tarts, chocolate mousse cake, hazelnut logs with a chocolate drizzle, and the house-signature strawberry whipped cream torte. Bonus: Many cakes are available whole or by the slice.
This Lincoln Park cafe is just like the bubble tea shops you’d find in Hong Kong or Taipei, with all the sweet and savory snacks you might want to accompany a creamy, milkshake-like beverage. The menu provides a mind-boggling array of great bites, including fried dumplings and mozzarella sticks, tiramisu, and eggy bubble waffles filled with chocolate.
These artfully iced and decorated cupcakes have serious style. Invite a friend over, brew a pot of tea, and indulge in an assortment of these lovelies. Everyone loves the definitive red velvet and the namesake Sprinkle one covered in a rainbow of nonpareil sprinkles. And if you have a restricted diet, there are gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free choices that look and taste just as special as the others. There’s even a pupcake for your furry friend.
This Japanese chain has perfected the cream puff by using oversized and crispy choux pastry shells, luscious cream fillings, and toppings that make each one a unique delight. We often get into a traditional mood when confronted with the menu and opt for the chocolate eclair version filled with vanilla cream. But the strawberry-glazed puff with green tea filling is as colorful as it is delicious.
This Korean-style bakery has two great specialties: Korean corn dogs, batter-dipped and fried in creative coatings like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust and cubed fried potatoes to crispy ramen, and mochi doughnuts made with glutinous rice flour for a texture that’s chewy, crispy, and springy, and delightful. Add a bubble tea or espresso drink, and brunch is served.
If you need a fun, interactive project for your kaffeeklatsch, then you need to check out the brilliant DIY Kit from this bakery. It includes eight plain donuts, four glazes, and three toppings for endless customizations. Too much work? Then settle into a scrumptious lemon-glazed round topped with crushed pistachios or a Mexican hot chocolate doughnut with a cinnamon topping.
Open from early morning to early evening seven days a week, this bakery offers one of the city’s most lavish assortments of breakfast pastries, snack cakes, and rich desserts. Wake up to a white chocolate and apricot scone and a spinach and feta croissant. Take a coffee break with a German chocolate cupcake or a few macarons (think hazelnut praline and coconut-Key lime). Then bust out a chocolate-glazed macadamia nut bar and a perfect s’more tart for after dinner.
The batters in question may be cheesecake, brownie, or oatmeal, but they all end up as the base for some serious bar cookies. The cinnamon roll cheesecake bar is the runaway best seller for a reason, but a proper assortment should also include butterscotch blondies, Oreo cheesecake cubes, and the one-of-a-kind Carmelita, an oatmeal bar with caramel-chocolate filling.
This bakery will sell you a single slice of tres leches or cheesecake, but you should really think of Pierre’s when you need to appear somewhere with a whole cake or an assortment of wonderful sweets, such as chocolate-covered strawberries or paczki, Polish-style filled doughnuts. The Hot Chocolate Bombs — hollow orbs filled with marshmallows, cocoa mix, and sprinkles to make your own gourmet hot chocolate — bring the party.
Explore the world of Puerto Rican pastry here, and you just may end up with a new lifelong favorite. Start with the quesitos, which to the uninitiated will seem like a cross between cannoli and croissant — a kind of flaky pastry tube with a sweet cheese filling. The plain cheese is great, but the cheese-and-guava-filled quesito is out of this world. Move on to mantecaditos, tender almond cookies sporting guava paste thumbprints, and then feast on cupcakes in tropical flavors, like coconut cake soaked in passion fruit juice.
If you know Chicago at all, you know that Portillo’s is no bakery, but rather a small local chain serving some of the best hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches around, alongside other choices for a fast, hearty meal. You probably also know that its chocolate cake is the stuff of legend — pitch-dark chocolate on chocolate, precisely as the chocolate gods intended. Buy it whole or by the slice, and don’t sleep on the chocolate eclair cake.
Buying whole cakes can be an expensive proposition, but Schweet brings its A-game to these gently priced eight-inch cheesecakes, which feature buttery graham cracker crusts, light-textured cheese filling and creative toppings. If you need a taste first, the four-inch Moo-Moos are individually portioned and will get you hooked.
Beautiful Middle Eastern sweets come in assortments or by the piece. There is much to love, both in the classic pistachio and walnut baklava as well as the knafeh, a dessert that tops a base of gooey white cheese with syrup-soaked, shredded dough. (If you heat it slightly during the time it takes to make a pot of tea, you’re winning.) Crunchy anise cookies, cashew fingers, and harissa, crumbly farina cake squares, are just a few of the other treats awaiting you.
The treats at this sweet, sweet bakery are designed to appeal to both the kid in you who wants all the colored icing and sprinkles, and the more discerning adult who wants to spend quality time with a personal-size flourless chocolate cake. Confetti-sprinkled Rice Krispies bars, banana cream pie slices, and gluten-free rice pudding are popular, but the choices go on. And if a last-minute birthday celebration presents itself, you can order not only the cake but the candles and greeting card as well.
Why is Chicago so obsessed with cheesecake? Probably because this local favorite has been crafting perfect cheesecakes since 1978. Eli’s is ready to perk up your day with whole cakes and its signature individually wrapped slices. Want a slice of cheesecake on a stick and covered in a chocolate shell? It’s called a Dipper, and you’re welcome in advance.
Think of this full-service restaurant as something like a Lebanese diner. Sure, there’s every meal you could possibly crave, like wraps, kebabs, dips, salads, and mana’eesh (pita pizzas). But a huge display of sweets will tempt you from the get-go, and skipping dessert is not an option. Here, there are Lebanese desserts such as baklava, cookies, and knafeh, as well as cakes, eclairs, and cheesecakes galore. Tabbouleh, falafel, and chocolate lava cake? Sounds like a plan.
If you have adopted a vegan diet or need to cut out gluten, this bakery is your new best friend. Nearly all the offerings are appropriate for both dietary restrictions and, as an added bonus, are made without refined sugar. Best sellers include the rich cookie butter and cookie dough cake slice and the famous salted chocolate chip cookies. Also look for cups filled with nut butter, superfood raw bars, and snack balls made with organic nuts and fruits.
Courtesy of Borinken Cakes
Sweet Mandy B’s by Sherrie Tan
Ingrained by Sydney Verwilst
Courtesy of Beard Papa’s Chicago
Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop by Howard Gould