A bacon waffle at Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen.
 Shelby Pope
A bacon waffle at Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen.  (Shelby Pope)

Bay Area Bites Guide to 5 Favorite Waffles in San Francisco, Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley

Bay Area Bites Guide to 5 Favorite Waffles in San Francisco, Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley

While the word waffle had its first recorded usage in 1725, Europeans have been making them since medieval times, when waffle irons depicted Jesus mid-crucifixion instead of the square pattern we happily devour today. There’s a reason they’ve remained so popular. While there’s nothing like a swarm, sweet stack of freshly pressed waffles topped with syrup, waffles are also adaptable. Unlike pancakes, they have the ability to transcend their role as a breakfast dish, working just as well as the bread in a sandwich or as the ideal accompaniment to fried chicken. Here are five of our favorite waffle spots in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen

A bacon waffle at Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen.
A bacon waffle at Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen. (Shelby Pope)

It’d be understandable if Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen was just ok--with their ideal location, steps from Ocean Beach, they could easily skate by with mediocrity. Thankfully, they’re better than that. The cafe, owned by Buffy and Patrick Maguire (who also own Java Beach Cafe down the street) offers coffee roasted in-house and a homey menu (from chef Nick Patchen) of comforting classics. Their bacon waffle is a tall, almost cake-y affair, sturdy enough for an onslaught of maple syrup and butter (it’s no wonder they use their waffles as the basis of a Monte Cristo sandwich). The bacon obsession of the last decade led to plenty of ill-considered dishes, including many featuring a pet peeve of mine: bacon diced into an unrecognizable dust. Not so here. The waffle is flecked with irregular, sizable chunks of delicious bacon. It’s salty, decadent, and cozy, reminding you why maple bacon is such a beloved flavor combination in everything from doughnuts to chips. It’s also the kind of meal that’s ideal when you’re warming up from the area’s chilly microclimate, whether you’re a surfer or merely coming in from a wind-whipped walk.

Inside Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen, steps from Ocean Beach.
Inside Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen, steps from Ocean Beach. (Shelby Pope)

Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen
4300 Judah St [Map]
San Francisco, CA 94122
Ph: (415) 682-4961
Hours: Mon-Thu, 7am-4pm; Fri-Sun, 7am-6pm
Facebook: Beachside Coffee Bar And Kitchen
Twitter: @BeachsideSF
Instagram: @beachsidesf
Price range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17)

Little Gem Belgian Waffles

A Nutella and strawberry topped liege waffle at at Little Gem Belgian Waffles.
A Nutella and strawberry topped liege waffle at at Little Gem Belgian Waffles. (Shelby Pope)

Berkeley has many restaurants best described as “places where you can put things on other things.” There are the scads of frozen yogurt places. The poutinerie. The cinnamon roll cafe. And now, there is Little Gem Belgian Waffles, where you can put a variety of toppings on waffles. And not just any waffles: liege waffles, the Belgian specialty that is crispy, buttery and crunchy from pearl sugar. Husband and wife owners Chong Zhao and Janelle Wong discovered Belgian waffles on a trip to Japan (where the style is popular) and decided that Berkeley needed a waffle shop with customizable toppings. Toppings, while sweet, were surprisingly balanced. A Nutella strawberry waffle featured a modest amount of Nutella and a heap of tart strawberries. The waffle was puffy and crisp, a delicious not-too-sweet base. That restraint, and the considered touches--local Numi tea, organic ice cream, a Tcho milk chocolate spread, make it a welcome addition to the Telegraph food options, a pleasing alternative to the usual gonzo student food options (sushi burritos! Root beer-flavored cinnamon rolls!)

The options at Little Gem Belgian Waffles.
The options at Little Gem Belgian Waffles. (Shelby Pope )

Little Gem Belgian Waffles
2468 Telegraph Ave [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94704
Ph: (510) 883-8922
Hours: Closed Mon; Tue-Thu, 4-10pm; Fri-Sat, 12-11pm; Sun, 12-10pm
Facebook: Little Gem Belgian Waffles
Twitter: @littlegemwaffle
Instagram: @littlegemwaffles
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

Ole's Waffle Shop

A pecan waffle from Ole's Waffle Shop.  
A pecan waffle from Ole's Waffle Shop. (Shelby Pope)

Ole's Waffle Shop in Alameda is probably the closest thing to a Waffle House you can find in the Bay Area, featuring late night hours, capable cooks confidently serving up a menu of griddle-centric dishes, and crisp, efficient service (including a server who has been working there 38 years and who was Alameda’s first black waitress). Ole’s, run by owner Vickie Summerfield, is old school. The booths are vinyl, the walls are painted in that shade best called “Seventies Orange” and the waitress’ first words are simply “Coffee?” There are families everywhere. A pecan waffle was plate-spanningly large, with an aesthetic perfection that rivaled Eggo. The texture was light and fluffy, with the chunks of pecan weaved into the batter offering a pleasing textural contrast. It’s not fancy--it tastes best slathered with an unholy amount of butter and imitation syrup--but it’s the kind of waffle that brought me back to ages 8-10, where every one of my days began with an Eggo Homestyle waffle popped in the toaster before school. It's the opposite of a fancy Belgian waffle, but it’s comforting and satisfying in a distinctively American way.

The breakfast crowd at Ole's.
The breakfast crowd at Ole's. (Shelby Pope)

Ole's Waffle Shop
1507 Park St [Map]
Alameda, CA 94501
Ph: (510) 522-8108
Hours: Mon-Thu, 5:30am-8:30pm; Fri, 5:30am-12:30am; Sat, 6am-12:30am; Sun, 6am-8pm
Facebook: Ole's Waffle Shop
Twitter: @OlesWS
Price range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17)

It's Tops Coffee Shop

A chedder and sausage stuffed waffle from It's Tops Coffee Shop.
A chedder and sausage stuffed waffle from It's Tops Coffee Shop. (Shelby Pope)

Gimmicky frankenfoods--stuffed French toast, doughnut burgers--are an increasingly common site on breakfast and brunch menus. At It's Tops Coffee Shop, a Market Street institution started in 1935 and still run by the same family, the decadent choice is stuffed waffles. In a city where restaurants are filled with muted colors, ecru ceramic mugs and lighting designed for maximum Instagram appeal, it’s refreshing to know that there are still a handful of unfussy spots. And It’s Tops fits the bill, with a laconic waitress hollering at the kitchen staff, red leather booths and “Mr. Sandman” playing softly in the background. It’s run by siblings Sheila and Bruce Chapman and the menu features standards with flashes of whimsy: omelettes, a selection of “deep fried sides” and the aforementioned stuffed waffles. I opted for one with cheddar, jalapeno and sausage (Don’t worry, they also have more traditional waffle flavors). The slim waffle was rich, oozing with salty cheese and dotted with sausage chunks. In a intriguingly bizarre twist, it came sprinkled with powdered sugar. At first this horrified me. But when you think of your average breakfast plate and the tangle of flavors it produces--salty with sweet, pancake syrup running into the sausage--it almost makes sense. And it’s worth noting that this weirdly delicious waffle, like the rest of their breakfast menu, is available all day and long into the night, proving once again that San Francisco has something to satisfy every kind of eclectic craving.

The retro interior of It's Tops Coffee Shop.
The retro interior of It's Tops Coffee Shop. (Shelby Pope)

It's Tops Coffee Shop
1801 Market St [Map]
San Francisco, California 94103
Ph: (415) 431-6395
Hours: Mon-Sat, 8am-3pm and 8pm-3am; Sun, 8am-11pm
Facebook: It's Tops Restaurant & Coffee Shop
Twitter: @ItsTops
Price range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17)

Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle's liege waffle, served in a coffee filter.
Blue Bottle's liege waffle, served in a coffee filter. (Shelby Pope)

Blue Bottle’s waffle has been a consistent menu item since their early days--according to their book, the sweetness built into the Liege waffle (from pastry chef Caitlin Freeman) made it the ideal on-the-go breakfast for their harried Ferry Building customers. It’s an architectural marvel, tall and stately with a light batter flecked with crispy sugar pearls. There’s a surprisingly nice crunch--something I didn’t previously realize I appreciated in a waffle--and a subtle vanilla flavor. There’s no accompaniment given or needed, and I promise: you won’t miss the syrup. Like Blue Bottle’s entire aesthetic, it’s approachably elegant.

Inside Blue Bottle's W.C. Morse Café.
Inside Blue Bottle's W.C. Morse Café. (Shelby Pope)

Blue Bottle Coffee (Waffle available at multiple locations)
4270 Broadway [Map]
Oakland, CA 94611
Ph: (510) 653-3394
Hours: Mon-Sun, 7am-6pm
Facebook: Blue Bottle Coffee
Twitter: @bluebottleroast
Instagram: @bluebottle
Price range: $ (Entrees $10 and under)

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