Trying to obtain those mythical egg tarts from Golden Gate Bakery

If you live in or even if you visit San Francisco, you always hear about the mythical Golden Gate Bakery. They are known for having the best egg custard tarts in the city (at least that’s what everyone says). They are also known for being open at completely random times that make zero sense and always being closed for vacation. There’s even a website someone created just to tell people whether or not they are open (and a Facebook page). Are they secretly billionaires who bought the store ages ago so they can just open willy-nilly? Is it a money-laundering front so they only open when there is extra cash to be taken care of? There are many questions and speculations about how this place is still around, but the only thing I know for certain is that the hype around their egg custard tarts is real. Therefore, I only had one goal in moving back to San Francisco: Obtain their egg custard tarts.

I wish I could say that one day I just strolled up to find them open with no queue, waltzed in, got a half dozen tarts and left on my merry way. Basically, my several experiences went more like this: Walked up, saw they were closed, walked home, and cried incessantly. (Okay maybe the last bit is made up.) But I was insistent. I came back. Then finally, FINALLY, there was a queue outside. By the way, that’s how you know if they are open, you see a large line of people standing outside waiting to get into the tiny, tiny bakery. I finally got to stand in the line for about twenty minutes waiting to enter the bakery. Once inside, I realized I needed to take full advantage of my time and get several egg custard tarts and a mooncake. And a coconut tart because it turns out because they were VERY insistent that I got one.

I get home. I excitedly grab the egg custard tart out of the box. I bite into it. And I taste egg. Like basically a whole lot of scrambled egg. It’s a bit off-putting actually, as I feel like I have had several different types of egg custard tarts in my life, and none of them tasted that much like egg. I at once thought they were overcooked. I mean, that’s what happens to other custardy desserts if you over cook them. It’s a classic sign of an overcooked creme brulee. But what do I know? I came to Chinese egg custard tarts late in life. Maybe all the others I had eaten had been wrong, and the unpleasant taste of scrambled egg is supposed to be there? I mean I’m no expert. I realized I needed to get the opinion of others to find out if these are, in fact, the best out there.

So a couple of months ago, I had a fellow food-obsessed friend come to San Francisco for a few days from Santa Barbara. We decided to give China Live a try for lunch, and afterwards, I told her we should try to get some egg custard tarts. So we headed down Grant Street, and VOILA! They were open for business. So we got in the line. And after hearing about 20 minutes of complaints about the urine smell (I kept trying to tell her it’s San Francisco and not luxurious, clean Santa Barbara), we managed to get some tarts. She took one bite, and basically spit it out because of the overwhelming egg flavor. Oops. Not a good sign.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when my lovely Asian friend who grew up in Hong Kong and knows her egg custard tarts is visiting. She definitely wanted to give it a try, so after she checks into her hotel (conveniently close to Chinatown), we hurry down Grant Street to find that the bakery is closed. But with a sign saying they will be open the next day! So after we have some lunch the following day, we book it to the bakery where we see it has the shortest queue I’ve ever seen! It MUST be a sign. I causally mention maybe we should try a few other things as I feel like we have to make it worth the time we spent waiting, so we go in and she starts ordering a bunch of stuff in Cantonese. We finally leave with half a dozen egg tarts, a mooncake (with two yolks, I didn’t even know multiple yolks were a thing), a coconut tart, an apple slice, a lotus seed puff, and some almond cookies. (My friend and I don’t do things in halves.)

So she devours a tart. And she thinks it is overly eggy. But she’s more optimistic than I am. For now. The next day she tries another one, and she’s decided that they are indeed too eggy, and they are not as great as everyone makes them out to be. VINDICATION! It is usually just the outside edge that is too eggy, which really does just lead me to believe that they are too big and the outside gets overcooked before the inside is set. However, we do agree that the pastry is absolutely fantastic, and the coconut tart is heavenly. In fact, pretty much everything else we got from them was superb. Except for the egg tart. Irony of ironies, the one thing they are known throughout the world for is probably the thing they do least well. In fact, we all agreed that the egg custard tarts we ate at Yank Sing on Dim Sum Sunday were superior.

So, my experience is that hype is real, and as usual, it’s not worth it. Unless you want something besides egg custard, then it is very worth it, but possibly not worth the queue.

Golden Gate Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

6 Comments

  • Jamie September 1, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    I am SO HAPPY that you did this review! My husband’s doctor at UCSF always recommends that we head to Golden Gate Bakery for those legendary egg custard tarts, and now I’m glad that we’ve never made the effort.

    Fun entry. 🙂

    Reply
    • Grant September 1, 2017 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks. I mean maybe you like them eggy. Then it would be right up your alley! 😉

      Reply
  • Oshyan Greene September 2, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    I *love* that you are hype-busting. It’s a super important job and far too few people in food reviewing take it on. Very occasionally hype is justified, but most often it’s not, and sometimes it’s almost oddly opposite of reality (as, apparently, in this case). Now I can take it off my list of things to try!

    That being said, I wonder if their quality has gone down? It was on 7×7’s Big Eat list for 2011 and 2012, and the Big Sweet list for 2014 and 2015. When did you first try them?

    Reply
    • Grant September 4, 2017 at 11:20 am

      So the first time I tried them is this year. I’ve always heard about them, and when I lived in the Bay Area from 2004-2010, I only got to SF occasionally, so I never really felt the need to spend my precious time standing in the queue.

      Maybe the quality has gone down? I have no way of knowing. I do know that I don’t like my egg custard tarts to taste like sweet scrambled egg. But maybe I’m in the minority and that’s what people like. I do know that their moon cakes and other non-egg baked goods really are spectacular, so I’m not saying that the bakery is bad, just that I think their other stuff is so much better.

      But thanks for reading the post! There were so many hyped up places that I heard about living in London, and when I tried them out, I just did not understand why people said those places were the “best”. It’s almost as if people hear a place is the best, so they go there, and whatever they eat then takes their place in their mind as “the best” so people think places that are different (and probably better), aren’t as good? It’s amazing what a bit of suggestion can do. I usually go into places like that with skepticism.

      It’s almost like some of the “best” burger places I’ve tried in San Francisco since moving back and the amount of disappointment has been high.

      Reply
      • Oshyan Greene September 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm

        I don’t like mine to taste like scrambled eggs either, and your tests with friends seem to confirm at least on a small scale that A: other people don’t either, and B: it is not (necessarily) traditional and intended to be that way. I’m pretty satisfied with that level of research into this issue. 😉 But it’s good to know that at least their other items are really good. If only it weren’t for the line and intermittent hours…

        I’m right there with you on over-hyped food and the strange way it seems to self-perpetuate. Burgers are definitely one of those categories of food that tends to get that kind of adoration, too. I think I might have a little bit of a clue as to why some of “the best place” stuff continues even despite either A: it not really being the best (or even that good) and/or B: a decline in quality. You see, I recently discovered that I actually don’t like the NOPA burger that much…

        As you are no doubt well aware, NOPA’s burger is one of the most loved and, well, hyped in the city. I had tried it once or maybe twice before, and it had been decent, but not the amazing I thought it should be (based both on the aforementioned hype and it being the style of burger – high-end, thicker patty, as opposed to diner-style) that I tend to like. It had all the ingredients for success and so I think on previous visits I sort of chalked it up to not ordering it right, or an off night.

        This time I went with the *rare* burger order that I’ve now settled on to get a patty cooked the way I like it (and which tends to result in a softer, looser texture), and… no, it was too tight of a grind, too cohesive, more toothsome than I’d want in a burger. Not meatloaf-like, per se, but not the soft, juicy burger experience I think of when I think “best burger”. And this despite being cooked a fairly proper rare, or at least rare-med-rare. So this being at least my 2nd if not 3rd try, I’m finally prepared to say it doesn’t live up to the hype, at least for me.

        And here, at last, is where that clue to the hype-machine comes in: I feel a little weird about telling people that I don’t like the NOPA burger, both because I used to think I did and recommended it to others in the past, and because it’s such an unpopular opinion. I’m not one to shy away from unpopular opinions in general, but I can feel the peer pressure on this one a bit, and so I think I sort of understand why these things might keep getting picked as “best of” when they’re not… But the least I can do is express my honest opinion, especially if it can help steer people away from subpar experiences based largely on hype.

        Looking forward to future burger taste-test installments. Keep up the good work!

        Reply
        • Grant September 5, 2017 at 5:20 pm

          Wow. I’ve been wanting to try the NOPA burger for awhile now, but I haven’t done it yet. Now I’m not too sure.

          Reminds me of the “award-winning” Causwells burger and how I thought “It’s nice, but I wouldn’t give it any awards”.

          Yeah I don’t like egg custard tarts eggy either, I don’t think I’ve ever had them eggy before the ones at Golden Gate Bakery. I guess it just does come down to personal taste.

          It makes me think about my most recent post with The Girl and the Fig. I got solid recommendations from a lot of people, and it was pretty bad.

          I appreciate you reading! And the comments! I always love to engage and discuss food/drink so feel free to comment any time!

          Reply

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