Bob’s Donuts is the gem of late-night San Francisco

It’s 11pm on a Friday, and I’ve had three drinks as I stare longingly through the glass at a divine-looking can of donut. Glazed beauties twinkle under the shop lights, and a chocolate cake with luscious toasted marshmallows seems to sing to me.

The line is long, but everyone flocking from Polk Street bars knows the drill: Bob’s Donuts is the obligatory last stop of the night. Ending the evening with fluffy pastries from the 24-hour slick feels like a warm hug to prepare you for the chilly San Francisco winds.

Pop is ingrained in the consciousness of the locals, so I hesitate to classify it as a tourist destination. But this is the place that manages to attract almost all demographics – 20-something barbers in the early hours and families roaming the city in the light of day. Celebrities have even stopped the staple donut hole, from Nicolas Cage to Prince.

Late-night streak of Bob Donuts, on Polk Street in San Francisco, Friday, July 8, 2022.

Madeline Wells / Svgat

Bob first opened in the late 1950s, although no one named Bob had owned it for many years. In 1977, the family of the current owner took over Aya Ann. No one today seems to know much about the original, mysterious Bob, other than a 1977 article by the San Francisco Examiner who described him as a “German” who supplied SFMOMA Café with “authentic German cookies”.

“My daughter says we’re all pop,” Ahn told SFGATE in a 2019 interview. “We are all a part of it. We have raised everyone to become what we are.”

So much about Bob feels pretty old school, from the meager collection of donut art hanging on the walls to the tiny milk carton on the log (yes, folks, that’s actual cow’s milk). The Hall of Fame is also a wall staple, listing everyone who successfully completed the “Bob’s Donut Challenge”: finish a giant 12 regular donut in less than 3 minutes and win a T-shirt.

But some signs of the times have crept into the outdated restaurant. Various modern flavors, from maple bacon to Froot Loops donuts, have taken place alongside old fashioned and apple pies. And since the pandemic, diners can no longer sit on an old bar stool with crumbs spilling all over the Formica counter—Bob’s is still just ready for takeout.

Family owned and operated, Bob's Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.

Family owned and operated, Bob’s Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.


Photo by Blair Hegerty

Family owned and operated, Bob's Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.

Family owned and operated, Bob’s Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.


Photo by Blair Hegerty

Family owned and operated, Bob's Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.

Family owned and operated, Bob’s Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.


Photo by Blair Hegerty

Family owned and operated, Bob's Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.

Family owned and operated, Bob’s Donuts has been an SF brand since the 1960s.


Charles Rousseau / Svgat


Bob’s Donuts has been a fixture on Polk Street since the late 1950s.

Even without being able to get the full dining experience, my first visit to Bob’s still fascinated me. I did two trips: once on a weekday afternoon for a family friendly experience, and the second on the aforementioned raucous Friday night.

In the afternoon I stopped at the Polk Street site (Bob also opened a second store on Baker Street in 2019), it was quiet. At first, I wasn’t sure it was open. But I soon spot the workers at the back dipping yeast dough into tubs of shimmering palm oil.

I ordered a small box of cakes, and the helpful person behind the counter showed me the bakery’s most famous (and most delicious) offering. I filled my pink box with apple pie ($3), crumb cake ($1.75), chocolate with sprinkles ($3.50) and a donut croissant hybrid ($4.50).

Freshly baked donuts call from the window of Pop Donuts.

Freshly baked donuts call from the window of Pop Donuts.

Charles Rousseau / Svgat

SFGATE photo editor Charlie, chewing on our food in a nearby park, declared his maple candy to be “absolutely adorable.” I loved my apple pie, Donut Pop’s most popular, and the best—a fun textured contrast of crunchy glaze, a light and fluffy interior, and chunks of cinnamon apple. I wasn’t a fan of the sweetness of vanilla custard dripping from a croissant donut, but every other pastry made a strong case for itself.

But my second trip to Bob’s seemed like the real deal. After a bar crawl consisting of watching my bartender at San Francisco’s smallest bar shoot White Claw and order gin and tonic under a set of ceiling-hung bras at Kozy Kar, my friends and I headed to the bakery.

At this time of night, people lined up below the block for the sugar rush. Despite the alcohol in my system, I restrained myself and only ordered one: those beautiful donuts of s’mores that called me out the window. My friends and I gathered on the sidewalk beside another sweet tooth fermented with our pink boxes, sinking our teeth into the fluffy pastry.

Pop Donuts are a late-night staple for Bargo Street Polk.

Pop Donuts are a late-night staple for Bargo Street Polk.

Madeline Wells / Svgat

I’ll take a risk here and admit that I’m not the world’s most craving donut lover—in fact, I pretty much rise any other pastry above them in the candy power rating. But I’m totally honest when I say this: The Bob S’mores Donut I ate on the sidewalk at 11 p.m. on Friday made me believe in donuts again.


This donut has taken the comforting simplicity of the chocolate I had earlier and added it up a notch with a smoky, more complex flavor. Maybe I’m just nostalgic about childhood summers spent camping with my family, but the toasted marshmallows in the middle felt like the ultimate prize.

My friends, some of whom had grown up with Bob in the city, seemed equally happy with the donuts they got based on the instant silence that gripped our circle. Only the sound of chewing could be heard, apart from a friend declaring in amazement, “What I have is warm!”

Since the pandemic, Bob's Donuts on Polk Street is fast food only.

Since the pandemic, Bob’s Donuts on Polk Street is fast food only.

Charles Rousseau / Svgat

Bob’s Donuts is the gem of San Francisco, whether you’re a local or a lifelong tourist. But if you’re a tourist, I can’t recommend Bob enough. It might be a bit far from the usual tourist spots, but it won’t cost you an arm and a leg like a Ghirardelli sundae or Tonga Room cocktail. And donuts taste as good as the locals say – whether it’s 2pm or 2am

Bob’s Donuts, 1621 Polk Street and 601 Baker Street, San Francisco. Polk Street is open 24/7, Baker Street is open Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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