If the only soft pretzels you’ve ever had are the frozen ones from the supermarket, or the ones you overpaid for during a baseball game, then we’ve got news for you: A great soft pretzel is one of the most delicious foods in existence, and these shops, bakeries, and restaurants are serving America’s best.
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Philly Pretzel Factory may be a chain with more than 100 locations, but that doesn’t mean that the quality suffers. Fresh dough is made throughout the day at every location, and their traditional Philly-style pretzels, which look more smushed-together than what you may be used to, come right out of the oven and into your waiting hands. No trip to Philadelphia is complete without a trip to Philly Pretzel Factory; don’t forget to dunk them in plenty of brown mustard.
The Bay Street Biergarten is Charleston’s first contemporary beer garden, and naturally one of the hottest spots in town. There’s nothing that complements great German beer like a great German pretzel, and their “Haus Made Pretzel” created by baker Jason Walker is a thing of beauty. Made with a dash of German beer and brown sugar, these beauties are lightly brushed with butter before being served, and are insanely good. Their pretzel “bombs” are delicious as well.
Esther’s provides pretzels to many of San Francisco’s leading German spots like Schmidt’s and gastropubs like Monk’s Kettle, so you know that these pretzels are great. Opened by a husband-and-wife duo who emigrated from Germany in 1997, they use an old family recipe to craft their pretzels. The pretzels can be purchased at their Los Altos café as well as at more than 20 farmers markets and specialty shops throughout the Bay Area.
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America’s first commercial pretzel bakery, opened in 1850, is still turning out a near-perfect specimen using the same process and recipe more than 160 years later (Sturgis also invented the hard pretzel). Visit the circa-1784 building and you’ll be treated to a tour of the original bakery and a hands-on pretzel-making demo. After the tour is through, you’ll have the opportunity to buy some of the few soft pretzels that are still made on-premises. It’s living history, and it’s delicious.
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Bavarian baker Ralf Sigl emigrated from the German town of Augsburg to Bellingham in 2003, and brought with him a traditional pretzel recipe that’s won over legions of fans. Ralf’s pretzels can be found at plenty of local bars and restaurants, as well as at a local food co-op, and the bakery itself is only open to the public on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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Rhein Haus is one of Seattle's most popular biergartens, with authentically German fare, libations, and gemütlichkeit. The one food item you'll see more than any other there is the pretzel, which is housemade using a traditional recipe and comes to your table hot in two sizes: small, which is a good-sized snack for one (it also adorns several entrees and brunch options); and giant, which is more than a foot across and is perfect for sharing. The small comes with your choice of spicy honey mustard, Emmental-beer fondue, obatzda (a spiced Bavarian cheese spread), or horseradish cream cheese; the giant one comes with all four.
Dinkel’s, which has been in business since 1922, may be renowned primarily for its legendary doughnuts, but their soft pretzels are also arguably the best in Chicago. Slightly crisp on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside, they’re made using unbromated and unbleached flour. They are doughy and insanely craveable.
Tucked away in a sleepy corner of Princeton is the sprawling Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers Market, home to stalls selling fresh dairy products, meats, salads, produce, and even furniture straight from Pennsylvania Dutch country. But no visit to the market is complete without a stop at Stoltzfus’ Pretzels, located right by the entrance. These are hand-rolled throughout the day right at the front counter, and you can watch the whole production process from start to finish. Their classic soft pretzel, served warm from the oven, is a work of art, but don’t miss their pretzel dog, which wraps a stellar hot dog from Smoker’s Deli across the aisle with their fresh pretzel dough.
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Before Sigmund’s opened in 2009, soft pretzels in New York were still largely the domain of street vendors selling mass-produced and invariably stale specimens. The folks at Sigmund’s make pretzels fresh throughout the day, the old fashioned way, and people have taken notice. Today they provide pretzels to bars and restaurants throughout the city through their wholesale bakery, and they can be found at pop-up markets around town as well as at their own bar and restaurant in the East Village. Classic, truffle cheddar, feta olive, cinnamon raisin, churro, and seeded varieties are available. You can be forgiven if you end up sampling them all in one sitting.
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Philly has no shortage of great soft pretzels, but the best just might be found inside Reading Terminal Market, at Miller’s Twist’s stand. Pretzels are made in full view of the public throughout the day, and the end result is a perfect representation of the Pennsylvania Dutch style: big, brown, soft, and topped with just the right amount of salt. They’re malty, buttery, slightly crisp on the outside, and warm and chewy on the inside. They’ll completely spoil you for all other pretzels.