Saying that Automat takes its baked goods seriously is like saying Adele “dabbles” in singing, or that we only had a “minor obsession” with Glee back in the day. The all-day spot on a quiet corner in NoPa is a gleaming beacon of breads and pastries, and one we come back to more than the jug of apple cider vinegar we hoard under our sink. The daytime menu—a.k.a. when Automat shines the most—is what really sets this place apart from your average neighborhood cafe. And it’s exactly what keeps us returning for unhurried meals with a friend, laptop, or a good book.
The big oven in the open kitchen, which faces out toward the dining room’s tables and cushy yellow booths, is the star of the show here. As soon as you walk in, the scent of crisp, freshly baked baguettes and honey tahini sourdough wafts evenly through the air like it’s coming from a fancy diffuser. When you first arrive, grab something from the pastry case to start things off—it’s always loaded with pillowy brioche donuts, face-sized cinnamon rolls, and, in true SF fashion, sourdough chocolate chip cookies with just the right amount of tang. Take a deep breath and release any last semblance of self-control. You’ll want one of each.
At Automat, the breakfast and lunch menu leans casual and playful without trying too hard, unlike our unhinged tweets about Darren Criss circa 2011. There are no day-old croissants or hummus plates that leave you still hungry in an hour. Instead, you’ll fill up on hot fried chicken sandwiches with seaweed aioli, or a smashburger that gets a refreshing crunch from dill-pickled onions. The breakfast sandwich, which is served until 3:30pm, has gooey layers of sausage, egg, and pimento cheese that drip out with each bite. And if everything on your table is a varying shade of beige, the big bowls of bright, crunchy salads are there to fulfill your green-things quota for the day.
At 5pm, Automat transforms into a table service dinner spot that works for catch-ups with friends or date nights with wine and small plates. The nighttime menu covers everything from sweet potato pavé to grilled duck breast with rhubarb mole—all of which are perfectly nice but not quite as memorable as the daytime dishes. We’d just rather swing by for a burger or sandwich, which highlight the breads and baked things that help make Automat so special in the first place.
A meal at Automat can be as short, long, big, or small as you want it to be, and that’s precisely why we love it—like we said, this place has range. No two visits ever feel completely the same, thanks to the occasional tweaks to the menu and variety of reasons to get here in the first place. Leaving disappointed at any hour is near-impossible, which is why we’ll be keeping Automat in our back pocket and jumping at any excuse to come back.
No visit to Automat is complete without a brioche donut. The puffy sugar pillows are filled with occasionally changing things like strawberry jam or pomegranate chocolate cream, which ooze out like lava when you cut in.
Do you like cinnamon rolls? Then this hefty version, smothered in thick cream cheese frosting, is one you should get to know. If not, well, we have our differences.
Automat Breakfast Sandwich
This cheesy stunner of a breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese, and sausage basically functions as our alarm clock on weekday mornings when a handful of Cheerios won’t cut it. It’s made on grilled “wondermat” bread—a sliced white sandwich loaf (and Automat’s take on Wonder Bread). Beelining here for one is always a good plan.
California Fried Hot Chicken Sandwich
Every element of this crispy fried chicken sandwich is executed with the level of detail and care Billy Porter puts into curating his red carpet looks. It’s not so spicy your nose will run, but there’s a respectable kick and lots of umami from the seaweed aioli, which we want to bottle up and slather on everything.
There aren’t many places where you can get into a double patty smashburger with your 9am cappuccino. Automat is happy to fill that void. Theirs has a tangle of pickled onions with the slightest hint of dill, garlicky cheddar, and patties with caramelized crusts—and it’s fantastic.
If a tub of cream cheese frosting and french toast had a baby (which then got a little kiss on the forehead from a horde of angels), it would result in this dessert. The thick piece of toast is as rich and sweet as it looks—if you’re here for dinner, get one to cap things off.