While once the word latte only meant one thing—the traditional drink made with espresso and steamed milk—the category has expanded quite a bit. But we're OK with this transformation—as long as there are as many delicious incarnations as there are misguided eggnog-pumpkin-soy sugar bombs.
Given that latte actually means milk, it's not surprising that a good latte has a lot to do with how the milk is prepared. After being heated, it should be slowly added to the base (piano piano as the Italians say), ensuring a thick creamy layer that won't sink in on itself or lose the battle with the flavor base. Moreover, there should be a good ratio of milk to espresso, and a restrained hand if sugar is involved.
With these criteria in mind we went on the hunt for delicious lattes in San Francisco. Our top 5 aren't all traditional—one is made from sweet potatoes and another is topped with bacon—but they do make for a satisfying sip.