A half-dozen reasons to rise with the dough in the morning
Pools of ink and its electronic equivalent have been expended helping SF's legions of night-crawlers find the best drinks, beats, and eats. Not so for our less numerous early-risers. But there are plenty of reasons to get up early: seagulls materializing out of the fog, the sun rising over the bay, first pressings at Ritual, parking spaces, and, perhaps most important, morning buns. Specifically, warm morning buns.
Unlike the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana's rules on pizza (dough no higher than 1/8 inch thick, hand-kneaded only), the French-inspired morning bun has some latitude. Buns can be made with brioche dough or croissant dough; flavored with cinnamon, or orange, or both. Puff pastry does not raise cries of quelle horreur! But whatever the yeast-risen dough base, the ideal MB should be a "turned" pastry, layered with butter and spices, then dusted with sugar and baked to caramelized crispness. Nuts, raisins, or frosting mean you have strayed — egad — into snail or danish territory.
Like bagels, MBs also are the perfect food ephemera. By 9:30 a.m. the chances of finding a still-warm one have passed. By 11 a.m., they have aged out completely. So set your alarm and get in line. (Diane Sussman)
This small Bernal Heights newcomer is already making a name for itself for its superlative sandwiches, kashi pans, and pastries (I'm talking to you, Valrhona pain au chocolat), and its MB is no exception. Starting with a brioche dough, Sandbox MB has a crisp, flaky top that gives way to fragrant, generous layers of cinnamon, sugar, and orange doughy bliss. Even better, this is one bun source where you can still get a warm one even if you sleep in (sort of). Although the bakery opens at 7 a.m., one staffer revealed that its MBs don't usually come out of the oven until 7:30.
833 Cortland, SF. (415) 642-8580. www.sandboxbakerysf.com 
Scoring an MB at Tartine requires a strategy. Well before it opens (times vary), Tartine has lines out the door. Granted, not everyone is there for an MB, but that doesn't alleviate fears among MB heads that the person ahead of you line won't order five dozen. In addition, Tartine Mbers have subgenres of preferences, preferring "light on the bottom." But not to worry. All colors of Tartine's MBs (which start with croissant dough) have crisp, sweet, flaky, muffin-like tops with soft, yeasty, buttery centers sprinkled with orange, cinnamon, and sugar. In addition to competition, Tartine's MBs are also more expensive ($3.75 compared to $2–$2.50 elsewhere).
600 Guerrero, SF. (415) 487-2600. www.tartinebakery.com 
Delessio is the MB slug-a-bed's dream joint. The combination deli-bakery doesn't open until 8 a.m., and even then the bakers often run 10 to 15 minutes late. (Value add: sometimes the friendly staff will let you pluck your own MB from the cooling rack — use paper!). Delessio's offering is moist, flaky (it uses a brioche dough), not too sweet, and generous with cinnamon. Delessio does have one tragic flaw, though: it doesn't bake those buns every day. Call first or learn a vital lesson in flexibility with the breakfast brioche.
1695 Market and 302 Broderick, SF. (415) 552-5559 and (415) 552-8077. www.delessiomarket.com 
Stare into one of the pastry cases at Boulange and you'll see the signs for "morning buns." But Boulange's morning bun isn't really a morning bun, as one staff member readily acknowledged. "We call them cinnamon-orange buns," she said. "They are our own version of morning buns." Starting with a croissant dough, Boulange MBs are flatter and rounder than a traditional morning bun, don't have the crispy, caramelized sugar muffin top, and have a bit more orange than others. While purists may shriek, "Wrong!" iconoclasts are likely to counter with "Nice!" (Whole Foods also carries Boulange's buns in its bakery cases.)
Various locations, www.laboulange.com 
The small neighborhood café at the corner of Fulton and Baker streets in the Panhandle doesn't bake its own MBs, but it does get a daily stash from Bakers of Paris. Shunning tradition, Bakers of Paris uses puff pastry and rolls its version with orange zest, making for a light, refreshingly acidic, not too sweet treat. Although you can't get one fresh out of the oven (Bakers of Paris' bakery is in Brisbane), Matching Half staff will heat it up for you. (Bakers of Paris also sells its buns at the Sunday farmers markets on Grove in the Divis Corridor and Irving in the Inner Sunset.)
1799 McAllister, SF. (415) 674-8699. www.matchinghalfcafe.com 
Sorry, you can't go to the source, and you won't get a warm one. But if you have access to a warming device — and you can wait — you can opt for one of Semifreddi's goodies. The bakery, which has its baking operations in the East Bay and no retail outlet, trucks its wonderfully carmelized, brioche-based MBs to numerous grocery stores, including Mollie Stone's, Berkeley Bowl, and Faletti Market. Perfect for when you really slept late. www.semifreddis.com