If the donut was becoming newly hip again last year during our first compendium of the best donut shops across the country, it is a full-blown trend now, as artisanal donut shops have risen up like those magical yeasty treats all across America. And though, at times, it can start to feel like the Great Cupcake Trend of 2010, we think the donut revolution has stronger legs to stand on, because -- unlike the cupcake -- it is not an afterthought, but an essential part of your daily morning routine (right, doctors?).
To that point, we’ve expanded our list from 21 to 33 this year, keeping many of the strongest shops from last year, and adding an entire roster of new and deserving spots everywhere from Kentucky and Ohio, to Northern California and Virginia. If we missed your favorite, let us know in that bastion of unfettered social democracy known as the comments, but for now, it’s time to make (with) the donuts.
You know a place is good when it could also easily be on our lunch lists for its Old Bay fried chicken sandwich. But the Cap City spot's (owned by two childhood hockey buddies, one of whom is former NHL center Jeff Halpern) donuts are also in a league of their own (Editor's Note: Underrated Tom Hanks film) and though the menu changes often according to the season and the whims of its magician chefs, if you happen to catch it while it's still got its Nutella donut, buy them all. And also an Old Bay fried chicken sandwich. You’ll only regret it if you don’t.
The minute Blue Star Donuts opened its flagship store two years ago, it put famed Portland spot Voodoo in watch. Now, five locations later -- four in Stumptown, and one way out in Tokyo -- the place has established itself as a powerhouse. No wonder, considering the flavor wallop packed in its brioche-based ‘nuts, among them a wonderful chocolate ganache, Champagne peach, buttermilk old-fashioneds, and pistachio cream cheese. Our hearts, though, will always belong to the Cointreau creme brulee, which comes with a little plastic syringe full of booze stuck in the top, which you can squirt into the French custard and create the ultimate dessert cocktail. If, one day, there’s a Blue Star on every corner, the world would be a better place -- and one that’s way friendlier before noon.
The box itself -- with a picture of three chocolate-glazed donuts and a cup of coffee -- is iconic in its own right. And that’s before you get to the donuts. The shop, which was originally opened in Dayton by Bill and Faye Elam, has moved around over the years, and though it’s now in Centerville, run by Bill and Faye’s children, and actually takes credit cards, it still captures the essence of the original, especially when you bite into its incredible apple spice, sour creme, white-iced jelly, and famous pretzel donuts.
You had us at “in 2002, drive-through was added as a means to service today’s fast paced lifestyles.” But really, Congdon’s has been an old-school legend in the New England donut world since Clint and Dot Congdon opened their original restaurant in Kennebunk. And though the shop has moved and expanded and contracted throughout the years, most Mainers can fondly recall eating one of its fantastic sugar cruellers, or chocolate jimmy donuts at least once in their lifetime. My move is to get the Maine blueberry in the summer, and at least two buttercrunch any other time of the year. And frankly, it should be your move too.
Blame it on the city’s beignet obsession, but New Orleans has had a surprising lack of great donuts. Until now. The Magazine St cafe opened in 2013 with little mystery: it sells donuts, sliders, and coffee and they're the best damn donuts, sliders, and coffee in this part of the country. Seven donuts from its triple-digit catalogue hit the shelves each day with the hulking glazed, cinnamon sugar, and basic chocolate glaze always available. Look for the spicy maple praline. Or the Vietnamese coffee. Or just whatever's available. You'll have plenty of time to sample every donut, since you're going to want to stay until your next meal and move on to the second and third part of that name.
One of the early entrants into the great Chicago donut boom, Do-Rite's a snug Downtown takeout counter that was carved out of space belonging to an Italian restaurant, and its making the most of its modest square footage to turn out donuts that have caused the diet of many a Loop office drone to go horribly awry (pistachio-Meyer lemon, Valrhona chocolate glazed, candied maple bacon). If that wasn't enough indulgence, its second location brought fried chicken into the mix. Can you get donuts as fried chicken sandwich buns? Yes, yes you can.
A favorite of our San Diego writer Sara Norris and pretty much anyone who has ever eaten there, Donut Bar gets the call again thanks to that perfect mix of old-fashioned, donut-making skills, and an addictive changes-by-the-day menu of new creations that will make you have donut fever dreams for weeks. Of course you can’t go wrong with its hand-torched creme brulee, but lately, we’ve also been somewhat addicted to the glorious fruitiness of its big poppa-tart donut, and the “oh my peanut butter Oreo,” which tastes like you mashed up your entire third-grade lunch, covered it in dough, and fried it. In a good way. Such a good way.
Anyone who grew up around St. Louis knows the Donut Stop. Partially because it's been around since 1953 and anything that’s been around for 62 years deserves acknowledgment, but mostly because it has 103 VARIETIES OF DONUTS TO CHOOSE FROM, and almost all of them are damn good, ranging from cherry-glazed cake donuts, to vanilla-iced custard bismarks, to chocolate long johns, to its famous glazed yeast donuts, to something it calls cinnamon globs, which we honestly didn’t try. But seriously, get all those other ones.
You want some high-quality alliteration? Look no further than “Dottie’s Diner, the deluxe destination for delicious donuts!” And damn if the descriptor and subject of said alliteration aren't correct. Dorothy Sperry’s cake-esque creations are now famous in the state of Connecticut and beyond, and for good reason: each made-from-scratch donut is a work of high art (we ate three of the powdered sugar version when visiting), made even more impressive by the fact that the diner serves all the other meals as well, and might be just as known for its positively perfect pies. Sorry, it’s addicting.
It seems borderline unfair that the man behind Chicago's most sought-after burger (Au Cheval) also presides over its most consistently crowded donut (ahem, "doughnut") joint. Well, said joint has now expanded to include a second location and a mobile operation out of a vintage van, but it's clear that Chicago's collective demand for its flawless buttermilk old fashioneds, fluffy chestnut glazeds, and other sweet creations may never be fully satisfied. The day-to-day options remain pretty tight, but there are always specials on offer like chocolate-drizzled orange cream or birthday cake.
Since 2008, Dynamo has been making the people of that hilly city filled with impossibly expensive condos incredibly happy with Sara Spearin’s confection prowess, which results in mad scientist creations like the Bitter Queen (candied ruby grapefruit base topped with a St. Germain elderflower glaze and sprinkled with Campari sugar), chocolate with a raspberry black pepper glaze, and apricot cardamom. Of course, no one will judge if you choose her original vanilla bean with the orange zest either.
It's reached cult status at this point -- the recipients of high praise from the Grey Lady herself, as well as countless sites, magazines, and AOL chat forums. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve it. Chef Michael Solomonov’s ode to chicken, donuts, and coffee is perfect in a lot of ways, with that spicy Korean-esque chicken, but of course, we’re here for the donuts. The cake-style (inspired, like many things, by the donut shops of the Jersey shore) has many varieties, but we’re very into the honey donut that comes as a side with the chicken. Okay and also the blueberry mascarpone. And the dark chocolate glazed. And the vanilla spice. And...
If you’ve been to Nashville and you haven’t been to Fox’s, FOR SHAME! Just look for that sign showcasing a small Dutch boy wearing a cool hat and holding a donut half the size of his body in Green Hills close to the mall, and immediately go in there and get cherry turnovers and apple fritters and, yes, you can also get regular donuts too. But maybe eat that fritter first.
Teresa Fox’s delicious creations are back on the list for a second year. The good people of Minnesota are lucky bastards (NOT during the winter) in that they get to experience her 100% made-from-scratch creations whenever they please. Our current favorites on the list include Bob Seger’s favorite Night Moves (blackberry jam, blackberry Hennessy, and brown sugar bits), the Scream Queen (chocolate and caramelized bacon), and our longstanding crush the Chart Topper, which combines peanut butter, Sriracha, and some kind of magically addictive pixie dust.
Step into some of Denver's finest coffee shops (Kaladi, Aviano, Pablo's), and you can spot Glazed & Confuzed's donuts pretty easily; beside pastries and muffin varieties so boring even your grandma would pass on them, you'll find its donut-y take on the Girl Scout Samoa with a caramel glaze, toasted coconut, and chocolate drizzle, and the cheekily-named Guava D's Nutz with a cream cheese cake donut and a guava glaze. In mid-2014, the donut boundary-pushers behind G&C opened their first standalone shop in Mile High, giving donut lovers even more variety to choose from, where they have the capacity to make crazy donuts like... umm, a Boston cream pie. Sometimes the classics can be good too.
The donuts from this Charleston mainstay notching a second year on our list are made by a Culinary Institute grad, and they’re reaching legendary status. You want Chinese five-spice donut holes? It can do them. A Choco-Nana-Nut donut that would make Elvis do that awkward dance with his hips? It's got those. French toast, but in the form of a donut, which somehow improves something I’m already a huge fan of? Yes, OF COURSE (and if you just want glazed, it can do that too).
If you’ve always dreamed of eating donuts as sandwiches, you could do much worse than heading to Gourdough’s, which has grown in the last couple of years from a trailer operation into a full restaurant, so you can drink real booze while taking down donuts filled with Angus beef and house pimento cheese (the Big Baller), or more traditional options like vanilla pudding, fresh bananas, and vanilla wafers (the Puddin’).
Dallas’ desperate need for crazy donut combinations propelled Hypnotic from an operation that only existed in the back of a Ford Explorer to two locations in just four years. Go for the Evil Elvis (peanut butter, bacon, banana, and honey) to see what the fuss is about. Then maybe try the maple-iced Canadian Healthcare that’s topped with a giant strip of bacon. And then just test your own healthcare with its equally famous chicken biscuits.
How does a man known for making pizza dough under the moniker John Dough transition to Johnny Doughnuts? Well, rather easily, it turns out. What started as a small food truck business for owner and former ‘za maker Craig Blum has since expanded to a brick-and-mortar in San Rafael, but you can still see the truck at Off the Grid slinging must-haves like its wild berry jam bismark, or a maple old fashioned that might just be worth a Sunday ferry ride to Larkspur to snag.
Because Leonard’s is now a two-time winner on our list, its story is worth repeating: back in 1882, two Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaii to work the sugarcane fields. Several years later, their grandson Leonard was born, and several years after that, in 1952, he started his own bakery. On a whim, his mother suggested they make Portuguese-style malasadas -- essentially donuts with no hole, coated in sugar. Everyone loved them. And thus, a legend -- and, by now, a Hawaiian staple -- was born, and the classic still gets the nod thanks to its made-to-order, piping-hot deliciousness (shhhh, but the custard malasadas are pretty damn good too).
It’s been around forever. It only takes cash. The lines on the weekend and weekdays and pretty much most of the time are long. But once you get a taste of its glazed yeast donuts, or the blueberry cake, or that apple one that I can only remember in my dreams, you won’t mind the lines. And with donuts being just barely over half a dollar, you won’t mind the cash-only policy either.
It’s hard to describe Loyless -- not because everything has been said before, because that’s certainly not the case for this southern Alabama institution. Rather, it’s almost a caricature of a bygone era: a small-town mom & pop institution where the food is far superior, yet much simpler than anything made at the big-box giants. The small town is Cowarts, a town outside of Dothan; you’ll find Loyless on the side of Hwy 86 underneath towering pine trees. The mom & pop are Eva and Garland Loyless, and their hand-rolled, hand-cut, hand-iced donuts are made every morning. This is old-school America and, if you happen to score one of the few hundred donuts the Loylesses sell each day, typically before 7:30am, you’ll realize that old-school America is delicious.
Because the excuse to sing late ‘90s-era Will Smith isn’t quite enough to justify a plane flight to South Florida, there’s Mojo Donuts. It may be in a strip mall somewhere between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but just try the Key lime pie or the s'mores. Trust us.
Though we’re very into its old-school website, which looks like it was created during the brazen website design year of 2002, the actual donuts at this Louisville bakery are our first love. Do yourself and everyone else in your social circles a favor and opt for the maple bacon long john and a pretzel donut, which is a Midwest specialty that tastes nothing like those things that make the cast of Seinfeld thirsty.
Monuts is proof that God loves people who originally sell donuts at farmers markets, and then open a brick-and-mortar that also is a very popular cafe for local residents and people who attend a private research university that may or may not have a basketball team. It also may be proof that God loves maple bacon bourbon donuts.
Maybe it’s the outfits: the pink hats and the pink & teal old-school uniforms, which look like they could’ve been worn in that women’s baseball movie starring Geena Davis and Madonna. Maybe it’s the price signs that have hung on the Greenpoint bakery’s walls since it opened over 60 years ago. (Yes, the prices are still $1.10.) Or maybe it’s the refreshing way a neighborhood bakery is still just that: an old-school standby in a rapidly changing part of New York, where the donuts and kolaches and bagels aren’t trendy -- they’re just really damn good.
Since everything in Vegas is so damn ephemeral, it should be noted and celebrated that the totally-not-dirty-named Pink Box has made the list for two consecutive years. It also helps that its now-four locations are open 24 hours a day so you can score fried deliciousness like its chipotle caramel or campfire s’mores at 4am when you’re celebrating the fact that you managed to avoid doing other totally-not-dirty things.
Since 1956 -- which, in California years, is essentially the dawn of time -- Celia and Ralph Primo’s shop on Sawtelle in West LA has been making donuts. And those donuts are delicious. So go there and buy a mixed dozen, as long as you get at least one buttermilk, a Skippy, a butterfly, a tiger tail, a cinnamon crunch, two twists, and a glazed, and then eat them in front of a SoulCycle, as the ravenous and jealous actors and actresses stream out, and know what it is to fully be alive.
The Maria Moore Riggs project is still on the list for the second year in a row, thanks to the fact that every time a piping-hot batch of her delicious yeast and cake donuts (um, please get the fresh peach slider or carrot cake) come out, everyone across Georgia screams “THE DONUTS ARE COMING! THE DONUTS ARE COMING!”
A Virginia favorite since 2013 when it first opened in Carver, then Downtown Richmond, Sugar Shack has now expanded to NoVa, and has bigger expansion plans in place in Maryland, Charlottesville, and even FLORIDA. And though we will wait with baited breath for it to eventually take over the world, you’ll have to travel to the Mid-Atlantic as of now to try its absolutely delicious handmade creations. Also, we must admit: the fact that it created a CADBURY EGG DONUT for Easter, and have legendary Irish dough bombs for St. Patrick’s Day has quickly put it at the top of our list. COME TO NEW ORLEANS/CALIFORNIA PLEASE!
In the immortal battle between donuts and candy -- which we just made up -- Sweetwater's is basically Switzerland, and not just because of all that chocolate. It’s a neutral zone between confections, with donuts that include a devil’s food take on peanut butter cups, a nutty Snickers variant, and a dulce de leche Carmello. Meanwhile, butterscotch makes a leap from granny’s cookie jar to donut form, and the caramel apple gives the Dutch a run for their guilders. Since 1983, Sweetwater’s has been converting the donut faithful to a world beyond the glazed standbys. But if glazed is your thing, well, it makes a damn fine one of those, too.
If you haven’t had Union Square’s peanut butter + jelly donut, you’ve never experienced a delicious flashback to middle school like the one you can get by traversing out to Somerville, where the small team hand-makes classic and creative pastries, including its incredible malted milk chocolate, and a buttered popcorn version that will give you another kind of delicious middle school flashback, this time involving making out during The Pelican Brief. Or, um, you know, whatever happened to you.
Whoo’s makes the list thanks to a fall trip to Santa Fe with our features editor, which featured a hungover wish for donuts one morning. From the people behind The ChocolateSmith next door, the donuts are delicious, and sell out fast. I happened to roll up on a Monday when they went for a buck each, and snagged the last of both the maple bacon bar with dark chocolate glaze and chili brown sugar and the blueberry-glazed blue corn donut. They were so good, I considered eating them all in the car in one rather chubby act of selfishness, but didn’t, because I am infinitely generous (and already ate three on the ride back). So go there, and be more selfish than I was.
This article originally published April 17, 2015.