Ahhh, donuts. Before Wheaties and “doctors”, they truly were the breakfast of champions. And now, thanks to a resurgence of independent shops opening across the country, the fried yeasty sugar bomb is back en vogue. So, in order to celebrate the rise of said donut/your cholesterol, we scoured the country for the best shops, encompassing everything from old-school slingers in Hawaii that have been around since before your parents to artisanal culinary geniuses in South Carolina -- and everything in between. We also took incredible photos, so you will inevitably try and eat your computer. Enjoy, and -- as always -- let us know what we missed in the comments:
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Mother Clucker
Big fat donut purveyor Gourdough's started dishing out fried-to-order gluttony in an Airstream and quickly expanded their empire to a second trailer, plus a pub with a full bar and a sinful selection of donut-bunned burgers. The move is either the Mother Clucker, a plain donut piled with fried chicken strips and drizzled with honey butter, or the maple-iced, bacon-topped Flying Pig.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Blood Orange, if they have it
This rustic Bedford-Stuyvesant hole-in-the-wall may look like a small-batch joint, but since word of its incredible, innovative flavors started spreading all over New York, its footprint has grown a thousandfold, and its donuts can now be found in cafes and bodegas (... and markets and parties and stomachs) throughout the city. The shop's adept at distilling natural flavors (like passion fruit, hibiscus, blood orange, and cardamom) down to produce some of the best icing on the planet, and their dough is somewhere between airy and cake-y, meaning pretty much anything they offer is a good call. Plus, they've got a "Dough of the Day", which is usually something crazy -- also what you'd have to be to pass this place and not be lured inside.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Baked Banana
Started by a Culinary Institute of Charleston grad and her boyfriend, Glazed is a perfect example of the rise of the nouveau donut shop -- a place where a true culinary talent uses in-house ingredients made from scratch to elevate the former cop-joke-only foodstuff to quite a lofty place, thanks to moves like the Blue Cheese Cabernet (homemade pear jam, Cabernet glaze, blue cheese honey drizzle), Baked Banana (banana bread donut, walnuts, banana glaze), and the Purple Goat (berry goat cheese filling, lavender glaze). Just promise you won’t leave without trying the Chinese 5 Spice donut holes.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Old Fashioned and Chestnut Glazed
Chicagoans will reliably line up early in all manner of apocalyptic weather to get their calorie-loving hands on some Doughnut Vault, brought to you by the same folks responsible for one of the country's best burgers, Au Cheval. A bad call is damn near impossible (the rotating jelly donut is reliably spectacular), but this place built its following on the perfectly crusty, soft simplicity of their Old Fashioned and the sweet addictiveness of their Chestnut Glazed (both on the small, but mighty standard menu). Of course, if you want to grab a Salted Caramel Old Fashioned or Pistachio Glazed number, which you might be lucky enough to find on special, no one will judge you.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Salted Caramel or True Blueberry
Opened on National Donut Day in 2012 in Decatur, RD comes from Maria Moore Riggs, who is hoping to further foment a revolution that doesn’t involve shooting at British people from behind stone fences, but, rather, crafting foods by hand. The family-owned spot's adherence to this principle (they make all glazes, fillings, and doughs from scratch) has helped make Revolution a sensation in Georgia, where people from all around ATL flock to get a taste of classics, like their Vanilla Bean, as well as innovative moves, like their heavenly cake-style Salted Caramel.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Root Beer Float
For the past year and a half, the G&C guys have been selling their handmade donuts at local coffee shops and luring Denver's farmer's market shoppers away from the fresh veggies to their table full of sin. Now they're months away from opening their first shop in town, which should pack 'em in thanks to selections like the Root Beer Float (vanilla custard filling, root beer glaze), the Confuzed Car Bomb (Baileys custard filling, Guinness glaze, sprinkles), and the off-the-wall Peach Caramel Corn (peach caramel glaze, white cheddar popcorn topping).
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Dirty Chai Swirl
Durham’s beloved Monuts began as a farmer’s market stand, but, like all sexy Southern belles, it had city dreams, and now stands as the belle of the ball in the Durham bakery scene. The place’s yeast and cake donut offerings differ daily, with favorites like Salted Caramel, Earl Grey, Chocolate Chai, and Strawberry Buttermilk making the rounds on the chalkboard, which also advertises its incredible bagel selection. Like the farmer’s daughter, these suckers are irresistible.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: An original malasada, of course
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 their made-to-order, piping hot deliciousness (and not to mess with tradition, but the custard malasadas are pretty damn good too).
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Chocolate Iced (and maybe a kolache on the side)
A long-standing favorite in the Montrose-area of Houston, Christy’s serves up fresh yeasty treats in mostly traditional flavors and for ridiculously cheap prices. They also cook up “kolaches”, which are a tradition down in the “Czech Belt” of Southwest Texas, and are essentially yeasty pastries cut almost like biscuits and filled with savory moves, like sausage and cheese. So do yourself a favor: bring five bucks to Christy’s, get a few donuts and a kolache, make several hilarious “Czech Me Out” puns, and then plan to take the rest of the day off.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Fat Elvis
A former Krispy Kreme franchisee decided to build his own version of donut paradise in Las Vegas, with a shop that's open 24/7 like many of the nearby casinos. Frying up both old-school classics and new-school donuts like the Fat Elvis (peanut butter-banana filling, chocolate icing, caramelized banana) and the Date with a Nutty Pig (date-balsamic reduction filling with dates, almonds, blue cheese, bacon, and balsamic glaze on top), they're giving Sin City plenty more reasons to be gluttonous.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Fried Chicken Beignet
It took this West Hollywood spot all of five minutes earlier this year to become a staple of LA decadence, and the reasoning is simple: its mix of sweet and savory options is as eclectic as it is delicious. Yeah, you can stick with the namesake and get a glazed, but why would you do that when you can score a mojito-style, blackberry-glazed ring or a blood orange-topped Creamsicle donut, then chase that with a fried-chicken-stuffed beignet, a pulled pork-stuffed brioche beauty, or jumbo shrimp on top of a Long John?
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Chart Topper
Midwesterners take their donuts very, very seriously, but even the most skeptical purists have, in one short year, fallen in love with Glam Doll, and it's easy to see why: the place perfectly balances the classics with whimsical modernist desserts. Skeptics can find plenty to love in the fritters and Long Johns, while the more adventurous will fall in love with the Calendar Girl – topped with salted caramel and chocolate – and the peanut butter & Sriracha Chart Topper, which finally answers the question of what it would taste like to make out with Jimmy Carter after dinner at a Thai place.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Glazed or Blueberry Cake
They’ve been around for as long as anyone can remember (which is to say over 30 years). They have an iconic neon sign that the Green Hills community fought to keep up when a developer made the stupid move of trying to take it down. They have an adorable Internet 1.0 website. And, oh yeah, they make some of the most delicious, no-frills old fashioned cake donuts in Tennessee. And they also make custom giant donuts for special occasions, like a brunch, or maybe the BEST WEDDING EVER.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Milk Chocolate Sea Salt
What started as one of the nation's first new-school fried chicken and donut shops in 2011 has been slowly expanding their delicious, fried tentacles across the Philly area, with three shops currently open and a fourth in the works. Show up at 11 in the morning when they start serving fried chicken and get the best of both worlds: a four-piece with a honey-lemon donut. If you want to be guaranteed one of their uber-popular sticky buns, show up when the doors open at 7am -- they'll sell out first.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Maple Glazed or Old Fashioned Plain
Sure, most donuts have flour, buttermilk, eggs, and sugar. But thanks to Leigh Kellis, Mainers get to enjoy donuts made using Maine potatoes, which she claims are a “totally magical ingredient”. And once you taste the flavors like their Maple Glazed, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, or even the Ginger Glazed Sweet Potato, you’ll have no choice but to agree. And stuff them into your potato-crumb-covered mouth.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Crème Brûlée Cointreau
In Portland, outsiders will tell you to wait in line at the famous Voodoo Doughnut for your bacon-maple fix. Those donuts are fine, but they pale in comparison to Blue Star’s thick, brioche-style ‘nuts, which range from classics, like a twist on the Portland-famous bacon-maple bar, to fried chicken, cherry-maple fritters, and a crème brulee confection that comes with a shot of Cointreau poking out of its top, which you squeeze into the custard… and have to be 21 to order. That’s right. These are grown-up donuts, and there’s a damn good reason they sell out every single day.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Creme Brûlée
Open just over a year, Donut Bar’s mission is to make the beautiful, tanned, shirtless people of San Diego just a little bit fatter, thanks to their old-school approach to donut-making and their decidedly new-school flavors, like the aforementioned Creme Brûlée, which are finished with a hand torch every morning. And judging by the lines, celebrity endorsements (Brad Pitt loves the apple-bacon fritter!), and the fact that they’re looking to expand to Orange County very soon, that mission is well on its way to being accomplished.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Maple Glazed Bacon Apple or Original Vanilla Bean
Dynamo is what happened when a top SF chef went on maternity leave and started messing around in her kitchen with a cast iron pan and a taste for complex, doughy flavors. Open in the Mission since 2008, Dynamo makes an ever-rotating selection of 15 donuts per day in their 24th Avenue storefront, including crowd-pleasers like the Maple Glazed Bacon Apple with Fatted Calf heritage bacon, and more crazy concoctions like the seasonal Molasses Guinness (think Guinness-poached pears and candied ginger in a molasses base with a Guinness glaze).
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: A dozen "assorted"
All day long, inside a tiny stall in the heart of the always-teeming Pike Place Market, miniature rings of dough are plucked from a bath of hot oil by an aging Donut Robot (Mark II!), and served almost immediately, still hot and deliciously greasy. Sure, they only come in four flavors -- plain, tossed in sugar or cinnamon, and chocolate-sprinkled -- but they are so good you'll want at least... waitforit!... a dozen. Which is good 'cause that's the only way to get 'em.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Brown Butter Hazelnut Crunch or Boston Cream, obviously
Somerville, long a bastion of Tufts students and people priced out of Cambridge, has been the darling of the Boston food scene in the past couple of years, and Union Square Donuts has definitely done their part to help that along. Started as a collab between City Chicks (who teach “21st Century Home-Ec Classes”) and Culinary Cruisers, the small takeout-style spot has been a success since its ad-hoc beginnings over a year ago, thanks to delicious offerings like Brown Butter Hazelnut Crunch, Sea Salted Bourbon Caramel, and the savory Bacon Cheddar Sage.
WHAT YOU'RE GETTING: Crème Brûlée
Recently celebrating their one-year anniversary, Astro's been fattening up DC's fat cats with crowd-pleasing donuts like Birthday Cake (chocolate cake, vanilla icing, buttercream filling, sprinkles), Peanut Butter Cup (peanut butter custard, peanut butter icing), and one-offs like a sour cherry donut in honor of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Don't skip the chicken BLT, a fried chicken, bacon, and Sriracha mayo concoction served on a savory donut that has bacon rolled into the dough.
Kevin Alexander is Thrillist’s national food/drink executive editor, and he ate so many donuts for this piece, his clothes are starting to all look like Under Armour compression shirts. Follow his journey to the Big & Tall store at @KAlexander03.