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Wylie Dufresne (formerly of wd~50 and Alder) went back to his sweet-toothed roots with Du’s Donuts. Cake donuts reign here -- squat, colorfully decorated pucks of dough -- led by Dufresne’s passion for improbable combinations (brown butter key lime; oatmeal chai). The wild flavors run rampant, but try his upgraded classics too: cinnamon apple, chocolate caramel brownie, and cherry pie.
Danny Meyer’s growing empire launched a small, daytime cafe that happens to serve one of the best old-fashioned crullers in the city. The rings of twisted dough are made from French pâte à choux (a much lighter and eggier dough than the yeasty American version), and come in flavors like maple, cinnamon, and straight-up glaze. Get there by 10am or steel yourself for disappointment.
Umber Ahmad and Shelly Barbera’s West Village bakery can’t be categorized as a bona fide donut shop, because it’s just as much about the dainty butter shortbreads and cream-filled choux. The one donut they do offer merits attention: a soft-fried brioche dipped in crystallized sugar, oozing vanilla pastry cream. Each ring is topped with a ball of dough, resting snugly in the hole from which it was plucked. It’s certainly not your average coffee cart donut, but it goes just as well with a mug of hot coffee.
The vegan Cinnamon Snail -- a food truck turned brick-and-mortar -- is hailed for making donuts good enough to get New York’s non-vegan donuts worried. Find the spread of imaginative, colorful donuts at The Pennsy, including an oval peanut butter donut exploding with gooey chocolate, and a gluten-free, Girl Scout-inspired Samoa dazzler.
The always full Lilia restaurant has a little takeaway cafe next door, and among the array of pastries are a couple of Italian-style donuts. One is a round tiramisu bombolini dusted with cocoa powder and piped with thick coffee cream. The other is an Italian version of a cruller, called fritelle di San Giuseppe: swirls of choux pastry and powdered sugar.
Brunch hotspot Queens Comfort hosts the not-so-secret donut maker Donut Diva, a husband-wife team that fries up an ever-rotating selection of wacky cake donuts. In this Astoria kitchen, anything is possible. There’s the popular Lucky Charms-topped donut splattered with cereal milk glaze, and a chocolate chip banana bread donut sinking under a thick layer of peanut butter icing. The best part? A donut hole is nestled in each donut (their signature move) with a surprise filling inside. Get up early and hop on the N train: Donuts are only sold on Fridays and Sundays, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Bed-Stuy (& other locations)
Hype is often misleading, but the fluffy and moist yeast behemoths at Fany Gerson’s cult-favorite shop continue to be more than worthy of all the attention they receive. Flavors are unique, but not over-the-top (think hibiscus, lemon poppyseed, and toasted coconut, plus a number of rotating options) and the sizes are enormous. While it's hard to go wrong here, the cheesecake -- coated in a tart frosting and dusted with graham cracker crumbs -- is the one to beat.
Lower East Side (& other locations)
Originally operating out of the basement of owner Mark Israel's Lower East Side tenement building in the '90s, the leader of New York City’s new-wave donut shops now has outposts in three boroughs (and Tokyo), and continues to spread its donut gospel with inventive seasonal specials (coconut-lime, rose petal, etc.) and beloved inventions like the jelly-filled square doughnut. But it's the game-changing creme brulee doughseed -- with its crisp shell and creamy vanilla innards -- that stands out every time, proving that good things absolutely do come in small packages.
There aren’t many reasons for New Yorkers to hike it out to 12th Ave, and there are even fewer reasons for us to visit a car wash -- that was until Scott Levine armed the Westside Highway Car Wash with a donut robot and began frying up old-school cake donuts dressed in flavored sugars and creative icings (get the brown butter or the vanilla-lavender Carwash).
Step into this Brooklyn bakery and get instantly transported to another time. Hardly anything here has changed since Peter Pan started slinging donuts in the 1950s -- neither the staff’s pink and teal uniforms, nor the no-frills decor, nor the throwback prices (just $1.10 each!). There are plenty of donut shops in NYC offering high-concept flavors, but here, you're looking at simply fresh, always-reliable numbers like the beloved red velvet crumb.
Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen
Everyone knows that Jim Lahey is a master with bread, but he also knows how to make one amazing Italian donut. The lemon-scented bomboloni orbs at Sullivan Street Bakery are impossibly light and pillowy, brimming with just the right amount of vanilla custard, chocolate cream, or fruit jam and rivaling the bakery's much-lauded loaves.
For over 50 years, this Bay Ridge neighborhood donut shop has served the community with Nordic specialties, as well as tried-and-true New York classics like cheesecake, black & white cookies, and giant, airy donuts that bridge old-school and new school -- think jellies covered in peanut butter icing or glazed ones studded with bacon.
Sure, a donut the size of your head is an incredible thing, but this is another case where less is more -- what the minis at Doughnuttery lack in heft, they more than make up for in flavor. Cranked out fresh in a small corner of Chelsea Market, these piping hot fritters come dressed in combos of specialty sugars with fun names like the Purple Pig (maple, purple potatoes, bacon) and Urban Monkey (coffee, banana, coconut).
Classics are usually the toughest things to master, but this 50+ year-old 14th street mom-and-pop joint has got them down. Donut Pub's version of the traditional glazed donut (known as the honey dip) is light and fluffy, with a crackly sugar shell that truly melts in your mouth. Best of all, its open 24 hours, so you can get your fix at any time of the day (see: 4am).
Upper East Side
This beloved Uptown bakery -- founded in 1916 and known for its loyal set of regulars -- knows its way around jelly donuts, which call for jams made from locally sourced fruit and not the sickly-sweet processed stuff. The staff fills them to order and because they’re such pros, you'll always get the perfect ratio of jam to donut. The tart black raspberry and sour cherry options never disappoint.
We may think of donuts as an American invention, but Korea has a version that’ll put the greasy, leaden ones we find at most chains (looking at you, Dunkin’) to shame. Called ho-dduks, these chewy pockets of fried dough ooze with a brown sugar and cinnamon concoction that is downright delicious.
This relative newcomer carries on the trend of massive yeast donuts in unique flavors with small batch, hand-crafted numbers like the decadent Black Gold, Texas Tea (extra dark chocolate with cookie crumble and sea salt), savory Bronx (olive oil and black pepper), and fiery Tullamore Dewnut (Irish whiskey and espresso, dusted with cocoa).
Can a vegan donut be a superior donut? If it’s anything like Dun-Well Doughnuts, that’s a resounding YES. This all-vegan shop (beloved by animal product haters and lovers alike) offers deliciously sweet and fluffy donuts in a wide variety of flavors like Boston creme, chocolate raspberry, French toast cherry pie, chunky peanut butter, and maple chocolate pecan.
Another classic Bay Ridge neighborhood joint, this no-frills mom-and-pop shop has been around for more than 30 years (still very much maintaining its old-school decor), preparing batches twice-daily on the premises for a devoted clientele. Mike's offers 35 super-fresh flavors to choose from (marble twist and glazed jelly are two of the best) and a bakers dozen is just $8!
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Patty Lee is a reporter and editor who has written for Zagat, Time Out New York, New York Daily News, and Cooking Channel. She thinks that donuts are a perfectly acceptable form of dinner. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Christine Fischer is a freelance writer for Thrillist who likes donuts more than people. Follow her on her website, Facebook, or Twitter.