You Probably Haven't Heard of America's Best Fried Chicken Chain
More Like This
Various locations (It's a truck)
If lobster rolls and Burmese cuisine get a truck, yeah, donuts had to get one too. Johnny makes the donuts at its shop in San Rafael, not on the truck (or van sometimes). They’re tremendous, and are actually sour cream and potato-based, which gives a little more of a fluffy texture to the regular yeast and old-fashioned varieties. The blueberry glaze is everything you look for in a blueberry pie, but in donut form. Don’t forget the cro-dough glazed with chocolate if you spot it. For San Francisco, hunt the truck down at Off the Grid and other constantly changing locations around the city.
Do we even need to tell you why this is included? Talk about magical words: “pork belly” and “donuts.” The pork belly gets oven braised overnight, cut into cubes, then deep-fried in beer batter. Then, a Maker’s Mark bourbon-maple syrup glaze (this is a bar first and foremost, remember) and a sprinkling of sea salt are the final flourish for this sweet-salty-meaty-fatty treat.
Take Nutella, the greatest Italian invention ever, pipe it into the freshest of donuts, and you get this bombolone. And although Heartbaker is no Italian bakery, it is (possibly) the greatest bakery in San Francisco you don’t know much about.
Hot, pillowy beignets. Brown sugar hot chocolate. The magnificent setting of the Presidio. Nothing hits the comfort spot better. Also available for dessert at dinner, it’s worth noting how a weekend hike followed by these beignets at brunch are one of the city’s great treats.
Bob’s is like your favorite well-loved “blankie” as a kid -- you love it dearly and it will always return that love no matter what. Bob’s apple fritter is a cinnamon-heavy city stalwart full of apples and a just sweet enough glaze. And don’t forget the Bob’s Challenge... nah forget it, you have no chance with the Giant Doughnut in just 2 minutes. No Hall of Fame for you but the quintessential basic old-fashioned or those magnificent apple fritters cannot be considered merely second place concession prizes.
The name hearkens back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when maritime workers in San Francisco spent more time in saloons on land than laboring at sea. And Barbary Coast’s idyllic, simple, homemade old-fashioned’s, twists, and crullers are anything by antiquated. The shop is right between a luxury hotel of Union Square and the um, not luxury, of the Tenderloin.
The Ferry Building kind of looks like Italy. The Bay and ferries are sort of like canals and gondolas, right? Ah who cares, have a zeppole. Or a full cone of them Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Market, and enjoy these Italian-style lemon ricotta doughnuts (inspired from a pancake recipe) somewhere in that middle ground between a fluffy beignet and a sturdy, compact doughnut hole with powdered sugar instead of a glaze.
What doesn’t Nopa thrive at except basically unbeatable burgers, cocktails, wine, roast chicken, brunch, salads... you get the point. But nobody talks about Hannah Ziskin’s desserts and that’s a shame. She’s basically turning donuts into an art form using a sour cream base for old-fashioned doughnut holes and teaming them with pear butter and a crème anglaise, kicked up with cardamaro liqueur, and garnished with Asian pears since it’s winter. This is what happens when a jelly filled doughnut and a cream filled doughnut graduate is handed to an imaginative pastry chef.
Think back to third grade. You still weren’t past the cooties stage. You still hid a stuffed animal in your backpack. And of course, your two favorite things in life were peanut butter & jelly and donuts. But they were never together, until now. Stones Throw’s PB and J donut lets you dunk the sugared puff in PB, J, or C(hocolate!). Also cool: for future desserts, diners will get to write requests with stories about childhood sweets favorites.
Since Wayfare Tavern already rocks the two most important food groups for a satisfied diet (burgers and fried chicken), it’s only fitting that the third most important food group is also a key focus there: donuts. These are homey doughnuts with a refined chef’s edge, which should be expected with this being Tyler Florence’s joint. The dipping condiments change but the doughnuts themselves remain regal, puffy glazed yeast donuts -- usually scattered with some form of cinnamon and sugar and always with a sidecar donut hole or two.
Just look at that dessert. Donuts with flowers, not just flour. My god, we’ve reached that stage. Reverb has its stride as it reaches its first birthday. One staple all along has been dominating the cinnamon and sugar dusted, flaky and warm donuts genre, which is a bold move being just down the same street from Bob’s. If you aspire to serve donuts in this neighborhood, you better bring it. Reverb does with a brioche base, and each donut gets filled with ricotta mousse, then partnered alongside changing fruit sauces like passion fruit-nectarine or rhubarb, or the current one, a caramel apple compote. Wipe those cinnamon-sugar crystals off your lips, please.
All anyone talks about when it comes to this East Bay bakery with a daily kiosk in the Ferry Building is that the donuts are vegan. Vegan, vegan, vegan. Guess what? These are vegan donuts. We get it already, there won’t be a bacon version. Vegan or not, Pepples’ donuts are sensational and certainly one of the Ferry Building’s vital bites. The salted caramel donut is a worthy companion to Bi-Rite in our Salted Caramel Hall of Fame.
Dynamo changed everything for donuts. Everything. Its opening in 2008 was the biggest thing to happen to donuts since some really smart guy decided to have a pastry and punched a hole out of the center of it one morning. Dynamo is our donut purveyor of the food-centric, seasonal, organic generation, complete with delightful constantly changing flavors like apricot cardamom and lemon thyme, and even the annoying “+” sign in the name.
Cruffin, sch’muffin. Go ahead and wait in line at 7am. We’ll be taking our sweet time and grabbing one of the ever-changing donut flavors. These guys are the size of burgers -- filled, no, bursting -- with the likes of blood orange curd, apple cranberry, or lavender caramel inside. When you can get this morning version of Bananas Foster, don’t hesitate. Cruffins can wait.
After a few rounds of pisco sours and ceviche, it’s dessert time. Peru’s version of doughnuts is quite intriguing -- and absolutely as enjoyable as any beignet-churro-cronut-regular doughnut to be found. Picarones are warm, sweet potato and pumpkin fritters that will fool you into thinking their onion rings from their shape. And they're served with a spiced chancaca syrup for dipping (basically a maple syrup made from raw, unrefined sugar cane juice instead of maple).
Bacon. Jalapeño. Maple glaze. Classic raised yeast donut. Twisted goes all Guy Fieri on weekends with off-the-wall creations like Oreos and Nutella fruirritos (like Nutella donut burritos!). It always has the Baconpeño on weekends. On weekdays, you have to settle for a mere maple-bacon donut and BYO peppers.
The Ne Timeas Restaurant Group are the folks behind Flour + Water, also known as the city’s preeminent source of homemade and mind-blowing creative pastas. With dough on the mind, you’d think doughnuts are a skill of theirs. You’re right. Just walk across the street to their bucolic boutique/sandwich shop/all-around day-time nirvana, Salumeria -- only on weekends at brunch, however. While apple fritters reflect the persona of an apple pie with an obvious glazed doughnut sweetness, these are truly regular doughnuts given the apple and cinnamon sugar persona.
Admit it, you weren’t expecting any savory donuts on this list, were you? We’re full of surprises. And so are Sarah and Evan Rich, the fantastic husband-and-wife duo behind brilliant creations like Douglas fir levain bread and tajarin pasta with burrata and crispy chicken skin. At their constantly packed hot-spot, doughnuts are a “snack,” puffy and beignet-like, rubbed with dried porcini mushroom powder. Then diners dip the doughnuts into melted raclette cheese. Yes, doughnut-cheese fondue.
Beignets in San Francisco means Brenda’s. And at Brenda’s, you can cover your face in powdered sugar EVERY morning. Struggling between opting for plain, chocolate, apple, or the (supremely underrated) cheddar-crawfish? Get a flight, which is a thing you can get at Brenda’s. Bonus points for the crawfish being our only savory donut on the list.
So, cronuts proved that the whole 15 minutes of fame thing isn’t always true. Cronuts in New York (and their stepbrother cruffins here at home) are... still... bringing in the crowds. Fillmore Bakeshop’s croissant-donut hybrid was initially called a cronut, forced to change to kronut, and voila, back to cronut again we just discovered. Spell it how you want, but the flaky exterior and soft doughy interior is a dead-on perfect croissant in a donut shape, dusted with cinnamon and sugar. It tastes like the best of both the croissant and donut worlds, somehow managing to be better than either on their own. Pro tip: arrive before noon Wednesday to Saturdays.
Yes, I am telling you, the savvy San Francisco local, to go to Pier 39 to eat. Usually Pier 39 is a quick stop to show out-of-town guests the sea lions and then run away like a rhino (or angry sea lion?) is sprinting behind you. But slow down. There are literally bags (or buckets) of hot, perfectly fried-to-order miniature donuts dusted lightly with sugar to be had as you mosey along the Embarcadero post-sea lions. They aren’t greasy and they definitely aren’t a tourist trap.
Is it cheating that you can dunk Coqueta’s churros in liquid chocolate? Do churros even count as donuts? Yes. Why are we even debating this when you can get to the Embarcadero and start chocolate dunking?? The churros are great on their own, but let’s be real, you can drink a pint of this chocolate even without a churro.
Recently perusing the unbeatable array of mochi (get the azuki bean filled one!) at this over a century old sweets shop and old school “Leave It To Beaver”- esque lunch counter in the heart of Japantown, I came across “age.” Its label said “fried donut with red bean” and could have fooled me for a beignet with sugar crystals. How was I unaware of age?! These are Japan’s version of donuts -- savory with a hint of sweet filling-driven with just a thin outside layer of dough. It’s earthy with a little sugar in the background, a whole different dimension to the usually sugar focused donut species.
Love free donuts? Find out where to stock up for this year's National Donut Day on Friday, June 2, 2017.
Sign up here for our daily San Francisco email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun SF has to offer.
Trevor Felch is the San Francisco Editor for Zagat. He is such a fan of doughnuts and baseball that he almost tasted the donuts in the on-deck circle for this article’s research until learning it wasn’t dusted with bacon or cinnamon. Follow him @TrevorFelch.
1. Johnny Doughnuts1617 4th St, San Rafael
2. The Sycamore2140 Mission St, San Francisco
3. Heartbaker1408 Clement Street, San Francisco
4. Presidio Social ClubBldg 563 Ruger St, San Francisco
5. Bob's Donut & Pastry Shop1621 Polk St, San Francisco
6. Barbary Coast55 Cyril Magnin St, San Francisco
7. Girl Friday ZeppoleFerry Building Farmers Market 1 Ferry Bldg, San Francisco
8. Nopa560 Divisadero St, San Francisco
9. Stones Throw1896 Hyde St, San Francisco
10. Wayfare Tavern558 Sacramento St, San Francisco
11. Reverb Kitchen & Bar2323 Polk St, San Francisco
12. Pepples Donuts1 Ferry Building 38c, San Francisco
13. Dynamo Donut & Coffee2760 24th Street (between York and Hampshire), San Francisco
14. Mr. Holmes Bakehouse1042 Larkin St, San Francisco
15. La Mar Cebicheria PeruanaPier 1.5 (at Washington St), San Francisco
16. Twisted Donuts and Coffee1241 Noriega St, San Francisco
17. Salumeria3000 20th St, San Francisco
18. Rich Table199 Gough St, San Francisco
19. Brenda's French Soul Food652 Polk St, San Francisco
20. Fillmore BakeShop1890 Fillmore St, San Francisco
21. Trish's Mini DonutsPier 39, San Francisco
22. CoquetaPier 5 - The Embarcadero, San Francisco
23. Benkyodo1747 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
This little donut shop makes fresh pastries in small batches. They have tons of flavors but when you go make sure to try their crodough—pastry creme filled doughnuts and be prepared for them to melt in your mouth.
The Sycamore is a Mission dive bar and day drinking destination. The bottomless mimosa brunch is $8 with an order of food, all of which is a) cheap, b) really good. There are four kinds of sliders and eggs Benedict, and the Maker's Mark bourbon-glazed pork belly donuts define sweet and salty goodness. An outdoor patio, board games, and free Wi-Fi make the Sycamore the kind of chill place you want to hang out at all weekend long.
From bombolonis to creme puffs to eclairs and pots de creme, Heartbaker has got the best of us, and we just keep on going back incessantly.
PSC's brunch slings specialty cocktails like the absinth/Champagne "Death in the Afternoon", before fortifying your stomach with action like "GI Jose's Special" (chilequiles w/eggs any style), or the poached-egg-abetted.
This 24hr Polk Gulch donut mecca and San Francisco standby has been a staple of early mornings (and late nights) since 1960, firing up amazing apple fritters and old fashioneds before they suddenly became objects of hipster fascination. The also make quite possibly the biggest donut you've ever seen. Try the Bob's Challenge, which requires consuming it in three minutes. Or, you know, just enjoy a bunch of really tasty donuts at your own pace.
Nestled underneath the Parc 55, this Tenderloin bakery is named after the infamous pleasure district of the Gold Rush-era, and lives up to the moniker, offering donuts that'll make you want a cigarette after finishing. Bonus: definitely try their chocolate croissants.
This pop-up based mobile pastry shop has found a temporary home in the Embarcadero District's Ferry Building. Serving up fried doughnut balls, or zeppole for those in the know, a deliciously crispy yet melt-in-your-mouthable dessert typically found in New York and New Jersey, Girl Friday brings these treats to the West Coast. They also hand make tasty sauces for these delectable treats: sample vanilla bean creme fraiche, earl grey chocolate ganache, or house-cultured butter caramel.
Nopa is a San Francisco institution that does everything really, really well. It's the best brunch in Western Addition and one of the best in the whole city. Its burger is perfect with pickled onions and French fries, especially when eaten at the bar. It's a one-stop-shop for a date, a birthday dinner, or dinner with your parents. Plus, the kitchen is open until 1 AM for a full dinner. Yeah, this place wins at everything.
This restaurant serves new American cuisine in a contemporary restaurant/bar. The squid ink pasta and grilled octopus are popular appetizer choices here. For dessert check out their peanut butter and jelly donuts that are raved about.
Wayfare Tavern, owned by Tyler Florence and helmed by Executive Chef/Michelin Star-earner Joey Elenterio, feels like a private club/gastropub with its extensive dark wood and leather finishes. It's known for its “ridiculously good fried chicken,” but be sure to taste other seasonal menu must-haves, such as the baked macaroni and cheese, the burger, and the deviled eggs. Pro tip: make a reservation to sit upstairs, where it's a bit quieter.
This sleek, modern restaurant in Russian Hill supplies elegant, American-style comfort food, such as mushroom risotto, poutine gnocchi, and duck à l’orange, in a sexy, dark wood and exposed brick interior. Reverb is also known for its popular brunch hour, season cocktails, and donuts, which are expertly crafted with ricotta mousse, alternating fruit sauces, and cinnamon and sugar dust.
These delicious donuts are vegan and organic. They come in some really delicious and slightly unconventional flavors like orange creamsicle, green tea, and most popular of them all, chocolate cookie.
Bacon. Donut. Day. Dynamo Donut & Coffee has made it real, and available every day. Handmade daily by owner Sara and her staff and using organic, locally sourced ingredients, their creative take on donuts make the word "glazed" suddenly sound mundane and unworthy.
They open at 7am (8am on the weekends) and they close when they're sold out -- and you better believe they're not open all night. This hipster bakery specializes in hybrid pastries. That's right, like a Crufin (a croissant-muffin). Or, a croissant stuffed with a wasabi and ginger spiked salmon sushi roll called the California Croissant. Or just get a donut with caramelized banana filling. You get the idea.
La Mar is an elegant seafood shrine in Embarcadero helmed by Le Cordon Bleu-trained Gastón Acurio, whose authentic Peruvian cuisine rivals what you'd find in Lima itself -- he would know, as Acurio's run one of Lima's premier fine dining establishments, Astrid y Gastón, for years. La Mar offers vibrant waterfront views to enjoy alongside equally vibrant ceviche, which features a rotating selection of fresh seafood bathed in leche de tigre, a citrus-based marinade that cures the fish. Acurio's other speciality, warm and savory empanadas, are a welcome contrast to the cool and tangy ceviche.
This place nails all the little details -- from the real blueberries they use to fill their must-have blueberry donuts to the coffee ice cubs they use to make sure your iced coffee retains maximum flavor as the ice melts. If you're feeling savory you can nab a ham and cheese croissant with jalapenos, or just split the sweet-savory difference and nab a maple bacon donut.
From the team behind Flour + Water, this Mission deli combines Italian cured meats and San Francisco bread to serve an all-star lunch combination. Aside from salumi and prosciutto sandwiches, there are daily specials, like meatball Monday and wild card Wednesday. Salumeria also has a standout weekend brunch with fancy egg sandwiches and sourdough avocado toast. Whatever you do, don't walk out without getting the apple cinnamon donuts.
Rich Table's reclaimed-wood decor belies its menu of eclectic American dishes, which range from rainbow trout and rabbit leg to hangar steak and cured hamachi. There's also an impressive wine list, a range of beers on tap and in bottles, and handcrafted cocktails.
Two words: crawfish beignets. We could stop there convinced you’d still check out the brunch at this Tenderloin soul food eatery, but we’ll go on. Get the beignet flight, so you can also sample the classic, chocolate, and Granny Smith apple varieties. The massive menu has more than just fried treats, though. You can chow down on Creole-style favorites like gumbo, shrimp and grits, and andouille omelettes. The brunch wait can be long, but we promise it's worth it -- especially after you try a Creole Bloody.
This family-owned bakery specializes in European-style pastries and cakes. They're famous for their Princess Cake, a chiffon cake with raspberry jam, custard and whipped cream covered in homemade marzipan. It's a go-to for anything from an artfully decorated birthday or wedding cake to a quick savory croissant for a midday snack.
Sidle up to the counter of this bite sized pastry shop and get ready for the dessert experience you've been waiting for. Trish's sells mini-doughnuts by the bucket. Yes, you heard me--hot, gooey balls of sweetness by the bucket. Add this to your bucket list.
Born from a Top Chef Masters vet, Coqueta (which means “flirt”) is an idyllic spot for creative and refreshing cocktails, festive tapas, and a gorgeous view of the Bay. Sit outside in the semi-enclosed patio or snag a seat at the glassed-in bar -- either way, you’ll be enjoying Spanish and Basque small plates that are vibrant and flavorful alongside sumptuous sangria in an unbeatable setting.
One of Japantown’s first businesses, Benkyoto first opened in 1906 and has been passed down through three generations of the Okamura family since. Handmade mochi and manju reign supreme at Benkyodo, with delicate and tasty red bean paste like you’ve never had before. At a buck a pop, it’s easy to course through multiple flavors of mochi, and even save a little room for a Japanese donut.