The Hole-y Grail: America's Best Donut Shops
Today marks the 78th-annual National Donut Day. Since the first such holiday was established in 1938 (to recognize the Salvation Army Doughnut Girls who gave soldiers donuts during WWII to sweeten their spirits) proponents of the usually sugary, always delicious rings have been offering freebies, specialties, and other enticing offers.
But while there’s nothing wrong with a classic glazed confection from Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts (two of the country’s first, and most prominent donut chains), why settle?
No matter where you are in the country, you’re sure to find a top-notch bakery making plain donuts look like sad, tan inner tubes. So make your sugar rush worth the calories and start your morning off at one of America’s best donut shops.
District in New Orleans, Louisiana
Few donut shops take equal pride in their breakfast pastries as they do their sliders. In addition to their selection of mini burgers, District rotates through 200 varieties of donuts for their daily specials, in addition to the stalwart glazed, chocolate glazed, and cinnamon sugar donuts.
Order: The most buzz is for the Vietnamese Iced Coffee Donut, stuffed with tapioca pearls and condensed milk pastry cream, topped with a coffee glaze and candied chicory. Like most of DISTRICT's donuts, you'll see global inspiration, and the owner's interest in "repurposing" familiar foods and drinks into donut form.
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop in Brooklyn, New York
Peter Pan has been turning out some of Brooklyn's best donuts for more than 70 years, its “new” owners, a husband-and-wife team from the neighborhood, having been at it for more than two decades. Thanks to social media, the hipster revival of the donut, and the area's youthful population, Peter Pan Donuts is busier than ever.
Order: Any of the shops three iterations of Red Velvet: a white cream donut with red velvet crumbs, a red velvet vanilla cruller twist, and a traditional red velvet cake donut.
The Donut Den in Nashville, Tennessee
This classic donut shop does traditional morning fare: cake donuts, donut holes, and even breakfast sandwiches. But owner Norman Fox knows how to keep up with the times. "We have maple bacon donuts, and the latest thing—croissant donuts—but we’re a donut shop," Fox says. "We have old-fashioned things you would have found 30 years ago."
Order: The apple fritters. Donuts stuffed with cinnamon and apple turnover filling have become one of the shop's biggest sellers. "People come in just to get our fritters," Fox says of the timeless treat.
Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon
Foursquare’s top city for donuts (based on the highest concentration of donut options and donut fans) is home to Voodoo Doughnuts. The cheeky shop is a cult favorite, and has now expanded to four storefronts, a food cart, and a mobile donut truck. What's next for this powerful purveyor of all things fried things? Locations in Taipei and Japan, of course.
Order: The iconic, if somewhat creepy, Voodoo Doughnut (or Voodoo doll). The donut bleeds raspberry jelly, and is uniquely crafted with chocolate frosting to resemble the juju talisman by each individual decorator. The finishing touch is a pretzel stick piercing the donut's doughy heart. Save room for Dirty Snowballs: chocolate cake donuts dipped in pink marshmallow fluff and coconut with a creamy peanut butter center. Get two.
Federal Donuts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The culinary team reviving foods of the Jewish diaspora (including the hummusiya, Dizengoff, and Zahav) in Philly also makes some of the country's best fried chicken and donuts. Go figure. Choose from the Hot Fresh, fried-to-order donuts rolled in seasoned sugars (brown sugar cinnamon, vanilla spice, and the decidedly-different strawberry lavender), or the ever-changing section of Fancy glazed donuts.
Order: One of the seasonal specialties, such as the all-cake donut lineup of Strawberry Shortcake, Lemon Ricotta, or Grapefruit Brûlée. Of course, the restaurant group's Israeli roots are never too far behind. Flavors like Pomegranate Nutella and Salted Tehina have been known to make an appearance.
Sublime Doughnuts in Atlanta, Georgia
Standard dough balls just don't cut it at Kamal Grant’s shop. For more than seven years, Grant has been tricking-out his baked goods by making made-to-order donut "burgers" stuffed with ice cream and other toppings.
Order: The Strawberry Ice Cream Burger, which turns a classic yeast-raised donut into what Grant deems the "eighth wonder of the world." Between two donut halves is a patty of strawberry cream sorbet, fresh strawberries, and a white chocolate drizzle. A dusting of powdered sugar on top completes the treat.
Top Pots Doughnuts in Seattle, Washington
"We consider our stores to be the antithesis of your typical doughnut shop," say co-founders—and brothers—Mark and Michael Klebeck. "When you walk into our cafes, you will find floor-to-ceiling bookcases and custom-made doughnut display cases. It almost takes on a library aesthetic." The relaxed atmosphere is perfect for passing a morning with a cup of hand-roasted Joe and a “hand-forged” donut.
Order: The award winning Pink Feather Boa: a stalwart cake donut topped with pink icing and coconut shavings. Cha cha cha, donut-fans.
Union Square Donuts in Somerville, Massachusetts
In addition to having cold brew coffee on tap, Union Square Donuts woos its fans with unique, flaky dough and ever-changing, adventurous flavors. Since opening their doors in 2013, the shop has become a neighborhood staple.
Order: The Maple Bacon Donut, one of the shop’s four original flavors. The donut uses thick-cut bacon and maple syrup from Bobo's Mountain Sugar, a small husband and wife-run sugar shack in Vermont.
The Holy Donut in Portland, Maine
Inside every one of owner Leigh Kellis’s donuts is a secret: Maine mashed potatoes, of course! “All of our donuts are from scratch and hand-cut (grandma style)” Kellis says. The Holy Donut turns out more than 1,000,000 saintly rings a year with this distinct dough and DIY-style.
Order: The double-spud masterpiece, Sweet Potato Ginger Donut: extra-yammy, and coated in a powerful ginger glaze.
Monuts in Durham, North Carolina
When Monuts began in 2012, it was a modest mobile-donut service delivered via tricycle through Downtown Durham. “Although we’ve honed our skills and expanded our equipment [since the tricycle days],” says owner Lindsay Moriarty, we still do everything the same way we always have.” Now, Moriarty owns two wheel-less locations. The menu changes weekly, and showcases both classic (chocolate buttercream) and creative (mango curry) concoctions, as well as the shop’s partnerships with local farms.
Order: Any one of Moriarty’s seasonal, fruity creations. Look out for Blackberry Gingersnap, Blueberry Basil Buttermilk, and Spicy Peach Jammie.
Glazed & Confuzed in Denver, Colorado
Josh Schwab’s brainchild was an instant success, from his first afternoon at a local farmer’s market (when his supply sold out) to pop-ups in coffee shops and finally, his brick-and-mortar in Denver. From gluten-free to vegan varietals and a creation known simply as Puffynutz, Schwab and his team never stop creating. “We utilize all of our dough,” Schwab noted—and it’s not just in the donuts. Savory items, such as the kolache (a “glorified pig in a blanket”) and an entire forthcoming lunch menu, will make use of leftover donut dough. The Glazed & Confuzed team will also make an appearance at this year’s Aspen Food & Wine Festival.
Order: The shop’s most popular donut, the Confuzed Samoa. It’s a Girl Scout cookie-inspired, caramel-glazed donut, with fresh toasted coconut and a chocolate ganache drizzle on top.
Sugar Shack Donuts in Richmond, Virginia
Hand-rolled, hand-cut donuts are made in small batches each day in every Sugar Shack in Virginia. And locally sourced ingredients are used whenever possible; fresh pureed berries star in the fruit glazes while hand-peeled apples shine in the fritter. At the Alexandria location, Sugar Shack is honoring National Donut Day with a Donuts for Doing Good campaign. The city’s police and fire departments will hand out coupons for a free house donut every time they see someone do a good deed.
Order: After you get your free philanthropic donut, try the Port City Porter donut, featuring a glaze made with the local brew from Port City Brewing.
Blue Star Donuts in Los Angeles, California
Fans of the Portland-based Blue Star Donuts, rejoice! As early as next month, the brioche-style artisanal donuts will appear on Abbott Kinney in Venice, Los Angeles. In addition to the shop’s classic flavors (like the cocktailesque Blueberry Bourbon Basil and Cointreau Crème Brûlée) new, SoCal signatures are also underway.
Order: Co-founder Micah Camden hints at boozy Pineapple Piña Coladas and Bollywood-style Mango Masala Donuts for their debut California menu. Fingers crossed!