America's Best Donuts
We’ve all been there. That alarm clock goes off, the questionable outfit’s been picked, the dreary commute commences, and we’re craving a small treat—something familiar and delicious—before the workday begins. Enter: donuts.
It’s hard (but not impossible) to go wrong with sweet, deep-fried dough. But there are some places that just, well, do it better than others. They use unique ingredients. They pile on never-before-seen toppings. Or they just serve up a hot, fresh donut that melts in your mouth.
Let’s take a moment to give some serious praise to the Dutch, who are largely credited with inventing donuts in the 19th century. They started frying up balls of dough, but there was a problem: cooking the treats all the way through, without burning the outside. One solution? Fill the center with fruit or nuts. The other? Punch a hole in the middle.
Of course, donuts really began to take off in the mid 1900s, after Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts were founded (1933 and 1950, respectively). Today, you can pretty much get a donut no matter where you are. But if you have a choice, why settle for cold, flavorless calories?
Instead, head to a place like Bouchon Bakery, in Yountville, CA. Here, chef Thomas Keller, the mastermind behind nearby French Laundry and New York’s Per Se, creates decadent donut delights, using brioche as his bread base, which he then stuffs with such ingredients as rich chocolate ganache or a lighter, in-season fruit filling.
If you’re more of a traditionalist, try Round Rock Donuts, in Round Rock, TX, where you can sample honey-glazed donuts, fresh from the fryer (if you’re lucky). The bakery prepares its donuts with the same tried-and-true recipe it’s used for more than 80 years.
Some donuts have even received kudos from celebrities, like Brooklyn’s Peter Pan Bakery, which was recently given the approval of 30 Rock’s Tina Fey in Esquire magazine. We can’t, ahem, repeat her direct quote here (Google it if you’re really that curious), but trust us when we say: she’s a fan. A big fan.
So whether you side with the tried-and-true original donut type, or opt for the more adventurous pastry concoctions, there’s a spot out there for you to get your fix. Check out our list of America’s Best Donuts, but please, try not to drool on the screen.
Peter Pan Bakery, Brooklyn
Looking for the ultimate ice cream sandwich? Look no further. This modest-size Polish bakery, in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, will slice a donut of your choice in half and stuff it with a generous scoop of ice cream. (They recommend the red velvet donut with strawberry ice cream.) The freshly made donuts are so good (perfectly chewy and just the right amount of glaze), 30 Rock’s Tina Fey gave Peter Pan her thumbs up in an Esquire interview. If you want your pick, get there early. (727 Manhattan Ave.; 718/389-3676)
Voodoo Doughnut, Portland, OR
There’s a good reason Voodoo is such a huge hit with all donut fans: the Bacon Maple Bar. It’s a yeast donut topped with maple glaze and not one, but two strips of crisp bacon. Beyond that, much of Voodoo’s eclectic donut varieties can’t be found anywhere else. Not only are the toppings unique—bubblegum, cereal, or M&Ms, anyone?—but since the shop is in eco-friendly Portland, there’s even a series of vegan donut options.
Randy’s Donuts, Los Angeles
Most patrons swear by the face-size apple fritter served here, with its melt-in-your-mouth glaze and soft chunks of apple-cinnamon inside. The 32-foot donut adorning the roof of Randy’s—conveniently located minutes from Los Angeles International Airport—is like a beacon calling out to hungry commuters and weary travelers needing a sugary pick-me-up.
Spudnut Shop, Richland, WA
If you really want to make the most of your experience here, order your donut à la mode. The variety of toppings isn’t what makes these donuts special (because there aren’t many choices), but rather the main ingredient: potato flour. The result is a spudnut (do not call it a donut!) that will not only result in a much lighter treat but, according to the owners, immediately turn you into a regular (read: addicted) patron.
Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop, San Francisco
You have to try the giant, cakey glazed donut that is literally the size of your head. (We can’t guarantee you’ll finish it all, but at least you’ll enjoy trying.) This old-fashioned spot serves up freshly made donuts 24 hours a day; go early in the morning for a guaranteed super-fresh batch. The staff—all of whom have a reputation for being just the right amount of sweet (much like the donuts)—only add to the experience. (1621 Polk St.; 415/776-3141)
Top Pot Doughnuts, Seattle
Keep it simple and opt for the Old Fashioned donut here, with delightfully thinner-than-normal crispy edges that give the donut a satisfying crunch. (In the fall, go for the pumpkin-flavored.) The shop took its name from an old neon sign the owners found and restored, which they used as inspiration: they prepare their donuts with a 1920s recipe. While we can’t claim to know the secret to their recipe, whatever it is, it works.
Sublime Doughnuts, Atlanta
Owner Kamal Grant shows up at 2 a.m. every day to start the donut-making process. And his Strawberry N Cream donut—an original-style donut stuffed with fresh strawberries and vanilla cream cheese—is a showstopper. (Think: strawberry cheesecake with a donut crust.) With top-notch ingredients and Grant’s hard-to-find passion for perfection, the resulting pastries are tasty works of art.
Stan’s Doughnuts, Westwood Village, CA
Stan’s occupies the same corner it has since it opened as The Corner Shoppe in 1965, and owner Stan Berman still comes in daily to make the same donuts that have kept his shop popular for the past 45 years. Here you can channel your inner Elvis and try out the glazed donut stuffed with peanut butter and banana. Or, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, go for the blueberry and cheese donut.
Bomboloni, New York City
The Crème Brûlée donut, with its slightly hardened, sugary outside and rich, creamy custard filling, is without a doubt the one to order if you have to choose just one. But why would you limit yourself? All of the donuts served at this small Italian pastry shop are bomboloni-style (think: supersize donut holes, injected with various fillings). (187 Columbus Ave.; 212/877-3080)
Kane’s Donuts, Saugus, MA
Sure, a plain, glazed donut is pretty standard, but Kane’s does it so well. Show up early to get it fresh and hot out of the fryer; the donut will melt in your mouth. From the outside, this shop looks like a house, but inside, it’s a cozy diner full of history: Kane’s has been serving the same donuts to this community just north of Boston for 55 years. While the flavors are pretty basic, the dough is rolled out and each donut cut by hand, helping give them that extra something. Be warned: if you show up after 10 a.m. on a weekend morning, prepare for slim pickings.
Café Du Monde, New Orleans
Yes, it’s heavily trafficked—but the fried squares of dough at this famous 24-hour eatery are not overrated. The only pastry served here is the beignet, served three to an order with heaping portions of powdered sugar. Don’t forget the beignet “surprise attack” tradition: catch your companions off guard by blowing powdered sugar at them.
Doughnut Plant, New York City
Evoke childhood lunch memories with the peanut butter and jelly–filled square donut at this New York City staple. (Or, if you want something a bit more decadent, order the Tres Leches donut.) The bakery, which makes its glazes fresh with in-season fruit, started in a tenement-building basement 16 years ago. It has since blossomed into a famous donut outlet (including nine locations in Tokyo). The owner, Mark Isreal, adapted his recipes from his grandfather’s.
Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, CA
Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, brings an air of refinement to the game with his brioche donuts. Try one stuffed with chocolate ganache and topped with dark chocolate frosting and dark chocolate–covered crispy rice; it’s more a dessert than breakfast food. Brioche isn’t something often seen in the world of donuts, but it helps give them a denser, buttery finish (in the best way possible). They’re only available, in limited quantities, on Saturdays and Sundays, so be sure to show up early if you want any chance at grabbing some.
Round Rock Donuts, Round Rock, TX
“Everything is bigger in Texas” rings as true as ever here, where the Texas Size Round Rock Donut is as big as your head. (Go ahead: try to eat it all—we dare you!) Founded in 1926, Round Rock is the oldest shop on our list—though the building itself is less than 10 years old; a 2001 fire destroyed the previous structure. To boot, it still uses the same recipe it started with more than 80 years ago. The shop opens at 4 a.m. daily, and yes, the lines do start to form that early.
Dynamo Donut and Coffee, San Francisco, CA
While the donuts aren’t made on-site—the shop is more of a walk-up counter—the unique donut creations are made daily by husband and wife duo Jonny Raglin and Sara Spearin and with locally sourced and organic ingredients, when available. The finished products are unique creations that look almost too good to eat. Almost…especially when it’s the Maple Glazed Bacon Apple donut, covered with a bacon fat maple glaze and topped with crispy bits of bacon.
Coffee An’ Donut Shop, Westport, CT
You don’t need to get fancy here. Enjoy the delightfully crispier-than-normal exterior of the plain donut, which is heavier and denser than average (this isn’t a bad thing!). But if you insist on something a little sweeter, try the coconut twist—if you’re lucky you’ll score one straight from the fryer. These donuts are so delicious, former President Bill Clinton—known for having a weakness for sweets—was said to regularly have them shipped to the White House. (343 Main St.; 203/227-3808)
Frosty’s Donut & Coffee Shop, Brunswick, ME
Frosty’s owners have been turning out incredibly light doughnuts with just the right amount of chewiness for 45 years. The glazed twists, made with locally sourced potato flour, are their main claim to fame. The mom-and-pop donut shop on Maine’s coast opens daily at 3 a.m., just in time for the fisher- and lobstermen to start their days. Don’t think for even a second that you can sleep in and still get your donut fix; come after 9 a.m., and chances are you’ll leave empty-handed…and hungry.
Nicola’s Donuts,Tampa, FL
If you’ve been blessed—or cursed, depending on how you look at it—with an insatiable sweet tooth, you may need one of Nicola’s candy-themed specialty donuts to curb your craving. Think: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, even Pixie Sticks. The shop opens at 5:30 a.m. but typically closes by 11 a.m. due to high demand, so we suggest either showing up early or calling the day before to stake your claim. Yes, you can actually do this.
Fractured Prune, Ocean City, MD
Just try to limit yourself to one donut after taking a look at the specialty options. We’re talking Strawberry Shortcake (strawberry glaze, graham cracker, and powdered sugar), Trail Mix (banana glaze, nuts, coconut, and jimmies), and Blueberry Hill (blueberry glaze and powdered sugar). Still not enough? Create your own donut, using any of the available toppings and glazes.
Mighty-O Donuts, Seattle
Vegans rejoice! Not only does this shop offer an array of interesting and unique donut flavors—like French Toast and Lemon Poppy—it also makes its donuts from 100 percent organic ingredients and without animal byproducts. There’s no need to worry about donuts running out: the shop keeps making these sweet treats until closing time (5 p.m.). Tip: if you show up at the end of the day, you may be able to score a discount.
Walton Donuts, Denver
Here, the Tigertail is where it’s at. Essentially a cinnamon roll that’s twisted instead of rolled, it comes with the extra bonus of chocolate devil’s food. If you’re looking for less of a caloric/sweet splurge, the sour cream old-fashioneds are not as sugary and have a satisfying crunch around the thin edges.
Old Fashioned Donuts, Chicago
These donuts are handmade every day—and in full view, whether you’re in the shop or just walking by. If seasonal is what you’re looking for, try the apple cider (in the fall) or blueberry (in the summer). But year-round, you must walk away with its claim-to-fame: the super-cinnamon apple fritter, stuffed with chunks of apple and topped with a generous glaze. You’ll need only one—it’s about the size of a baby’s head.