There are few treats more delicious than a doughnut fresh out of the fryer. And from a Nashville institution to a California bakery helmed by one of the country’s most renowned chefs, we’ve tracked down America’s 35 best.
Before we get to our list, though, there’s one important question worth asking, and it’s a trickier one than you might think: What, exactly, is a doughnut? It is any sort of sweetened, fried pastry? Well, not exactly. For our purposes, we’re defining a doughnut as an item that you would expect to see in a doughnut shop: the familiar ones we know and love (of both the raised and cake varieties), crullers, apple fritters, and other doughnut-shop classics — you know them when you see them.
For this reason, the cronut, an invention that’s really only 50 percent doughnut (the other half is a croissant), and regional specialties like the sopapilla and the beignet, which are completely distinct foods that you don’t find in everyday doughnut shops, weren’t considered for our ranking. There are plenty of amazing true-to-form doughnuts out there, so we hewed as closely to tradition as possible (while keeping room for wild creativity, of course). We also stuck to doughnuts from non-chain bakeries and doughnut shops, as opposed to the dessert menus at restaurants.
In order to assemble our ranking, we incorporated doughnuts from our own previous rankings as well as existing rankings both in print and online; we also combed regional guides and review sites to track down beloved local institutions that haven’t gotten much ink. We stuck to strict criteria in looking for the best individual doughnuts in America: Freshness is key, as great doughnuts need to be served right out of the fryer. Are these legendary doughnuts that have become things of cultish devotion at the shop that sells them? We considered both glazed and extravagantly topped creations, but there needed to be a balance between all the components, be it bacon or blueberry jelly. Most importantly, these doughnuts need to be groan-inducingly good: fresh, soft, gooey, perfectly proportioned, and intended to leave you wanting just one more bite.
Another quality that makes doughnuts such a wonderful food is the fact that they’re usually inexpensive: World-class doughnut shops are oftentimes humble, family-run operations, selling their wares for sometimes less than a dollar. Anyone can experience a world-class doughnut for pocket change, which means it’s a truly democratic treat.
#35 GBD, Washington, D.C.: Maple-Bourbon Glazed with Bacon
#34 Francesca’s Bakery, Pequannock, N.J.: Jelly