America’s Best Doughnuts
June 4, 2015
A perfect doughnut is hard to find, but we’ve discovered 35 that fit the bill
America’s Best Doughnuts
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.
#35 GBD, Washington, D.C.: Maple-Bourbon Glazed with Bacon
A relative newcomer to the doughnut world, GBD (short for "Golden Brown and Delicious") was opened last year by the husband-and-wife duo of chef Kyle Bailey and pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac, and they’ve already raised the bar when it comes to D.C. doughnuts. Open from early in the morning to very late at night, they serve some insanely delicious fried chicken, but the crowds flock there for the doughnuts. With a brioche base created by the deft hand of a truly skilled pastry chef, available varieties include grapefruit Campari, coffee cake, and peanut butter and jelly, but the award goes to the square maple-bourbon glazed doughnut topped with crumbled bacon. It's airy, sticky, and perfectly balanced — and the bacon is no gimmick: It perfectly complements the maple and bourbon and makes for a truly craveable doughnut.
#34 Francesca’s Bakery, Pequannock, N.J.: Jelly
This cult favorite bakery sources as many of its ingredients as possible from local farmers, much to the benefit of its doughnuts. The apple cider doughnuts are a real autumn treat, but the raspberry jelly doughnuts, made with fresh raspberries, are soft, perfectly sweet, not greasy at all, and freshly fried every morning.
#33 Dinkel’s Bakery, Chicago: Chocolate Cake Donut
German immigrant Joseph Dinkel opened this Chicago institution in 1922, and it’s remained in the family ever since. It’s changed very little in the past 93 years, and the non-doughnut baked goods are legendary in their own right. But you haven’t truly experienced Dinkel’s until you’ve tasted their handmade doughnuts. While they’ve jumped on the maple-bacon bandwagon, you’re best off sticking with the classics: The chocolate cake doughnut will make you go weak in the knees.
#32 Neils Donuts and Bake Shop, Wallingford, Conn.: Old-Fashioned
There are more than 30 varieties of doughnuts on offer at this roadside shop, which has been racking up the accolades since opening in 2001. While their giant crullers, Bismarks, and long johns are all worthy of praise, the true work of art on the shelf is the simple old fashioned: slightly crunchy (but not greasy) on the outside, rich and cakey on the inside, and coated with ample amounts of cinnamon and sugar. Owner Neil Bukowski arrives every morning before 3 a.m. to begin churning them out, and they’re often sold out by the time he closes up shop mid-afternoon.
#31 Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop, San Francisco: Apple Fritter
Yelp/ Emmalouise B
Bob’s, a San Francisco landmark, serves world-class doughnuts 24 hours a day, but the best time to visit is in the late evening, when the doughnuts are at their freshest. The friendly staff will walk you through their selection of freshly fried rings of gooey deliciousness, but forgo the giant glazed doughnut in favor of the apple fritter. Big, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and filled with apple and cinnamon, it’s nothing short of crave-worthy.
#30 Mighty-O Donuts, Seattle: Lemon Poppy
Vegan and organic might not be two words you associate with world-class doughnuts, but Mighty-O’s are the best ones out there that meet those criteria. These perfect little rings of dough and sugar are egg-, dairy-, and cholesterol-free, and come in standout flavors like lemon poppy, made with the perfect amount of lemon juice for a bright, tangy zip. You just might never go back to the non-vegan variety.
#29 Ralph’s Donut Shop, Cookeville, Tenn.: Apple Fritter
The giant, lumpy apple fritter at local landmark Ralph’s has been a favorite of Tennessee Tech students and other locals alike for more than 50 years. Ralph’s a classic doughnut shop, complete with a counter and stools — a real throwback to simpler times. Ralph’s is a little tricky to find, but it’s a true small-town gem and a place where time stands still.
#28 Dottie’s Diner, Woodbury, Conn.: Cinnamon Donuts
If you’re looking for a diner with real soul that specializes in doughnuts, drop into Dottie’s in Woodbury. A no-frills menu of New England diner classics, including a world-class chicken pot pie, is topped off by stunningly delicious, simple doughnuts. The selection isn’t huge, but it doesn’t need to be: Just order the cinnamon-sugar doughnut. It’ll be warm from the fryer, not too big, creamy and cakey inside, and crunchy and sugary on the outside… This is a doughnut you won’t soon forget.
#27 The Donut Stop, St. Louis: Cinnamon Glob
St. Louis has no shortage of old-fashioned doughnut shops, but one offering at the legendary Doughnut Stop, which looks exactly like a doughnut shop should, sets it apart from the pack: the Cinnamon Glob. It looks just like how it sounds: a giant, bumpy ball of fried dough, crispy on the outside and dense, buttery, and cinnamon-y on the inside. A true St. Louis culinary gem, and an absolute must-eat.
#26 Top Pot Doughnuts, Seattle: Pink Feather Boa
Top Pot’s doughnuts are made by hand the old-fashioned way, and the care and attention put into every batch really shines through. More than 40 different types of doughnuts are on offer, including stellar old-fashioned and cake varieties, but there’s nothing quite like the Feather Boa, a classic cake doughnut topped with pink or chocolate icing and coconut shavings. It’s coconut heaven.
#25 Long’s Bakery, Indianapolis: Glazed Yeast
This cash-only institution has crowds lining up out the door every weekend, fiending for these insanely delicious doughnuts, which sell for a crazy-cheap 57 cents. Ask anyone in line what their favorite doughnut there is, and while a few will tell you it’s the blueberry, maple-dipped cake, or cinnamon twist, most will urge you to order the simple glazed yeast doughnut, which is light, just sweet enough, and, especially if you’re lucky enough to get one while it’s still warm, melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
#24 Sublime Doughnuts, Atlanta: Fresh Strawberries and Cream
Pastry chef Kamal Grant is a doughnut genius-at-work in this charming Atlanta doughnut shop, and his creations are some of the most original in the country. It’s nearly impossible to not walk out of Sublime Doughnuts without four or five of his trademark doughnuts, in varieties like Oreo ice cream "burger," s’mores, and salted caramel balsamic. But if you see the fresh strawberries and cream variety, go for it: fresh strawberries and strawberry cream cheese between two halves of a glazed doughnut? Simply unreal, and better than any strawberry cheesecake.
#23 Dat Donut, Chicago: Plain Glazed
This no-frills stand in the front of a barbecue shop is as simple as it gets, and that approach makes for some of the best doughnuts ever created. While their "Big Dat," which is about the size of your head, will keep the tourists taking photos for years to come, a bite of Dat Donut’s handmade plain glazed will send you into a state of quiet contemplation.
#22 Voodoo Doughnut, Portland, Ore.: Portland Cream
One of the most famous doughnut shops in the country, this tiny, quirky stand is never without a line, but customers are rewarded for their patience with some of the most outlandish doughnut creations in existence. Voodoo Doughnut’s Portland cream, a luscious take on Boston cream, was named the city’s official doughnut by the mayor, and is so beloved that it’s even inspired its own lip balm flavor. There are currently three other brick and mortar outposts and a cart, but you’ll want your first Voodoo experience to be at the original.
#21 Doughnut Plant, New York City: Crème Brûlée Doughnut
This bakery essentially singlehandedly started the specialty doughnut boom that's gripping the nation. Doughnuts have been a part of owner Mark Isreal’s family for more than 100 years, and in 1994 he opened Doughnut Plant using the same recipe his grandfather used. By building on that classic recipe, he’s made a name for himself and his bakery, and he’s also created a few now-legendary inventions, like the crème brûlée doughnut, which has developed a cult following. The smallish yeast doughnut is topped with a crust of caramelized sugar, and creamy custard waits within. We’ll take this over the real thing any day.
#20 Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop, Brooklyn: Red Velvet
Time stands still at this old-school Italian bakery, which has been located in Brooklyn’s increasingly gentrified Greenpoint neighborhood since 1952: a doughnut here will set you back just one dollar and 10 cents. The selection is expansive, and the recipes haven’t changed since opening day: honey-dipped, chocolate cake, plain glazed, crullers, long johns… all the classics are here. But ask owner Donna Siafakas, who took over the bakery in 1993 and opens the doors every morning at 4:30, what the bestseller is, and she’ll tell you it’s the red velvet, which is rich and comforting, especially when split open and stuffed with a big scoop of ice cream.
#19 Do-Rite Donuts and Coffee, Chicago: Chocolate Glazed
Do-Rite fries their doughnuts in batches of only 36 at a time, so freshness is guaranteed. They turn out plenty of seasonal offerings, including Meyer lemon in the winter, and use only high-quality ingredients in all their dozen or so rotating offerings, which include gluten-free and vegan options. Made with Valrhona chocolate, their chocolate glazed is about as perfect a chocolate doughnut as you’re likely to find.
#18 Fox’s Donut Den, Nashville: Chocolate Glazed
A Nashville landmark, Donut Den is family-owned and about as old-school as it gets. The selection is straightforward and classic, with blueberry cake, devil’s food cake, maple, and plain glazed doughnuts joined by a stunning selection of turnovers, éclairs, apple fritters, muffins, kolaches, and cinnamon rolls. So when in a classic doughnut shop, stay classic: order the chocolate glazed doughnut, which is made with high-quality chocolate and legitimately melts in your mouth.
#17 Gourdough’s, Austin, Texas: Funky Monkey
"Big. Fat. Donuts." are the name of the game at Gourdough’s, a vintage airstream trailer where the fried-to-order doughnuts are about as creative as humanly possible (and delicious to boot). There’s the Porkey’s, topped with Canadian bacon, cream cheese, and jalapeño jelly; The Carney, topped with apple pie filling, cream cheese icing, caramel, and dry-roasted peanuts; and the Boss Hog, topped with pulled pork, potato salad, and honey barbecue sauce. But one bite of the Funky Monkey, with grilled bananas, cream cheese icing, and brown sugar, is all you need to learn that these gut-bombs aren’t just gimmicks: it’s perfectly balanced, not too sweet, shows a real chef’s hand, and, most of all, it’s delicious. Be careful, though: this place can quickly become an addiction.
#16 Britt’s Donuts, Carolina Beach, N.C.: Plain Glazed
Every year from May to September, the crowds flock to Britt’s on the boardwalk for one thing, and one thing only: the plain glazed doughnut, washed down with a cup of milk or coffee. The setup hasn’t changed since the stand opened in 1939, and neither has the menu, which is just one item long — exactly as long as it needs to be. The closely guarded recipe is nothing short of the Platonic doughnut ideal: soft, gooey, melt-in-your mouth, and delicious enough that you’ll never forget it. You’ll be talking about it to everyone who will listen, and eating far too many in one sitting.
#15 Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, Washington, D.C.: Nutella
Owned by two childhood friends, Astro serves some insanely delicious fried chicken, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for the doughnuts, which are true works of art and come in varieties including vanilla glazed, maple bacon, PB&J, and crème brûlée. The selections change often because ingredients are sourced from local farmers and purveyors, so the Nutella doughnut isn’t always on the menu, but when it is, that’s the one you should be making a beeline for.
#14 The Donut Man, Glendora, Calif.: Fresh Peach and Strawberry
Offering stellar doughnuts 24 hours a day, seven days a week for more than 40 years, the Donut Man is a Southern California legend. The Donut Man himself is Jim Nakano, who churns out world-class doughnuts using only the finest seasonal ingredients. During the autumn months he uses ingredients like pumpkin, but drop in during the summer and you’ll encounter his fresh peach and strawberry doughnuts: raised doughnuts cut in half and stuffed until absolutely brimming with fresh fruit. If you’re a fan of doughnuts, no visit to the area is complete without a trip to the Donut Man; it’ll be the first place you head when you return.
#13 Donut King, Quincy, Mass: Honey-Dipped
The folks in this part of Massachusetts take their doughnuts very seriously, and so do the owners of Donut King, an old-fashioned and charming little doughnut shop that turns out fresh offerings throughout the day. The varieties on offer are traditional, so your best bet is to stick with the classics, especially the honey-dipped variety. It’s soft, fluffy, sweet, warm, ample-sized, and addictively good.
#12 Federal Donuts, Philadelphia: Cookies and Cream Donut
The decision by chef Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Abe Fisher, etc.) to open two additional Philadelphia locations of Federal Donuts was met with an insane amount of joy, and for a good reason: These are some astonishingly delicious doughnuts. Sure, Federal Donuts might have risen to fame thanks to its tasty Korean-style fried chicken, but save room for cake doughnuts for dessert. Head for the cookies and cream doughnut, which takes the popular ice cream flavor and elevates it to new heights: It gets a coating of Oreo cream-flavored glaze and a perfect dusting of powdered chocolate cookies.
#11 Congdon’s Doughnuts, Wells, Maine: Blueberry Jelly
Family-run since it opened in 1945, this roadside diner and doughnut shop has seen tragedy and fire, but it’s still going strong, turning out home-style breakfasts and lunches as well as more than 30 doughnut varieties made fresh throughout the day. You’ll never have another doughnut that’s quite like their blueberry jelly iteration: filled with fresh-made blueberry jam and topped with a hit of powdered sugar, it almost singlehandedly put the town of Wells on the map.
#10 Glazed and Confuzed, Denver, Colo.: Mojito
These folks are turning out some truly creative doughnuts, many of which you’ll find at Denver’s leading coffee shops (look out for their take on a Samoa, with caramel, coconut, and a chocolate drizzle). They finally opened a brick-and-mortar shop last year and since then have claimed their rightful place as the best and most creative doughnut shop in town. Chef Josh Schwab makes each doughnut with local, organic, and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, and some of the wilder offerings include maple bacon (with two strips of bacon on top), root beer float, Nutter Butter fluff with chocolate-covered bananas, and blackberry pecan cobbler. But don’t leave without trying the mojito, a yeast doughnut sporting a glaze infused with rum, fresh lime, and fresh mint. It’s stunning.
#9 Verna’s Donut Shop, Cambridge, Mass.: Chocolate Honey-Dip
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more delicious doughnut in the Boston area than the chocolate honey-dipped at Verna’s, a no-frills cash-only doughnut and coffee shop that makes their doughnuts fresh every morning and has inspired a cult-like devotion among its fans. For more than 60 years, they’ve been turning out the simple and delicious honey-dipped doughnut, renamed the "Honey Tip" in honor of Tip O’Neill. While it’s delicious as-is, the addition of chocolate glaze raises the level of deliciousness to the stratosphere.
#8 Blue Star Donuts, Portland, Ore.: Cointreau Crème Brûlée
This Portland doughnut shop currently has four locations in town, but don’t be surprised if more start popping up soon; this place is a certified juggernaut. The reason? Brioche. The doughnuts start with a brioche recipe from the south of France that takes 18 hours to get right, ingredients are local and super fresh, they’re fried in rice oil throughout the day, and the level of creativity is stunning. Varieties include blueberry bourbon basil, buttermilk old fashioned, and pistachio cream cheese, but don’t miss the Cointreau crème brûlée, which has a Cointreau-filled syringe on top that allows you to control the level of booziness. And if you can’t make it to Portland, they’ll be opening a Los Angeles location this summer.
#7 Danny’s Donuts, Vista, Calif.: Blueberry Cake
Danny’s Donuts has a fiercely devoted fan base, and with good reason: Since 1973, they’ve been turning out some of Southern California’s finest doughnuts. Their claim to fame, however, is the deceptively simple blueberry cake doughnut. Similar in flavor to the best blueberry muffin you’ll ever have, it’s fluffy, topped with a sticky, oozing glaze, and loaded with fresh blueberries. Get there early, though: Danny’s is only open until noon during the week and 1 p.m. on the weekends.
#6 Stan’s Donuts, Los Angeles: Peanut Butter and Banana with Chocolate Chips
There’s a lot to love about Stan’s, which has been holding down its Westwood Village corner since 1965; owner Stan Berman still comes in early every morning to make the doughnuts by hand in dozens of varieties. His most famous creations are the ones with peanut butter (including a Reese’s peanut butter pocket), and his peanut butter and banana doughnut, topped with chocolate chips, will haunt your dreams. Thankfully, they ship nationwide; we advise taking them up on their offer.
#5 Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, Calif.: Jelly Doughnut with Seasonal Preserves
Every Saturday and Sunday morning, a handful of doughnuts in several varieties are fried up at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro before it opens for lunch. They are served (very quickly) at his next-door bakery. At about $3 each, they’re not cheap, but the rich confections of brioche-like, buttery dough filled with fresh-made, seasonal preserves demonstrate creative ingenuity and an adherence to only fresh, seasonal ingredients. The end result is something the country’s most renowned chef can be proud to tack his name to.
#4 Loyless Donuts, Ashford, Ala.: Chocolate Glazed
Wake up early and get to Loyless in the morning, because when this places sells out of doughnuts, they close — and they always sell out before noon. This southern Alabama landmark is family-owned and no-frills, and the doughnuts are handmade every morning by the husband and wife duo of owners Eva and Garland Loyless. Loyless represents a dying breed; it’s Americana at its finest. Keep it simple and opt for a chocolate-glazed: it’ll be warm, soft, and comforting.
#3 Dough, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Lemon Poppy
This little shop, nestled into a cozy corner of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood (there’s also a recently opened second location near Madison Square Park), is quietly turning out some spectacular doughnuts. The owners of Dough stick to yeast as opposed to cake doughnuts, and it’s a recipe that they’ve perfected. The key is freshness — freshly fried doughnuts are near-constantly brought out of the kitchen. The offerings change consistently, but never cease to surprise. Passion fruit, hibiscus, Earl Grey, blood orange, chocolate glazed… you might just have to return a few times before your cravings for these doughnuts will be satisfied. But they most likely never will be. If you see the lemon poppy doughnut on offer, make sure you buy a couple: big, light, fluffy, and bursting with bright, lemony goodness, one bite of these will put a smile on your face 100 percent of the time.
#2 Round Rock Donuts, Round Rock, Texas: Plain Glazed
The unique orange-yellow doughnut that put Round Rock on the map gets its color from the high-quality fresh eggs that go into it. The recipes and ovens used to create these rings of perfection haven’t changed since the 1920s, and they sell for only 59 cents apiece. Forgo the "Texas Size" giant for the classic plain glazed. Simple and delicious.
#1 Doughnut Vault, Chicago: Plain Glazed
While Doughnut Vault is not an easy place to score your doughnuts (they're only open until they sell out, which can take less than an hour), once you’ve made your precious purchase it’s nearly impossible not to leave the Doughnut Vault a very happy camper, in proud possession of the best doughnuts in America. The menu is gigantic, but narrow down your options to the cake doughnuts, which are surprisingly light and fresh. From there, your best bet is to keep it simple; a simple, sugary glaze will have you never looking at a cake doughnut the same way again.