Fact: Everybody loves doughnuts. And if they tell you they don’t, they’re lying. These are the best chain doughnut shops in America.
There are few foods that are more ingrained in the culinary consciousness than doughnuts.These simple rounds of fried dough have staked their claim as one of the most beloved snack foods out there.
One of the main reasons for the popularity of doughnuts is the fact that the variations are infinite, and there’s plenty of room for both tradition and innovation. Old-school doughnut shops might specialize in a blueberry cake doughnut that sells out every morning, while New York’s Doughnut Plant has built a reputation for itself around delicious inventions like crème brûlée and peanut butter-and-jelly-filled ones. And just like all of the most revered American foods, there’s no shortage of chains that have sprouted up to spread the doughnut gospel far and wide.
In order to assemble our ranking of the best doughnut chains in America, we started by tracking down doughnut shops with more than 15 locations across the nation — our definition of a chain. We then ranked each one according to a set of criteria: Are the doughnuts baked fresh throughout the day? Is there a good variety, with seasonal options and a rotating menu? Is the chain beloved by its loyal customers, having earned somewhat of a cult following? And for the top of the list, is a visit (and that first bite) a quasi-religious experience? Also note that we're not talking about coffee or sandwiches here; for today's purposes, it's all about the doughnuts.
In the end, our list included beloved local chains as well as the behemoths, all united by their passion for doughnuts, one of the most delicious and deceptively simple foods in existence. Read on for our ranking.
The biggest doughnut chain of them all has done more than anyone else to spread the doughnut gospel all across the world. And while doughnuts have taken a bit of a backseat to their savory options and coffee (not to mention sneakers) in recent years, this Massachusetts-based chain still sells undeniably tasty doughnuts, with a West Coast expansion underway. Seasonal offerings like Red Velvet Drizzle and the Pumpkin Pie doughnut keep the menu fresh — and who doesn’t love Munchkins?
Since 1937, Krispy Kreme has been baking fresh doughnuts throughout the day and letting customers know when they’re hot via a neon sign in the window. They come in several dozen varieties (including limited-edition ones like banana pudding), but one bite of a hot Original Glazed and you’ll be hooked.
This Canadian chain is its home country’s largest food service operator, and it’s beloved up in the Great White North, where there are more doughnut shops per capita than any other country. Thankfully, it began its aggressive descent into the U.S. about a decade ago, and has been winning its way into Americans’ hearts ever since. If you still haven’t been, drop by and ask for a Dutchie (a square yeast doughnut filled with raisins); you won’t be disappointed.
The first Honey Dew opened in 1973 and has been giving the bigger chains a run for their money since day one. With 145 locations in New England, the Plainview, Mass.-based chain also opened the first drive-thru coffee and doughnut shop in the region. Founder Dick Bowen has been constantly innovating, inventing new doughnut varieties like the Butternut Donut (coated with rolled oats), the Coconut Jelly Stick, and their popular Cinnamon Stick. Aside from the delicious doughnuts, the company also gives back to the community by sponsoring local sports teams, fundraisers, and non-profit organizations.
Now in its 64th year, this Tulsa-based chain has more than 900 locations worldwide, and owes its success to a flour mix developed by founders Tommy and Lucille Day, which results in a distinctively lighter, fluffier doughnut. The trademark mix is produced in a central facility to keep quality consistent, and while the variety skews toward the classic, they do offer a Maple Bacon Long John and they’ll also allow you to request a special doughnut if you give them some notice. Make sure to stop in on the weekend, when the Tiger Tail — chocolate and regular raised doughnuts twisted together – is available.
Winchell’s Donut House/Yelp
With more than 170 locations in six states throughout the West and Midwest, Winchell’s is an example of down-home doughnut shops at their finest. The largest doughnut chain on the West Coast, it’s been making people happy since Verne Winchell opened the first location in 1948 in Temple City, Calif. Today, there are more than 70 varieties of doughnuts and baked goods available, and while they tend to stick to the classics, they do it very, very well. Another plus: Most locations are open 24/7.
This Southern chain, still run by the Shipley family, has more than 190 locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas (most of which are in the Houston area), and has been cutting doughnuts (or “do-nuts”) by hand and frying them fresh throughout the day since 1936. The Plain Glazed is by far the best seller, even though more than 60 varieties are available, and they’re all made the same way they’ve always been. One thing that sets Shipley apart from the pack? They also sell kolaches, a filled pastry of Central European origin that’s a Texas specialty.
LaMar’s Donuts & Coffee/Yelp
Founder Ray LaMar began perfecting his doughnut recipe in 1933, and in 1960 he brought them to the masses, opening a Kansas City doughnut shop that had people lining up out the door daily. Today there are 26 LaMar’s locations in five states (mostly in Colorado, where the corporate headquarters is), and a dedication to the original recipes and high-quality ingredients has let it to stand the test of time. The Original Glazed is a work of art: fried fresh, light and airy, not greasy, and not overly sweet.
Since first opening in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in 2002, Top Pot has become a beloved institution with 20 area locations (as well as three in Texas), thanks to its old-school aesthetic and outstanding doughnuts. Doughnuts here are “hand-forged” the old-fashioned way, based on a recipe from the 1920s, and while more than 40 different varieties are available, favorites include the classics, like the Old Fashioned, Chocolate Cake, Apple Fritter, and the “Feather Boa,” a cake doughnut topped with pink or chocolate icing and coconut shavings.
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