Let the French have their croissants. The real morning-pastry action is in doughnuts, and even if Americans can’t claim sole ownership over something as simple as frying dough, the United States can certainly stake a claim on doughnut shops, those beautiful, Technicolor gut-bomb oases that dot this great land of ours.
It’s not like doughnut shops ever went out of fashion (and a particular chain on which America supposedly “runs” has spent the last few decades squeezing franchises into any nook or cranny where they’ll fit), but doughnuts have been susceptible to the same recent culinary gentrification that raised the profile of burgers and pizza. Why? Because a plain doughnut is an essentially perfect canvas on which forward-thinking up-and-comers can apply their own distinct culinary sensibilities, a beloved foodstuff that is begging to be ennobled.
Happy to do just that are new-school doughnut shops like Glazed in Charleston, Top Pot in Seattle, or the much-celebrated Federal Donuts in Philly. And yet, the gleaming counters of old-school shops will never go out of fashion, either.
And so, when Grub Street set out to survey the current doughnut situation in America, we didn’t favor new over old. Instead, we looked for shops of all ages with street cred, spots that feel as immune to trends as doughnuts themselves. So this list is not the 101 best shops, per se, or even the buzziest; it is instead a guide to the places and people that we think are doing their damnedest to pay proper respect to one of our country’s greatest culinary traditions.
If you just want to see the list, just check it out straight ahead (it’s unranked, organized geographically). Then, to read about why each shop warrants inclusion — and to see all the requisite doughnut porn — click the slideshow link under the list. Lastly, head to the nearest spot and get a dozen for yourself and whoever else you think deserves a doughnut today.
This 62-year-old, family-run bakery specializes in malasadas, Portuguese yeast-based doughnuts without holes. They’re light, fluffy, coated in sugar, and at Leonard’s, always served hot out of the fryer. Leonard’s even has Malasadamobiles that you can rent out for parties.
What to Order: The classic malasada.
There’s an all-star team behind this beloved shop: Zahav’s Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook, Bodhi Coffee owners Tom Henneman and Bob Logue, and food writer Felicia D’Ambrosio. Their simple concept — fried chicken, cake doughnuts, and coffee — is brilliant. Glazed “Fancy” doughnuts come in flavors like halvah-pistachio, blueberry muffin, and spicy PB&J, while “Hot Fresh” doughnuts are fried to order and rolled in seasoned sugars. Fortunately, two brand-new locations will open soon.
What to Order: The cookies & cream Fancy, or the Indian cinnamon Hot Fresh.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Younts Waters’s 22-year-old bakery serves doughnuts made out of Idaho potato spuds. There are 65-cent cake, filled, and classic round doughnuts on offer, but what you really need is a strategically shaped bear-claw named “Strong Pimp Hands” or “Camel Toes.”
What to Order: Strong Pimp Hands, obviously.
Mill Creek, Washington
Three best friends who worked in the corporate world opened FROST 20 miles north of Seattle in 2009, and in their first year, they sold 1 million doughnuts. It’s become one of Seattle’s top dessert destinations, and their second store (twice the size of the current location) is already under construction.
What to Order: The salted-caramel doughnut: a traditional vanilla old-fashioned doughnut with handmade caramel and Fleur de Sel.
Atkins is a classic New England country farm, and its hot, chewy apple-cider donuts have been an autumnal rite of passage for generations of hungry Five College students. The top-secret doughnut mix is spiked with fresh apple cider, fried, and then topped with cinnamon and sugar. These doughnuts so popular that even nearby candle companies have scents based on their aroma.
What to Order: The classic cider doughnut.
Los Angeles, California
Drummer Mark Trombino (Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World) opened this spot in L.A.’s Highland Park last year, offering cheekily named doughnuts like the Bacon 182 and Jimmy Eats Swirl. His shop features over 30 different topping and filling options for customizing doughnuts (candied lime, cayenne pepper, goat cheese), as well as some pre-made combos like the Fudgegazi, a chocolate-glazed doughnut filled with chocolate mousse and covered in chocolate shavings.
What to Order: The Jets to Basil, a glazed doughnut with goat cheese, strawberry jam, fresh basil, and balsamic reduction.
In a city filled with cool-kids doughnut shops, a bakery that opened in 1924 still stands out: You’ll find throwback prices (many pastries are under $1), great service, and perfect versions of old-timey flavors like old-fashioned glazed and raspberry-filled glazed.
What to Order: An old-fashioned glazed doughnut.
YoYo is a Twin Cities favorite, but the independent shop got its start 60 years ago in South Dakota, when owner Chris Moquist’s grandfather started his own doughnut business. Four decades later, Moquist resurrected his granddad’s potato-flour recipe, which was inspired by the local Spudnut shop. Now, though, the younger Moquist has a following all his own.
What to Order: A maple-bacon Long John.
Polish paçzki have a name that’s spelled oddly and pronounced just as goofily (it’s like “punch-kee”), but the speciment itself is like a super doughnut, rich and dense and filled with jelly or cream. In Detroit, where paçzki are a Fat Tuesday tradition, the best place to get them is this classic Polish bakery in Hamtramck. Don’t worry if you can’t make it here right on Paçzki day: The doughnuts are sold year-round.
What to Order: Paçkzi, as many as you can eat (plus a box for the road).
Charleston, South Carolina
After pastry chef Allison Smith made a poached-pear doughnut with blue-cheese drizzle for the Wine and Food Festival in Charleston, she realized she had a hit on her hands, and opened Glazed in late 2011. Smith uses local ingredients whenever possible, and grows many of the herbs and berries in the garden behind her shop. Flavors include apple-pie-cheddar and curried-cocoa with candied ginger.
What to Order: The Purple Goat, with a berry-goat-cheese filling and lavender glaze.