My favorite “food writer” story is a donut story. I’d been trying and failing for months to stay away from sugar and gluten. Then, finally, one special week, I managed it. That week stretched to two. Then three. I’d been going on 24 days without gluten or sugar when I showed up at Sidecar Donuts in Costa Mesa, California, to write a story about their donuts. Or rather, one donut: browned butter and sea salt.
As I arrived, the Sidecar crew took a whole rack of donuts out of the fryer, added glaze and salt, and brought them to me. A full dozen just for me. I remember taking one bite and feeling the world compress and expand, like that Spongebob meme. I started to sweat. My skin prickled. As someone who has plenty of experience to draw from: Eating a donut straight from the fryer after the better part of a month without gluten or sugar was like a drug.
My deadline for profiling the taste of this donut was just an hour from when I took my first bite. So I sat down, flipped open my laptop and started writing, while still literally shaking from the increase in blood sugar that comes when you break a gluten and sugar-free diet with a rack of fried gluten, coated in sugar.
In this haze, I decided “I’ll analogize the donut to an orgasm, but like… slyly.” I wrote the piece and filed it, thinking it was subtle and clever. The next month I saw the magazine I was writing for on a rack and grabbed a copy.
My article wasn’t subtle. Or clever. It was… orgasmy. Waaaaaay too orgasmy. I called my editor, cringing, “My article about the donut… was it a little — ”
“Orgasmy? she asked. “Yes, it was. But we didn’t have time to change it.”
My cringe worsened. So I called a woman at the donut shop, who I’d gone on a few dates with. “That article,” I said, “was it a little orgasmy?”
“That’s the word for it!” she said. “Orgasmy! Exactly. Yes, it was. That’s why the owners didn’t hang it on the wall.”
At this point, I was just one giant sentient cringe. My head was pulled into my chest cavity like a turtle. Then she said something that made me brighten up.
“But an old woman came in with the magazine during my shift yesterday. She pointed to the article and said, ‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ Then she winked.”
Now maybe that woman was making a Harry met Sally reference and maybe she wasn’t. Maybe the article had conjured sex for her and maybe it hadn’t. But I choose to believe she knew exactly what she was doing. And it doesn’t get better than the idea that an old woman went to get a donut you raved about to replicate the experience of an orgasm.
Obviously, Sidecar Donuts is my pick for best donut in the nation. But we asked a few of our other writers to offer their choices too.
Federal Donuts — Philadelphia, PA
View this post on Instagram
San Francisco! Our head honchos are comin’ atcha with not one – not two – but THREE events in partnership with the @JCCSF Pop-Up series 🤙🍩💥 Join us Thurs, 12/14, for a Zahav Hanukkah Dinner at the Alembic with dessert by FedNuts and a convo with Chef Mike, Steve and Tom ❗️ Then again on Fri, 12/15, at the JCC for Hanukkah Shabbatikah FRYday, featuring a candle lighting, competitive dreidel, live music, donut demo and MORE – plus, first 50 people get a free copy of #FedNutsTheBook ❗️ And then finally, Sat, 12/16, at DUNA to try some traditional Hungarian fried dough, topped with FedNuts inspired glazes – tickets include a copy of the book ❗️ See the link in our profile for additional deets & tickets 👆
In the interminable debates of the donut world – donut vs. doughnut; cake vs. yeast; edible-in-one-sitting vs. baroque-food-art-made-for-Instagram-posts – Federal Donuts in Philly ais full of answers. With six locations in the area, this donut, fried chicken, and coffee joint serves a triad of cravings and they even deliver. Though they have fancy donuts like chocolate old fashioned, s’mores or key lime pie, their home-runs are the classic cinnamon and brown sugar or strawberry lavender – which is fitting because they now have a location inside the ballpark for Phillies games.
One of the more refreshing aspects of Federal Donuts is the no-frills approach to donut commerce. The locations are not decked out in custom-made, reclaimed wood paneling from the Titanic, but are accommodating of lines and have stools to eat donuts and fried chicken, as is cuisine apropos. The Center City location has a window booth that is an ideal place to lay down a base-layer before a night of making the rounds to Monk’s for Trappist Ales or the Franklin for cocktails.
-Mark C Stevens
Dot Donuts — Vancouver, WA
View this post on Instagram
FULLY L🍩ADED!! We’ve still got a full selection with plenty of backstock to fill your donut cravings! Come on in and see us! #donut #donutlife #donutman #donutshop #donutcare #dounttime #donutparty #donutgrowup #donutworrybehappy #donutlover #donutsarelife #donutheaven #donutgains #donutqueen #dotsdonuts #vancouver #cityofvancouver#washingtondoesitbetter #pnw #upperleftusa
Located just across the Columbia River from Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA isn’t exactly a donut capital. Most people who want a unique donut experience just head over a bridge and hit up Blue Star, Pip’s, or Voodoo. But, people in the know don’t waste the gas. Instead, they head to Dot Donuts on the east side of the city for simply awesome treats. I once had to visit every single doughnut maker in the city for an article, so I can definitively and knowledgeably say these rock. They also make the most innovative doughnuts in the region, meaning you can stick to your standard Bavarians and old fashioneds, but the real fun comes from flavors like mango tango, salted caramel, strawberry blast, lemonade, key lime, and grapefruit. One of the things that makes them so special is the dough they mix from scratch. It rises an incredible amount, making large, fluffy, chewy doughnuts. With that kind of a base, everything else is a bonus. Every day, the bakers craft 30 types of treats and once the case is empty, the shop closes up. This is no Safeway case with products sitting all day getting hard.
The only thing getting hard is… well, Steve already put us past our “donut = sex” quota for the day.
Beignets — Denville, NJ
The beignets are good, but the donuts are the main draw to this suburban North Jersey shop which stands out in a smallish town with a surprisingly diverse slate of foodie options. Made fresh to order and served warm, mainstays like Camryn’s Strawberry Fields (strawberry glazed with white chocolate chips) and Maple Bacon (maple glazed with bacon pieces) stand out, but there are several other flavors available and daily specials.
This is a legend for a reason, don’t miss it if you’re in Denville.
Gourdough’s Public House — Austin, TX
There’s nothing like a late night on Dirty 6th Street in Austin when, after too many cocktails and a lot of loud music, you stumble upon a Gourdough’s food truck. Yes, it’s hyped. Yes, you can wait up to an hour for one of these bad boys. And yes, it’s probably the worst thing you can eat, health wise. But that’s the point: sheer gluttony. These bigger-than-Texas sized donuts take food porn to a whole new level. Gorge your heart out on classics like Funky Monkey smothered in cream cheese frosting and fresh grilled bananas topped with brown sugar, or a Mama’s Cake stuffed with cake batter and chocolate.
So indulgent; so worth indulging in.
Swiss Made Bakery — Chicago, IL
The doughnut options in Chicago are nearly limitless, however, there also exists a small bakery outside of town worth making the trip for. On the last and final stop of the Northwest line, in Harvard, IL, resides the Swiss Maid Bakery. Located in a building that appears plucked out of Bavaria, Swiss Maid somehow pulls off Bavarian kitsch without a trace of the slight tackiness you may encounter in a shop with less tasty morsels buried within.
The baking tradition at Swiss Maid stretches across three families and at least four generations, so their donut game runs deep. If you’re a sucker for simple donuts, then giant, hexagonal sugar-sprinkled are a marvelous pre-road trip snack. And unlike the mythical sugar pucks at Stan Mikita’s, these donuts actually exist.
-Mark C. Stevens
California Donuts — Los Angeles, CA
It’s not out of the ordinary to find a mob of people outside of California Donuts at any hour of the day. People crowd around the donut shelf, mouths agape and phones out trying to capture the hypnotic allure of a donut that perfectly matches their own personal aesthetic. Are you a college-grad, a cereal-hound, or a breakfast champion? Do you like Care Bears, Panda bears, Video games, and Unicorns? Do you just want to eat a classic sprinkled donut, or are you more of a Wookie-inspired coconut bar-person?!
Look, it would be easy to dismiss California Donuts as a social-media photo trap, but then you’d be a donut-less square — because this small Korean town donut shop is packing flavor behind their craft. And because you’re in California, you might as well smoke some legal weed before you grab a bacon-topped chocolate bar (to elevate the experience) at any hour of the day from this 24hr “cant miss” donut spot.
Britt’s Donuts — Carolina Beach, NC
If you’re looking for crazy donuts with a piece of peach cobbler on top, or locally sourced honey, or any combination of flavors that would make Wonka jealous, Britts isn’t your spot. But there’s no denying the addictive joy from waiting in line at the boardwalk, getting a bag of donuts so fresh that the oil hasn’t even finished sticking, and staking your spot on the sand.
It’s the perfect hybrid of nostalgia, time travel, and sheer taste, and it goes perfectly with a day at the beach. While NC may have “better” more creative shops, give me Britts any day. It’s a reminder of a life I left behind, and a home I’ll never get back.
Blue Star Donuts — Portland (OR) and Los Angeles (CA) and Japan
Like Stumptown Coffee and Salt and Straw, Blue Star Donuts is spreading across the globe because it manages to be both the obvious child of Portland and the producer of a high-quality product that speaks to everyone. There was a time when the irreverent seaminess of Voodoo best repped for the city, and it did it well. But these days, locals are all about clean, modern shops filled with natural light and cases of scratch-made doughnuts crafted from local ingredients and displayed like fine jewelry. And the taste? Oh my God. Do not miss out on the Cointreau Creme Brulee, which is a signature brioche shell filled with a creamy vanilla custard and hit with a torch on the top just long enough to form a smoky candy shell. It’s served with a pipette filled with orange liqueur (made with vanilla bean and orange zest) that you squeeze into the doughnut to give it a hint of sweet citrus. It’s bliss.
Revolution Donuts — Atlanta (Inman Park and Decatur), GA
View this post on Instagram
When a doughnut can make those little moments even sweeter. 📸: @chantellemlinar . . . #donuts #doughnuts #food #foodlover #bakerylife #atlfoodie #atlantaeats #dessert #instahub #instagramers #follow #followme #followus #donuts #bakery #sugarrush #foodie #yummy #delicious #instagood #instaphoto #instalike
I’d never had a yeast donut before I ventured to the Inman Park location on vacation and it was, without a doubt, the greatest donut I’ve ever tasted. So moist, so flavorful. The Cinnamon Sugar and Raspberry Sprinkle were my favorites but I can’t imagine any of them falling short.
I’m moving to Atlanta soon and I’d be a liar if I said this shop (really the food culture, in general) weren’t part of the reason.
Morning Call — New Orleans, LA
I believe it was Aristotle who first questioned Plato’s two-world theory, thus thrusting ancient society into a query that still baffles even the most intrepid modern minds: What is a donut? And with this mandate from our philosophical forbearers I posit this Louisiana-specific notion: Is a donut not also a beignet — a small, fried cake of sweetened dough?
Our friends at Merriam-Webster have defined the term as such, albeit with the caveat that the piece is usually ring shape, hardly the compulsory decree. So it is, with a nod to New Orleans’ famed buttermilk drops, that I point you toward Morning Call. While Café du Monde may seduce the French Quarter crowds, when many of us want a beignet and Café Ole we go to Morning Call in City Park. In operation since the 1870s, the café generally has a shorter wait line. Although, it may soon cease to exist altogether if it changes hands to its more famous rival.
– Mark C Stevens