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The first time I ate a donut with Cap’n Crunch on top I was standing on a street corner in downtown Portland, having just snaked my way through the line at Voodoo Doughnuts. I’d just waited for longer than I care to admit, and by the time I got this round piece of raised yeast into my hands, my stomach was grumbling. My donut experience up until that point had been limited to Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme, and this, I was told, was something I shouldn’t miss now that I was a Portlander.
The first bite, of course, was maintenance: taking care of all of the Cap’n Crunch morsels that were about to fall to the ground. The second bite, though, it was magic. Pillowy soft dough, light and airy, just a touch of salt to meet and harmonize with the sweet, creamy glaze. Seriously, this was a damn fine donut. It was also 2009. Now Voodoo is part-owned by San Francisco-based venture capitalists, and the quality is… markedly different.
Sure, when it started, Voodoo was just a hole-in-the-wall cash-only place pumping out confections that were in every way suited to the now-famous Keep Portland Weird ethos. Vegan donuts, donuts with sugary cereal and Oreos on top, donuts with Nyquil, giant dick-shaped donuts, maple bars with bacon… you get the idea. Perhaps these seem passé now, but that’s because Voodoo laid the groundwork. They’re one of the core reasons Portland is a donut destination. They’re also played out AF.
In 2019, there’s a better way to experience Portland as a donut paradise. You don’t have to stand in line for hours on end just to eat your disappointment and walk away with Voodoo’s iconic pink box. The town has upped the stakes — both in flavor and experience. Here’s how to have the donut-crawl of your life without ever stepping foot inside a Voodoo.
Blue Star Donuts, NW 23rd, SW Morrison, SE Division, and more
We really don’t mind lines if the food is worth it—and you will certainly find lines here.
Blue Star is New Portland’s fancy-schmancy answer to Voodoo: sleek, chic, with just a little bit of cheek. With five locations around the city (six if you count the airport) plus more popping up in locations like L.A. and even Tokyo, this donut chain gives you all the tongue-in-cheek and unexpected flavor combinations without any of the feeling like maybe you could have gotten a pastry from the grocery store. You may get antsy after 20 or 30 minutes in line, but the wait is well worth it.
Using brioche as the base for all their raised yeast donuts, Blue Star’s little love-cakes are a seemingly impossible combination of rich and airy. (Except for the cake donuts. Those suckers are dense flavor bombs.) When you order, get half a dozen assorted (or, if you’re feeling flush, shell out almost $50 for 12 assorted) and follow your heart. Expect to see tart passion fruit glazes, melty vanilla custard-filled creme brûlée with Cointreau pipettes for the over-21 crowd, and orange-olive oil cake donuts that will make you forget where you are.
Then, of course, there are the classics — original glazed, apple cider fritters as large and as compact as a fist, and old fashioned chocolate buttermilk donuts that taste like they were made by the southern grandmaw you never had. Make sure you go relatively early, though. Blue Star sells until they run out of dough, and then they close up shop. No exceptions.
Pip’s Original Doughnuts & Chai, NE Fremont
For me, Pip’s is a special treat kind of thing. It’s a “you finished a 5k!” place. A “you’re graduating” kind of spot. Because it’s cozy and warm and the kind of place you want to make good memories in. If you’re more into a homemade aesthetic and made-to-order donuts than subway tile and cold, hard efficiency, this mom-and-pop shop is the place for you.
Yes, yes, you’re going to wait in yet another line, especially if you go on a weekend. But we promise this is well worth it. Because if you have functioning tastebuds, you’re going to love what happens at this cafe.
You can order as few as four doughnuts, though I’m not sure why you would do that, and you’re limited to four dozen. Choose from staples like cinnamon sugar or raw honey and sea salt, or, if you’re feeling bold, go for one of the seasonals — anything from sweet potato pie to meyer lemon pear butter. Then there’s the chai. Made in small batches in-house, you can choose from the Ginger Rogers, a spicy, nutmeg-forward chai that will light your insides on fire (perfect for a cold day), to the herbaceous Emmy Lou, which is heavy on the lavender. Sip your chai of choice while you wait for your name to be called with your donuts. When it is, try not to knock anyone over.
Be careful with the first bite: these doughnuts go straight from the fryer to your plate. Burns aside, these babies are bite-sized pockets of steamy perfection. With just the tiniest hint of sweetness—a whisper, really, a mere suggestion to your tongue to get ready for the raw honey or Nutella—what really make these puppies stand out is the body. This is the kind of dough you’re going to want to use for everything.
Coco Donuts, SW 6th, SW 17th, N. Skidmore, NE Fremont, and more
Coco Donuts is the friend who never lets you down, the one who you saw at all your friends’ events but never really talked to, until one night, you were having a rough go, and Coco was there for you, no questions asked. You haven’t looked back since. Coco Donuts is solid as a rock. If you want to skip the (sometimes insane) lines at the first two stops, get to one of the six locations. It doesn’t matter where: east side or west, north or south, Coco is there. And she’s offering up solid, house-roasted coffee.
Coco Donut’s flagship store is a dreamy hang-out where you’ll want to post up all day instead of, you know, exploring. And if you do just that, you shall be rewarded with pink frosted yeast donuts, pillowy and soft. Or how about a chocolate glazed, dense and decadent, like the birthday cake of your dreams? It doesn’t matter what you choose. You’ll be satisfied. Plus, they retain some of their old-school utilitarianism: you can still get a dozen assorted for $12.
Sesame Donuts, Beaverton, Oregon
While this one isn’t technically in Portland, it’s easy to get to and so, so worth it. So worth it. Seriously. Go to Sesame Donuts.
When you pull up to Sesame, you’ll notice something oddly familiar about the signage. The colors aren’t quite right, but the font is definitely reminiscent of…something you’ve seen before. And when you go inside, the way they display their donuts will remind you of a time, long ago, when donuts were for dunkin‘ in coffee and not much else.
Oh, all right, I’m sorry. This Sesame Donuts, as Portland lore tells it, took over one of the last Dunkin’ Donuts in the state and decided to not really change a thing. If you’re an east coaster, you may be wondering right now: last Dunkin’ Donuts? To which I say: yes. There are no Dunkin’ Donuts at all in the state of Oregon. Trust me. I looked.
At any rate, go to Sesame Donuts and there you will find a large assortment of donuts: glazed, frosted, filled. Bear claws, fritters. Pink, purple, blue, covered in sprinkles, totally bare, and everything in between. Then there are the breakfast sandwiches. The glorious breakfast sandwiches. Give me egg and cheese on an English muffin with a cup of coffee, and I am good to go. It’s about as no-frills as you’ll get in the Portland donut scene, and there’s something so poetic about that.
Portland is many things: city of roses, city of weirdos, city of great beer and overpriced condos. But it is also a city of donuts. So when you come to Portland, make sure to wear your stretchy pants, drink lots of tea, and make some room in your stomach, because the city is blessed with awesome options… Even if you skip Voodoo completely. .