We drove around the country with a noble mission to find, eat and photograph the best donuts in America. Thousands of miles and even more calories later, we accomplished our sugar-infused mission. Read on to discover our favorite American donuts.
We decided to live out our dream with a 7-week American road trip that took us around the country with stops in dozens of states, even more cities and up to the Canadian province of Ontario.
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In addition to sandwiches and other savory foods, we ate a lot of donuts along the way at just about every city we visited. Our appetite for donuts, while not bottomless, more than held its own as we drove through snow in the Smokey Mountains, torrential rains in the Florida panhandle and hailstorms in the Texas desert.
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Starting in our home city of Philadelphia, we researched the best donut places in cities as far south as Miami all the way to the country’s opposite corner in Seattle. When it came to eating donuts on our American road trip, the only limits were set by our stomach space and belt notches.
During our ambitious road trip, we started mornings with donuts and coffee but we didn’t stop there. We also ate donuts with fried chicken for lunch and as afternoon snacks. Posting colorful photos on Instagram motivated us to eat more and more donuts in various shapes, sizes and flavors in between meals featuring some of the country’s most iconic foods.
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Donuts have a come a long way from the old fashioned, glazed and jelly varieties that were a staple of our youth. Now, it’s entirely possible to enjoy flavors as varied as Grapefruit, Maple Bacon and Froot Loops – and that’s exactly what we did during our two months on the road.
By the end of the epic road trip, we were donut-eating pros who needed a break from consuming copious amounts of fried dough. Yes, donut burnout is a real thing and we’re living proof of the non-contagious eating disorder. Don’t worry – we quickly got back on the wagon and started hunting for the best donuts in the world.
Donut vs. Doughnut
The only difference between a donut and a doughnut is the spelling of the two words. Many believe that the word was originally spelled in the “gh” form, with the shorter word emerging from the popularity of Dunkin’ Donuts and Mister Donut in the mid 20th century. One peculiar note: Krispy Kreme uses ‘doughnut’ despite the fact that the southern chain purposely misspells both words (krispy and kreme) in its brand name.
Our Picks For The Best Donuts In America
Eating dozens of donuts across America converted us from donut fans to donut pros. We honed our donut skills the old fashioned way – by eating donuts at famous donut shops and local institutions.
As we zipped through the country on barren highways and scenic backroads, we kept our eye on the doughnut prize. Sure, we occasionally digressed by eating butter cake in Kansas and ice cream sandwiches in Charleston, but we rarely ate a donut that didn’t make us smile.
After a much needed break and with fresh eyes and hungry bellies, we’re now ready to present our picks for the best donuts and donut shops in America.
Some of our favorite donuts had sweet toppings and even sweeter fillings. Although every every donut didn’t have holes, they all tasted great.
We’ve added additional donuts based on our 2021 visits to New Orleans and New York City.
Sadly, some donut shops (namely Donut Lounge in Kansas City, Glazed and Infused in Chicago and Rocket 88 in Indianapolis) have bit the proverbial donut dust since our visits. This just means we have a good excuse to try donuts at spots like Brooklyn’s Doughnut Plant, Chicago’s Doughnut Vault, Richmond’s Sugar Shack in Richmond and Seattle’s Top Pot in the future.
Until the future becomes the present, the following donut shops are selling our favorite donuts in America:
1. Federal Donuts (Philadelphia)
Federal Donuts was the perfect spot to kick off our donut-focused US road trip. Not only is this donut shop located in our former home city of Philadelphia, but it also claims fame for kickstarting the country’s craze with combining fried chicken and donuts.
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Open since 2011, Federal Donuts sells two types of donuts – ‘hot fresh’ donuts dusted with sugar and ‘fancy’ donuts with unique ‘cheffy’ flavors like Strawberry Lavender and Guava Poppie.
We use the word “cheffy” in the highest regard since the chain was founded by noted Zahav chef Michael Solomonov and Bodhi Coffee’s Tom Hanneman. Beyond donuts and fried chicken, Federal serves amazing chicken sandwiches and excellent coffee sourced from Philadelphia’s Elixr Coffee Roasters.
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2. Five Daughters Bakery (Nashville)
Although Nashville has several notable donut shops, Five Daughters Bakery caught our eye with a menu that includes donut-croissant hybrids inspired by Dominique Ansel (see below). Since we visited Five Daughters with two friends, we were able to taste flaky, layered donuts plus a couple without layers.
The owners named their bakery after their five daughters in 2015 and have since expanded beyond Tennessee to Georgia and Florida. They sell their famous layered donuts at all locations as well as options for donut lovers who are follow paleo, gluten free and vegan diets.
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3. Blue Star Donuts (Portland)
In a city filled with donut shops, Portland’s Blue Star Donuts has shined since 2012 with creative flavors and attention to detail. Starting with brioche dough, bakers at Blue Star add the best available ingredients to their donuts including Valrhona chocolate and Steven Smith tea.
4. District Donuts, Sliders & Brew (New Orleans)
Not surprisingly based on the name, donuts are not the only offering at District Donuts, Sliders & Brew in New Orleans. But, in our opinion, donuts are the star attraction at this sprawling eatery where donut flavors range from simple Glazed to divine Banana Pudding.
Not able to narrow our choices from ten tempting options to just one, we settled on two donuts – an airy, tender Cinnamon Sugar donut and a show-stopping Berries & Cream donut. A trio of fresh berries added a healthy, colorful touch to the otherwise decadent glazed donut that was both topped with vibrant fresh fruit and filled with luscious vanilla cream.
5. Union Square Donuts (Boston)
Ironically, Boston’s best donut shop opened its original location in nearby Somerville back in 2013. Union Square Donuts has since opened additional locations in Brookline and at the Boston Public Market and Time Out Market.
While in Boston, we hightailed it to Somerville so that we could sample USD’s signature Maple Bacon donut made with brioche dough, real Vermont maple syrup and chunks of smokey bacon. During our visit, other tempting flavors included Boston Creme, Birthday Cake and seasonal Apple Cider.
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6. Dominique Ansel Bakery (Manhattan)
The cronut became an instant pastry classic when it debuted at Soho’s Dominique Ansel Bakery in 2013 and hasn’t lost its luster yet. After training as a pastry chef in Paris, Ansel gained fame working for Daniel Boulud before inventing the croissant-donut hybrid at his now iconic New York City patisserie.
We have no regrets about joining the daily queue for the chance to sample Ansel’s famous layered pastry infused with cream. Though we’ve eaten tasty copycats in cities like Barcelona, Cape Town and Nashville, there’s nothing like eating a cronut at cronut’s ground zero. Scoring one is the equivalent of winning the donut lottery.
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7. Voodoo Doughnut (Portland)
Voodoo Doughnut has been keeping Portland weird since it opened its first location back in 2003. Although the iconic donut store now has locations in cities like Austin and Denver, it retains its status as Portland’s official donut.
Crowds queue for the chance to eat a dizzying array of yeast and cake donuts decorated with both colorful creativity and a slightly naughty note. We went the creative route during our visit by ordering a Marshall Mathers cake donut topped with vanilla frosting and miniature M&Ms.
8. Paula’s Donuts (Buffalo)
Paula’s Donuts has been a Buffalo institution since 1996 when the original donut shop opened in the Queen City. Paula’s now has three locations in Tonawanda, Williamsville and West Seneca.
Famous for its peanut stick, a stick-shaped cake donut that’s glazed and covered in crushed peanuts, Paula’s offers 30 donut flavors each day. We tried a couple including an excellent “Headlight” donut topped with chocolate icing, angel cream and sprinkles.
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9. Pinkbox Doughnuts (Las Vegas)
Packaging donuts in a pink box is a west coast tradition. Since 2012, Pinkbox Doughnuts has been taking this tradition to the next level in Las Vegas by baking pink velvet donuts in addition to dozens of other flavors.
As it turns out, we didn’t eat any pink donuts at Pinkbox or take away donuts in a pink box. Instead, we ate colorful donuts on a pink plate. In full disclosure, our Crunch Bar had a few pink pieces of cereal on top.
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10. Sidecar Doughnut (Los Angeles)
Los Angeles has more than its fair share of donut shops including Randy’s Donuts, the Inglewood institution flanked by a large donut. But, after weighing our options due to limited time, we stopped by Sidecar Doughnut in Santa Monica during our swing through the City of Angels.
Originally opened in Costa Mesa in 2013, Sidecar now has additional shops in LA and San Diego. Though the shop’s colorful Huckleberry and Violet donuts impressed us, our favorite was the less flashy but highly tasty Butter and Salt cake donut.
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11. The Salty Donut (Miami)
Our love for The Salty Donut in Miami was inevitable. Operating in the city’s funky Wynwood neighborhood since 2015 and now with additional shops in Dallas and Miami, The Salty Donut bakes a range of donuts with 24-hour brioche dough and serves them with a side of Intelligentsia coffee. Did we mention that we’re also third wave coffee fans?
Crowds patiently wait in line in for flavors like Traditional Glazed and White Chocolate Tres Leches. Our favorite donut was Baked Carrot Cake, a divine combination of earthy sweet cake and crunchy sugary frosting. Our Cinnamon Toast Latte was equally enjoyable.
12. Peace Love & Little Donuts (Pittsburgh)
Peace Love & Little Donuts, the Pittsburgh donut shop that opened in 2009, sells three kinds of miniature cake donuts – funkadellic, far out and groovy. Although PL&LD now has grown over the years with franchises in more than a dozen states, these three categories remain on the menu.
We sampled a variety of mini donuts during our visit to the original Strip District location. All were good but the standout was Raspberry Lemonade appropriately decorated with a peace symbol.
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13. Hugs & Donuts (Houston)
Houston is a city where hugs have trumped kisses since 2015. Why 2015? This is the year when Hugs & Donuts opened in a Space City strip mall.
Beyond donuts, this Houston eatery serves Kolaches, the famous Texas pastry imported from the Czech Republic, including one topped with barbecue brisket and cheddar. But yeast and cake donuts ranging from simple to adventurous are the main event here. Otherwise, it would be called Hugs and Kolaches.
14. Win Son Bakery (Brooklyn)
We didn’t hit Win Son Bakery during our epic 2016 donut tour but it wasn’t our fault- the innovative Taiwanese bakery didn’t open in Williamsburg until 2019. High on our radar, based on our affinity for the food in Taipei, we hightailed it to Win Son during an impromptu Brooklyn pizza crawl during our most recent trip to NYC.
To be clear, Win Son Bakery isn’t a dedicated donut shop. With an eclectic menu that includes items like moon cakes and scallion pancakes, the bakery only had two donut options (Millet Mochi and Red Rice) during our visit. But, as it turns out, the millet mochi donut, with its crunchy sugar exterior and warm, soft chewy interior, was more than enough to turn our rainy day frowns upside down.
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15. Vortex Doughnuts (Asheville)
Serving donuts and specialty coffee in Asheville since 2014, Vortex Doughnuts hypnotized us with a vortex-like whirling motion. Our entry was inevitable but our stay entirely voluntary.
One of North Carolina’s best donut shops, Vortex sells glazed, filled and old fashioned donuts with options for vegans and gluten sensitive donut fans. Since we don’t fit in either of these categories, we paired a Maple Bacon donut with chilled nitro coffee and followed the combo with a mini Earl Grey donut chaser.
16. Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken (Washington, DC)
Following in the footsteps of Federal Donuts (see above), Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken has been pairing fried chicken and donuts in DC since 2013. But, unlike FedNuts, Astro offers just four donuts (Vanilla Glazed, Maple Bacon, PB&J and Créme Brûlée) plus seasonal specials to go with its crispy poultry.
During our visit, we opted for a signature Créme Brûlée deemed to bet the ‘best doughnut in D.C.’ by the Washington Post. We may have also eaten a fried chicken breakfast sandwich but we’ll save that for another article.
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17. Pip’s Original Doughnuts (Portland)
While adding to the City of Roses’ abundance of donut riches, Pip’s Original Doughnuts diverts from Blue Star and Voodoo (see both above). This Portland donut shop serves freshly prepared miniature donuts in flavors like Cinnamon Sugar, Nutella & Sea Salt, Candied Bacon & Maple and ‘The Daily Wu’ with Nutella, cinnamon sugar, honey and sea salt.
We paired a selection of miniature donuts with hot chai tea during our visit. Yes, Pip’s also serves chai by the cup and in chai flights. We couldn’t help but say “pip pip hooray’ between bites and sips.
18. Dynamo Donut & Coffee (San Francisco)
We popped over to Dynamo’s original Mission location for a coffee and donut break. Tempted to order the signature Vanilla Bean donut, we selected a Passionfruit Milk Chocolate donut instead. The mashup of the two disparate ingredients was too enticing for us to ignore.
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19. Doughnuttery (New York)
The New York City donut scene has popped since we lived and worked in Manhattan during the 1990s. Amid the many artisan donut shops that have sprung up in all five boroughs, Doughnuttery stands out for baking sugary-coated miniature donuts for the masses since 2012.
20. Blue Dot Donuts (New Orleans)
Donuts pose a challenge in New Orleans. Not only do NOLA bakers specialize in sugary fried beignets, but the city also has its fair share of top-notch donut shops. However, when deciding where to eat donuts in the Big Easy, it was a no-brainer for us to go to Blue Dot Donuts.
Opened by donut-loving police officers in 2011, Blue Dot’s origin story spoke to us. We popped over to the Mid-City in the morning to buy a box of freshly baked donuts with flavors like Red Velvet, Maple Bacon and S’mores. After eating them all, Red Velvet ended up being our favorite.
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21. Holtman’s Donut Shop (Cincinnati)
Holtman’s Donut Shop (open since 1960) is the second oldest donut shop in this guide. Don’t be late when you visit this Cincinnati donut shop – it shuts for the day the donuts sell out. If you plan your day right, you can eat donuts for breakfast and then Cincinnati Chili for lunch.
Since we visited the downtown Cincinnati location for breakfast, we opted for Fruity Pebbles and Maple Bacon donuts to start our day. Otherwise, we may have selected Long John and Buckeye donuts.
22. Welcome Chicken + Donuts (Phoenix)
Welcome Chicken + Donuts felt familiar to us when we popped in on our way to the Grand Canyon. Not only does the Phoenix business follow the FedNuts playbook, but it’s also located in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken store. Despite it old school locale, Welcome Chicken & Donuts mixes things up by serving a more modern version of KFC – Korean fried chicken.
As for donuts, Welcome’s inspired donuts include flavors like Chocolate Rose Pistachio and Chipotle Limon as well as the Red Wine Chocolate Pudding and Cream Cheese Tangerine Marmalade donuts that we ordered. After pairing our donuts with a piece of juicy fried chicken, we felt both full and ready to explore the canyon.
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23. Mighty-O Donuts (Seattle)
True confession: We didn’t actually visit a Mighty-O Donuts shop in Seattle. Despite this omission, we were were smart enough to eat one of their glazed cake donuts at Analog Coffee during a highly caffeinated Seattle coffee crawl.
The donut and coffee combo delighted us so much that we’re confident to include Mighty-O in this guide. Open since 2000, the award-wining donut shop only uses ingredients that are vegan and organic. In other words, this donut is one of the healthiest in our guide.
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24. Glory Hole Doughnuts (Toronto)
Although Canada is in the Americas and not in America, we enjoyed our donuts at Toronto’s Glory Hole Doughnuts so much that the shop stood out as a favorite during our road trip. Open since 2012, Glory Hole crafts a variety of cake and yeast donuts for its two Toronto shops.
Skipping vegan donuts during our visit, we ordered a Matcha donut and a Toast + Butter donut. Though we planned to take a quick bite of each for research purposes, we ended up eating both with no regrets.
25. Red’s Donuts (Monterey)
We assumed that Monterey’s famed aquarium would be the highlight of our Northern California pit trip stop when we visited friends in the charming town. As it turns out, Red’s Donuts was equally memorable for these two donut disciples.
The opposite of trendy, Red’s has been a Monterey fixture since it first cranked its oven in 1950. More than 70 years later, locals still fill the shop’s barstools during the day. Based on the way our fresh donut was generously slathered with sweet maple icing, we don’t blame them at all.
26. Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts (Austin)
Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts lives us to its name by serving some of the biggest, fattest donuts that we’ve ever seen. They also serve some of the wildest donuts best eaten with a knife and fork.
During our visit to Gourgough’s South First Street food truck with a friend, we didn’t finish the two donuts between the three of us. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy eating the over the top donuts. Rather, we didn’t want to get too big or fat from the experience.
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27. Hole Doughnuts (Asheville)
Hole Doughnuts proves that Asheville is big enough for two great donut shops. Although Hole opened the same month as Vortex (see above), both Asheville shops have stayed afloat by following their own paths.
The Hole Doughnut path involves offering just four flavors, including one seasonal flavor, at any given time, using organic stone ground flour, shaping donuts by hand and frying them to order. No two donuts look alike and that’s okay. When it comes to donuts, we’d rather eat a hot, misshapen donut than a stale, boring donut any day of the week.
28. Destination Donuts (Columbus)
Destination Donuts debuted as a pop-up in Columbus at the city’s bustling North Market in 2012. Now located in its own shop six miles from the market, it’s become a destination for donut fans in Ohio’s capital city.
Flavors change daily and run the gamut from sweet to sweeter. Regardless of the flavor or sweetness level, these decadent donuts are a great dessert option.
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29. Brider (Denver)
The donut we ate at Brider was so memorable that we decided to include the Denver restaurant in this guide. Although Brider isn’t a dedicated donut operation, it’s dedication to donuts was readily apparent when we sampled a small batch Brioche donut during our visit.
Baking donuts in high altitudes presents challenges. With that in mind, we give Brider’s bakers major props for their Brioche donut smothered in caramel sauce. As for the donut’s interesting shape, we’ll leave that to individual interpretation.
30. Beiler’s Doughnuts (Philadelphia)
All road trips must come to an end and our donut tour was no exception. Since we started in our former home city of Philly, ending at Beiler’s Doughnuts in the city’s Reading Terminal was both fitting and filling.
The Beiler family have been frying donuts in the historic market since 1984 and they don’t stop there. Other Pennsylvania Dutch treats include whoopie pies, cakes and cookies. Having no choice but to order donuts, we skipped chocolate and vanilla and went straight for a Caramel Apple donut.
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About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: November 25, 2020