Even at its worst, is a doughnut ever really bad? Well, once you consume, in rapid succession, as many doughnuts as we have, you begin to separate the merely satisfying from the truly triumphant.
Of course, there's never a reason to eat a doughnut. Eating a doughnut is an act of pure pleasure. So if you're going to have one, every bite should merit throwing a wrench in your otherwise clean-living diet. Dry, bland pastry need not apply.
We scoured the city for the best doughnuts, the ones worth the sugar crash. We focused our search on actual doughnut shops, as opposed to restaurants that serve them on the menu. Dessert menus can change, and besides, we're not into dabblers. Here we honor those who've made doughnuts their life's work.
Kettleglazed may be the perfect balance of old and new. It's semi-"artisanal" with a bunch of new-school varieties like s'mores and the requisite maple bacon, but the other side of that seesaw is a big selection of old-fashioned doughnuts in flavors from buttermilk vanilla to blueberry. The only thing missing from this shop is the bougie prices. With many doughnuts under two bucks, you can afford to splurge on the purchase as well as the calories. 6211 Franklin Ave., Hollywood Hills, (323) 462-2344, kettleglazed.com.
9. Donut Friend
It's hard to have more fun in a doughnut shop than you can at Donut Friend in Highland Park. The whole conceit here is to build your own, which, considering the breadth of ingredients, can be rather intimidating. But you're up to the challenge. Want a cream cheese–filled, caramel-dripped, fritter doughnut with coconut bacon and cayenne? They're not going to say no. But if DIY is a little much for you, there are plenty of pre-tested doughnut designs for you to choose from. Plus, a ton of stuff there is vegan, and non-vegans won't even mind. 5107 York Blvd., Highland Park, (213) 995-6191, donutfriend.com.
Hear us out. As is the case with burgers, when it comes to doughnuts in L.A. one must consider the chain. Some are pillars of California history and deserve our respect as much as the mom-and-pops do. Of the short stack of old-school doughnuts chains around L.A., Winchell's is everything you're looking for: no frills, open 24 hours and located on practically every corner. They don't do anything newfangled here, and frankly, they don't need to. This is no place for balsamic strawberries or goat cheese filling. It's for sweet glaze, drizzly chocolate and the humble but noble sprinkle. Though classic doughnuts are common even in the trendier shops, you don't often see an actual bear claw (in the shape of a bear claw!) on their menus. Winchell's has them, and they're damn good. When in doubt, go that route. Various locations, winchells.com.
7. Bob's Coffee and Doughnuts
Bob's has a vintage feel, as it should, since it's located in the Original L.A. Farmers Market. And while not quite as old as the market itself, Bob's has been flinging outstanding little circular treats since 1970. Bob's specializes in classics like the simple powdered sugar, the apple fritter and the almighty Long John. The maple bar was our favorite, even among its many worthy competitors in town, perhaps because it came with the bonus of alfresco dining. Or maybe just because it was perfectly chewy and delicious. 6333 W. Third St., #450, Fairfax District, (323) 933-8929, bobscoffeeanddoughnuts.com.
6. Stan's Doughnuts
Stan's isn't even really a shop, it's a stand that shares its space with an outpost of the Flame Broiler. Despite this culinary clash, everything else about the place works. Its counter case is full of unique varieties, including the famous peanut butter banana and the giant pretzel-shaped twists. Former L.A. Weekly food blogger Elina Shatkin steered us toward the apple fritters, which were about the best fritters we tried, especially with that lingering cinnamon aftertaste. But the chocolate cheese, which is basically an iced cheese Danish, won our hearts with a decadence that bordered on comical. 10948 Weyburn Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-8660, stansdoughnuts.com.
5. California Donuts
This little doughnut stand is a grin-inducing midcentury throwback, even though it's an '80s baby. The glow of the neon "hot donuts" sign is enough to draw you in from the buzzing Koreatown corner, and once you get close enough to the doughnuts displayed through the big window wall, you're all set to triple your order. If the nostalgia factor didn't already have you feeling like a kid, there's a nice array of cereal-encrusted doughnuts — Froot Loops, Lucky Charms — and candy-topped ones including Snickers, Reese's Cups and M&M's. A selection of cronut-style doughnuts is about as trendy as the shop gets, but that's not the recommended direction here. There are so many classics to choose from, and at 95 cents each, there's no need to hold back. 3540 W. Third St., Koreatown, (213) 385-3318, cadonuts.com.
OK, so Cofax isn't a doughnut shop. However, this little spot has been smart enough to get friendly with Nicole Rucker, former pastry chef at Gjelina Take Away and Gjusta Bakery. Rucker is in charge of Cofax's rogue doughnut program, and she's cranking out some outstanding stuff. With this small but mighty collection, simplicity is the name of the game. The chewy texture will be what really blows your mind, but the flavors, which change regularly, are certainly nothing to shake a stick at. If you've heard good things about the honey sea salt, the rumors are true, and we're looking to start new ones about the coconut horchata. 440 N. Fairfax Ave., Fairfax District, (323) 424-7485, cofaxcoffee.com.
3. Primo's Donuts
Primo's has been doing its thing since 1956, and despite now being in the shadow of a major freeway, it somehow maintains that same simplistic charm we associate (however romantically) with that era. It's a tiny shop that serves maybe a dozen or so varieties, so we recommend getting there early if you want the good stuff before it runs out. The favorite there, and rightfully so, is the buttermilk — a dense, glazed behemoth of a thing that weighs more than it looks like it should. It's all you could ever want in a pastry: a crunchy exterior with a moist, slightly undercooked center. The glazed twist is also a treat in its own right. You'll realize that the moment you take a bite and the coating turns to sweet liquid. 2918 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle, (310) 478-6930. primosdonuts.com.
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2. SK's Donuts & Croissant
The SKronut should make all other glazed doughnuts in town very nervous. Despite its terribly unfortunate name (think about it), it's probably the best glazed game in town. Unlike some of its overly dense competitors, this croissant-style doughnut is buttery soft and airy, practically popping as you bite it, collapsing into a sweet, dense half-moon by the time you're halfway through. Of course there are plenty of other nibbles to choose from at SK's, and plenty of them are tasty, but this is the one you don't want to miss. Sit back and allow it to become your new favorite. 5850 W. Third St., Mid-Wilshire, (323) 935-2409.
1. The Donut Man
You will not have any other reason to go to Glendora, but you will drive 30 or so miles (if you're coming from city center) and you will stand in line. And for Donut Man doughnuts, it will be worth it. If you've heard of the Donut Man, you've likely been told tales of the strawberry doughnut, which oozes a filling of whole, ripe strawberries from a sweet, biscuitlike shell. That's a good one to try if it's available, but fear not if it isn't. The other seasonal selections (peach, pumpkin or whatever other ingredients look good to the owner) have fillings that runneth over much like their strawberry cousin. No matter what you pick, it will probably be semi-ridiculously oversized, making the whole doughnut experience at the Donut Man feel like a culinary funhouse. 915 E. Route 66, Glendora, (626) 335-9111, thedonutmanca.com.