Back in the 1940s, a donut machine salesman named Russell C. Wendell created a chain of Big Donut Drive-Ins. He opened nine total locations, with each one featuring an enormous donut perched on the roof (a quintessential example of programmatic architecture). Wendell then went on to sell his donut chain, so that he could create the Pup 'N' Taco franchise, which he later sold to Taco Bell. From what we can tell, of the original Big Donut Drive-Ins, only four now remain, with each one taking on their own unique name (though a fifth was turned into a giant bagel).
So for this (and next) week's food fight, we're venturing out to all four of these giant donut drive-thrus, to see which one does the best version of the perfect classic: a plain cake donut with a cup of coffee. Today we take on Part 1, and pit the most famous of them all, Randy's Donuts, against the oldest of the four — Kindle's Donuts.
We began at the iconic Randy's in Inglewood, which we still remember as the place we drove past on our way to the Great Western Forum for the Kings Stanley Cup run in '93. It's a small, 24-hour shop, but cleanly kept, and filled with trays displaying a wide variety of colorful donuts. You can also, thankfully, buy Lotto scratchers there. We ordered our cup of coffee and plain cake from the walk-up window, ultimately deciding to avoid the tiny cups of non-dairy creamer. The donut was decently crispy on the outside, and adequately soft within. It had light, spiced undertones, and held up well when dipped into the dark, acidic brew.
Yes it was, of course, a cup of coffee with a plain cake donut. It was successful, and satisfying, and everything you could expect from a donut drive-thru. There was no let-down, and there were no negative surprises. But the act of dunking a humble, round donut into a cup of mediocre coffee has, in our opinion, become foolishly under-appreciated. You sugar addicts can keep your maple bars.
Our next stop was Kindle's. It's about two years older than Randy's, and seemed to be showing its age. The giant donut was a little dirtier, its paint cracked and chipped, and clearly had not been as well-maintained. The homeless man on the corner offered an approving nod as we took photos of it from the sidewalk. We ordered, again, from the walk-up window. The coffee was different, in that the woman behind the counter presented us with an extra Styrofoam cup of milk, should we need any.
As for the donut? It was lighter, and more mild in flavor. But unfortunately, it seemed as if it were fried only on one side. The top was slightly browned and crisp, but the underside was pale, and soft. It was perhaps not a catastrophic flaw, but one which made for inadequate dunking. Okay, maybe that is a catastrophic flaw.
So in round one, the most famous giant donut, Randy's, is also the winner. It showed us that there are simple, edible pleasures in life; and then there are simple, edible pleasures, consumed under a giant sculpture of the very thing you're eating. But is there a better giant donut shop out there? Check back next week for Part 2, in which we take on Donut King II in Gardena, and Dale's Donuts in Compton.