Confession: I have a donut obsession. Whenever I find myself in a new place, the first thing I do is find the donuts. I've donut-crawled my way through a bakers' dozen cities over the years — at least. Here are six of my very favorite donut destinations, in no particular order.
1. Chicago, Illinois
The windy city doesn't mess around when it comes to donuts. Just about every neighborhood has a beloved, old-timey donut shop (looking at you, 90-year-old Dinkel's), but downtown is a hotbed of fried dough ingenuity.
Glazed and Infused started the trend in 2012, and people still flock to the five outposts for matcha-cream-filled creations dusted in powdered sugar, and red velvet cake donuts piped with cream cheese frosting.
Then came Firecakes, with its triple Valrhona chocolate and donut ice cream sandwiches, followed by wee little Doughnut Vault with its tight menu, even tighter space, and cult-inspiring old-fashioned donuts in flavors like coconut cream and apple cider.
2. Louisville, Kentucky
You come to Louisville for the bourbon, but Hi-Five makes sure you never forget the donuts. The insanely creative bakers treat them like a blank canvas — key lime-glazed and topped with a ring of torched meringue one day, or slathered in blue frosting and adorned with cotton-candy clouds and rainbow candy the next. Customers can even design their own.
But for a taste of the traditional, and a little history too, hit Nord's Bakery, where locals have been lining up for donuts based on the original owner's German recipes for more than 70 years.
3. New York, New York
Good luck trying to eat your way through all the great options here. My annual visits over the past five years have just barely scratched the surface.
The venerable Doughnut Plant, a pioneer of the nouveau dough movement, takes my top pick (the luscious coconut cream is my favorite). When I'm craving a classic glazed raised, I reach for the horchata at Dough for its cinnamony depth. The toffee-crusted, butter pecan crunch at Pies 'n' Thighs could serve as dessert for four, while The Doughnuttery's piping-hot mini donuts, in flavors like Paris Time (lavender, pistachio, and vanilla), are just right for snacking while walking through Chelsea Market.
When I hit Sullivan Street Bakery for bread I always leave with the pillowy, vanilla cream-filled bomboloni (#noregrets). And the much-lauded cruller at the new Daily Provisions is a rich, eggy pastry worth all the hype (get the maple).
4. Portland, Oregon
My city's claim to doughnut fame originated with 14-year-old Voodoo, and the Froot Loop-topped, Kool-Aid-glazed numbers that seem to have sparked a crazy-donut arms race across the country. But PDX's donut talents run much deeper than that.
Don't miss the rich and tender buttermilk bars slathered in real maple syrup at Coco Donuts; soft, spiced apple cider doughnuts at the homey throwback Helen Bernhard Bakery; pretty-in-pink strawberry cake donuts with strawberry glaze at old-school Tonalli's; the constantly revolving donut-as-dessert lineup at Blue Star(Cointreau crème brûlée is a must); and ingenious vegan creations like the marshmallow-filled s'mores at brand-new Doe Donuts.
5. Seattle, Washington
Top Pot's classic lineup and sheer volume of shops (two dozen and counting) make it a Seattle-area institution. But if you like your donuts filled, General Porpoise is a must. The sugar-crusted puffs are unbelievably tender and filled with silky creams and seasonal preserves like rhubarb-blood orange jam. Rodeo Donut, started by a former baker at the city's famed Cupcake Royale, gives fried dough the pastry chef treatment, starting with brioche as the base, and finishing with glazes like ghost pepper passionfruit, and blueberry lemon thyme.
6. Washington, D.C.
Like the food scene itself, the donut scene in the nation's capital is on fire. At District Doughnut and Coffee, everything is made with chef-driven refinement — think glazes made with brown butter, fillings like salted dulce de leche ganache, and toppings like crumbled snickerdoodles. Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken (now with an outpost in LA), goes all-in on the frying oil and cooks up crispy Old Bay-seasoned chicken to serve between savory donuts. Among the sweet options, the crackling crème brûlée is a standout, but the ever-changing seasonal options, like root beer float (vanilla cream filling and root beer glaze) and cherry blossom (cherry jam filling and cream cheese glaze) shouldn't be missed.
Do you agree with my picks? Did your city make the list?