As I walked the streets of downtown Chicago, clutching three paper bags of half-eaten doughnuts from three different shops, I had to finally admit that my friends were right — I really did have a doughnut obsession. I could say it started when I moved to Portland, the day I walked into punk-souled Voodoo Doughnut and walked out with a bright-purple, Kool-Aid-dusted Grape Ape. But I know it started much earlier. For me, memory lane is paved with rainbow sprinkles.
As a kid of divorced parents, bouncing around between houses, apartments, cities and small towns, doughnut shops were one of the few constants in my life.
While my mom worked two jobs and went back to school, my grandma took my brother and me to World's Fare, a donut shop in Hayward, California, where the fritters were as big as our heads.
When my newly single dad needed a place to celebrate our birthdays and soccer wins (or take the sting out of the losses), he took us to Winchell's, the West Coast's Starbucks of doughnut shops back then. When he moved three hours away and visitation weekends became a carsick slog, the bakery at the midway point appeared like a miracle.
And so, decades later, whenever I find myself in a new place, the first thing I do is find the doughnuts.
The quest grounds me in purpose, giving me a reason to walk the streets and get acclimated to my new surroundings. The scent of fried dough as I walk through the door reminds me, as it did when I was a kid, that everything's going to be just fine.
These days, as traditional maple glaze gives way to flavors like matcha and mole, I've found that there's no sweeter entry point to a city's culinary scene than through its doughnut shops. (P.S.: These are my favorite U.S. cities for eating donuts.)
What's the first thing you seek out when you land in a new place?