The goal of our trip is to experience the best of America and we feel deeply that a large part of that experience necessarily means eating donuts.
We are into donuts in a big way. I realize donuts are only a “cute” and “fun” hobby if the people talking about them are in good physical shape, otherwise people will probably just be all, “Maybe you shouldn’t eat so many donuts though . . .”
Just know that while we enjoy taste-tasting great donuts, we’re not hitting them very regularly. Actually we feel this scarcity of donuts in our day-to-day lives is necessary to maintain the integrity of the palate. Mostly we eat things that are reasonably good for us, and then occasionally we eat a whole ton of donuts in one fell swoop.
We do it for you. Our quest is to impart the knowledge you need to experience the type of quality baked good you crave. You’re better than a stale convenience store donut. You’re worth more than that.
A note on donuts generally: we are not really looking for the single best donut, but for the donut purveyor who is serving up consistently quality goods. That said, we often come across a shop that does one particular style very well, and that merits a mention. We always try a plain glazed donut as a baseline, and then generally try about six other types to get a feel for overall quality. We try to hit early in the day when the donuts are freshest; the best donut is always going to be the donut straight out of the fryer.
We realize that taste in donuts, as in all things, is subjective, but we think we can give you a pretty good list of donut's worth trying. If it helps, here's where our preferences lie: taste is the most important thing, but texture is also crucial. An over-sweet donut is a donut I don't bother finishing. We like gourmet donuts because the dough tends to be more carefully thought-out; when you get a donut with some subtle lamination happening, you know there's a good quantity of butter involved and that's an excellent thing. That said, we're not snobby about our desserts and we'll give a grocery store donut the same attention as a fancy $5 hipster donut.
With all that out of the way, let's talk about donuts of the Pacific Northwest.
This is a region of excellent food, so it's no surprise that there are some real winning donuts here. Our tasting focused on shops with great reviews and reputations in Eugene, OR, Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA.
We were guided in our Oregon effort by my sister and her husband, long-time Eugene residents and appreciators of Good Things. They pointed us to three Eugene shops: Cal's, Dizzy Dean's, and Voodoo.
On Voodoo: we've been excited to try the donuts here for a while. People speak very highly of them and some of the Portland-area shops can have lines down the block. We checked our expectations, bought a solid spectrum of donuts to try, tasted them, and said, "Really?"
Voodoo donuts aren't bad at all, but they're also not a donut I'd particularly seek out. They actually taste exactly like my hometown grocer's donuts--solid but not special. Voodoo of course adds crazy flavors and toppings, but unless the idea of having Captain Crunch on a donut just makes you completely giddy, I wouldn't put these on any don't-miss lists. If you're craving something sweet and a Voodoo is around the corner, by all means stop in. But don't bother waiting in a long line for these guys.
Cal's: Cal's is a super solid donut shop, our favorite overall in Eugene. When my brother-in-law stopped in to get us a selection, he told Cal he was bringing them for a taste test by some "donut connoisseurs". Cal shrugged and said, "Well, I've been doing this a long time. I feel good about what I've got."
So Cal himself is the coolest.
The donuts are all-around solid; our favorites were the old-fashioned. I don't know what the PNW is doing different with their old-fashioneds and buttermilk bars, but it is TERRIFIC. These kinds of donuts usually get a little too greasy and a little sickly sweet with the glaze (gritty glaze is a frequent stumbling block too.) But every old-fashioned we tried in Washington and Oregon was tastily glazed and perfectly crispy without being greasy.
Cal's old-fashioneds were top-notch and our favorite individual donut among a very solid group.
Dizzy Dean's is another donut specialist, and what they do right here is keep a variety of raised donuts in a hot case, so you can get one warm. This is brilliant and it really takes their already very good raised donuts up a notch. We didn't enjoy the cake donuts as much, but the warm raised were pretty special.
We had to hurry through Portland to get to Washington for our bus wrap appointment, but we had to stop for a little bit because we'd heard excellent things about a couple of Portland shops, Donut Byte Labs and Blue Star Donuts.
First we tried Donut Byte Labs, a tiny food truck that turns out tiny cake donuts, fresh off the robotic donut fryer and individually flavored right in front of you. These donuts are SO GOOD. We got half a dozen, then returned immediately to try the rest of the flavors. The donuts themselves are excellent--fresh, warm, crisp, light, and not so small as to lose the balance of textures--and the toppings are terrific. All of the piped custard toppings were particularly top-notch. This is a not-to-be-missed donut, one worth seeking out for sure.
Our second Portland donut round was at Blue Star Donuts. This place embodies the gourmet donut aesthetic, from its interior design to its mix of basic and creative flavors.
This place made me homesick for my favorite donut shop in the world, NYC's The Doughnut Project, and I can't think of a higher comparison I could make. Blue Star's old-fashioned is the best I've had anywhere, executed perfectly and with an absolutely divine flavor.
The raised donuts were wonderful as well. Blue Star really excels at fruit flavors and subtle herbal notes. The Blueberry Bourbon Basil and Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk were real stars here. This is a Top Donut Spot for sure.
Now on to Washington: here we tried Top Pot, Daily Dozen, Mighty O, General Porpoise and Dahlia Bakery.
We'll start with our favorite, General Porpoise.
This place does only one type of donut, a sugar-covered filled raised donut. The donut itself is very good—maybe a titch greasy, but this is balanced by the quantity of utterly scrumptious filling. And the filling is what really sets these guys apart: the vanilla custard was wonderfully vanilla-y and the apple and rhubarb jam just the right amount of tart. Our favorite, though, was the honey yogurt, which was filled with an excellent Greek yogurt. That creamy tartness combined with the soft dough and crunch of sugar made for one stellar donut. These are pricey at $4 a donut, plus a 10% gratuity is added to every order which seems unnecessary. Still, if you're in Seattle, definitely check this place out.
Dahlia Bakery was another Seattle star. They only do one donut-y thing—beignets—and they fry them up fresh while you wait. These are the best little beignets I've had, and they're served with mascarpone and an excellent fruit jam. These puppies are worth seeking out; the rest of bakery items also looked great, but this place is pricey so we had to limit our test ;).
Daily Dozen is a Seattle classic, served up at Pike Place Market for ages. They make mini cake donuts and toss them with different kinds of sugar. The donuts are a bit greasy and don't have the best flavor, but if you're at the market and craving a fried treat, they're not bad. Don't knock yourself out getting to them, though; lots of places in Seattle are doing a better donut.
Top Pot is the ubiquitous Seattle donut shop, with locations all over town. We tried a good variety here. The verdict? They're fine. For a chain, they were pretty solid, but most of the donuts were much too sweet. Better than Dunkin', but they don't approach most of the other donuts we tried in the PNW.
The last shop we tried was Mighty O, which specializes in vegan cake donuts. David never picked up on the vegan fact, though—they don't knock you over the head with it. These donuts are much tastier than most non-veg cake donuts I've tried. Moist, not greasy, and well-flavored, I'd put this near the top of the Seattle donut pack.
So that was our PNW lineup. Did we miss your favorite? Do you think we're crazy for liking or not liking one of these? Did you stop reading partway through because you think we're gluttonous carb monsters? Let us know!