“To know a city’s people, you must first know its doughnuts.” No one actually said that, but the quotation marks make it look legit, right? Right. And just because it’s a fake quote doesn’t mean the message isn’t true. L.A. is going through a doughnut boom right now, with new spots springing up constantly and old ones getting more popular as they continue to scratch nostalgic itches. Simply breaking it up into old and new doesn’t capture the scene though. The way we see it, all doughnuts in L.A. fall into three categories.
But even that doesn’t account for all the nuance, complexity, and intersectionality. What about the decades-old classic donut shops that have found new life in Instagram. Or the fried dough artisans that are doing old school better than the old-school spots? Or the vegan, gluten-free, and every dietarily restricted doughnut in between? Which is why we made this super trustworthy and 100% scientifically accurate Venn diagram.
These are the OGs: the Founding Fathers of L.A.’s doughnut scene. They do glazed rings, chocolate bars, sprinkle-studded cake doughnuts, and the occasional fritter, while never giving in to the hype of knockoff cronuts and salted caramel everything. This category also includes fried dough neoclassicism—newer spots that pay no-frills homage to their predecessors.
Stan’s Donuts: CLASSIC
Stan’s has been serving Westwood since the Lew Alcindor days. They play the hits—frosted cake, apple fritters, maple bars—but also have some first generation creative riffs like the peanut butter stuffed Huell doughnut, named after TV legend Huell Howser. In case you’ve ever wanted to eat Huell Howser.
The Donut Man: CLASSIC
They do all the classic fried dough variations, but the real draw at this Glendora institution are the massive fruit-filled doughnuts. Strawberry season is lit.
Primo’s Donuts: CLASSIC
This West L.A. shop has been run by Celia and Rich Primo for more than half a century, and they still churn out arguably the city’s best buttermilk bars.
Winchell’s Donuts: CLASSIC
The first location opened in Temple City in 1948, and, 169 openings later, Winchell’s has become the West Coast’s biggest doughnut chain. It’s still worth it to stop by now and then as token of respect.
Randy’s Donuts: CLASSIC
Not only is Randy’s a donut institution, but, thanks to the iconic sign acting as the perfect movie backdrop, it’s a pop-culture institution too. The Inglewood staple has all the usual suspects, but the move here is definitely the massive Texas glazed.
Bob’s Coffee & Donuts: CLASSIC/ARTISANAL
Bob’s has been at the Original Farmer’s Market since 1947, automatically making them a classic. However, their spiced cake doughnuts—arguably the best in the city—could pass for any hipster doughnut shop, giving Bob’s honorary Artisanal status. They’ve taken baby steps to Instagram-ify like throwing M&M’s onto a glazed doughnut, but that doesn’t figure into their core ethos.
Blinkie’s Donut Emporium: CLASSIC/INSTAGRAM
Though the Woodland Hills spot has existed since the ‘60s, Blinkie’s changed ownership in 2003, and there have been some social-media-friendly updates to the menu… mainly the multiple versions of the can’t-legally-call-it-a-cronut. Their black and white doughnuts are still a main draw too.
The new wave of small-batch doughnut shops where their vanilla’s country of origin is proudly displayed and at least one of their doughnuts is infused with herbs and/or alcohol. Often associated with hipsters, these doughnuts will cost $3-$4 a pop but they generally pay out in flavor and quality. Some are also ornate and Instagrammable, but the primary focus is always taste and fanciness. Intent is key.
Cofax Coffee: ARTISANAL/CLASSIC
Cofax has only been on Fairfax for two years, but there’s something delightfully classical about Nicole Rucker’s fried pastry. There are tons of gourmet flavors, but the doughnuts are less flashy and ostentatious than some of her Artisanal contemporaries, and certainly less so than the Instagrammable crowd. The honey sea salt looks like a regular glazed from the outside, but then you get that floral saline pop and you know you’ve eaten something backed with intent.
Blue Star Donuts: ARTISANAL
Portland came into Venice hot. And we mean real hot—we crowned them the best new-wave doughnut in L.A. for a reason. They hit it big with flavors like blueberry, bourbon, and basil, but their buttermilk old-fashioned still holds up.
Not to be confused for ICDC College—one of L.A.’s top ten for-profit post-secondary education career colleges—Ice Cream, Doughnuts, & Coffee has all the new-school boxes checked. Australian espresso, salted caramel on stuff, and a celebrity chef backer in Neal Fraser.
Donut Snob: ARTISINAL
There’s no store-front, but who could blame them for wanting to avoid rent and overhead? Donut Snob is true to its name and has some straight up snobbish fried dough—it isn’t raspberry jelly inside the Berry Best, it’s mixed berry coulis. That’s what makes it so good. You can find a full list of retail partners on their website.
Chicken and doughnuts is the new chicken and waffles. Or at least on one street corner downtown it is. In addition to one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in the city, Birdies also has a short list of upscale cake and raised doughnuts, ranging from a dulce de leche-drizzled horchata twist to a pistachio doughnut infused with lemon-thyme.
Sidecar Doughnuts: ARTISANAL/INSTAGRAMMABLE
Real Housewives and fancy doughnuts—that’s what Orange County does. Sidecar came to Venice by way of Costa Mesa, and they’ve been giving the likes of Blue Star a run for their money. But, unlike Blue Star, they take their doughnuts to the next aesthetic level, placing them in the Instagrammable category as well.
Donut Friend: ARTISANAL/INSTAGRAMMABLE
At this Highland Park newcomer, the doughnuts are topped with bruleed marshmallows and they’re named after alt/punk rock heroes, making them deliberately share-able. Wouldn’t you want your thousand closest friends to know that you’re eating a S’Morrissey doughnut?
They’re dolled up to look like whatever cartoon character is in right now (Pikachu), or topped with toxic-looking neon glaze, or sprinkled with the nostalgia of candy and breakfast cereal. These doughnuts can absolutely be delicious, but looks, trends, and hype come before all. One rule of thumb: If the doughnut shop has multiple varieties of cronut knockoffs, they automatically fall into this category.
SK Donuts & Croissant: INSTAGRAMMABLE/CLASSIC
SK has been serving Hollywood classic doughnuts for more than two decades, but they’ve since moved into the hype-tastic realm of apple pie cronuts (which they awesomely call a Skronut) and doughnuts dolled up to look like cartoon characters. Having a Minion doughnut automatically puts you in the Instagrammable category.
DK’s Donuts: INSTAGRAMMABLE
Like SK—its one-letter-off counterpart—DK’s has also been around for multiple decades and now serves up golden-fried hype. They even have a waffle-doughnut hybrid called a wownut, because of course they do. However, DK’s has killed it so hard on the internet (78.3k Instagram followers at time of publishing) that they’ve almost erased their history as a classic doughnut shop and are now fully actualized as a social media-first entity.
California Donuts: INSTAGRAMMABLE
Basically the same story as DK’s, but raised to the power of ten. They’re closing in on half-a-million Instagram followers, their feed is chock-full of quote-unquote foodie influencers (and also Steph Curry?), and there are at least three kinds of breakfast cereal topping their doughnuts. Also, they make panda doughnuts. The internet loves pandas. California Donuts might be more than three decades old, but they’re like your aunt who inexplicably knows how to use Snapchat better than you do.
Kettle Glazed: INSTAGRAMMABLE
This three-year-old spot in Hollywood focuses on the classics, and there’s no breakfast cereal to be found, but, if we adhere to the multiple-cronut-knockoff doctrine, Kettle Glazed must be considered Instagrammable. And we do adhere. This is science.
What does the internet love more than pandas? Dietary restrictions. Go ahead and search the millions of results for #vegan or #glutenfree if you don’t believe me. That’s why Fōnuts, the baked, often vegan and gluten-free don’t-call-it-a-doughnut shop falls into this category. It probably takes some artisanal finesse to make a vegan doughnut that good, and there are some foodie-forward flavors, but it’s near impossible to climb out of the specialized diet hole.
Donut Farm: INSTAGRAMMABLE
Donut Farm came to Echo Park by way of San Francisco. Donut Farm is vegan. To understand why that makes them Instagrammable, read Fonuts above.
Café Dulce: INSTAGRAMMABLE
Fruity Pebbles? Check. Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Check. Bacon? Double check. Cafe Dulce in Little Tokyo satisfies all your Instagram requirements and more. They also lean towards the Artisanal side with green tea and red bean varieties, but fall a few fancy ingredients short.
Semi Sweet Bakery: INSTAGRAMMABLE/ARTISANAL/CLASSIC
Semi Sweet is so Instagrammable that they’re post-cronut and moved onto the crullant: a cruller croissant hybrid. But the bakers have also logged time at some of the best fine dining restaurants in America, making it obligatorily Artisanal. But! Their main doughnut focus is still on the Classic cake varieties. It’s all three in one—the unicorn of doughnut shops.
But that’s not to say it’s perfect, and perhaps it’s not even aspirational. Do we really want our donut shops to be everything for everybody? Is the line between jack of all trades and master of none too thin to tread? Is fried dough separatism—where our souls, stomachs, and Instagrams are nurtured independently—the (don)utopian ideal?
It’s a crazy, mixed-up, pre-Apocalyptic donutscape out there folks. Make good choices.