It might be decades, or it might be never, before New York City is the home to a doughnut shrine like Leonard's in Honolulu, Glendora's Donut Man, or Seattle's Top Pot. But for a city not exactly known for showcasing the wonders of sweet fried dough, we're not doing too bad.
Over the last three weeks, Serious Eater Robyn Lee and I have subwayed up and down the boroughs, making many doughnut stops. The doughnut variation and varieties we found were endless and fascinating. From the high-end indulgences where doughnuts ran more than $4, to the low-brow 70¢ numbers, we ate them all with great gusto. We even took a dip in at Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme for "quality checks." We ate and we ate. And then ate some more. We analyzed, downed cups of coffee, and then continued. Below, we bring you the best of New York City doughnuts.
Note: We're well aware that fancy New York restaurants churn out some mighty fine doughnuts (coffee and doughnuts at Per Se, anyone?) but we chose to limit this search to institutions with doughnuts on-the-go. Bakeries, trucks, and coffee shops. Perhaps one day we'll bring you the best of New York Restaurant Doughnuts. Till then, wake up early, because the best doughnuts are found in the wee morning hours. And don't forget that cup of coffee to make a complete meal!
Best Doughnut Involving Ricotta
Abraco's Ricotta Fritters
Abraco's Ricotta Fritters are indeed the finest in town. Each duo is fried to order by Elizabeth Quijada (also responsible for the cured-olive cookies and mouthwatering olive oil cake). They may be known for their coffee here, but the sweet and savory snacks are worth a visit all their own. The ping-pong-size balls are served piping hot with a liberal dusting of confectioners' sugar and a crisp surface harboring plush, warm ricotta-based dough. These darling two-biters are luxurious, intoxicating, and far too easy to down between sips of brewed-to-order drip coffee. 86 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003; 212-388-9731
Best Bomboloni (Tie)
You must be careful when you eat the bomboloni at Caffe Falai. I wasn't--and suffered indeed when a rather tasty blob of chantilly squirted out with much force, straight onto my nose. Carelessness aside, the bombolini here are light and delicate, bordering on whimsical. They come stuffed with four various flavors, including chocolate and vanilla crème, but our favorites were the chantilly and a chunky strawberry jam one. 265 Lafayette Street, New York NY 10012; 212-274-8615
Sullivan Street Bakery
Over at Sullivan Street Bakery in Hell's Kitchen, the bomboloni, are filled with either vanilla pastry cream or raspberry jam, but are of an entirely different breed. They are just as adept at satisfying a hunger for sweet fried dough but exhibit a greater body and substance with dough more akin to bread than a light pastry. Deep-fried to a crisp dark brown before getting generous shakes of confectioners' sugar, they stay perfectly crisp at room temperature. We prefer the pastry cream to the jam, for no other reason than we simply can't get enough of the pure vanilla flavor and luxurious mouthfeel of the bean-speckled filling. 533 West 47th Street, New York NY 10036; 212-265-5580
Best Doughnut from an Asian Bakery
We love the An Doughnuts at Café Zaiya and the sugar-dusted numbers at Chinatown bakeries, but if we could only choose one doughnut from an Asian bakery, it would be the Sweet Rice Twist at Koryodang. Noticeably less sweet than the norm, and based on mochi flour (employed both in the dough and the mix sprinkled over the fried exterior), it's a chewy and satisfying treat with subtle nutty undertones. Far from your usual light and fluffy number, this is one doughnut that can hold its own. 31 West 32nd Street, New York NY 10001; 212-967-9661
Best Custard and Jam Doughnut
Made only on the weekends, the doughnuts we ogled behind the glass cases at Bouchon Bakery were easily the largest we've met. And at $4.25 a doughnut, also the priciest. But cost is easily justified in this case, as Bouchon's doughnut could very well be a fine meal supplement. Enormous and plush, generously stuffed with a smooth and sweet raspberry jam, it has Bavarian cream piped through the whole thing. Fried to a deep brown, the dough is substantial yet moist and surprisingly light—a close relative to Sullivan Street Bakery's bomboloni. 10 Columbus Circle, New York NY 10019; 212-823-9366
Best Jelly Doughnut
The doughnuts at Trois Pommes in Park Slope are also a weekend-only affair. Make an early morning visit, perhaps one or two minutes just past 8 o'clock, and you'll be rewarded with a sumptuous breakfast treat of luxurious doughnuts, still warm out of the fryer. Carefully arranged upon a white cake stand, deciding upon a flavor is simple: There's only one option. And what a wonderful option—a yeast doughnut stuffed with sweet, fresh raspberry jelly. Should luck be on your side that morning, you just might get a doughnut with slight ragged edges fried a tad more dark than the rest, making for a lovely crunch as you break through the powdered sugar poof and straight into the soft, giving dough filled with warm jam. 260 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215; 718-230-3119
Best Glazed Doughnut
Peter Pan Bakery
For all the the $5 gourmet beauties and cakey wonders with jam made from Greenmarket berries, there must always be a plain and unadorned number you can consistently rely upon. A doughnut so basic that you could eat it for breakfast every day and never tire of it. Like the honey-glazed doughnut from Greenpoint's Peter Pan Bakery. It's an unfussy yeast doughnut, with a tender and featherlike crumb, gently fried and minimally sweetened with a light honey glaze. Nourishing in a way that only sweet fried dough could be, this doughnut holds nary a surprise--and only satisfaction. 727 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211; 718-389-3676
Best Nut-Topped Doughnut
We were devastated to learn that Balthazar Bakery had done away with its pistachio-topped cake doughnuts, a favorite among cake doughnut lovers in the city. But with another season comes another doughnut, and we welcomed the banana-pecan cake doughnut with open arms. Balthazar is generous with nuts (and icing) on this creature--chopped pecans coat the entire top surface and count for a fair majority of the doughnut. It also happened to be the smallest of all cake doughnuts we encountered. The banana element was less pronounced than we would have liked, but between the sweet, delicate crumbs and the pour of pecans, we had little to complain about. Come in the morning, so you're not stuck with one of the few greasy afternoon leftovers. 80 Spring Street, New York NY 10012; 212-965-1414
Best Greenmarket Doughnut
Tree-Licious Orchards, Union Square Greenmarket
Despite appearances, not all apple cider doughnuts at the Union Square Greenmarket are created equal. Not in the least. A few are alright, and one was quite terrible (i.e., stale and lackluster), but the doughnut that rose to the top came from Tree-Licious Orchards. Not only was it the least greasy of all the Greenmarket doughnuts, it remained moist even after a long day at the market. With warm, subtle notes of apple cider lingering on the tongue and the breezy chill of fall in the air, you just might be inclined to start each trip to the market with a doughnut in hand.
Most Inventive Cake Doughnuts
The international fame that Doughnut Plant has garnered since it opened in 1994 on the Lower East Side is nothing short of impressive, with locations now in Japan and Korea. The flagship location still remains and so do the long lines of locals and tourists, who make their way into the shop to eye displays of the most elaborate doughnuts seen in the city.
The yeast doughnuts are fine, but for a taste of something truly wonderful, you have to head for the cake doughnuts--two in particular. First the tres leches, which have been here mentioned before. Those loving words still hold true; we still lust after this intoxicatingly sweet creation, injected with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream. But if your cravings are a little darker, the blackout cake doughnut is your best bet, melding fudgy dark chocolate cake with an equally rich pudding to match. The entire deep-fried creation is coated in moist cake crumbs. Could there be anything more thrilling? 379 Grand Street, New York NY 10002; 212-505-3700
Best Cinnamon Cake Doughnut
Out in Bay Ridge, the cinnamon cake doughnuts at Mike's Donuts reign supreme. In a doughnut world completely isolated from that of Doughnut Plant, you won't find any haute specimens at Mike's. Instead, you'll come face to face with a family-owned business, genuinely friendly service, and a plethora of fresh doughnut options. Many are worthy of your taste buds, but the cinnamon cake is the stand out.
Unusually light for a cake doughnut and dusted in cinnamon-sugar crumbs, we could only imagine how sublime this one would be were it still warm. We've sampled our fair share of cinnamon varieties, but the cinnamon-to-sugar proportion done right coupled with that slight blissful crunch, and a near fluffy cake texture, leaves us most content at Mike's. 6822 5th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11220; 718-745-6980
Best French Cruller
After a tireless search for the best french cruller in our city, with multiple stops at Peter Pan Bakery, Donut Pub, Mike's Donuts, 7th Ave Donuts, and even Dunkin' Donuts, we finally came across one that passed muster. A creature that is light and airy with a crisp golden exterior, the French crullers at Alpha Donuts in Sunnyside, Queens, are not stored in the metal baskets lining the walls with the other doughnuts. Instead, they're hidden alongside oversize muffins and yeasted twist doughnuts, behind the glass counters. The lightly glazed exterior crunches open into moist, delicate dough. There were the lightest of all the French crullers we sampled. Alpha put to rest our issues with all past crullers, which exhibited soggy exteriors--and, for a few, interiors so doughy that one taster asked, "Is this filled with cream?" 45-16 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside NY 11104
I know we said no fancy restaurant doughnuts, but how could we not include this one? (Plus Shopsin's isn't really a "fancy restaurant," right?) From Robyn:
Best Breakfast Doughnut
A doughnut's greatest potential is only realized when it's eaten fresh from the deep-fryer. Get your chance by eating Shopsin's sugar-dusted mini doughnuts—warm, heavenly plops of dough that go straight from the fryer onto a plate of huevos rancheros (as part of the mexican skillet breakfast combo 11). I had only just broken through the thin, slightly crisp crust and halfway into the pillowy insides before I thought, "Damn, this doughnut is really awesome." And then after eating another bite, I repeated the same thought. I've had doughnuts in other restaurants where the doughnut was too hot to the point of being molten, or disappointingly cool, telling me that it couldn't have been very fresh. Shopsin's doughnut was easily the best doughnut-eating experience I've ever had, although mostly during those first few minutes of its life. Essex Street Market, Stall 16, 120 Essex Street, New York NY 10002; 212-924-5160