In the 14 years since Tres Shannon—a founding member of Portland’s famed Voodoo Doughnut—stuck Cap’n Crunch to his creation and called it voodoo, our city has cultivated a reputation as a Glazed Vegas on the cutting edge of fried dough decadence.
Somewhere along the line, though, we lost our way, driving donut innovation without regard for good sense or good taste. The simple pleasures of vanilla and chocolate and cinnamon gave way to multi-flavored monstrosities that subverted the very idea of dessert.
But for those who have no stomach for spinach cakes with a cumin-and-royal-jelly demi-glace, Portland is still a constellation of sugary gems and lardy treasure. There’s a perfect dozen scattered across the city: sweet and simple, just waiting to be chomped, dunked, and gobbled. (Alternates included for those who want to grab a second dozen.)
Marshall MathersVoodoo Doughnuts, multiple locations, voodoodoughnut.com
Voodoo’s built their reputation and tourism business on novelty—cakes dusted with Kool Aid, topped with Dubble Bubble, a seemingly endless supply of suggestive taglines, a record label—but they’ve also hit on a few really winning recipes. The best of the bunch is this modest cake ring armored with a mosaic of miniature M&Ms that will leave your sweet tooth tingling in ecstasy.
Old-Fashioned Cinnamon CrunchTonalli’s Donuts and Cream, 2805 NE Alberta
Tonalli’s offers Portland’s best selection of top-notch donuts, from fried banana bars to chocolate cake rings, and everything in between. But the easily overlooked king of the glass case is this old-fashioned, cloaked in cinnamon crunchies. Imagine the crumbs at the bottom of the coffee cake box glazed onto a donut, and you’re on the right track.
Alternate: Angel’s Buttermilk Pie (Comes in various flavors. Try peach.)
Apple FritterDonut Queen, 5842 E Burnside
Don’t let the spartan décor throw you off. Donut Queen offers the thickest-crusted fritter in the city. And where many shops ruin their fritters with an overload of mealy apple chunks, Donut Queen strikes just the right apple-dough-cinnamon balance, then drenches the whole thing in glaze. Added bonus: these things are as big as your head.
Alternate: Chocolate-Frosted Cake
Boston CrèmeHelen Bernhard Bakery, 1717 NE Broadway
In an era when ‘Boston Crème’ has come to mean, “stuffed with Jell-O pudding and spattered with Hershey’s syrup,” Helen Bernhard’s version of the East Coast classic stands out for its elegance. Filled with a light vanilla whip and coated with baked-on chocolate icing, this donut is impossible to put down.
Alternate: Applesauce Cake Ring
Glazed Buttermilk BarCoco Donuts, multiple locations, cocodonuts.com
Thankfully, it’s not hard to find good buttermilk bars in Portland. But Coco has perfected them. The impossibly moist cake, perfect for dunking, furnishes an appealing buttermilky tang, complemented by a simple, sweet glaze.
Alternate: Raised Lavender Ring
Whipped Cream PuffAnnie’s Donuts, 3449 NE 72nd (at Sandy)
Real whipped cream, not too sweet, but incredibly fluffy, and sandwiched between two halves of a raised chocolate bar. Like a bagel with cream cheese imported from Candyland.
Alternate: Maple Bar (Portland’s best)
Cherry FritterDonut World, 720 NE Burnside, Gresham
Light and airy, with a subtle hint of cherry flavor, one of these advanced-placement elephant ears will have you craving a second before you swallow the last bite. Plan accordingly: buy two.
Alternate: Glazed Cake
Ginger ChocolateStaccato Gelato, 232 28th
Slightly crispy crust + ginger-infused cake + semi-sweet cocoa icing + sprinkles of candied ginger = Sweet, rich, and chocolatey with a dash of zing that makes every bite a journey.
Alternate: Fairy Princess
Candied Bacon MaplePip’s Original Doughnuts, 4759 NE Fremont
Though a relatively new idea, the maple-bacon donut caught on quickly thanks to its appeal to both greasy-spoon traditionalists and highbrow connoisseurs. Pip’s version suspends the bacon in a jam that plays up its savory and salty notes. Have a couple of these in the morning, and you could convince yourself you’ve eaten a good breakfast. +Alternate: The Dirty Wu
French ToastDonut Byte Labs, 12 SW 4th
The intrepid folks at DBL attack this mini donut with a blowtorch, giving it a crispy-crunchy-sugary-cinnamony shell. Topped with a sizable dollop of vanilla frosting that complements both the texture and faintly smoky flavor of the donut.
Alternate: Strawberry Shortcake
Glazed RaisedHeavenly Donuts, multiple locations, heavenlydonut.com
Imagine you’ve got a bunch of donuts in the car, and for whatever reason—say, you’re writing an article about them—you’ve decided not to eat them until you can get home and really focus on the experience. Then imagine that you allow yourself a small bite of Heavenly’s plain glazed ring. Now imagine that it proves irresistible, and you eat the whole damn thing at the first red light.
Alternate: Chocolate Buttermilk Bar
Vanilla Crème FilledSesame Donuts, multiple locations, sesamedonuts.com
It’s surprising how many people don’t differentiate among filled donuts, so to clarify: Boston and Bavarian crème donuts contain a custardy filling, usually yellow. Vanilla crème is generally pure white and closer in taste and consistency to cake frosting. Sesame Donuts is the only local shop that makes a true vanilla créme and lucky for us, they make it delicious.
Alternate: Sid’s Special