originally appeared in USA Today:
Last year we took a look at the best donuts in just about every major American city. Our list included the classics, the new-wave, the dives, the places with lines around the block, the crazy ones, and the ones that you wouldn't know were anything to write home about until you took that first bite into the gooey goodness that is the perfect donut.
But what exactly makes a donut shop perfect? The freshness of the product, first of all. Like a bagel, a donut begins declining in quality as soon as it's removed from the heat. Creativity helps, but a balance always needs to be struck between adherence to authenticity and out-of-the-box inventiveness. Also, how have these establishments affected both the neighborhood they're in and the city at large? Whether their specialties are simple cake donuts, maple and bacon-topped behemoths, or ones shaped like a voodoo doll, these shops are all standouts in their own way, and aren't to be missed next time you find yourself in their neck of the woods.
We tried to represent as many cities as possible in our list. Chicago's Dinkel's has been turning out some of the best donuts anywhere for nearly 90 years. Los Angeles' Randy's is a whole lot more than a giant donut-shaped sign. New York's The Doughnut Plant singlehandedly made people realize that there was a lot more to a donut than what you could pick up at Dunkin' Donuts.
We've searched high and low. Here's our ranking of the 12 best donut shops in the country.
This little shop, nestled into a cozy corner of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, is quietly turning out what, in our opinion, are the best donuts being produced in the country right now. The owners of Dough stick to yeast as opposed to cake donuts, and it's a recipe that they've perfected. The key is freshness, and freshly fried donuts are near-constantly being brought out of the kitchen. The offerings are continuously changing, but never cease to surprise. Passion fruit, hibiscus, earl grey, lemon poppy, blood orange, chocolate glazed… you might just have to return a few times before your cravings for these donuts will be satisfied. But they most likely never will be.
Dat Donuts, Chicago
This no-frills donut stand in the front of a barbecue shop is as simple as it gets, and that approach makes for some of the best donuts ever created. While their "Big Dat," which is about the size of your head, will keep the tourists taking photos for years to come, a bite of Dat Donut's handmade plain glazed will send you into a state of quiet contemplation.
Round Rock Donuts, Round Rock, Texas
The unique orange-yellow yeast-risen donut that put Round Rock on the map gets is color from the high-quality fresh eggs that go into it. The recipes and ovens used to create these rings of perfection haven't changed since the 1920s, and they sell for only $0.59 apiece. Forego the "Texas Size" giant for the classic plain-glazed.
Doughnut Plant, New York
This small bakery isn't the most beautiful donut shop on our list, but it basically singlehandedly started the specialty donut boom that's gripping the nation. Donuts have been a part of the owner's family for more than 100 years, and in 1994 he opened The Doughnut Plant using that same recipe his grandfather used. By building on that classic recipe, he's made a name for himself and his bakery, and he's also created a few now-legendary inventions, like the square jelly-filled and tres leches donuts.
Bouchon Bakery, Yountville, Calif.
While a chef known for running two of the best restaurants in the country (New York's Per Se and Napa's French Laundry), is no longer a part of Bouchon, he trusted his pastry chef to deliver donuts that stand up to his name and he hasn't disappointed. Although the treats are only available on the weekends, this surprisingly casual spot is best known for its brioche donuts and ones filled with fresh, seasonal preserves.
Sublime Doughnuts, Atlanta
Their pastry chef is a donut genius-at-work in this charming Atlanta donut shop, and his creations are some of the most original in the country. It's nearly impossible to not walk out of Sublime Doughnuts without four or five of his trademark donuts, in varieties like fresh strawberries and cream, Oreo ice cream "burger," s'mores, and salted caramel balsamic.
Mighty-O Donuts, Seattle
Vegan and organic might not be two words you associate with world-class donuts, but Mighty-O's are the best ones out there that meet those criteria. These perfect little rings of dough and sugar are egg-, dairy-, and cholesterol-free, and come in standout flavors including lemon poppy, French toast, and "good ol-glazed."
Cafe du Monde, New Orleans
When there's only one item on the menu and lines to get in at all hours of the day and night, you know you've come to the right place. It also happens to be one of the most famous places in all of New Orleans. No trip to the Crescent City is complete until you've sampled Café du Monde's beignets, fresh out of the fryer, topped with a heap of powdered sugar and washed down with a cup of their chicory coffee. A word of advice: don't breathe in while taking a bite, or else you'll end up coughing and getting powdered sugar all over everything (and everyone) around you.
The Doughnut Vault, Chicago
While not an easy place to score your doughnuts at (they're closed Sundays and Mondays, and only open for an hour or so on the days that they are open), once you've made your precious purchase it's nearly impossible to not leave The Doughnut Vault a very happy camper. The menu is gigantic, but narrow down your options to the cake donuts, which are surprisingly light and fresh. From there your best bet is to keep it simple; a light coating of cinnamon and sugar should be all you need to change your opinion of cake donuts forever.
Voodoo Doughnut, Portland
Probably the most famous donut shop in the country at the moment, this tiny, quirky donut stand is never without a line, and customers are rewarded for their patience with some of the most outlandish donut creations in existence. Voodoo Doughnut's Portland Cream has been named the city's official donut by the mayor, and the Captain My Captain, topped with vanilla frosting and Cap'n Crunch, is the perfect exercise in both simplicity and brilliance. There are currently two other outposts, but nothing beats a visit to the original.
Randy's Donuts, Los Angeles
This hole-in the wall donut shop has been in business for 60 years, and the giant donut on its roof has become as much of a Los Angeles landmark as the Hollywood sign. It's not just a gimmick, though: Randy's has some seriously delicious donuts. Try the buttermilk one.
Dinkel's Bakery, Chicago
A german immigrant opened this Chicago institution in 1922, and it's remained in the family ever since. It's changed very little in the past 90 years, and their non-donut baked goods are legendary in their own right. But you haven't truly experienced Dinkel's until you've tasted their handmade donuts. While they've jumped on the maple-bacon bandwagon, you're best off sticking with the classics: try the chocolate cake donut and try to not to weep.