Spiced Chocolate, Lemon Sichuan, and Bacon Maple Apple Donuts at Dynamo Donuts
Any doughnut roundup of San Francisco would be severely lacking without prominent mention and glowing recommendation of Dynamo Donuts. The Mission outpost would easily be a neighborhood favorite thanks to its lovely back patio and Four Barrel Coffee offerings, but their eccentric and extensive doughnut flavors make them a city-wide destination.
A couple things you should know: 1. They run out. And it doesn't hurt to call ahead if you know what you want. 2. You won't be leaving with just one doughnut. You have to get the Bacon Maple Apple ($3), because once you've tried the maple-sweet doughnut generously topped with pieces of crisp bacon, you realize that it tastes exactly like your favorite diner breakfast condensed into doughnut form. The Spiced Chocolate ($2.50) is shot through with flavors of cinnamon and chipotle, evoking an excellent cup of Mexican hot chocolate. And while you're there you may as well try something new, like the Lemon Sichuan ($3), a fluffy vanilla donut filled with the perfect amount of lemon curd and topped with powdered sugar. The Sichuan peppercorn element doesn't come through all that strongly, but we were too busy inhaling it to care.
Maple Custard Filled Doughnut at The Jelly Donut
Just down 24th Street from Dynamo is its polar opposite donut shop. The Jelly Donut looks as though it's been in the neighborhood; offerings are standard, but it's hard to go wrong in ordering. We very much enjoyed their Maple Custard Filled Doughnut ($1.25), massive and decadent and literally oozing with smooth, creamy custard. This is not for the faint of doughnut heart—this is what you order when you want something intense. No matter what you order, however, you can be certain there will be some freebies thrown in the bag as well: extra doughnuts, or at the very least, a few doughnut holes. They were a little denser than we would have preferred, but for a free treat, they're quite tasty.
The Jelly Donut: 3198 24th Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map);
Chocolate Old Fashioned Doughnut at Eagle Donuts
Eagle Donuts is easy to miss when walking through Bernal Heights if you're not looking for it. And that's a shame, for the nondescript little shop has some of the best old fashioned doughnuts we've tried. Their Chocolate Old Fashioned ($.90) in particular: crisp on the outside and moist within, this is a textbook old fashioned doughnut, covered in a generous layer of not-too-sweet chocolate. It's a spot we could see falling into our morning coffee routine.
Also worth noting: Eagle Donuts has a doughnut happy hour: after 2 pm, you get three doughnuts for the price of two.
Eagle Donuts: 3303 Mission Street, San Francisco CA 94110 (map);
Chocolate French Doughnut at Donut World
Mid-Market is rife with donut shops, with two Donut Worlds across the street from each other. Stick to the one bordering the Civic Center: the small shop is cleaner than most, and their Chocolate French Donut ($1.25) is worth making a stop for. Light, airy, and eggy in flavor, the interior resembles a popover in the best of ways. Coated in chocolate, the doughnut avoids tasting cloyingly sweet.
1114 Market Street, San Francisco CA 94107 (map);
Cinnamon Crumb Cake Donut at Barbary Coast
Sometimes when in San Francisco, you find yourself in Union Square. Maybe you're sightseeing, maybe you're shopping -- whatever the reason, you'll likely need a sugar rush before too long. When that happens, head to Barbary Coast, a small coffee shop and cafe just outside the fray of the Square. We love their Cinnamon Crumb Cake Donut ($.95), fresh-tasting and coated in a generous layer of cinnamon crumbles. As good as coffee cake and significantly more portable, it will have you revived in no time.
55 Cyril Magnin Street, San Francisco CA 94107 (map);
Glazed Donut at Happy Donuts
I think of Happy Donuts on Columbus as the ultimate cop spot. Not because it's filled with SF's policemen at all times (though I've certainly seen them there), but because they make a truly great Raised Glazed Donut ($.90). The glaze itself manages to avoid being too sweet, and the doughnut has a wonderful yeasty taste. Sometimes, you really don't need to mess with a good thing.
145 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco CA 94133 (map);
Nutella Filled Bomboloni, The Heartbaker
In a city as international as San Francisco, we felt we had to include at least one form of doughnut from another culture. And when it comes to decadent sweets, we felt that Italy was a good direction to go in. Bomboloni ($2.50) baked by Sybil Johnson, aka The Heartbaker, might have you renouncing the hole-y sweets for good. A bit smaller than a tennis ball, Johnson's bomboloni are dense, buttery, sugar-coated and delectable on their own. But why stop there? She makes a variety of fillings, but there's no way to go wrong with Nutella. You can only go very right.
The Heartbaker sells her bomboloni at a variety of locations around the city (we got ours at the Jackson Place Cafe) and takes orders via phone and email on her website.
The Heartbaker at Jackson Place Cafe:
Lemon Poppyseed and Mango Spiced Vegan Donuts, Pepples Donuts
Pepples Donuts have cornered the vegan doughnut market in San Francisco, and you'll hear no complaints from us. With as many flavors as Dynamo (though clearly, no bacon), the Oakland-based bakery crafts their doughnuts out of a vegan "butter" that causes the end result to taste as rich and decadent as their dairy-friendly brethren.
More cake-like than anything, the donuts are dense, heavy, and not particularly crumbly. But they're delicious. The cake is consistent across the board; the flavors change with the generously applied frosting. We had a very hard time choosing (Kaffir Lime and Philz Coffee were top contenders), but we settled on the Chili Mango and Lemon Poppyseed ($2.75 each). We weren't disappointed. The chili mango was actually spicy, and had a great sweet mango flavor as well. The lemon poppyseed had an excellent tang, and a sweetness that reminded us of sour, tangy candy.
Pepple's are available at multiple locations in the Bay Area (including all locations of Philz Coffee), but they have their own setup at the Ferry Building.
Pepples Donuts at the Ferry Building:
Donut Holes and Vanilla Frosted Cake Donut at All Star Donuts
I used to work right next to All Star Donuts in SOMA, and it was often our spot for various morning (or afternoon) pick-me-ups. So, in returning for this roundup, I was aware that my fondness for All Star might be more due to convenience than anything else. I shouldn't have been so wary of my own taste. While I've never had a bad doughnut at All Star, we were big fans of the Vanilla Frosted Cake Donut ($.95), fluffy and light and dusted with chocolate sprinkles. The doughnut was delicious but the real find at All Star are their doughnut holes ($1.25 for six). Airy and fresh, the holes are absolutely worth ordering in their own right, rather than afterthoughts tossed in the bag. No wonder afternoons at my former office often involved bags of the holes being passed around.
All Star Donuts:
399 Fifth Street, San Francisco CA 94107 (map);
Apple Fritter and Glazed Buttermilk Doughnut at Bob's Donuts & Pastry Shop
Bob's Donuts on Polk is near-legend for a variety of reasons; their all-night hours and enormous, platter-sized donuts, just to begin. But, having ample experience in the ways of Bob's, let us provide some pointers.
1. Go after midnight. It's part of the experience. 2. Order an Apple Fritter ($1.75). Swirled with cinnamon and entirely caramelized on the outside, the fritter contains thick chunks of apple. "Better than I'd think a doughnut could be", I noted, as we tore into the fritter like wild animals. 3. Order one of whatever is fresh out of the fryer. While, admittedly, watching doughnuts cooked in vats of hot oil isn't the most appetizing thing, the end result is so, so worth it. On lucky days, the apple fritters will be fresh and then... oh, man. But, on our visit, we opted to try the Buttermilk Glazed Donut ($1.10), which is something I'd normally miss entirely. Hot out out of the oil, the doughnut tasted like nothing so much as a deep fried Belgian waffle, which is to say, amazing.
Bob's Donut & Pastry Shop:
1621 Polk Street, San Francisco CA 94109 (map);
Beignets at Just For You Cafe
Cajun food may be having a moment in San Francisco, but we keep going back to Just For You in the Dogpatch for their Beignets ($4.75 for three). They're certainly not as intense or crisp-edged as those you'll find in New Orleans, but we love their fluffy, eggy consistency. Covered in a generous shake of powdered sugar, these are certainly beignets that will fill your fried-food craving, but still allow room for one of Just For You's delicious scrambles.
Just For You Cafe:
Trish's Mini Donuts at Pier 39
All San Franciscans know that Pier 39 is a place to be avoided like the plague. And while we wouldn't necessarily suggest your making the Pier a frequent part of of your San Francisco days, we will say that Trish's Mini Donuts may be the one reason to make a visit. A bag of six ($3.00) should be enough to sate you (though they sell them by the bucket as well). Light, airy, and crackly, each doughnut disappears in in two bites and is rife with donut dough flavor. The dusting of sugar provides the right amount of sweetness, and every order comes straight from the fryer. It may not redeem Pier 39 as a whole, but it's certainly a must should you find yourself in the vicinity.
Honorable Mention: Donut Muffin at Devil's Teeth Baking Company
The Inner Sunset can feel like a voyage from many parts of San Francisco, but when we caught wind of a Donut Muffin ($2) being made at the Devil's Teeth Baking Company, we knew we had to make the trip.
It was worth the trek. Not least because Devil's Teeth is an excellent bakery serving Blue Bottle Coffee right near the Pacific. As for the "donut muffin," it's certainly more muffin than doughnut, but that doesn't mean it's not delicious. Coated in butter, cinnamon, and sugar, the entire surface area is like the best kind of cinnamon toast. And okay, it is butter-covered, but it's baked instead of fried. That's got to count for something, right?
Also, we hear that Devil's Teeth puts on an excellent beignet Sunday. We didn't make it in time for this donut roundup, but have faith that when they bust out the fryer, the results are excellent.
The flavors at Dynamo are interesting, but they thankfully keep their eye on the ball, never sacrificing flavor for originality.