Migue's Magnificent Mini Donuts
Small, light, and served hot, a small bag of about eight doughnuts ($3) from this weekend stand is the perfect treat on a cold day at Eastern Market. They're made to order if it's not too busy, and you can choose your toppings—powdered sugar, sprinkles, even chocolate syrup. Each doughnut has a slightly crisp exterior and a warm, moist interior that's not too dense or crumbly.
Migue's Magnificent Mini Donuts: Eastern Market, 225 7th Street SE, Washington DC 20003 (map)
Birch & Barley
Pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac of Birch & Barley uses buttery brioche dough to make her doughnuts. One order ($6) consists of a lemon-poppy glazed, bacon-toffee (yes, with bacon crumbles on top), and a bittersweet chocolate-glazed doughnut hole. Each doughnut’s texture falls somewhere between yeast and cake—they're lightly fried with a slight crunch. The bittersweet glaze is reminiscent of a rich and shiny ganache. Close your eyes when you eat the bacon-toffee and you’ll swear you’re eating a really delicious pancake.
It's clear that Lyon Hall is doing its best to go the artisanal route with their doughnuts ($8 for 4, plus bonus doughnut hole), and there's nothing wrong with that approach if it's done well. Luckily, the poppy seed-passion fruit doughnut succeeds with its pleasant tartness and its light, yeasty insides. If you're going to eat a doughnut in Arlington, this one should be it. The vanilla glazed could pass for a messily iced Dunkin Donuts doughnut, and that's just fine with me--I love Dunkin's doughnuts. (I'd skip the cinnamon and chocolate cake doughnuts here, though.) Overall, with a pot of French press coffee and a focus on the yeasted doughnuts, you've got yourself a perfect weekend brunch.
Palena Market sells doughnuts on weekends only, and they sell out quick. I tried a chocolate frosted and a glazed, which were good to be sure, but they were so overshadowed by the doughnut holes that the big guys aren't even pictured. These mini wonders were rolled in sugar as soon as they came out of the fryer, and have a super crunchy, yet thin crust. I liked the doughnut dough because of how airy it was—there were air pockets in the doughnuts when you bit into them. As for the full-size doughnuts, the chocolate glaze wasn't too thick, and it wasn't overly sweet. If you're looking for a luscious but light chocolate-frosted, go for this one. Lovers of lemon flavor will enjoy the super-citrusy coating on Palena's glazed doughnuts.
Tabard Inn's brunch is famous in DC, and their doughnuts are part of what makes it legendary. When I opened the box, the scent of hot dough and cinnamon-sugar alerted me to the heavenly bite I was about to take. The doughnuts are freshly fried, the dough is yeasty and super light, and the accompanying vanilla whipped cream melts a little when you dunk a hot piece of doughnut in it. The dough was eggier than most, but it was fried so perfectly that it wasn't a deterrent for me. (If you forgot to call at the beginning of the week to reserve a table, you can order doughnuts at the bar for takeout.)
Breads Unlimited sells mainly what their name would indicate—the shelves behind the counter are lined with loaves of beautiful bread. But they also sell a variety of doughnuts in one of the glass cases. The yeasted glazed was light and slightly lemony, a nice surprise—this is the doughnut to order. (The chocolate glazed is overly sweet, the raspberry jelly a good doughnut but with unappetizingly gloppy jelly). I'd actually consider ordering the jelly doughnut and not eating the jelly, though I can't imagine how that would look to other patrons. The glazed? Definitely worth the trip.
Heller's Bakery is about the only place that fills the weekend breakfast void in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. While I can't speak for any of their other offerings, Heller's is a solid place for a doughnut (80-95 cents each). The yeasted glazed doughnut was light and not overly sweet, a fine specimen of the form. I preferred it over the chocolate cake with chocolate glaze (not particularly fresh, but fine when dunked in coffee) or the light and crispy yeasted cinnamon twist. Go for the glazed and you're in good shape.