The typical donut days have come and gone.
Quaint, no-frills donut shops home to rows of round treats inside a glass case and served up in a pink box are still around of course, but the excitement (nay, hysteria) around absurdly fanciful donuts has overtaken Orange County.
Instead of glazed, chocolate-covered and sprinkled donuts, it’s a race to see who can conjure up the craziest, stuffed-iest, smothered-est, churro-inside-a-donut-inside-a-croissant-inside-a-cannoli-Type 2 diabetes-waiting-to-happen concoction. There were a lot of made-up words in the previous sentence. And oh yeah, we love it.
Specialty donuts are one dessert trend that we hope sticks around for a while. Expect this to be our first of many donut lists covering the best and most indulgent donuts that Orange County has to offer.
Imagine a warm, gooey donut baked so perfectly you would swear you’re in some sort of secret artisanal blogger kitchen/pop-up brunch in Williamsburg or Portland. That’s Sidecar, but more friendly and accessible.
Crafted in small batches with only the finest ingredients (like whiskey!), this Costa Mesa shop knows how to play with flavors. The Madagascar vanilla twist is a play on the chocolate twists found in most donut shops, drizzled with vanilla for a different sort of taste. Other unique flavors include the huckleberry, the maple bacon and the guava donut. New monthly flavors always pique our interest (recent hits: Lemon & Thyme, Honey Cake, Malasada with Blackberry Jam, and Butterscotch Pot de Creme) so you’re sure to find plenty of ubergourmet donuts here. They also offer a special gluten-free donut flavor each week.
Using fresh ingredients, infused glazes and crumbled piecrust topping, Sidecar’s baked-fresh every hour treats are the reigning donut champions of Orange County (dare we say, Southern California). Sidecar just opened its second location in Santa Monica, which makes us say to our LA friends, Oh how the tables have turned!
The only drawbacks? Expect to wait in line most mornings and pay $2.75+ per donut. Worth it.
Must Try: Country Eggs & Ham (only until 11:30), Maple Bacon, and Huckleberry
For true specialty donuts, visit DK’s Donuts in Orange. This 24-hour shop has something for everyone, with a wide variety that includes cronuts, peanut butter and jelly donuts, a nutella-topped donut filled with strawberry jelly and an Oreo donut. Their strawberry shortcake donut is filled with fresh berries as well. They also serve cronuts with unique flavors as well, like churro, crème brûlée and piña colada, as well as the newly popular blend of a donut and a waffle.
Must Try: Strawberry Shortcake donut
This late-night donut shop in Anaheim draws visitors from all over Southern California. Open at 9 p.m. each night, donut lovers line up in the dim parking lot for a taste of their famous blueberry treats. While they have other kinds as well, the blueberry donuts—baked with whole blueberries—are easily a fan favorite. Baked fresh and piping hot, they’re the reason most stop by. Visitors also love the m&m-covered glazed donuts, an ode to their name, and the Oreo donut dipped in cookie crumbs. Order more than a couple and your bits of fried goodness will come in a mini pizza box.
Must Try: M&M donut (naturally)
Afters Ice Cream
While not exactly a donut shop, this ice cream parlor is still one of our picks for the top donut shops. Why? Because of the milky buns. Choose a couple of ice cream flavors and some of their funky toppings (think Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and dark chocolate chips) then a worker will mix them together and stuff them into a glazed donut. Easily the most popular ice cream flavor is the Cookie Monster, bright blue and blended with bits of cookies. Other popular ice cream flavors include Jasmine tea, churro and cookie butter. With locations in Fountain Valley and Tustin, a new store opening soon in Irvine, and four other locations in LA, Afters Ice Cream is taking over the sweet scene.