It’s hard to believe that donuts can hold their own in a town where farm-to-table is a given everywhere from food trucks to corner coffee shops. But San Francisco has long had a weakness for the raised and glazed dessert. These days, you’ll find a healthy (and not-so-healthy) sprinkling of every kind of donut shop, from old school mainstays to new generation joints, all over the city. Here’s our pick of the best from both sides of the donut equation.
The best donut shops in San Francisco
Dynamo took the city by storm in 2008, introducing the world to Sara Spearin's heavenly little organic round cakes, laced with decidedly 21st-century flavor combos such as chocolate with raspberry balsamic and black pepper glaze; Fleur de Sel caramel-glazed vanilla bean; passion fruit milk chocolate and the over-the-top maple-glazed bacon apple. Tag team your donut with a cup of Four Barrel’s finest hand-roasted brews and your probation period as an official San Franciscan is concluded. Note to those who sleep in: Get there by 11am (especially on weekends) or it’s slim pickins.
When the Bunry family emigrated from Cambodia and opened this Mission District shop 27 years ago, panaderias and mercados were as common in the neighborhood as hand-roasted, pour-over coffee shops are now. The fact that the Jelly Donut has managed not just to survive but to thrive in the rapidly gentrifying Mission (even with competition from the artisanal-hip donut shop down the street) is a credit to both the family and the donuts. This is the place to go when a chili-chocolate-nib-sprinkled thing just doesn’t hit the spot. The old-fashioneds, crullers and glazed confections are traditional, fresh and satisfying. Don’t miss the cinnamon rolls or the “buttermilk”—a bar the size, density and butter-load of a miniature pound cake. The best part: a handful of donut holes usually come gratis with any order.
Hannah Hoffman’s pillowy pockets ooze with deliciousness—the lovechild of a Portuguese malasada and an artisanal donut. Dolly offers a rotating array of filled-to-order delicacies, yeast-raised, hand-rolled and anchored by her Naughty Cream (crème fraiche vanilla bean cream) and a seasonal jam (the tart cherry is mind-blowing). Other drool-worthy recent offerings include Mexican chocolate, bourbon caramel, chocolate-covered banana cream and PB&J (peanut butter cream and mixed berry jam). These sell out fast, so get there early for the best selection. The original location is tucked into Temescal Alley, and a more recently opened outpost is at 1313 9th Street in Berkeley (510-225-9640).
A time warp of formica and linoleum, this mom-and-pop shop is the native San Franciscan’s go-to donut place. Open 24 hours a day (and yes, there’s regular 2am traffic), Bob’s offers its famed apple fritters, crumb rings, cinnamon rolls and buttermilk bars fresh from the fryer. There’s even a Bob’s Donuts Twitter feed (@whatsfreshest) that tells you what’s coming out of the fryer and when, so you can get ’em while they’re hot. To truly experience Bob’s though, you need to try—at least once—the Big Donut: a 3-pound raised donut the size of your face. Finish it in 3 minutes and you get a Bob’s t-shirt and your name in their Hall of Fame (and probably a stomach ache).
A fresh take on the traditional donut shop, Twisted offers all the classics—old-fashioned, sprinkles, glazed, bars, crullers—as well as a huge assortment of inventive modern offerings—all made from scratch in-house. Not to be missed: the bacon maple donut, which comes with hunks of hand-torn bacon scattered on top (on weekends they add jalapenos to create the spicy, sweet, salty and utterly addictive Baconpeño). Other specialties include cake-y blueberry donuts, powdered sugar-dusted cream puffs, Oreo cookies-and-cream-topped donuts and chocolate-glazed topped with Nutter Butter cookies.
This 30+ year-old Richmond District shop is the place to go for old-school donuts of the Homer Simpson-pleasing variety—no healthy oils or fancy-scented sugars here. Just deep-fried goodness. Bite into a dense French cruller or a puffy raised glazed and savor the sticky sweetness as you lick (and lick and lick) it off your fingers. Rinse and repeat only if you’ve taken your Lipitor.
We’ll take the eye-rolling from Krispy Kreme lovers for having a dedicated vegan organic donut shop, mostly since Pepples are as good as they are good for you. At their Ferry Building kiosk, a rotating array of seasonal rings made entirely without animal ingredients (they’re fried in canola and palm fruit oil) are gobbled up with gusto by ‘vores of all stripes. Among the most popular varieties: blueberry, pumpkin pie spice, whiskey tangerine fig, green apple, persimmon and salted caramel. If you happen to be in Oakland, you can find a Pepples outpost at the Donut Farm (6037 San Pablo Avenue).
The bomboloni may not be the only heartthrobs at his neighborly Richmond District bakery, but they will definitely have you swooning. The Italian version of a filled donut, Heartbaker turns out perfect little round buns crusted with sugar and stuffed with vanilla cream, lemon custard or dark chocolate cream. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but the lemon might actually make you weep.
Sitting by the ferry docks on the Bay nibbling one of Amaryll Schwertner’s powdery-perfect beignets ranks among the greatest pleasures of San Francisco living. At Boulette’s Larder, her shop for cooking staples and gourmet larder basics, beignets are served by the plateful only at Sunday brunch. Go. One crunch of a warm cinnamon sugar- and cocoa-dusted creation and you’ll forget the wait.