By David Nelson
Photos by Sara Norris
The hole in the theory that donuts must be round wasn’t unearthed by a rocket scientist. Cutting no corners in one of the most compelling discoveries of the 21st century (so far), a North Park donut lab has proven that square donuts also make the world go ‘round.
In San Diego’s donut-driven economy, sacks of sinkers are available all over town, but tracking down truly creative, culturally cosmic donuts requires legwork. If you have rich taste, this sprinkling of America’s Finest are sure to have you rolling in dough.
On Oceanside Boulevard near I-5, Chow’s faces the regional California Highway Patrol headquarters. Prime location, eh? Famously friendly, the proprietors usually shuck some donut holes in the bag while selling enough triple-chocolate donuts (chocolate cake, chocolate frosting and chocolate chips) to be able to close by early afternoon. Glazed twists and apple fritters are standouts. 1906 Oceanside Blvd., Oceanside, 760.757.1355.
The convenient shopping center location across from Southwestern College might lead to low expectations, but, on the donut-meter, Crispy’s tasty treats score higher than most. Reliably good SoCal favorites like glazed twists, chocolate and maple bars, and cake donuts in many colorful guises are cheerfully bagged by smiling servers. 182 S. Rancho Santa Fe Rd., San Marcos, 760.727.4391, crispysdonut.blogspot.com.
DEVIL’S DOZEN DONUT SHOP
Under construction in a small building next to Little Italy’s on-fire Kettner Exchange, this brainchild of restaurateur Matt Spencer aims to be “really simple and classic,” he says. “We’ll be really high-quality, with a few specialties like Mexican chocolate and a flavored churro.” And, he adds, for a dollar upcharge the server will spear a donut hole on a custom stick, plop it in your coffee and direct you to rooftop seating. 2001 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy.
For downtown donuteers, the two evilest conceivable words are “Sold Out!” which staffers paint on the window when the last glamorous sweets have been purchased, often by costly boxfuls and usually before noon. Downtown sidewalks seemed to narrow after Donut Bar introduced locals to crème brûlée donuts, maple-bacon bars and fantasies with jewel-toned frostings. 631 B St., Downtown, 619.255.6360, donutbarsandiego.com.
Noshers grab a maple bar, a chocolate donut and a glazed old-fashioned while waiting for their vehicles to emerge from the blow-dry end of the carwash and gas station complex that wraps around Donut Touch. In this odd setting in a suburban-style corner of San Diego, carefully crafted bars and rounds abound. 6755 Mira Mesa Blvd., Sorrento Valley 858.455.9150 and 12033 Scripps Summit Dr., Sabre Springs, 858.878.8933, donuttouch.com.
Unusually neighborhood-oriented thanks to owner Linda Dami, this shop on busy Mission Gorge Road hosts lectures, potluck suppers, board game nights, live music and art shows. There’s artistry in its donuts, too. Some are vegan, and flavors can be exotic: rose-cardamom, chocolate espresso almond, lemon lavender and Earl Grey tea. Up your donut game here. 6171 Mission Gorge Rd., Ste. 113, Grantville, 619.280.1894, donutpanicsd.wordpress.com.
Believe it or not, the Dunkin’ Donuts situated on an historic corner of downtown San Diego - sharing quarters with a Baskin-Robbins in the Embassy Suites hotel - was the chain’s first local outpost not located on a military base. Sugar-coated jelly donuts are emblematic of the All-American selection that crowds shelves also packed with garnished bagels and croissants. 601 Pacific Hwy., Downtown, 619.239.2400 and 1410 Main St., Ramona, 760.789.0210, dunkindonuts.com.
This chain made headlines when it hit local turf with a hot, back-East rep, only to see several locations fizzle. But Krispy Kreme devotees flock to Clairemont Mesa and Chula Vista, drawn by the undeniably appetizing, ever-present scent of frying donuts. Sold warm to be consumed immediately, these are best simply glazed. 4180 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Clairemont, 858.273.4581 and 2305 Otay Lakes Rd., Ste. #206, Chula Vista, 619.482.8700, krispykreme.com.
LEUCADIA DONUT SHOPPE
Which came first, a surfer dude crossing Highway 101 in search of waves, or Leucadia’s landmark shop, which serves boardbearers the breakfast of champions by feeding them hefty donuts smeared with white icing and studded with Froot Loops? Besides many cake and raised donuts, rapturous rounds include glazed donuts jammed with lemon and raspberry fillings. 1604 N. Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas, 760.942.8981.
Open ‘til 12 weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends, Lil’ Orbits knows how to keep the party going by specializing in just a few types of fried-to order donuts. Round “crobits,” donut-croissant hybrids glazed with chocolate when they leave the fryer, are big sellers, as are mini-donuts rolled in cinnamon-sugar. 1037 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach, 619.866.8002.
Headed by one-time Mister A’s pastry chef Kristianna Zabala, the Nomad folk are “wanderers and wonderers” who toss some pretty amazing donuts in the sack. Flavors are typically exotic; by-popular-demand vegan options include lush flavor combos like ubetaro- coconut, raspberry-lavender, pineapplepassion fruit and mango-chili. 4504 30th St., North Park, 619.431.5000, nomaddonuts.com.
PETERSON’S DONUT CORNER
An institution in “Old Escondido,” which quaintly preserves the former small town’s mood, Peterson’s lists options like fat French crullers with vivid pink frosting on a menu posted above a semi-sheltered terrace. Order at a window surrounded by enormous bear claws, weighty cake donuts, big apple fritters and lusciously sweet cinnamon twists. 903 S. Escondido Blvd., Escondido, 760.745.7774, petersonsdonutcorner.menutoeat.com.
STARDUST DONUT SHOP
The first business to greet Junipero Serra when he entered what is now Imperial Beach, Stardust has been around nearly forever. Pretty much a shack near the beach, it’s notable for fine quality and specialties like the German chocolate bar, whose gooey coconut and chocolate frostings stick to your fingers, clothes, ribs and waist. (Open 10:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday only). 698 CA-75, Imperial Beach, 619.424.6200.
STREETCAR MERCHANTS OF FRIED CHICKEN, DOUGHNUTS AND COFFEE
StreetCar’s vast, filling doughnuts may be the only “square” objects in hipster North Park. Huge! Yes, they are indeed square, and also creatively decorated. Fried throughout the day, they boast fillings like Boston cream and strawberry jam, and such toppings as green tea-flavored flavored pears and amazing brown butter-salted caramel frosting. 4002 30th St., North Park, 619.546.9010.
Donut Dos and Do-Nots
Do consume responsibly. A sign on Route 75 near Stardust Donut Shop in Imperial Beach warns that you are entering a Tsunami Danger Zone. However, anyone who consumes one Stardust German chocolate bar daily will likely have become an immovable object.
DoNot tease peace officers with donuts. Placing a man-sized box trap baited with colorful donuts in front of a police station, as a pranksterish fire department crew did, is risky. Get glazed not tased!
Do dress for morning donuts and coffee at downtown’s Donut Bar, which offers the San Diego equivalent of breakfast at Tiffany’s.