America's best donut shops

Last year we took a look at the best donuts in just about every major American city. Our list included the classics, the new-wave, the dives, the places with lines around the block, the crazy ones, and the ones that you wouldn’t know were anything to write home about until you took that first bite into the gooey goodness that is the perfect donut.

But what exactly makes a donut shop perfect? The freshness of the product, first of all. Like a bagel, a donut begins declining in quality as soon as it's removed from the heat. Creativity helps, but a balance always needs to be struck between adherence to authenticity and out-of-the-box inventiveness. Also, how have these establishments affected both the neighborhood they’re in and the city at large? Whether their specialties are simple cake donuts, maple and bacon-topped behemoths, or ones shaped like a voodoo doll, these shops are all standouts in their own way, and aren’t to be missed next time you find yourself in their neck of the woods.

We tried to represent as many cities as possible in our list. Chicago's Dinkel’s has been turning out some of the best donuts anywhere for nearly 90 years. Los Angeles' Randy’s is a whole lot more than a giant donut-shaped sign. New York's The Doughnut Plant singlehandedly made people realize that there was a lot more to a donut than what you could pick up at the Dunkin' Donuts.

We’ve searched high and low. Here’s our ranking of the 12 best donut shops in the country.

Dinkel’s Bakery, Chicago
German immigrant Joseph Dinkel opened this Chicago institution in 1922, and it’s remained in the family ever since. It’s changed very little in the past 90 years, and their non-donut baked goods are legendary in their own right. But you haven’t truly experienced Dinkel’s until you’ve tasted their handmade donuts. While they’ve jumped on the maple-bacon bandwagon, you’re best off sticking with the classics: try the chocolate cake donut and try to not to weep.

More On This...

Randy's Donuts, Los Angeles
This hole-in the wall donut shop has been in business for 60 years, and the giant donut on its roof has become as much of a Los Angeles landmark as the Hollywood sign. It’s not just a gimmick, though: Randy’s has some seriously delicious donuts. Try the buttermilk one.

Voodoo Doughnut, Portland
Probably the most famous donut shop in the country at the moment, this tiny, quirky donut stand is never without a line, and customers are rewarded for their patience with some of the most outlandish donut creations in existence. Voodoo Doughnut’s Portland Cream has been named the city’s official donut by the mayor, and the Captain My Captain, topped with vanilla frosting and Cap’n Crunch, is the perfect exercise in both simplicity and brilliance. There are currently two other outposts, but nothing beats a visit to the original.

The Doughnut Vault, Chicago
While not an easy place to score your doughnuts at (they’re closed Sundays and Mondays, and only open for an hour or so on the days that they are open), once you’ve made your precious purchase it’s nearly impossible to not leave The Doughnut Vault a very happy camper. The menu is gigantic, but narrow down your options to the cake donuts, which are surprisingly light and fresh. From there your best bet is to keep it simple; a light coating of cinnamon and sugar should be all you need to change your opinion of cake donuts forever.

Cafe du Monde, New Orleans
When there’s only one item on the menu and lines to get in at all hours of the day and night, you know you’ve come to the right place. It also happens to be one of the most famous places in all of New Orleans. No trip to the Crescent City is complete until you’ve sampled Café du Monde’s beignets, fresh out of the fryer, topped with a heap of powdered sugar and washed down with a cup of their chicory coffee. A word of advice: don’t breathe in while taking a bite, or else you’ll end up coughing and getting powdered sugar all over everything (and everyone) around you.

Mighty-O Donuts, Seattle
Vegan and organic might not be two words you associate with world-class donuts, but Mighty-O’s are the best ones out there that meet those criteria. These perfect little rings of dough and sugar are egg-, dairy-, and cholesterol-free, and come in standout flavors including lemon poppy, French toast, and "good ol-glazed."

See all 12 of America's best donut shops here

More from The Daily Meal 

50 Best Cupcakes in America

The Cookie Dunk Test

The Best Dishes We Ate in 2012

The Best Burritos in America