Let’s face it. The Ringers love donuts.
And we live in a pretty donut-happy city. A quick search shows dozens of restaurants and shops selling donuts around Portland. Unfortunately, none of these places are in our Northwestern neck of the woods, so there’s almost always driving involved when it comes to satisfying my ever-present donut craving.
We were watching an episode of New Girl recently where they went on a bar crawl. While beer doesn’t appeal to me, donuts most definitely do. So I had the incredibly genius idea that we should have a donut crawl to taste the best of Portland. And after tasting a fine selection of donuts, we’ll determine the best donut this city has to offer. Genius, yes?
So, I made up a list of donut places to try. And that list kept growing until I found 8 different places within the city limits that claimed to offer really good donuts. But since we are responsible adults, we determined we shouldn’t attempt to do the entire crawl in one day. Because that’s a lot of donuts. So we’re splitting it into 3 parts. And I guess this isn’t technically a ‘crawl’ because you can’t walk to all of these shops (it would take days), so please forgive us for stretching the term.
Important things to know before embarking on this journey with us:
-I am pretty picky about donuts. Some might go so far as to call me a donut snob.
-I pretty exclusively like cake donuts, with the exception of regular Krispy Kreme donuts, which I remember eating by the half-dozen in high school thanks to all of those Krispy Kreme fundrasiers.
-We’ll try to get somewhat comparable donuts at each place, but we’ll have to go wild with some options too.
-While tasting these donuts, I took meticulous notes expressing our tastes and feelings. Sometimes these notes consisted of such descriptive terms as, “good” or “not good.” We’ll be launching our careers as professional food critics any day now.
Tonalli’s Donuts & Cream
2805 NE Alberta St
What we spent: $5.20
What we got: Old Fashioned Blueberry, Old Fashioned Cinnamon Crumb, Maple Bar, Half Dozen Donut Holes, Small Coffee
Best of the bunch: Old Fashioned Cinnamon Crumb
We started with Tonalli’s Donuts & Cream in NE Portland. They had an enormous selection for a Sunday afternoon, mostly comprised of old-fashioned and buttermilk donuts. It’s very much a classic donut shop (or “shoppe”, as Eric specified). It’s nothing fancy, and they also sell ice cream. Our donuts didn’t taste like they had been sitting around all day, and I saw a baker bring out a fresh tray while we were eating, so I think it’s safe to say they keep the donuts coming throughout the day.
Our favorite donut of this bunch was the Old Fashioned Cinnamon Crumb. It kind of tasted like a coffee cake/donut hybrid. It was so good that I wished we didn’t need to pace ourselves and our donut intake for the day. Eric really liked the Old Fashioned Blueberry, but it was a tad too sweet for my taste. Eric also declared the Maple Bar pretty tasty, along with donut holes, but I didn’t care for those at all.
Overall, the donuts were okay (with the exception of the truly delicious Cinnamon Crumb). But they are pretty inexpensive, so you won’t waste much money trying all the different varieties.
4759 NE Fremont St
What we spent: $3.95
What we got: Raw Honey and Sea Salt, Nutella and Sea Salt, Dirty Wu (2), and Cinnamon Sugar (2)
Best of the bunch: Dirty Wu
Before we started this donut crawl, I was pretty sure Pip’s was going to be the winning donut shop. It’s just that good. We fell in love with it back in October, and it has exploded in popularity since then. And that’s really Pip’s only downfall. It is ALWAYS packed. They have pretty limited seating anyway, but combined with a line out the door on a nice day, it’s kind of hard to sit and enjoy your donuts without feeling like you are in the way. But even if you have to eat your donuts on the sidewalk, it’s worth it. Pip’s makes miniature donuts, and they are made to order (fresh, fresh, fresh!). Plus, the inside of the shop is super adorable (if you can see it through the crowd), decorated by the owners using reclaimed and vintage stuff.
All of the donuts are incredibly delicious. Like, some of the best donuts I’ve ever had in my life. My favorite of the bunch is the Dirty Wu, which is a combination of all of Pip’s regular flavors. That means it has cinnamon sugar, raw honey, sea salt, and Nutella. It’s like a dream donut. But the Cinnamon Sugar donuts are a close second. So, so good.
Generally, Eric and I split a dozen mini donuts (only $5.95!), along with some of their really good coffee.
Blue Star Donuts
1237 SW Washington St
What we spent: a whopping $15.25
What we got: Hard Apple Cider Fritter, Cinnamon Vanilla Sugar, Blueberry Cake, Raspberry Buttermilk, and Peanut Butter with Blackberry Compote
Best of the bunch: Raspberry Buttermilk
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I’ve hated this place for a year. We’d read great things about Blue Star, so we tried it on a trip to Portland last year. My donut was so gross that I couldn’t even finish it. Like, I threw away a $5 donut. (Also, I think their donuts are overpriced.) But Eric tried a Blue Star donut at work, and he didn’t hate it, so we thought I should give it another chance.
This was our third donut shop of the day. It’s in a pretty hopping area of downtown Portland, so when we drove by, we couldn’t find a place to park, and the line for the shop was out the door. We opted to drive home and walk from there, since it’s not terribly far away. The bummer is, by the time we got there, the shop was closed with a sign saying ‘sold out.’ And that’s when I got mad because their website says they are open until 7 pm. And it was only 3:30. Granted, on closer inspection, it says they are open until 7 OR until they sell out of donuts. Bummer.
The third time was the charm with this one. I made a special trip on a Wednesday afternoon, and found the place fully stocked with donuts, with only 2 people in line in front of me. Score. I have to give this shop points for design. It’s very clean, modern, and bright, with lots of windows and lots of white. Like Pip’s, there’s limited seating, so you wouldn’t be able to sit and enjoy during a prime donut hour. I got a wide variety, and then walked them down to Eric’s office, where 5 of us gathered to eat 5 donuts.
All five of us declared the Raspberry Buttermilk the best of the bunch. The Cinnamon Sugar was nothing special (especially when compared to Tonalli’s Cinnamon Crumb and Pip’s Cinnamon Sugar). The Blueberry Cake only had blueberries in the glaze, from what we can tell, and that wasn’t really enough for me (blueberry cake is traditionally my favorite of all the donuts). The Peanut Butter with Blackberry Compote sounded pretty interesting, but it tasted like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was really heavy on the jelly. And then there was the Hard Apple Cider Fritter. I had high hopes for this one after reading lots of reviews on Yelp, and especially after Portland Monthly featured it in their list of best breakfast desserts, and Buzzfeed listed it as one of 33 donuts to try before you die. But it was bad. Like, really bad. So bad that with 5 people eating these donuts, we ended up throwing more than half of the apple fritter away. It was really hard and dense, almost as if it was made of whole wheat flour. And kind of bland.
The verdict? Overpriced, and not great. I’m always going to have a problem paying $3 for a donut.
By far, the winner of this round of donut tasting was Pip’s Original. The donuts are the freshest, most delicious, and appropriately priced of the bunch. Long live Pip’s!
Check back soon for more of the Portland Donut Crawl (alternate title: the happiest time of my life).
Are there any donut shops in Portland you recommend we try?