L.A. Loves Donuts: A Slew of Artisan Upstarts Vie for the City's Sugary Attention

Portland's Blue Star donuts, coming to Venice

Enjoy National Donut Day, Los Angeles. The city is ground zero for a brewing donut war, as ingredient-focused indies and a Boston-based behemoth make a play for its precious few expendable calories.

Our cold-pressed juicers, cycling studios and general reputation for carb reluctance might imply otherwise, but Los Angeles has a sugary soft spot for the donut.

Fueled in large part by hundreds of mom-and-pop shops, many (fun fact!) started by Cambodian immigrants, the City of Angels' density of donut purveyors has prompted the occasional, if questionable, label of "Donut Capital of the World." But donut culture in L.A. is changing quickly. An influx of artisan-backed donut boutiques and the ominous appearance of a national chain are filing into the already competitive marketplace.

"People have a lot of fond memories of donuts. I think they make you think of childhood, and they're just fun," says Brooke Desprez, chef and co-owner of Costa Mesa's Sidecar Doughnuts, which opens its Santa Monica outpost this summer. "L.A. really is where the food culture is right now. That Wednesday farmers market? I've got to be close to that."

The relatively young Orange County darling, which also peddles its goods from a 1959 International Harvester Metro Van, plans to be frying at Wilshire and Seventh Street come August. They've already attracted a passionate fan base with their seasonal offerings — June includes Apricot and Soured Cream and Chocolate Malt — and signatures such as the Saigon Cinnamon Crumb, Madagascar Vanilla Twist and even one savory take: Country Ham and Eggs. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter on National Donut Day, Desprez mentioned that customers had been lined up around the block since early morning.

Sidecar won't be alone when it moves to L.A. Another impending newcomer that has foodies buzzing is Blue Star Donuts. The Portland-based bakery's first out-of-state shop is set to open on the northern stretch of Venice Beach's increasingly crowded Abbot Kinney Blvd sometime in late summer. Blue Star boasts classic fare and more out-there offerings like their Vegan Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Hibiscus and 21-and-older exclusive Cointreau Creme Brulee. (The latter comes with a pipette shooter of sweetened triple sec syrup, so those without a strong constitution should plan on taking an Uber.)  

For a bourgie bite that's already open, year-old coffee bar Cofax recently started slinging donuts from former Gjelina pastry chef Nicole Rucker. Her confections, sugary enamel flecked with the familiar (rainbow sprinkles) and the exotic (churro-flavored caramel corn), are selling out daily — and early. Highland Park's Donut Friend has also amassed a die-hard following in relatively short order.

This new class of donut shop, pushing both the pillowy yeast-risen circles and their dense and cakey cousins, is oddly new for L.A. Lagging behind more inventive donut markets New York and Chicago, the biggest local story about the treat during the past two years was likely the city's response to Dominique Ansel's enduring New York phenomenon: the cronut.

Still, It's not all hand-shaved coconut and long-rising dough. There are other, less altruistic culinary colonists.

Despite its location just blocks from Westside favorite DK's Donuts & Bakery, the Southland's first Dunkin' Donuts brought hours-long lines of nostalgic East Coasters when it debuted in September. The Massachusetts-based chain installed a Hollywood-friendly step-and-repeat on opening day in an effort to reaffirm its commitment to California after abandoning the state in 2002. And the double-D is not treading lightly. The company announced plans in 2013 for 150 California locations to open by the end of this year.

All of the congestion certainly raises concerns about the viability of the old guard — but if there is a reason to worry, it's not immediate. West L.A.'s Primo's Donuts pulls people with its appearance on national rankings, The Donut Man lures people out to Glendora with its famous fresh strawberry-stuffed offerings (when in season) and Randy's in Inglewood remains the Mount Rushmore of donuts — thanks to its iconic signage and tourist-friendly proximity to LAX.

"There are so many great old school donut shops in Southern California," says Desprez, whose new commute will take her past personal favorite Randy's when Sidecar opens. "We're just doing it a little a differently. Baking is very personal to me. Anything that's good, there's room for it. I always welcome competition, because it means people are doing it well."

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