Happy Donut Day! I bet you didn’t have that celebration on your calendar?! Even if you wasn’t on your radar, you might want to add it to your checklist the next time your in Chicago. It’s a serious “thing” around here.
I avoided donuts for years. During busy times at work, partners treated us to boxes and boxes and boxes of donuts. For so long, I never touched them. I knew if I cracked, I’d shatter. Then the Big Guns arrived.
A few years ago, gourmet donut shops started popping up in our neighborhood like dandelions in an overgrown lawn. Everywhere. Screaming of their sweet, sugary perfection.
Morning after morning, I walked by one, then two, then three lusciously-smelling donut shops on my way to work. I seriously suspect these guys pay big bucks to send their tempting wafts of bakery air out in the morning streets.
Some of you may be familiar with these high end donut joints; maybe they are in your neighborhoods too. If you’re not schooled yet in their magic, know they’re far from your average grocery store glazed. These donuts are perfectly fluffy and sweet if your prefer the raised variety or deliciously dense and decadent if you favor the cake options instead.
Walking past these tempting outlets of “dessert for breakfast” everyday on our commute, M and I couldn’t help but taste test a few of the options. Over the last few years, we’ve spent many a Saturday morning testing and retesting our data to ensure our conclusions are accurate and clear. Let me share with you the results of our very unscientific but expertly executed taste tests of the growing number of gourmet donut depots in downtown Chicago.
Downtown Location: 68 West Hubbard Street, Chicago (River North)
Favorite Donut: Vanilla Iced
Pictured above, this vanilla frosted donut is one of my two favorite donuts of all time. I seriously love this thing! With this rather large donut (so large, I’m generally willing to share), Firecakes mastered a perfect sweetness with the frosting that has just enough sugar to sound off your taste buds without being overwhelming. The crispy bites of white chocolate mesh with the fluffy perfection of the donut for something seriously awesome. If you miss breakfast, there’s always dessert!
Downtown Location: Several (West Loop, River North, The Loop & Streeterville)
Favorite Donut: Chocolate(4)
Of all the Chicago donut joints, I think they do the cake donuts best. I love the light and fluffy or flaky donuts, so this isn’t my favorite spot (though it’s certainly delicious). It’s M favorite of the five. He always orders the chocolate donut noted as the favorite. Glazed and Infused and Firecakes are just one block or so apart, so we often stop at both when getting donuts to accommodate our preferences.
Location: 259 East Erie Street, Chicago (Streeterville)
Favorite Donut: Glazed Pretzel Twist
Stan’s has some funkier options than the other locations. Each has seasonal and fancy items available, but their menu includes a few more interesting flavors. The Glazed Pretzel Twist is the other of my two favorite donuts and shown in the top photo. It’s ginormous! I have never finished it, even after sharing with T. Aside from this one donut, I’m not in love with their selection. M and T have agreed it’s not their favorite either. On the plus side, they have the lowest prices on some of the more basic donuts like standard glazed and chocolate frosted.
Location: 111 North Canal Street (River North)
Favorite Donut: Old Fashioned Buttermilk
The most touted of all the gourmet donut shops in Chicago, the Doughnut Vault has definitely received the most press for being the best in town. I don’t agree. I think it got all the hype because it was the first to tackle the market. The donuts are good, but it’s not worth the line that normally wraps around the building, especially on weekend days. I wouldn’t even choose it if there were no line. It’s also a bit out of the way.
Location: Two (Streeterville, The Loop)
Favorite Donut: Valrhona Chocolate Cake
M likes this place a lot and stops in occasionally (maybe quarterly, so not that often) on his way to work on days I’m not walking with him. It didn’t really strike my fancy; I’ve been twice. Similar to Glazed & Infused, he chose the chocolate cake donut. Not typically leaning toward cake donuts, I’m not a great judge of spots that specialize in that variety. Thus, we’ll stick with M’s word on this one.
Bring a Friend & Bring Your Wallet
Unless you’re a donut connoisseur, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Bring your wallets though. These places demand far higher prices than the grocery store or the gas station, so be ready to pony us. You get what you pay for.
Bring a friend too. Most of the donuts are huge and more than sufficient for sharing. We usually buy two to split between the four of us. Even better, it’s great to bring a crew and take a few bites of a bunch of different donuts to enjoy all the awesome flavors and get a feel for the collection they offer. I’ve done that on (too) many occasions.
Are expensive yet amazing donuts spreading like wildfire in your neck of the woods? Also, if you stop by and check any of these out, be sure to chime in with your opinions. The more the merrier!