Like searching for the best chocolate chip cookie in Houston, finding the best doughnut in Houston proved a tricky, highly subjective task. Personal preferences between airiness and the squish factor, chewiness vs. cakiness and the glaze-to-dough ratio all played a huge role in determining the ultimate doughnut. Though the majority of the tasters never expected to meet a doughnut they didn’t like, this side-by-side tasting brought a multitude of surprising new preferences to light. After aggregating scores across 10 doughnut lovers, we were able to confidently crown the top doughnuts in terms of their crowd-pleasing factor and overall execution quality.
Check out the video above to see all the luscious doughnuts tested!
Doughnut shops were selected to maximize saturation of all options in the Houston area. However, we acknowledge that there are some glaring omissions in the final 13 locations selected, including, but not limited to, Krispy Kreme, Southern Maids, and Doughmaker Doughnuts (the latter of which was unavailable due to mechanical problems the day of the tasting). All doughnuts were picked up the morning of the tasting to maximize freshness.
Each doughnut shop was rated along two categories: their glazed doughnut, and then their best specialty doughnut, which was selected at the suggestion of the shop employee. Each doughnut was randomly assigned a number and subsequently rated during a blind taste test for flavor and texture—on a scale of 1-10—and appearance, on a scale of 1-5, for a total of 25 points. All points were added up for an overall score out of 275 points in each category.
Results are broken down into least popular, middle of the road, and top three winners in each category.
Results: Glazed Doughnuts
Least popular: Dunkin' Donuts (142 points), B&B Donuts (141 points) and Glazed (131 points) received the lowest overall rankings for their renditions of the classic glazed.
Dunkin' was my personal least favorite; compared side-by-side alongside all other doughnuts, there was a funky flavor to their oil and the exterior was a little tough. B&B was also infused with a particularly greasy flavor that was slightly off-putting, and though Glazed had a delightfully crisp exterior, it was generally marked down for a subtly bitter taste.
Middle of the road: Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts (173 points), Le Donut (173 points), Fresh & Best Donuts (172 points), Hugs & Donuts (165 points), River Oaks Donuts (156 points), Bakery Donuts (150 points).
Hugs & Donuts, Lee’s, and Le Donut were my personal favorites of the middle of the road doughnuts. Hugs & Donuts' glazed doughnut is a notably airy specimen with a pleasantly toothsome bite similar to Christy’s. Lee’s doughnut was remarkable for its slightly crunchy glaze, a nice chew and overall pleasing clean, yeasty flavor. Le Donut also had a particularly crackly glaze and fell into the very pale, squishy category of doughnut which proved divisive—I loved it, but others did not.
Fresh and Best had a tight crumb relative to other doughnuts and was slightly drier and breadier. River Oaks was very squishy and airy: a solid, standard glazed doughnut. Bakery Donuts was dubbed too sweet by several tasters, and though the doughnuts come draped in a pleasingly crackly glaze, they were a little tough to bite into and small in size, for those who care about such things.
Third place: Tie between Shipley’s Do-Nuts and Queen Donut (183 points)
Who are we to deny the nostalgic lure of Shipley’s? No one, apparently. The iconic golden, airy Shipley’s ring, pronounced too sweet by some, still proved its mettle against many other doughnut shops to tie with Queen Donut’s pale, almost cakey-soft doughnut iced in a crackly, drippy glaze for third place.
Second place: The Grove Do-Nutz & Deli (196 points)
With one of the most photogenic doughnuts, The Grove snagged second place thanks to a golden, well-crisped exterior and uber fresh-tasting, fluffy interior. While I wished for a slightly thicker glaze to stand up to the voluptuous, bready interior, this was an undeniably well-executed doughnut.
First place: Christy’s Donuts (203 points)
The magic moment for me with these humbly simple-looking doughnuts is the sinking of your teeth into the sea of a slightly doughy bready barrier, just breaking through the slightest resistance of the gently crisped crust. The pillowy, snow-white interior is perfectly yeasty with a tighter, cakier crumb than Shipleys that contrasts brilliantly against the slightly crackly glaze. At 55 cents per glazed doughnut, it doesn't get much cheaper for a first-class winner like Christy's.
Results: Specialty Doughnuts
Certain doughnut shops had a significant leg up over other shops in this category. Ultimately, only a few doughnuts really had standout specialty doughnuts, but we still discovered some gems from the more standard doughnut shops.
Least Popular: Shipley’s Do-Nuts (155 points), Christy’s Donuts (154 points), B&B Donuts (142 points), Dunkin' Donuts (133 points), Bakery Donuts (132).
Establishments like Shipley’s and Christy’s serve up excellent renditions of the classics: it was hard for their scant offerings to stand up against other more inventive creations. Christy’s chocolate-glazed lost points for lacking in flavor and even Shipley’s rich chocolate icing couldn’t stand out in the crowd. Dunkin Doughnut and B&B’s both competed with plain cake doughnuts: Dunkin’s had just a faint lemon flavor that couldn’t compensate for its dry and monotonous texture that lacked any kind of crisp contrast; B&B’s doughnut also lacked flavor and textural contrast. Bakery Doughnuts was unfortunately marked down for a very cakey cinnamon crumb contender that tasted both stale and dry.
Middle of the road: Queen Donut (178), Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts (175), River Oaks Donuts (174), Fresh & Best Donuts (174).
Queen Donut missed tying for third by just 2 points with an exemplary chocolate glazed doughnut that, like its glazed counterpart, had a lovely bite and plush texture topped with a crackly chocolate glaze, but was marred by a slight bitter undertone. Lee’s Mexican chocolate doughnut was an intriguing concept, though the cinnamon didn’t quite harmonize with the chocolate glaze, and the flavor of the doughnut underneath the glaze was somewhat lacking. River Oak’s white glazed, sprinkled doughnut was heavy-handed on the glaze; simply a soft and very sweet doughnut with not much else going on. Fresh and Best’s apple fritter was peppered with fresh apple chunks and crispy edges, but lacking in flavor.
Third place: Tie between Hugs & Donuts and Glazed (180 points)
Hugs & Donut’s blueberry doughnut was divisive: some found the blueberry flavor a bit fake and on the dry side. Others found it the flavor delightful, particularly draped under a light glaze. The caramel and chocolate-glazed Glazed doughnut was a giant and aesthetically pleasing contender, the deeply fried, crispy exterior and elaborate topping was appreciated, though again there was a bitter note to the dough.
Second place: Le Donut (196 points)
The dark horse of the category, the unassuming Le Donut took second place with an uber-tender blueberry cake doughnut that the shop owner pronounced her second favorite after the classic glazed. Once again, this doughnut fell on the cakey side of the scale—but since it’s a cake doughnut, the soft texture swathed in a crunchy glaze was deliciously appropriate.
First place: The Grove Do-Nutz & Deli (256 points)
The Grove was the runaway winner of this category (and overall tasting favorite). We scored The Grove in the specialty category using their strawberry cheesecake cronut, which was a marvel of textures: creamy globs of cheesecake infused flaky, crispy doughnut layers; the entire thing is topped with a pink glaze and a glazed strawberry.
Notable mentions need to be made for other specialty doughnuts that managed to sneak their way into the box of Grove goodies: namely, the maple bacon doughnut that one taster dubbed “the only bacon doughnut [I’ve] actually liked.” One taster and regular customer called their banana cream pie doughnut (graced with a thick layer of banana pudding, whipped cream and a nilla wafer) a strong contender for her new favorite. A doughnut topped with cookie butter and pretzels was also swiftly dismembered even after the tasting had concluded.
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For an excellent classic, no-frills doughnut, Christy’s is a cheap and crowd-pleasing gem in the Montrose area, though Queen Doughnut and Le Donut were two of my new favorites to come out of the tasting for classic doughnuts. All of these locations excel in a very soft, excellently fluffy doughnut with a good balance of sweetness.
Hugs and Donuts, Lee’s and Glazed deserve commendation for creativity and generally excellent execution, though if you’re willing to make the trek out to Richmond, Grove is hands-down the champion of over-the-top inventive doughnut creations that excel in both the look and taste departments.
It's worth noting that prior to the tasting, Doughmaker's Doughnuts food truck was my reigning favorite doughnut purveyor in the area (even though they veer far from my above demonstrated squishy doughnut preferences, venturing into the very bready realm with deeply fried and crispy exteriors), so if you feel so inclined to conduct your own personal doughnut tasting, I strongly recommend throwing them into the mix.