Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer we'll be rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!
Unless you eat 15 raised, glazed doughnuts, all of them fresh and hot, one right after the other, it might be difficult to judge who in town has the best doughnut. Yes, some places make doughnuts that are clearly superior to others, but, you know, fried rings of dough are pretty awesome, generally speaking.
So instead of a roundup naming the single best doughnut from a number of places, we've compiled a list of the best spots in town to get your fix -- regardless of whether you're a raised/glazed fan, an old-fashioned connoisseur or a lover of the jelly-filled variety. We guarantee these are all ideal places to satisfy your cravings. However you spell it -- donut, doughnut, do-nut -- these are some sweet and tasty treats.
Note: Even though they're often sold at doughnut shops, kolaches, croissants, apple fritters and the like will not be addressed in this post. Doughnuts only! That other stuff will come later!
10. River Oaks Donuts Billionaires Mindy and Jeff Hildebrand opened the little doughnut shop in River Oaks back in July, and they have been mocked from time to time for opening a semi-ritzy shop for a food not usually considered gourmet (unless you're Dominique Ansel), but there's definitely no need to mock their wares, because they're some of the best in town. The Hildebrands worked with store director Scott Niemeyer for months to develop the recipes, and the results are not only delicious, but pretty, too. Raised, glazed doughnuts are iced in every color of the rainbow and dotted with contrasting sprinkles for a treat almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
9. Fresh & Best Donuts Part of the beauty of Fresh & Best Donuts is the awesome deals the shop offers as an incentive to load up on fried goodies. If you buy a dozen doughnuts, you get six free. If you buy six doughnuts, you get a dozen doughnut holes free. If you're really nice, the servers will probably throw in some extra holes as well, because they're eager to clear out the cases by the end of service each day. I recently called them to ask for their hours, and they said they were technically closed but would be willing to stay open for me because the cases weren't yet empty. What service! The basic glazed doughnuts here are light and airy but still substantial, and they strike the perfect balance between bready and overly sweet. Fresh & Best also sells a giant doughnut about the size of your head for $4. Now that's a meal.
8. Peña's Donut Heaven To my knowledge, Peña's was the first place in Houston to re-create the famous (infamous?) doughnut-croissant hybrid known as the cronut that took the country by storm after it was invented in New York City. I have never had the pleasure of eating a cronut in New York, but Peña's take, which they called "dosants," was pretty damn good. No need to go there for cronuts, though, because the doughnuts themselves are amazing. Arrive early to get your hands on some of Ray Peña's uniquely flavored wares. If you make it in before mid-morning, you'll likely find maple bacon doughnuts, s'mores doughnuts (topped with crushed graham crackers), peanut butter Reese's Pieces doughnuts and even doughnuts topped with cereal (the ultimate breakfast treat).
7. Provisions I know Provisions is in no way a doughnuts shop, but hear me out. From time to time the chefs, Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner, add doughnuts to the dessert menu, and they're always out-of-this-world good. Recently, the restaurant has been offering carrot-cake doughnuts that are much like normal filled ones, but instead of being pumped full of sugary-sweet strawberry jelly, they have a creamy carrot cake batter that's almost like a custard. The doughnut itself is on the less sweet side, which I appreciate. Less common is Provisions's pumpkin doughnut, which I had the opportunity to try at the restaurant's first birthday celebration. I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since. A light, flaky doughnut filled with pumpkin pie? I'll take them all, please.
6. B&B Donuts Three words: Blueberry cake doughnut. I'm generally not a huge fan of blueberry cake doughnuts because they always seem to be too sweet, but the perfect little glazed rings at B&B have converted me. They're a wonderful hybrid of blueberry bagel and glazed doughnut that hits all the right notes: cakey, sweet, dense and tart. B&B's chocolate old-fashioneds are also some of the best in town, and they, too, are dense without being greasy and sweet without being cloying. As at Peña's, arrive early for the best variety, and pick up a Vietnamese sandwich for lunch while you're there.
5. Best Donuts It seems overly optimistic to open a restaurant that immediately claims to be the best, but if your product really is one of the best in town, as is the case at Best Donuts, why not? Many people give mad props to Best Donuts for the kolaches, but the doughnuts are also, well, some of the best around. The prices here are very reasonable (though doughnuts are always fairly inexpensive), and the fried rings of dough are never greasy, nor do they leave a nasty film in your mouth, as some fried and glazed doughnuts do. The sweet offerings here are big and fluffy, but everything else about the place is simple and no-frills. Just as a neighborhood doughnut shop should be.
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4. Shipley Do-Nuts There are now more than 250 Shipley Do-Nuts locations across the U.S., but it all started right here in Houston in 1936. Shipley not only gets points for longevity and sheer number of stores, but also for making some of the consistently best doughnuts around these parts. Ask any Houstonian which doughnuts are his or her favorite, and Shipley is bound to be somewhere on the list. My personal favorites are the simple yeast varieties with chocolate icing. No sprinkles or fillings, just classic, delicious doughnuts (though the coconut doughnut is also a thing of beauty). There is debate among Houstonians (though I can't imagine why) as to which "chain" donuts are the best: Shipley, Dunkin' or Krispy Kreme. Clearly our hometown hero wins that battle for great price, friendly service, and warm, tall and fluffy products available straight from the fryer if you ask nicely. Oh, and everyone knows the best Shipley's is the one on Ella. That's not even up for debate.
3. Donut Licious Donut Licious not only gets the award for most beautiful doughnuts -- seriously, their holiday creations are amazing -- but also for the best old-fashioneds in town. Oh, and for the most delicious red velvet doughnuts. And the most delightful little stuffed doughnut holes. And the tray of doughnut "sushi" that really looks like sushi. Okay, clearly I can't pick just one favorite here. The regular yeast varieties achieve a perfect rise, so they're tall, doughy and surprisingly substantial for being so light, and the cake doughnuts are dense and smooth and not at all dry or crumbly. And if you've ever wanted to see your name written out in doughnuts, you've found the place. It would also be amazing to spell out "Would you marry me?" in these colorful things. Just saying. There's no way any person could turn that down!
2. Christy's Donuts What is there left to say about Christy's that hasn't already been said? The dingy mom-and-pop shop has been around for years, and though it stays open late for a doughnut shop during the week (7 p.m.), there always seems to be a line at least as long as the counter. You can get a dozen for less than $6, plus the courteous staff always throws in some extra doughnut holes. Both items are fried until they puff up and turn a blissful golden brown. The cake doughnuts are rich and moist, particularly the devil's food, which I recently purchased (along with 11 other donuts) to bring to work but ended up eating in the car on the way to the office. I could not help myself, because that devil was so good. If you live or work in the area and are running late to work or know you're in trouble, I suggest you swing by Christy's and pick up a dozen or two. Nobody can yell at you with a mouth full of such goodness.
1. Revival Market If you're going to start your Saturday with a doughnut, Revival Market's fried delights are the way to go. The grocer's upscale creations include flavors like Meyer Lemon & Sour Cream-Filled, Valrhona Chocolate & Malted Milk, and Apple Pecan. The doughnuts are a perfect marriage of delicateness and decadence. The only problem is that Revival bakes them only on occasional Saturdays. But that just makes them taste all the sweeter. I recommend you call in advance to find out if doughnuts are available. No, scratch that. I don't recommend you do it. I implore you to do so. Perhaps if enough people call and request the delectable gourmet doughnuts, they'll become a regular offering. Imagine your favorite plain, glazed donut, perfect texture and chew, then top that with any number of interesting flavor combinations. If you haven't had these perfect things, you are seriously missing out. Okay, now that you're so intrigued, go call Revival and demand doughnuts! Do it now!