The intoxicating smell of sugar-filled air as you walk up to the shop. The eye-popping sight of rainbow tray upon rainbow tray of icing and sprinkles. The melt-in-your-mouth moment when you bite into a hot glazed, fresh from the fryer.
Doughnut people have always been my people.
Growing up in South Austin, doughnuts were a Sunday morning ritual, my dad and I setting out in our Volvo station wagon in search of the city’s best Long Johns and apple fritters. In college, Ken’s Donuts carried me through more than a few all-nighters, and when Krispy Kreme finally arrived to town in the early 2000s, I was in line at 3 a.m., eager to witness the landmark moment in Austin’s doughnut history.
When my husband proposed, the engagement ring box was nestled inside a box of doughnuts — the answer was an immediate “yes.” I even keep a “doughnut bucket list” of shops I hope to visit during my travels across the country.
To me, there’s almost no problem that can’t be solved over a doughnut and a cup of coffee.
Thankfully for Austinites, there are a wealth of delicious, and sometimes unusual, options right here. Although this list is by no means comprehensive, it offers a good sample of what you can find across town.
Donut Taco Palace
On a recent morning, the line inside Donut Taco Palace ranged from kids in Spider-Man jammies clutching chocolate milks to heels-clad women picking up boxes loaded with doughnut holes on their way to church. Owner Angel Seng, 36, named almost every customer by order.
“She’s apple fritter and coffee,” she said as a woman walked through the door of her modest shop, perched on the corner of a small strip mall in Southwest Austin.
“He’s one kolache, one small coffee with two French vanilla,” she added as another customer pulled up outside.
The shop turned 10 in June and is popular not only for its doughnuts but also for tacos, kolaches and some unusual items that include a doughnut sandwich and, yes, a doughnut taco. Seng has also become nationally known for her hand-sign doughnuts, which you may have read about last month when we broke the story that the University of Texas had sent Seng a letter asking her to stop making her Hook ’Em Horns-shaped variety due to what they called a violation of trademark rights.
Seng’s current favorites include her blueberry cake doughnut and her spinach, beef and cheese kolache — she eats one of each every day. Employees at the shop start arriving before 2 a.m. each day so that all of the doughnuts are ready when they open at 5 a.m., and you can even sometimes find Seng’s dad and brother behind the counter.
“She sells tacos and doughnuts,” said regular customer Sally Harris, “but she gives away love and a sense of community.”
Donut Taco Palace was even the subject of a song by musician Shinyribs, who croons, “Try the rainbow sprinkles, chorizo and bean, cream-filled eclair, you know what I mean.”
“I know if they come one time,” Seng said, “they are going to come again.”
Info: Open daily 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. 5446 W. U.S. 290, Suite 101. 512-891-6746, donuttacopalace1only.com.
Angel Donuts and Treats
When I heard that Angel Donuts and Treats served a doughnut ice cream sandwich, I was intrigued but skeptical.
It sounded delicious, but there was no way, I figured, to keep it from turning into a soggy mess with all that ice cream.
One bite into my cookies-and-cream doughnut ice cream sandwich at the hip shop in the Four Points area and I was eating my words.
“People are surprised by the massiveness of it,” said co-owner Cyndra Larsen. “It’s always fun to try something new, and people love doughnuts and ice cream, so put them together and it’s that perfect blend of cake and ice cream.”
To create a doughnut ice cream sandwich, employees make the ice cream base in house, pour it into a round cookie cutter, freeze it and then place it inside a cake doughnut that has been halved and frozen. In addition to cookies and cream, doughnut ice cream sandwich flavors include blueberry lemon cheesecake and cherry vanilla. The shop also serves mint chocolate chip, espresso and strawberry macaron ice cream sandwiches.
In terms of the doughnuts themselves, varieties include red velvet, strawberry iced, maple iced, chocolate coconut and signature salted caramel. You’ll also find a wide variety of other items, including cake balls, cupcakes, bars, brownie bites and bubble tea. The featured flavor for September is s’mores.
One of my favorite things about the shop, run by co-owners Vu Cao, Angela Whiteman and Larsen, is its thoughtful decor, from doughnut-themed sayings that cover the walls (example: “Make donuts, not war”) to artwork by Austin artists on sale for $75-$150.
“We wanted to bring treats to this area you couldn’t find,” Larsen said. “We just wanted to share our favorite things with the neighborhood. We put a lot of hard work and love into our products, and we make everything here in house. We just want to brighten their day a little.”
Info: Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 8300 North RM 620, Building A, Suite 200. 512-330-4825, angeldonuts.com.
When I first visited the Denver location of Voodoo Doughnuts a few years ago, I wondered if the popular Portland-based chain could possibly live up to its reputation. Voodoo Doughnuts had already become a media darling thanks to its over-the-top creations and its extroverted owners, who proudly claim to have the “best tasting doughnuts in the world.” After taste-testing a few, including the M&M-slathered Marshall Mathers, however, I was convinced — it was good stuff.
The Austin outpost opened last fall on “Dirty Sixth” complete with ornate chandeliers, a neon American flag and a stable of the quirky doughnuts that helped the company gain such a strong following. Although there are frequently long lines, there was no wait on a recent weekday morning as I perused shelf after shelf of creations with toppings such as Cap’n Crunch, Fruit Loops, marshmallows and bubble gum. There were also two fully stocked shelves of vegan doughnuts.
Don’t mind them slightly stale? For $10, you can get a giant bucket packed with day-old offerings.
Info: Open daily 24 hours. Cash only. 212 E. Sixth St. 512-215-8586, voodoodoughnut.com.
Round Rock Donuts
I’m just going to go ahead and echo something that loyal fans of this Round Rock shop have been saying for years — their orange-hued glazed doughnut, when served in its ideal, still-hot form, may be the best glazed doughnut in the world.
I’ve been to Round Rock Donuts three times over the past few years. The first two times I visited with the guarded reverence of a doughnut aficionado. I liked the uniqueness of the Texas-Sized Donut, a giant dough ring nearly the size of a steering wheel that costs $6.99 and can feed about a dozen people. They always have some available, but you can call ahead if you need a bunch — even if slightly dry, they provide fun photo ops. I also liked the kitschy, small-town feel of the shop, which is located in the shadow of the Round Rock water tower.
But when I tried a still-hot glazed during my recent third visit, I fully understood what all the fuss was about. The supple, warm dough and its thin jacket of sugar offered no protest to that first transformative bite. It was perfection.
Other highlights of the doughnut menu include the strawberry glazed with sprinkles, the applesauce cake and the white-cream Bismarck. Cupcakes, cakes, kolaches, cookies, cinnamon rolls and muffins are also available.
Info: Open 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Drive-thru has extended hours, check website for details. 106 W. Liberty Ave. in Round Rock. 512-255-3629, roundrockdonuts.com.
Rather than being intended as a quick bite with coffee, the doughnuts at Gourdough’s are a meal — and a delicious one at that. Originally a food truck, this Austin institution has now expanded to include two restaurant locations and two trailers.
Let’s have a sample of the menu at the South Lamar location: the Ron Burgundy doughnut burger, which includes bacon, a fried egg, two slices of American cheese and guacamole; the Drunken Hunk, which features bacon-wrapped meatloaf, a potato pancake and a fried egg served on top of a hot doughnut; and the Black Betty, which incorporates blackberry filling, cream cheese icing, cake mix and cinnamon sugar.
I could talk about my favorite creations at Gourdough’s all day, but the best way to truly understand it is to experience it yourself.
Info: Multiple locations. 512-912-9070, gourdoughs.com.