Chicago is a city of appetites both large and refined, and so it is with our doughnuts: we like things big and Midwestern, sure, but there’s a delicacy amidst it all, subtle variations like chestnut and pistachio flourishing alongside giant crullers. As in so many other ways we are a place of contradictions, and this is reflected in the fried dough scene, which has exploded in the last few years. Amidst food trucks and gourmet offerings, pączki and classic fritters retain a stronghold.
I moved to the City by the Lake when I was 17, stepping off the Red Line with a Dunkin Donuts glazed in my hand and a dream in my heart. We’ve come a long way, me and doughnuts, and I want you to reap the benefit of my experience. Drumroll, please. The best doughnut in Chicago is...
Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake doughnut, Dinkel's Bakery
A creamy, chocolate shell covers this soft cake doughnut, proving that sometimes classics are classic for a reason. The cake is rich with an excellent crumb, the chocolate bittersweet — together, they provide contrast unmatched by their fancier brethren. It's perfect.
But, to be fair, there are many other excellent doughnuts in this city. Here are a few runner ups:
Custard Pączki, Weber's Bakery
Pączki are a fried Polish pastry (I’m claiming them for the doughnut family, come at me) and southside institution Weber’s Bakery makes the best. These fat and eggy delights are stuffed with sweet, creamy, custard, apricot, poppyseed, and chocolate-drizzled fresh strawberry, among other things, and are only available around Fat Tuesday. Some places offer them year-round, but there’s a reason Weber’s has been going strong since 1930.
Nine Mini Doughnuts with Cinnamon Sugar, Beaver Donuts
Close your eyes for a minute and think about those mini doughnuts you used to get at carnivals. Golden, hot, sugar-crusted magic in a wax paper bag turning slowly clear from grease. Yeah. It doesn’t have to be a dream at Beavers Donuts, which cranks out small, fragrant near-spheres at their West Loop and food truck locations. For $2, you can get toppings like Loco Coco (chocolate sauce and coconut) and Fluffernutter (peanut butter and marshmallow), but I like to keep it simple and free with cinnamon sugar.
Chestnut Glazed, Doughnut Vault
Cake donuts have my heart, but there are times I can make an exception: the chestnut glazed is one of them. Oversized yet airy with a subtle, crackly-sweet coating, it tastes like fall and pairs well with hot coffee — the perfect afternoon donut. Made in a magic kitchen by autumn elves or perhaps a tiny, pretty hole-in-the-wall just north of the Loop, Doughnut Vault is worth the wait.
Apple Fritter, Old Fashioned Donuts
A little east and awhile south from the Vault is Old Fashioned Donuts, which turns out mythical apple fritters. Giant chunks of apple and pecans find a home in melt in your mouth dough, and it’s good that it microwaves well because seriously this fritter is huge. Like the size of your head, if you have a really big head. All this for a couple bucks, and the service couldn’t be nicer.