Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

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Nov 26, 2018 / 0 comments

While Portlanders may not have invented donuts, they certainly seem to have perfected them. The so-called donut culture here is well fed – inspiring Portlanders to declare their favorites, and to slight those they deem inferior, to both their friends and the public alike.

Take the Twitter firestorm that rained down after Portland Trail Blazers basketball center, Jusuf Nurkic, tweeted last year he thought Voodoo Doughnut, one of the city’s institutions, was overrated. Rose City residents responded with fury – some defending the famed donut shop, and others agreeing. The furor created by Nurkic’s tweet bubbled over to the point that Food & Wine devoted an article to the incident, titling it, with no amount of glibness, Portland is Having a Doughnut Crisis.

Although I’m still new to the Portland area, I suspect chatter of a donut demise is premature – talk for any length of time to a resident and they’re likely to tell you their favorite spot for donuts. (I’ve also noticed they’re not apt to worry about the calories from said donut, since they’re likely to have biked the 20 miles or so to the shop anyway.)

Portland is peppered with large and small donut shops, but these three represent the most well-known and a place to start your exploration of Portland’s donut scene.

Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Voodoo Doughnut

Where it’s located: Tourists tend to go to the one on 22 SW 3rd Avenue, while Portlanders will go across Burnside Bridge to the less crowded Voodoo Doughnut, Too! (both are open 24/7).

What it’s known for: Zany donut designs with an attitude. First-timers should make sure to get at least one of the Voodoo Doll donuts – a raised donut made to look like a doll of sorts with chocolate frosting a zoned-out face and a yellow swirl on its chest with a pretzel stabbed in the center. I had to laugh the first time I bit into one and the raspberry jelly oozed out.

I tried going to Voodoo two times before I finally decided to brave the line that snakes around the side of the original store. I found part of the Voodoo experience is just that – the experience. In line, folks didn’t seem to mind the wait, but chatted excitedly about what they were going to order (and yes, it was mostly tourists).

Portlanders are quick to point out that Voodoo Doughnut isn’t quite what it used to be – it’s been seen as a bit of a sell out now that it has locations in Denver, Austin, Hollywood, and shudder Orlando.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the donuts there. Instead, I found the donuts to be impossibly light and dense at the same time. I liked the edgy donuts in flavors like the Old Dirty Bastard, a raised donut coated with chocolate frosting, crushed Oreos and peanut butter drizzle, and the Memphis Mafia – kinda like a banana fritter (as opposed to apple) glazed with chocolate, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips. There’s an unrefined complexity to the donuts flavors and ideas that make them … conversation starters that are also fun to eat.

For visitors, I’d encourage a stop at Voodoo Doughnuts to see what all the hype – or dismissiveness – is about. And don’t worry, the line goes fast (bring cash, they don’t take credit and the ATM inside is often out of order).

Voodoo Doughnut. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Voodoo Doughnut. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Voodoo Doughnut. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Blue Star

Where it’s located: 7 locations in Portland (including at the airport) and three in California

What it’s known for: Blue Star is the antithesis of Voodoo Doughnut. And they seem to embrace that distinction. Instead of constantly churning out donuts 24/7, Blue Star offers refined, gourmet brioche-batter donuts in varieties like Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk (one of my favs), Blueberry Bourbon Basil, Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Curd, and other sophisticated offerings.

They proudly proclaim they make “donuts for grown-ups” – if there were any doubt, just check out the Cointreau Crème Brulee, which includes a pipette filled with orange liqueur that you’re meant to inject into the already vanilla custard-filled donut, just before eating. And they make only a limited supply of each variety – meaning if you don’t get there early in the day, there’s no chance you’re getting a Valrhona Chocolate Crunch donut – again, a brioche bread donut filled with velvety vanilla custard, dipped in French dark chocolate and then coated in dark chocolate pearls. Mmmmmm.

The pricier donuts are deemed more refined than most for good reason – the subtle mix of flavors elevate the donut to more of an elegant pastry. I found the donuts to have a completely different texture and flavor profile than Voodoo. They weren’t better or worse, they were just another type of donut I was happy to sample. And keep sampling.

Blue Star. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Blue Star. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Pip’s Original Doughnuts

Where it’s located: 4759 NE Fremont St.

What it’s known for: Fried-to-order mini donuts. This is the place where you’re likely to see more locals than tourists at this off-the-beaten path gem. The mini donuts are constantly popping into the frying oil and then rolled out to be served warm, whether they’re plain, coated with cinnamon and sugar, or filled with flavors like maple bacon, Nutella, or seasonal offerings (we sampled a sweet potato pie and candied ginger donut during our last visit).

Pip’s is your down-and-dirty donut fix that your share by the dozen with friends and family. Locals will point you to the simpler varieties – the warm cinnamon and sugar donuts that you can pop in your mouth and eat in one generous bite.

Pip’s Original Doughnuts. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Pip’s Original Doughnuts. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

Pip’s Original Doughnuts. From Donut-Hopping Portland: 3 Quintessential Hotspots

This list is just a sampling of the many donut shops that dot Portland and its suburbs. I’d encourage you to visit these and others around town to find your favorites. And not to worry, I’ll continue eating, er, doing research, to find my favorite go-to donut spot. 

Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at

Photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough