The Achilles' heel of cops, weight watchers and Homer Simpson, donuts are just too delicious to resist. These (usually) ring-shaped wonders are having their cupcake moment, with innovative bakers varnishing them in hibiscus, lemon ginger or pistachio cream. At the iconoclastic Brooklyn restaurant Do or Dine, they're stuffed with foie gras. Five Points serves them at brunch in the form of cinnamon-sugar-dusted churros with a shot of hot Mexican chocolate. At Wonder City Coffee & Donut Bar (inside The Brindle Room), caramel, chocolate-hazelnut and powdered sugar versions are made by adding mashed potatoes to the dough. Some donuts are enormous, while others, such as those at Balthazar Bakery, are more French-petite in style. Our slideshow highlights where you can find the best classic glaze donuts and vegan donuts and many others that are well worth the calories.
45-16 Queens Blvd., Sunnyside, Queens
It's all about old-fashioned goodness at Alpha, selling airy, yeasted donuts with a sweet sugar glaze for $1. This nostalgic dinette is an easy pit stop for commuters since it directly faces the elevated 7 train's 46th St./Bliss St. station. Club kids and those working the late shift also love it since breakfast is served until 4am several days a week. There are stools just off the snaking Formica counter where you can while away some time drinking coffee, savoring that donut and conversing with Queens characters who've been coming in for decades. From the looks of it, not much has changed since the 1970s; it's the sort of joint Travis Bickle would haunt in between fares. In fact, this Sunnyside block had some excitement last year when Robert De Niro was filmed at the donut shop as part of the movie Being Flynn.
73 Second Ave., 212-539-0966, East Village, Manhattan
248 Broome St., 212-677-5047, Lower East Side, Manhattan
The tiny Atlas is a crazy cornucopia of blackboard menus and additional breakfast and lunch items written willy-nilly on mirrors and sheets of paper hanging from every conceivable ledge. The sheer spectacle of it is worth seeing, a combination of imagination and recipe hoarding. Big boxes of donuts from Vegan Treats are stacked on the counter, in luscious flavors like Boston cream and coconut custard ($2.95 each). They're baked, not fried, so they're less likely to lead to cardiac arrest. Another prime destination for dense, moist vegan donuts is BabyCakes, a sweet little café on the Lower East Side where the staff wears retro pink uniforms and Glenn Miller big-band music adds to the vintage feel. A favorite donut here is the one topped with crunchy vanilla sprinkles ($3.50).
448A Lafayette Ave., 347-533-7544, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
The most important rule for donuts is to get them while they're fresh. That usually means early in the morning, but at Dough they're made all day long, so there's no danger of biting into a stale one. It's hard not to be wowed when beholding the array of fat donuts, glistening with passionfruit glaze and cocoa nibs or dredged in toasted coconut ($2.25–$2.75). The brilliant pink color of the hibiscus glaze is another wonder. Dough's donuts are plush, with a stretchy interior, and not too sweet—so good they're almost impossible not to wolf down. Yes, they are worth a special trip to Bed-Stuy. The wood-detailed shop opened in late 2010 and has a progressive sensibility, featuring strong coffee from Brooklyn Roasting Company, loose-leaf teas and stools that overlook the kitchen, where the bakers' artistry is on display.
379 Grand St., 212-505-3700, Lower East Side, Manhattan
220 W. 23rd St., 212-675-9100, Chelsea, Manhattan
Doughnut Plant is the granddaddy of the nouvelle donut movement. Founder Mark Isreal opened his flagship shop on the Lower East Side in 2000 and has since expanded to Tokyo. An ultra-cool branch opened at the Chelsea Hotel in 2011, its walls craftily brightened with colorful donut-shaped pillows. The indulgences here are giant and delicious—some square-shaped, even—and made with quality, seasonal ingredients. Flavors like crème brûlée, Valrhona chocolate and peanut butter glaze with blackberry jelly are so addictive, there is oftentimes a line to purchase them. The full espresso bar, cold-brewed iced coffee and homemade lemonade (in seasonal fruit flavors) are further attractions. Isreal is a creative soul, always dreaming up new varieties. One of his latest is rose doughseed (a smaller donut), topped with rosewater glaze and filled with rosewater custard. Prices range from $1.25 (for mini churros) to $3.50.
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop
727 Manhattan Ave., 718-389-3676, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Tina Fey had such an intensely positive reaction to Peter Pan's white cream–filled powdered donut that her description of it in a 2010 Esquire interview was as rude as anything in American Pie. To paraphrase Fey, these are mighty fine donuts, made from the same foolproof recipe for decades. The old-school setting, which includes a curvy Formica counter, looks like a time capsule from the 1960s. Be sure to get the signature honey-dipped donut, light and fluffy, for just $1. The jam-filled delicacies aren't too sweet and might even be good for you, if you go along with a Homer Simpson donut adage: "This has purple stuff inside. Purple is a fruit."