Map: Shayna Brewer

The Best Vegan Doughnuts in Los Angeles

I ate all the vegan doughnuts in this city so you can just eat the best ones — here’s what I discovered

Most cities have one or two foods that they can claim mastery over — that no other city in the world can quite replicate. For New York, where I lived for the last seven years, that would probably be bagels (it’s the water). Having just moved to LA, I’ve heard that the doughnuts are a must.

Friends who grew up in Southern California have tried to explain the everyday pleasure of a cheap doughnut. That is, it’s not the kind of food you need to seek out a fancy, high-end place for. The combination Chinese food/doughnut shops that proliferate LA county’s strip malls do the job just fine.

But as most vegans know, getting a plant-based version of even the most mundane treats often requires going a little bit out of the way. In my attempt to get to know my new city (and, you know, as an excuse to eat a lot of doughnuts), I took it upon myself to explore the vegan doughnut offerings of Los Angeles, along with my non-vegan, car-owning friend Katja. Please enjoy the fruits of our labors — a comprehensive guide to vegan doughnuts throughout LA. I know I did.

Donut Friend (in DTLA and Highland Park) is a hard-to-miss staple

Photos: Ariana DiValentino

When I visited LA last summer, about a year before I moved here, Donut Friend was one of the places I made sure to add to the itinerary. It’s 100% vegan, they sell the often hard-to-find vegan raised doughnut, and the goods are sizeable and come in fun varieties like peanut butter and jelly with coconut bacon and sriracha. And lots of their stuff is named after pop-punk and emo bands, like the Taking Back Sundae and Bacon-182, which earns them bonus points in my book.

Upon visiting last year, I was convinced that LA doughnuts really are different from those anywhere else. This time around, I made Donut Friend my first stop and got the Something Coconut. I was not disappointed. The yeast doughnut was light, not too dense in texture, with a coconut glaze and shreds balanced by lime zest.

Trejo’s Donuts serves vegan cake doughnuts from a pink shop in Hollywood

Owned by, and decorated with the face of, actor Danny Trejo, this shop fits right into its central LA location. Trejo’s sells both vegan and non-vegan doughnuts, usually with about four or five vegan varieties on offer. All the vegan doughnuts are cake-style, which is pretty common considering the not-yet-mainstream science of getting pastries to raise without eggs.

The vegan doughnuts here are very, very fried — the exterior is crunchy and oily, which personally isn’t to my taste, but I could imagine craving them, especially when hungover or hormonal.

Donut Farm in Silverlake impressed even the non-vegans

On our next day of the doughnut expedition, we headed a hipster capital — the Silverlake neighborhood. Donut Farm is exclusively vegan, and when I visited seemed to have an emphasis on cake doughnuts in both standard and slightly unusual flavors (Mexican Hot Chocolate, Lavender Earl Grey, Orange Creamsicle).

Don’t be fooled by the doughnuts’ appearance — despite being small, and most in the shape of little lumps rather than rings, they were impressively good. The texture of the cake was lightweight and fluffy, and the flavors were just the right amount of powerful. Katja brought one home to her wife, Claire, who cried a little upon taking a bite of the chocolate cookie variety.

Our next stop in Silverlake was Blue Star Donuts

Blue Star is the sort of slightly posh, upscale place that you wouldn’t be surprised to learn serves vegan cake doughnuts alongside their non-vegan varieties. The pastries are definitely a little fancified here, using thick ganaches and foodie combinations. And they are worth it if that’s the kind of treat you’re in the mood for.

While I found the cake doughnuts themselves to be a bit on the oily-crunchy side, the flavors were incredible. I tried the Mexican Hot Chocolate, which had just the right amount of heat to balance the sticky, dark chocolate ganache, and Orange Olive Oil, which was very balanced and well-flavored.

Erin McKenna’s Bakery (in Larchmont and Santa Monica) is the dietary-restrictions friendly hub

Day number three of doughnut hunting was devoted to alternative doughnut options. It’s not LA if gluten-free options aren’t within reach. Fortunately, Erin McKenna’s doughnuts and other goods cater to the gluten-sensitive, vegan, and kosher crowds without presenting themselves as a “healthy” option. (I’m sorry, but if I want a doughnut, I’m not looking for the same things I’d look for in a cold-pressed juice.)

Admittedly, I’m often skeptical of anything usually glutinous that’s been made gluten-free. But my Samoa doughnut was a pleasant surprise — albeit just a little dense and with a mild fruity flavor, the doughnut itself was very nicely textured. And the topping was just incredible, as anything with coconut, chocolate, and caramel should be.

fōnuts, in Studio City and the La Brea area, is the requisite “healthy” option.

Like I said, I’m generally not very jazzed about the idea of fun foods made healthier — I’m eating a deep-fried dessert for a reason. But fōnuts is known for its baked, not fried, gluten-free, low-sugar confections, including a number of vegan options, so I had to give it a shot.

I opted for the peanut butter chocolate flavor, and I think I made the right choice. The fatty, creaminess added from the peanut butter helped, I think, to balance the lighter, slightly crumbly cake texture. If an oily doughnut is repulsive to you, these baked treats might be right up your alley.

Our monster doughnut day began at SK’s Doughnuts, where I fell in love.

Being, in appearance, a more traditional doughnut shop with a big glass case, I sort of expected the vegan offerings to be somewhat of an afterthought. Instead, I was shaken to my core by how good they were.

My doughnut-eating partner was a little startled when I kept exclaiming “is this seriously vegan?!” as I ate my banana fudge pastry. But all the labels indicated that it was indeed 100% plant-based, and I swear, it might be the best raised doughnut I’ve ever had. I would love to know how they accomplished it. It was so light and fluffy, with delicious frosting (I also had the raspberry one). SK’s Doughnuts is conveniently located around La Brea, and I’ll be coming back next time I need a spiritual experience for $2.50.

Kettle Glazed Doughnuts in Hollywood made my friends very happy.

Kettle Glazed is another shop with a more classic vibe, and there weren’t too many vegan options on offer. But the ones they had were excellent. I ordered a maple glaze cake doughnut, which had just the right texture and a delicious pancake syrupy flavor. Claire determined that this one was her favorite of the whole tour.

Primo’s Donuts in West LA is a longstanding classic that just happens to serve vegans.

Primo’s has been family-run since its opening in 1956, and still has a very classic, no-frills vibe. But they’re not showy because they don’t need to be — they’re good at what they do. Their selection includes a few vegan varieties, all of which are vanilla cake-based. I opted for the blueberry frosted, because its little fruit chunks in the glaze appealed to me. And it’s no wonder they’re still thriving — it was a simple and really, really good doughnut.

Our final stop was swanky Sidecar Doughnuts in Santa Monica.

Sidecar’s shop on the west side is an elegant little facility with only a few offerings at a time, most of which are seasonal. Given the limited lineup, it’s not surprising that there was only one vegan option — the pumpkin chai cake doughnut, which goes for $5 (also not surprising, given the area). But the texture was good and the flavor was excellent. The pumpkin was just pronounced enough and paired really well with chai rather than typical pumpkin pie spices. I’d definitely go again to see what’s next in season if I felt like treating myself.

If there’s anything to be gleaned from my doughnut journey, it’s that good vegan treats can be found in relative abundance throughout LA — at varying price points and in an array of styles. I’m still thinking of some of the gorgeous and unusual confections at Donut Friend, and I know I’ll be heading back to SK’s next time I need a pick-me-up between meetings. Overall, it’s a comfort to know that no matter where I go in LA, I’m never too far from a donut.

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