A couple of months ago I was going through Facebook and noticed the photo of what I would call a designer doughnut. Since I was only readily familiar with one establishment that sold “designer doughnuts,” I asked if my friend had ever visited Psycho Donuts. It was not an unreasonable question since they are located in Northern California as is he. It was not long before someone else joined the discussion and informed me that if I wanted a great doughnut, I had to visit Stan’s Donuts in Santa Clara. Eventually, my friend returned to the discussion and told me that the doughnut in question was a Dynamo Maple Sugar and Bacon doughnut. Since I had plans to visit San Francisco for a trade show, I decided that I would have to conduct an unbiased review of the three doughnut shops in question. These shops were Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco, Stans Donuts in Santa Clara and Psycho Donuts in San Jose, CA. Since today is National Doughnut Day, I figured it was time to put this review up.
My initial intent was to go to the doughnut shops and let the employees choose two donuts that they thought were best. My girlfriend, Tanya, said she did not want the shop to pick her doughnut. Since I knew there was no way I could eat more than three donuts in a day, I decided that I would let the doughnut shop pick one and Tanya could pick one. We would then split the donuts and I would make review the doughnut shop based on these choices. It seemed like a pretty unbiased way to do this review. As we were leaving San Francisco I picked a route that would take us from San Francisco, to Santa Clara and end in San Jose.
Dynamo Donuts, San Francisco
I was born in San Francisco and had always hung out in the Richmond District, affectionately known as “The Avenues.” Dynamo Donut & Coffee is located in the Mission District or “The Streets” section. In my youth, there was no good reason to go to the Mission District. I admit I was slightly apprehensive when I saw the address but I was on a mission, no pun intended. I was a little surprised when we arrived as the shop is not what I would describe as your typical doughnut shop. It has an open storefront which allows passerby to not only enjoy the aromas emanating from within, but enables customers to just belly up to the bar to order their favorite doughnut(s). One thing I noticed immediately was that there was a steady flow of people doing just that. Of course, this also included street people, but they seemed harmless.
When I explained why we were there and what I wanted to do, the employees were more than willing to assist. In fact, they were probably the most eager and helpful of any of the shops we visited. Without asking, we were presented plate after plate of donuts to photograph. I was rather taken aback at how helpful they were. I was not complaining, just pleasantly surprised. When it came time to pick the donuts Tanya opted for a chocolate cake doughnut. The employees picked the Maple Sugar and Bacon doughnut and insisted that we had to try a third doughnut, their hot cross bun, as it was a seasonal doughnut they were offering for Easter. They had seating inside, so we grabbed some coffee and enjoyed a breakfast of donuts and coffee.
Stan’s Donuts, Santa Clara
After leaving Dynamo, we traveled down the 101 about 50 miles to Stan’s Donuts in Santa Clara. Located in a strip mall, this doughnut shop looked like the typical doughnut shop I was accustomed to visiting when I was a teen and could eat doughnuts with no qualms. I took a couple photos outside and entered. I guess it was close to noon when we arrived and the display case looked like there was not much of a selection left. I started taking photos when the lady behind the counter suddenly same rushing up asking what I was doing. I explained what was going on and she asked me to wait, and then disappeared. I guess “Stan” was watching from an office above. She returned and told me I could continue.
I asked her what their best doughnut was and, without pause, she told me it was their glazed doughnut. I looked in their display case and did not see any glazed donuts available. She told me to wait a minute. She then went to the other end of the counter and spoke with a guy that I presumed was their cook/baker. A couple of minutes later she returned with a glazed doughnut. Apparently, the guy at the end of the counter had set aside a couple dozen glazed donuts to take home and had graciously allowed her to sell us one of them. Tanya chose a white cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and sliced almonds. I was beginning to feel the sugar rush from so many doughnuts in such a short time.
Psycho Donuts, San Jose
Psycho Donuts now has two locations, the original in Campbell, CA and a new store in San Jose. Since we had visited the Campbell store last year and the San Jose location was, pretty much, on the way home, we opted for San Jose. The downside to this choice was that is was less than 10 miles from Stan’s and there was no way I could eat another bite. I was sugared out. I may be wrong, but I do not recall Psycho as having any standard size donuts. Even if they started off at a normal size, by the time they get done dressing them up, you have a pretty large doughnut. The first time we went there we ended up getting a dozen because we could not choose from the wide selection. I only tasted some of each as there was more than one or two people could eat before they started to lose their freshness.
Psycho Donuts has a flashy exterior. If you did not know it was a doughnut shop or that there was a doughnut shop there, it would probably be easy to miss. It almost resembled an arcade I might find at the Redondo Beach Pier. They have a large variety of specialty donuts. They use everything from Captain Crunch cereal to Oreo cookies to tequila in the preparation of these culinary delights. Tanya picked their Strawberry Fields doughnut and the Psycho nurse behind the counter chose the Cadillac Margarita doughnut. As I was not prepared to try and eat another doughnut, we had them packed to go and headed home where the donuts would be sampled later.
I should preface this by saying that I am not one of those people that thinks bacon belongs on everything. To be honest, the idea of adding bacon to a doughnut does not even sound appetizing. I was a little surprised that the Maple Sugar and Bacon doughnut was not only the doughnut of choice suggested by my friend and the Dynamo employees as well. I never gave any kind of a hint that I had even heard of it. I was also pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Of the three doughnuts we sampled there, it was definitely my favorite.
As far as the glazed doughnut at Stan’s was concerned, I have to cut them a little slack. It was early afternoon by the time we got there and every review I have read since has suggested that these donuts are best fresh. When talking to the waitress she told me that when they open in the morning there is already a line of people waiting to get in and that their glazed is the most popular, so they go fast. If I am ever in Santa Clara first thing in the morning I will make a point of stopping by and getting a fresh and warm one. I appreciate that their baker let us buy one from his stash, but I was not overly impressed. It reminded me of a Krispy Kreme glazed, so if I had microwaved it, it probably would have been better.
Psycho Donuts definitely was at a disadvantage in this doughnut challenge. If a glazed doughnut is losing its ranking due to being a few hours old, imagine riding 350 miles home in the trunk of the car, only to be eaten the next day. A doughnut has to be given additional points for being this durable. Between the Strawberry Fields and the Cadillac Margarita, I have to give the nod to the Cadillac Margarita doughnut. And no, you can not taste any tequila.
As far as the doughnut shops themselves are concerned, I have to say that I enjoyed all three locations. As far as the donuts are concerned I have to say the top three were the Cadillac Margarita, the Strawberry Fields and the Maple Sugar and Bacon doughnut. The glazed at Stan’s was good, for a glazed, but I think I need to try one when it is fresh from the oven. The Hot Cross Bun was good if you like custard fillings (I do). I did learn that Tanya and I have different tastes in donuts. I will remember that if a doughnut run ever needs to be made.