You cherish them. You break diets for them. You work out five days a week to enjoy them. A simple yet seemingly perfect guilty pleasure: donuts. These (w)hole foods are such a popular staple in Western culture, and while they aren’t perfect, they sure as hell are lovable.
What’s to know about a donut? Well, for starters, they aren’t nearly as unhealthy as you may think. In comparison to other purported sugar bombs — look at Starbucks, folks — donuts really seem to win out by a lot.
So, don’t kick yourself about eating a donut if you have some calories to spare. The sweet isn’t as sugary as you may think.
Now, switching to eating donuts, where in Philadelphia is there a place to go?
The first place that comes to mind comes from very humble beginnings: Lancaster County, PA. An Amish-made donut bakery that can be found nestled in a corner of the Reading Terminal Market — and on the ground floor of a West Philadelphia building — is Beiler’s Donuts.
Beiler’s was featured on Insider back in 2017 and gained some spotlight there, but this place has been cranking out donuts in Philadelphia since owner Alvin Beiler brought them to the Reading Terminal Market in 1985. The donut stop has a cult following of return customers due to word of mouth more than anything and is perpetually busy on any given day. The folks at Beiler’s make a good 6,000 donuts a day, and getting to try the freshness of Lancaster County ingredients is an experience unlike anything else.
Right off the bat, another name should come to mind: Federal Donuts. The Michael Solomonov-owned donut and fried chicken shop has gained high notoriety around Philadelphia and beyond for their warm donuts, especially their rotating fancy donut menu. After opening in 2011, the store gained immediate popularity for their style: the cake donut.
Different from the normal yeast-raised donut, a cake donut is denser. It is smaller in size but a heftier donut overall. Inspired from Jersey donut shops along the boardwalk — if you have been to Brown’s in Ocean City, just know that Brown’s is the reason for Federal Donuts’ existence — the Fed Nuts team has perfected their recipe with a spice mix from Solomonov’s background: baharat.
Straight from the Federal Donuts website, “In this case, it’s baharat, a Middle Eastern blend of aromatics, typically containing allspice and clove.” While the baharat makes the donuts exceptionally unique, the other calling card to Federal Donuts is a surprisingly savory partner: a twice-fried chicken. The store is well-known for their fried chicken sandwiches and their fried chicken platter — which comes with an amber honey-dipped donut on the side.
While these two are the high-rollers in Philadelphia, it is time to pay respect to one of the all-time greats: Frangelli’s Bakery. This South Philly staple has been open since 1947 and has been churning out over 500 donuts every single day since. Huffington Post put them on their “Dozen Best Donuts in America” list, and the folks down at Frangelli’s don’t plan on changing anything anytime soon. Instead, they’re creating new ways to make their products fun. The shop has recently released a behemoth of a donut filled with fresh cannoli cream and mini chocolate chips, dubbed the “Franolli.”
After an old-school like Frangelli’s, the focus turns to a new school: the vegan donut shop stealing the hearts of many, Dottie’s Donuts.
What began as a wholesale business for coffee shops and local eateries for owners Jeff Poleon and Matt Quinn turned into an actual brick-and-mortar situation. The duo opened up the first Dottie’s in West Philly — right by Clark Park, on the block of Springfield Avenue between 45th and 46th — and their second location soon after in Queen Village on 6th Street.
The West Philly location is a destination trip; either you’re going all the way there or you’re not. However, the entire Southwest Philly community is grateful for it, as the small donut shop does a lot to give back to their local community. They’re known for a daily Instagram update of their deluxe flavors of the day, but they will always have a few classics, like a gigantic apple fritter and a boston cream. Yet, freshly added to their forever menu are two earth-quaking items: their homemade cosmic brownie and a sconut. A vegan and nostalgic treat plus a whole new take on baked good mashups make for even more intrigue from this vegan joint.
Next up is Hello Donuts, a Kensington-based location that was dreamt up in the Philadelphia coffee shop royalty ReAnimator Coffee. After Ben Walsh and Joseph Marro began the idea, they roped in ReAnimator’s very own Zack Zarrillo to help them launch it. They are known for a bright and airy space while serving up a weekly rotating menu of fun and inventive flavors, while also doing “Fritter Fridays.” And keep an eye out later in November, as the donut shop will be adding even more menu items to their boards.
Two more donut stops come to mind in Philadelphia, with one sticking to tradition and the other going off the board. The first are Swiss-style donuts in the Rittenhouse Square spot Swiss Haus. These donuts are made using centuries-old European recipes, and the store is known for just about everything good that belongs in a pastry display case.
The new and inventive spot is Undrgrnd Donuts, a roving donut food truck serving up wild creations and giving it to you where you are. Whether it’s dipping their donuts in Captain Crunch cereal or topping them with chocolate bacon chunks, Undrgrnd Donuts is the unicorn of the Philly donut scene.
However, the truest hidden gem of all in Philadelphia is a South Philly bakery in the middle of Pennsport: Baker Brothers. Formerly known as Hier’s, the 3rd Street spot is known for their cream-filled donuts, their outrageous vanilla crullers and their sticky buns (while not donuts, still worth mentioning).
This is a place that seems to be locals only. If you know about Baker Brothers, you’re doing it right. The odds are high that you’ll be the only non-South Philly person in the bakery. It’s where the regulars go.
There are countless other bakeries doing their own things — Fresh Donuts on 40th and Lancaster, Donut Plus on 43rd and Chestnut and Golden Donut in the middle of the Italian Market all come to mind — but this is where to start if donuts are your thing to try here in the city.
Tune in next week for a cold weather classic: soup. This is a favorite of just about every culture and family, and everyone seems to love at least one kind of soup. Get ready to find out where to go for a cup, a bowl, a pint or even a quart of the good stuff next Friday.