The Absolute Best Doughnut in New York

Underwest Donuts knows doughnuts. Photo: Bobby Doherty

This ranking is all about doughnuts: glazed, filled, round, square, traditional, and otherwise.

The Absolute Best

1. Underwest Donuts
638 W. 47th St., at Twelfth Ave.; 212-317-2359

Every single doughnut that emerges from the production line in the glorified hallway that runs in parallel with a busy Twelfth Avenue car wash possesses a caramelized crunch and fluffy cakelike crumb. The colorful streaks of the vanilla-and-lavender-scented flavor invoke the suds that ooze from the industrial curtains behind the glass wall. It’s the first tip-off that Scott Levine, a former fine-dining chef, is a minimalist who works with huge flavors. Toasted almonds augment the nutty brown-butter foundation of one doughnut, while a smooth hit of tahini in the batter amplifies the crystalline threads of halva on top in another, creating something magical. Open sesame, indeed.

2. Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St., nr. Essex St.; 212-505-3700

The lines are still long, and the tiny reflecting pool of caramelized sugar atop the diminutive crème brûlée doughnuts is as crackly and charming as ever. Now 22 years young, Mark Isreal’s flagship for inventive yeasted and cake varieties has expanded to new locations and spun itself out into all kinds of inventive shapes and winning one-off flavors. It recently introduced a shaggy white-chocolate-coated “whiteout” to complement its revered Brooklyn blackout flavor — itself a homage to that borough’s bygone, sainted cake — that may end up making its own kind of history.

3. Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop
727 Manhattan Ave., nr. Norman Ave, Greenpoint; 718-389-3676

Midway through its sixth decade in business, the venerable Greenpoint bakery maintains its position as the best place in all of New York to get a mean cruller or excellent crumb cream at 4:30 a.m., its opening time on weekdays. The unflappable, uniformed, black-coffee-dealing waitresses recall a dreamier Brooklyn, and two dozen or so flavors that emerge from Peter Pan’s oven on a regular basis ensure that at least some of that wonder is also available in convenient takeout form.

3. Mah Ze Dahr Bakery

Umber Ahmad’s bakery — online-only for now, but targeting a June brick-and-mortar opening date — sells a single type of doughnut, a sugar-sprinkled, buttery brioche that comes loaded with deposits of vanilla pastry cream. The whole package looks plain and plays as elegant. The filling is rich, not dense, and tastes like genuine vanilla. For anyone who thinks they don’t like doughnuts, it’s enough to convince them of their transcendent power. The brioche approach is subtle and radical, a little like what the grand unified theory is supposed to do for physics: It promises to explain everything in one simple package. Oh, and the bakery includes the perfectly spherical holes with each order.

4. Dough
305 Franklin Ave., nr. Lafayette Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant; 347-533-7544

Fany Gerson’s basic platform remains dazzling and unchanged after nearly a decade in business. Her yeasted doughnuts inflate to jumbo proportions this shy of overproofing before they are blasted in the oven, and are often barely cool before they are sprinkled and glazed with things like cocoa nibs and passion fruit, respectively. The salted chocolate caramel has a rich sheen that runs the gamut of flavors from bitter to sweet and beyond, while lemon meringue involves cool yellow curd filling and a spiky crown of torched egg whites.

6. Locanda Verde
379 Greenwich St., at N. Moore St.; 212-925-3797

Kierin Baldwin really should have her own doughnut emporium. The pastry chef, who’s been known to pair a slice of homey buttermilk-cherry pie with the odd scoop of balsamic ice cream, has plied doughnuts with rosewater, raspberry-pistachio, and orange-with-hazelnut flavors at the restaurant’s streetside café. The apple-cider variety, pioneered by Baldwin’s predecessor Karen DeMasco, has a craggly sugar glaze and resolutely autumnal flavor. Baldwin has swapped in Granny Smith apples for a crisper bite, and enriched the glaze with cinnamon and more of the fruit, which packs a bigger wallop of mulled-cider flavor than ever before.

7. Shaikh’s Place
1503 Ave. U, nr. E. 15th St., Sheepshead Bay; 718-375-2572

This 24-hour greasy spoon in the depths of lower Brooklyn is the Sigma Octantis to Greenpoint’s Peter Pan Donut Shop: It may not be quite as visible, but it’s still a star. Founded more than a half-century ago and run for the last 30-something by a guy who wanted to be an electrical engineer before he fell in with icing sugar, Shaikh’s has jam-filled masterpieces, pastel-pink glazed varieties fringed with rainbow sprinkles, and crullers galore. Stock varies throughout the day, but the doughnuts remain cheap — a dozen can be had for less than $6. The plain-glazed, light and sweet, deserves its own spot in MoMA.

8. Pies ‘n’ Thighs
43 Canal St.; nr. Ludlow St.; 212-413-7437

The flavors rotate, but the fried-chicken destination has lately been turning out a malt cream variety in Williamsburg that’s built like a behemoth brioche roll and looks like an asteroid. The glaze includes bits of malted-milk balls, the filling is custardy cool, and the doughnut feeds (at least) two. On Canal Street, the super-yeasty signature sourdough doughnut doles out a bitter funk, thanks to its three-day ferment. It’s dipped in glaze just after it’s fried, which leads to a small implosion and lots of deep grooves of delicious icing on its surface.

9. The Doughnut Project
10 Morton St., nr. Seventh Ave. South; 212-691-5000

The “everything” doughnut, sesame seeded with a whiff of dehydrated garlic, seems like a shameless bid for a particular kind of Instagram fame. Same to the jumbo chocolate-bone-marrow, a holdover from the West Village shop’s recent “Meat Week,” which seems like a hybrid PR stunt and Dickensian punishment but still ends up fairly delicious. The best of the featured flavors seem to be the product of dream logic — lemon sea salt, olive oil and pepper — these are made with the most finesse and stand out as such. The gussied-up maple-bacon “classic” is a faithful, rectangular rendering of the Nord’s Bakery version, which was elevated to cult status by Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland.

10. Lilia
567 Union Ave., at N. 10th St., Williamsburg; 718-576-3095

Missy Robbins has garnered great press for her cheesily righteous cacio e pepe frittelle, but the chef notably also puts the bomb back in bomboloni with the sugar-dusted frittelle, which is sold in Lilia’s takeaway Caffé. The pastry — full name frittelle di San Giuseppe — looks like a cruller, but is ridged and fluted, with a choux-like interior that has a delicately sweet flavor, like a funnel cake after a semester abroad.

11. Gossip Coffee
3704 30th Ave., nr. 37th St., Astoria; 718-440-8792

There’s a Bac~Os-like sprinkle of crackly prosciutto on the stout-flavored doughnut. Elsewhere, a plastic pipette sticks out, like a matador’s lance, from a yellow-glazed flavor. It contains a miniscule shot of tequila that signal-boosts the liquor-flavored glaze. The madcap pastries are the handiwork of “Scottish” Francis Legge, a former MasterChef contestant who dons fedoras and strives to keep Queens weird, at least in terms of doughnuts. Accordingly, the marble variety is a psychedelic swirl of color, and in general, there’s a lot of dripped and splayed icing, in colors that correspond to apple and beet flavors and beyond. It’s fun to watch the splatter patterns, and more fun to eat them, even if it’s not always clear if you’re looking at some Jackson Pollock–level inspiration or just some CSI-style pastry gore.

The Absolute Best Doughnut in New York