I come to you with terrible news: I was accused of gonzo journalism. Well, I sat and reflected on it and came to the conclusion that, yes, I am and will continue to be. Storytelling and food go hand in hand, and I’ve found that food sections feel too disconnected and third-person-y if you don’t accurately share the experience of eating out somewhere. There should be no sterile approach to it, no near-surgical regurgitation of a menu that you could gain from a quick look at the eatery in question’s Facebook page. Eating is an experience, one that’s meant to be enjoyed and shared, much like a good story. So I come to you this week with something a little different than our standard review, a story in three parts.
My life’s work, if my lifes work is to make a map of places to eat donuts in Albuquerque.Dan Pennington
Our introduction begins 13 years ago. A fateful night on Thanksgiving when I was 15 years old led to me and my best friend Patrick sneaking out in the middle of the night in search of fast food. The whole story would take pages, but it ended with us behind a donut shop at 3 in the morning, finding a box of hundreds of day-old donuts, starting a tradition we called "The Donut Run," wherein we’d rope a new friend in to join us on a quest to find tossed-out donuts to leave on friends porches overnight, like donut fairies. This brings us to today, where I regret to say that friend is no longer around to share that story anymore, but a new friend reignited the passion, telling me they have never in their life been able to finish a donut, and that they kind of hated them. The twist is that other fried dough treats, such as churros, were never a problem. The goal became clear: A donut run, in Patrick’s memory, to find the greatest donut in Albuquerque.This new friend, who we’ll call Holly McSweetie for the purposes of this article, wasn’t the kind to go rummaging behind donut shops, and as a professional food writer, I personally couldn’t bring myself to live like that either. So we crafted a new plan. Find every local donut purveyor in the city, and in one fell swoop, try them all. Surely, somewhere in this city was a shop that had the right donut for her. This led to the creation of what I call "The Donut Map." Pictured here, you’ll see its 8 stops within the city of all-local donut shops. There wasn’t a hard and fast system for judgement—just ordering what looked good and hoping for the best. Here’s what we found.
Rise + Roast
We started at Rise + Roast (401 Eubank Blvd. SE Ste. E). Their system for selling is simple: Glazed and signature are $1.19, classics are $1.59, memorables are $1.79 and specialty are $1.99, with a whole dozen going for $10.99 to $12.99. With her affinity for churros, Holly went with the cinnamon twist and I opted for a glazed as well as their pumpkin cheesecake-filled donut. Their donuts are light and flaky, soft to the bite. There’s not a heavy sweetness in them like you’d find in a cake donut, and the pumpkin cheesecake cream was smooth and flavorful. As for the cinnamon twist, herein we found our first problem, which was that Holly loved it. Normally, loving what you eat isn’t a problem, but here, the journey couldn’t be over at our first stop. Not with the map being made and the day being planned. We chalked up a win in the "discovery" column, but journeyed on for the story.
Next up was an old familiar friend, Rebel Donut (2435 Wyoming Blvd. NE). Rebel has been doing donuts for years, and was a go-to of mine for many years. With a dozen classics for $11.99, and their wide variety of donuts costing anywhere from $1.05 to $2.29, you’re never bereft of options. I grabbed my favorite, the Rebel Red Velvet, and she opted for a Coconut Cream Pie. Rebel deals in the heavier style of cake donuts, something with a little more heft and bite to it, helping give the flavors some added space to work with. The smoothness of the red velvet flavor came through wonderfully, and the comments on the coconut cream was that it was delicious, though the heaviness didn’t suit her tastes. Finally, some answers to this conundrum begin to emerge.
Bristol Doughnut Company
Bristol Doughnut Company (10301 Comanche Rd. NE) has been on my list to visit for a while now. A double decker donut bus should be all the intrigue you need to check it out. The bus stands out, but the location didn’t. Tucked away on the side of a parking lot, I discovered what is arguably one of my new favorite hidden treasures. These are handcrafted donuts ranging from $3 to $4, and they are just flat out amazing. Even though it was my fourth donut, I finished every crumb because I couldn’t stop eating it. I got the brioche-style Prickly Pear donut with a soured prickly pear glaze that was fruity and delightful with the flaky, chewy, fluffy and huge donut, while Holly opted for a cinnamon sugar. She loved it, but wait—it was a cake donut. Was the trick cinnamon sugar?! The mystery deepened.
Two Boys Donuts
Next was Two Boys Donuts (6400 Holly Ave. NE Ste. H) which touted vegan donuts. With donuts going for $2 a piece, there was a pretty wide selection available. I opted for a vegan donut with strawberry glaze, and my partner in crime did blueberry with maple icing and cinnamon sugar crumb. Mine was a raised, hers a cake. Two points of order here, the first being I was told there was no tasteable difference between vegan and non-vegan, which as far as I could tell, was true. The donut was moist, delicate and light with a ton of flavor, showing no signs of vegan substitutions. The second, a woman who worked there shared a trait with Holly in not being a fan of donuts! There are more of these people!? My mind boggled. She liked her donut, but commented that it reminded her of pancakes, in a good way. Was it the blueberry and maple? Probably.
Total Betty (7634 Louisiana Blvd. NE Ste. A) was a last-minute recommendation that ended up being the big surprise of the trip. I had no idea what to expect going in, but when we stepped through the doors, I was instantly in Southern California. There’s an attitude out there to make sure everything you sell is easily shareable on social media, lending a well-lit, diverse location prime for photographing. This is the theme here with handmade mini-donuts, featuring a ton of choices. A 3-pack is $3.25, but they sell them all the way up to a 49-pack for $44.99. We opted for the Totally Baked, a cookie dough and brownie-centric donut; the Salted Caramel Pretzel, which is self-explanatory; and the Churro, which had an addition of Nutella. All three were fantastic, and I wish I hadn’t already been as many donuts deep that day so I could try more. Needless to say, these bite-sized donuts are worth your attention.
I want to take a second to give us a break. Some breathing room. At this point, we had gone to five donut shops in about an hour and a half. I had already consumed seven donuts. We still had three shops to go. Lethargy hit, and fear set in. Is this a feasible task? Can one person consume so many variants of donuts in one run? Maybe, maybe not, but I couldn’t surrender now. I was full, but answers were still needed. She didn’t like donuts, so the only solution was to eat an insane amount of them in one go. "Livin’ On A Prayer" by Bon Jovi came on the radio, and I recognized that we were fighting our fate at this point. This was a destined trip, one we had to see through, for us, for Patrick, for Albuquerque. Back on the road we went.
Amy’s Donuts (6001 San Mateo Blvd. NE Ste. G3) was recommended by enough people that I had to go check it out. Technically, they’re part of a larger chain that has four other locations in the US, but that doesn’t seem large enough to me to disqualify them from the local donut run, so they made the cut. A dozen of their donuts of any kind goes for $18.50, and I say any kind because choice is king here. With a variety of over a hundred styles to choose from, you have no shortage of selection. They even let you choose your own donut filling that they will do right in front of you. A lot of the choices are a bit more wild than anywhere else. And we opted for their best-seller, the Bacon Maple Donut, which found the harmony between salty and sweet, with a little extra chewiness coming from the bacon.
The Witching Flour
Finally, the end of our journey. The goal was to find a donut from The Witching Flour which does baking independently of a shop, and then sells their goods through other local businesses. We scrambled and found Castle Coffee (727 Tijeras Ave. NW). Castle Coffee is all about community, having just recently opened in Downtown. It’s a quiet and relaxed shop with a lot of natural light, and they have a seriously amazing latte that you have to check out. They also carry The Witching Flour’s baked goods, which was convenient for us. We split a chocolate sourdough brioche with rosemary vanilla glaze and a brown sugar walnut crumble. It was equal parts light and heavy, with these wonderful bursts of flavor that danced across the tongue. I had been bewitched by this elaborate and fantastical donut.
And that was it. The final donut down, and yet, the mystery was not totally solved. Maybe food is subjective, and even though things may appear similar on the outside, the magic of what happens in the mixing bowl is what causes chance and variance. We found no solid rhyme or reason to the donuts Holly loved and the donuts she didn’t, only that now she can’t claim to not like all donuts. I was left with only one answer, and that was my refusal to look at another donut for the rest of the year. A baker’s dozen for the day should last me the next month.
My life’s work, if my lifes work is to make a map of places to eat donuts in Albuquerque.