From malasadas to maple bars, here are the can’t-miss spots to get your favorite breakfast treat any time of day.
Although the Peninsula has plenty of places to satisfy your sweet tooth, I’d been wondering whether it might be dotted with “doughnut deserts” – pockets of neighborhoods without an eatery to pick up a fritter or maple bar with a cup of coffee. For those who crave a more down-to-earth delicacy, or a better indulgence-to-dollar ratio, there’s nothing like the humble doughnut to satisfy that urge for carbs, oil and instant gratification.
I went in search of where people can go to get their deep-fried dessert fixes, mapping out many of the Peninsula’s doughnut spots and sampling some of the best doughnuts in the region in the process.
The journey brought me to a small window on a frontage road paralleling 101 in San Mateo, where I picked up a set of three churro doughnuts with dipping chocolate, to 24-hour staples providing light-as-air raised donuts, to new outposts branching into mochi donuts with innovative flavors. I also sampled offerings from several eateries that offer doughnut-like variants, like the Italian bomboloni and the Portuguese malasada. Upon closer analysis, it turns out, true doughnut deserts are few and far between on the Peninsula.
Italian bomboloni: Tootsie’s, Palo Alto
These are rounder and breadier than traditional doughnuts. In the morning, Nutella- and banana-cream filled bomboloni are often for sale, but they usually sell out early. The barn where Tootsie’s usually operates is under construction, so the brunch favorite has relocated to the neighboring Vino Enoteca for the time being.
Instagram-worthy, gluten-free, healthy-ish: Saltwater Bakery, Pacifica
Saltwater Bakery, founded by Tawnya Marsh in 2018, offers unique gluten-free doughnuts, including flavors like chocolate rose and pistachio lemon. Marsh started the gluten-free bakery after searching for ways to help her daughter overcome digestive issues and said in a previous interview with The Six Fifty that the doughnuts took a year of trial and error to get right.
Churro doughnuts: Suavecito’s Birria and Tacos, San Mateo
Hidden along a frontage road to Highway 101 in San Mateo, Suavecito’s Birria and Tacos can be hard to find, but the journey is worth it to try out their churro doughnuts, golden rings of deep-fried ridges coated in cinnamon sugar. They’re sold in a pack of three with chocolate sauce for dipping.
Longtime local favorite: Stan’s Donuts, Santa Clara
A standby for Peninsula doughnut lovers since 1959, Stan’s in Santa Clara has the retro interior to match its age, with old signs advertising “take home service” for fresh, no-frills doughnuts. The family-owned shop has been a community fixture since Stanford “Stan” Wittmayer and his wife Florence opened more than 60 years ago. The couple’s nine children each spent time working in the store, and several are continuing the business to keep the family legacy alive.
Anytime go-to: Rolling Pin Donuts, San Bruno
Rolling Pin Donuts wins points for being open 24/7 and offers a strong selection of staples. Their crumb doughnut was moist and rich, while the classic raised glazed doughnut is the most popular.
Rolling Pin Donuts, 429 San Bruno Ave. W, San Bruno; open 24/7.
Upstart challenger: Cruel Donuts, San Mateo
This brand-new doughnut shop has a wide variety of classic doughnuts. On weekends, the selection expands to standout specialty doughnut flavors like creme brulee and strawberry shortcake. The name is derived from the owners’ favorite doughnut, the French cruller. I especially loved their custard-filled chocolate bar doughnut, which was both fresh and indulgent.
Cruel Donuts, 35 Laurie Meadows Drive, San Mateo. Open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Friday, when they’re open until 6 p.m.
Hot and cold combo: Cudos, Palo Alto
Cudos, a portmanteau of custard and doughnuts, is just that – a dessert shop in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village offering frozen custard topped with small cake doughnuts.
Old-school classic: Chuck’s Donuts, Redwood City
A Peninsula favorite, Chuck’s Redwood City outpost is cash-only and has signature stacks of pink pastry boxes that line the walls and display cases offering something for everyone – classics galore, vegan doughnuts, crullers, limited-edition Pride rainbow doughnuts, and even a jalapeño popper flavor.
Chuck’s Donuts, 801 Woodside Road, Redwood City. Open 24/7. Other locations: 641 Ralston Ave., Belmont and 495 Old County Road, San Carlos (check for hours).
Flavor innovation: Mochinut, San Mateo
Mochinut offers visitors the opportunity for some creative pairings of soft serve ice cream and mochi doughnut flavors. Soft serve flavors include honey butter, melon and strawberry lemon, while doughnut flavors include black sugar, banana milk, taro and yuzu depending on location. Other locations are in Hayward and San Jose.
Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Malasadas: Noelani’s Island Grill, San Carlos
These Portuguese and Hawaiian desserts were served piping hot from the to-go counter at Noelani’s Island Grill on a recent Sunday. Breadier than traditional doughnuts and rolled in sugar, the desserts were historically made on Fat Tuesday in the lead-up to Lent in an effort to help participating Catholic households empty their pantries of sugar and fat.
Noelani’s Island Grill, 1037 Laurel St., San Carlos. Instagram: @noelanisislandgrill. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Cronuts: Happy Donuts, Palo Alto
It’s a mystery why the cronut fad faded, but you can still find some at Happy Donuts in Palo Alto. They also offer a wide range of classic doughnuts, from glazed twists to doughnut holes.
Happy Donuts, 3916 El Camino Real, Palo Alto. Open daily from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sweet and savory: Apple Fritter, San Mateo
The over-the-top doughnut sandwiches offered at Apple Fritter combine the sweetness of a doughnut with the savory of a sandwich filling. Try the Y.O.L.O sandwich with turkey, bacon, cheese, and a sunny side up egg using a grilled glazed doughnut as the sandwich bread. They also offer a wide array of cake doughnuts, including strawberry rose, matcha, ube and apple cider.
Mochi doughnuts: Modo Hawaii, Santa Clara
Modo Hawaii’s mochi doughnuts have a chewy texture that’s different from more traditional doughnuts, but very appealing. The pandan flavor is subtle, with elements of vanilla and coconut. Other flavors include black sesame, cookies and cream, passion fruit and churro.