Don’t let its reputation for kale salads and acai bowls fool you—Los Angeles is the hole-ly grail for donut devotees. Almost 1,500 independent donut shops dish out these deep-fried delights, which means there are more opportunities for a sugar high here than anywhere else in the country.
L.A. became the country’s epicenter of donut culture when Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian immigrant, arrived in California during the 1970s. After setting up a sweet shop of his own, he helped fellow refugees who had fled from the Khmer Rouge create their own pastry empires. Ngoy was the first to package donuts in light pink boxes, now a ubiquitous emblem of the local donut scene. (See dreamy photos of California to inspire your next trip.)
Natives of the Southeast Asian country established the city’s donut culture, and their legacy endures; the majority of L.A.’s donut shops are still owned by Cambodian Americans.
“Donut shops were Cambodians’ link to being able to make it in America, their key to opportunity,” says Mayly Tao, owner and CEO of DK’s Donuts. “I love that donuts can unite a community that no borders, race, or differences can take away.” (After eating, here are 10 iconic activities in Los Angeles.)
DK’s Donuts has been a family-run staple in Santa Monica for almost 40 years, but their offerings are anything but mom-and-pop. They serve up 120 distinct options, from ube, a purple yam flavor popular in the Philippines, to red velvet waffle-donut hybrids. Blinkie’s Donut Emporium, owned by a Cambodian American father-daughter duo, offers handmade donuts daily, always closing at noon so their selection never stales. Then there’s Donut City, operated for three decades by John and Stella Chhan, a Cambodian couple who moved to southern California in 1979. The shop is so beloved by the community that when Stella got sick, locals bought out the shop early every day so John could be with his wife—proving that donuts can actually be good for you.
Just like the population of L.A. itself, the city’s donut culture has evolved. They’ve gone from glazed to gluten-free, jam-filled to cookie butter-stuffed. The City of Angels is the frosted frontier.
Newer shops also have started to embrace the area’s vibrant Mexican roots. Donas combines Latin comfort food with nostalgia … and plenty of sugar. Their interpretation of a maple bacon donut swaps in chicharrón instead, while the bionico donut mimics the eponymous Mexican fruit salad. And at Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts, opened by actor and East L.A. native Danny Trejo, you can order a café con leche, both in coffee and donut form. The menu also includes yeasted versions of horchata, tres leches, and nacho, a savory donut with jalapeño, cheddar, and hot sauce.
Donut Friend brings a punk rock mentality to the donut game, with concoctions like the peanut butter-packed Banana Kill and the matcha-glazed Green Teagan and Sara. If you want to create your own greatest hit, you can also completely customize your order, choosing from options like raspberry habanero jam, balsamic reduction, mochi, and chocolate-covered pretzels.
But not every donut needs Fruity Pebbles or crushed Oreos to shine. The Donut Man, a prime pit stop on Route 66, stuffs its classic glazed with mounds of fresh, local strawberries and peaches. (They’re only available while in season, so plan your visit accordingly.) For those craving a sweet treat sans gluten, Fonuts specializes in baked donuts made using almond flour. Many of them are vegan, too. With flavors like blueberry earl grey and churro, they don’t feel like a compromise. (Read about more stops for a Route 66 road trip.)
Enjoying a donut has become an almost religious experience in the City of Angels, thanks to the Cambodian community. And they’re worth the pilgrimage. In this town, donuts are the real stars.