Demand for vegan products has boomed in recent years. The non-dairy milk industry has exploded from a $7.4 billion global market in 2010 to a projected $18 billion in 2018. Major corporations such as Campbell and Danone have bought out plant-based companies for billions of dollars, and these traditionally animal-based brands are not only offering, but highlighting their new vegan options. With everyone from Ben & Jerry’s to Flame Broiler catering to the plant-based demand, the vegan food scene can finally follow the latest food trends. So what’s hot now? Doughnuts. Lots and lots of vegan doughnuts. Especially in Southern California.
Raised, cake, frosted, glazed, sprinkled, and/or jelly-filled…you name it, someone has successfully veganized it. Like the frozen yogurt trend followed by the cupcake craze, vegan doughnut offerings have sprung up throughout the United States, and people are buying them by the baker’s dozen. We zoned in on one doughnut hot spot, Southern California, to review eight of the top contenders. From the humble $1 glazed round to the $6 mermaid-themed cake option, here are the leading bakeries of the SoCal vegan doughnut takeover.
1. Karma Baker – Westlake Village
Before the unicorn trend became “a thing,” Karma Baker made a name for itself by producing quality, gluten-free, certified kosher, vegan baked goods. However, when the unicorn train came to down, Karma leaped onboard with the creation of the unicorn doughnut. This exquisitely decorated cake donut has attracted massive attention from the Instagram world, and those who have tried it agree it tastes as good as it looks. The $4.50 edible art piece consists of a chocolate or vanilla cake doughnut, coated in a thick layer of vegan white or dark chocolate glaze, covered in all-natural sprinkles, and adorned with a pearly white unicorn horn. Karma has also developed a mermaid doughnut, which swaps out the horn for a beautifully hand-painted white chocolate mermaid tail. Those outside of the Los Angeles area can get their hands on their own fantasy doughnut via delivery – they now ship nationwide!
2. Donut Friend – Highland Park
Walking into Donut Friend for the first time, patrons generally experience equal feelings of spectacular wonder and extreme indecisiveness. Newcomers have been known to stare for over thirty minutes at the tantalizing display of Instagram-worthy fried dough, draped in sugary glazes, stuffed with creams or nut butters, and loaded with fresh fruit or decadent toppings. DF’s thirty-plus unique flavors include both cake and raised options, plus “relatively” gluten-free options (the kitchen is not a certified gluten-free facility). Locals tend to gravitate toward the raised varieties, such as the Polar Berry Club, X-Ray Speculoos, and the latest favorite, the Youth Brûlée. Essentially, it’s a creme brûlée reincarnated as a donut, and it is pure heaven. Prices range from $2.50 – $5, depending on the complexity of the pastry. If you can’t find a flavor to suit your fancy, you can also customize your perfect donut. Pick your base, filling(s), glaze(s) and toppings. Those truly looking to guild the lily can even ask to stuff their customized creation with vegan ice cream. Donut Friend is the embodiment of the gourmet doughnut frenzy; it exceeds all expectations.
3. Air + Day – Highland Park/Farmers Markets
This small online vegan bakery is a hidden gem amongst Angelinos. They began selling at the Altadena farmer’s market, and now deliver craveable goods in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles. Air + Day offer both raised and cake options in a variety of glazes and fillings, without using any refined sugars. Matcha lovers rave about the Matcha Old Fashioned, and those looking for some cream-filled decadence can find solace with the Boston Cream. The price varies from $3 – $5, but these Instagramable sweets are definitely worth it.
4. Good Town Doughnuts – Costa Mesa
Not even a year old, Good Town Doughnuts established itself amongst the vegan doughnut craze last winter, offering its “hand-crafted brioche” treats to the hipsters of The Lab anti-mall in Costa Mesa. Although not exclusively vegan, Good Town always has a creative array of options on hand, gorgeously displayed with bright glazes and precise drizzles. Expect diverse flavors like matcha, passionfruit, cherry blossom, and sesame, along with the more traditional glazed and chocolate varieties. The Insta-perfect appearance places them on the higher end of the price range (around $4.50), but the portion is certainly generous. For the indecisive crowd, the store is regularly stocked with pre-boxed assortments of six mini vegan doughnuts for $12 per box. Perfect for sharing or getting over a bad day.
5. Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts – Los Angeles
Yes, the machismo action star Danny Trejo has a soft spot, as evident by his bright pink doughnut shop that carries gluten-free and vegan options to the specialized diet clientele of the struggling artist Hollywood crowd. Each $3 cake doughnut will satisfy the most voracious of sugar cravings, but the favorite is the vegan peanut butter. The shop emits a laid-back, casual feel. Think less gourmet and more childhood doughnut shop nostalgia. Of course, you probably never ran into Danny Trejo during one of your childhood doughnut runs, whereas a celebrity sighting is definitely a possibility here.
6. The Donuttery – Huntington Beach
This twenty-four-hour no-frills doughnut store is an Orange County staple. Early birds and midnight munchers alike can rely on The Donuttery to always carry an abundant supply of classic vegan doughnuts for $2 or less. An entire case is dedicated to vegan options, including glazed rounds and twists, maple bars, apple fritters, jelly-filled, and frosted cake varieties (with sprinkles, of course!). Among the plethora of traditional options, locals can’t walk away without ordering the blueberry cake doughnut. It is simply the best…according to our personal opinions and several unofficial social media influencer taste tests.
7. Fonuts – Los Angeles
Avoiding fried foods, but craving a doughnut? Fonuts understands. This boutique sweet shop specializes in baked and steamed doughnuts and mini doughnuts – no fryers allowed. Although not completely vegan, it consistently carries a handful of gluten-free vegan options daily, including chocolate coconut, coconut passion fruit, and vanilla latte. In line with its better-for-you cooking methods, the portion size of these cakey treats is significantly smaller than the average, hand-sized doughnut, allowing patrons a sweet treat without the guilt of overindulgence.
8. Erin McKenna’s Bakery – Larchmont Village
Erin McKenna may have been among the first in the vegan doughnut takeover. She started her 100% vegan and gluten-free bakery in New York in 2005, eventually expanding to Los Angeles and Orlando. The Los Angeles location has consistently cranked out vegan doughnuts for years, much to the delight of the Larchmont Village community and its loyal followers. The tiny pink shop can get crowded, as people tend to hover in front of the glass case that separates them from the adorably-decorated doughnuts, contemplating a most difficult decision when faced with equally delicious-looking options. These $4 cake-based doughnuts range from simple cinnamon-sugar to topping-laden samoa and coffee crunch. Staff recommends the samoa every time.
9. Donut Farm – Sliverlake
This NorCal staple set up shop in LA’s vegan epicenter a few years ago and has quickly cemented its status as home of the hole-less donut. These gems come in cake and raised options, but it’s the frosted cakes that are the clear stars. Smooth and sweet with crave-worthy flavors like Lavender Earl Grey, Salted Caramel, and Orange Creamsicle you’ll understand why it’s called a donut “farm” — these babes are so good you’ll want to pluck them right out of the ground whenever you please.
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