Who Makes the Best Donuts in Tacoma? A Nearly-Scientific Analysis

There are few culinary institutions in Tacoma that divide people more than donut shops. We haven’t met anyone with a Pao’s or Connie’s tattoo on their belly, but we’re pretty sure they’re out there somewhere.

Trying to convince someone that their favorite shop is actually not the best in town is about as easy as convincing a Seahawks fan that the 49ers aren’t that bad after all.

The Donuts

However strong your convictions may be, how confident are you that you’d be able to identify your go-to shop in a lineup? We wanted to know how the nine local shops would stack up against each other with the context of the shop removed. To keep things simple, we picked three of the most popular classic donuts to represent each shop: maple bar, chocolate glazed, and old fashioned.

The Shops

Almost every neighborhood in Tacoma has at least one representative donut shop (what’s up NE Tacoma?) and the regulars who frequent them are as loyal as they come. Since we’re talking specifically about Tacoma, we chose not to include chain shops. 

OHoD and Legendary have two and three locations, respectively, and they’re all pretty local so we gave them a pass. There’s also one weird little shop in the mall called Lil’ Golden Deli that we skipped. They only make mini-donuts and none of them were the kind we were testing. Here’s what we sampled from:

Pao’s Donut and Coffee Shop: 6919 6th Ave
Connie’s Donuts and Espresso: 4065 Pacific Ave
Legendary Doughnuts: 2602 6th Ave
Original House of Donuts: 766 St Helens Ave
Helen’s Donuts & Ice Cream: 5601 Portland Ave E
Dockside Donuts: 1112 Puyallup Ave
Le Donut: 1317 S 11th St
Variety (formerly Westernco) Donut Shop: 9312 S Tacoma Way
Yummies: 8042 Pacific Ave

We also included a set from Fred Meyer just to make things interesting.

The Tasters

We chose 8 random taste-testers from a Facebook callout and invited them to Alma Mater (thanks for the free coffee BTW) for a mostly legit, kind-of scientific* study to find the best donuts in Tacoma. 

Tasters were given a plate with samples of one type of donut from each of the 10 different shops. They were instructed to rate each sample on a scale of 1-10 based on flavor, texture, and overall donutyness. Here’s what the tasters had to say about Tacoma’s donuts before we got started:

  • Nina Hartman
    • Favorite donut: Buttermilk old fashioned
    • Favorite shop: Pao’s
  • Tom Fisch
    • Favorite donut: Glazed old fashioned
    • Favorite shop: I don’t have one yet but I’m on a mission!
  • Ben Strutin
    • Favorite donut: Maple bar
    • Favorite shop: Don’t have one
  • Noreen Hobson
    • Favorite donut: Maple bar
    • Favorite shop: Pao’s
  • Melissa Urquhart
    • Favorite donut: Apple fritter
    • Favorite shop: Dockside
  • Meri Sobocinski
    • Favorite donut: Old fashioned
    • Favorite shop: Original House of Donuts
  • Nick LaBerge 
    • Favorite donut: Cruller
    • Favorite shop: Pao’s
  • Taylor Livingston
    • Favorite donut: Apple fritter
    • Favorite shop: Dockside

Crowd Favorite Predictions:

When we did the callout on Facebook, we got some interesting data. Out of 82 responses here’s how the shops ranked as far as crowd favorites. Some people said “none” or named a non-local shop:

  1. OHoD- 18
  2. Pao’s- 17
  3. Le Donut- 10
  4. Helen’s- 9
  5. Connie’s- 7
  6. Legendary- 6
  7. Dockside- 6
  8. Variety- 0
  9. Yummies- 0
  10. Fred Meyer- 0

The Results

And now, once and for all (or at least until you all lose your minds in the comments), here are the best donut shops in Tacoma along with their total scores (out of a possible 240):

  1. 178 Legendary!
  2. 160 Pao’s
  3. 155 Yummies
  4. 148 Dockside
  5. 138 Helen’s
  6. 137 Le Donut
  7. 129 Connie’s
  8. 127 Original House of Donuts
  9. 126 Fred Meyer
  10. 118 Variety

Individual Categories

Maple bars, old fashioneds, and chocolate glazed are some of the most popular donuts anywhere you go. Ranking these on an individual basis yielded some interesting results (scored out of a possible 80):

Maple Bar:

  1. 60 Yummies
  2. 59 Legendary
  3. 56 Pao’s
  4. 54 Dockside
  5. 50 Le Donut
  6. 45 Fred Meyer
  7. 44 Helen’s, Connie’s, Variety
  8. 35 Original House of Donuts

Old Fashioned:

  1. 60 Legendary
  2. 55 Pao’s
  3. 50 Helen’s
  4. 48 Dockside, Original House of Donuts*
  5. 46 Le Donut
  6. 42 Yummies
  7. 41 Variety
  8. 39 Connie’s
  9. 36 Fred Meyer

Chocolate glazed:

  1. 59 Legendary
  2. 53 Yummies 
  3. 49 Pao’s 
  4. 46 Dockside, Connie’s
  5. 45 Fred Meyer*
  6. 44 Helen’s*, Original House of Donuts
  7. 41 Le Donut 
  8. 33 Variety 

Anticipated Gripes

  • There’s no way ____ scored so low! You must’ve just caught them on a bad day! 
    • Yea, we may have. Not everyone changes out their fry oil at the same time. We got up at dawn to get them all as fresh as possible just before the taste test. We made every effort to even the playing field but making/eating donuts is not an exact science.
  • This doesn’t prove who’s best! There’s a lot more to a donut shop than three kinds of donuts!
    • Fair enough. Some shops pride themselves on doing the 99¢ classics right and some specialize in pushing the boundaries with $12 vodka-infused bacon glitter fritter balls. Prices, hours, ambiance, proximity to home/work, and how many free donut holes they throw in are all important factors to consider.
  • Variety Donuts isn’t technically in Tacoma!
    • Yea yea yea… Their address still says Tacoma and we only realized they were outside city limits after we had already done the taste test. Go ahead and redo the ranking if you want.
  • I take donuts very seriously and I’m still upset about something!
    • Understandable. Tell you what, you get a dozen of whatever donuts you think are best, shoot us an email to set up a time to meet, and you’re more than welcome to come prove us wrong. We’re very persuadable.

*Acknowledgements of Possible Score Wonkiness

  • Helen’s only makes chocolate donuts on Wednesdays. The taste test took place on a Tuesday and, since we only realized this the morning of, the guy behind the counter gave us a red velvet donut instead. He said it was almost all the same ingredients anyway, just a different color.
  • Original House of Donuts doesn’t make Old Fashioneds. I know, right? We were just as baffled as you are. What’s more original than and old fashioned? Anyway, we got a buttermilk donut instead, which is pretty much the same thing, just a different shape.
  • Fred Meyer’s chocolate glazed wasn’t chocolate cake inside like the others. We only realized this once we cut it open because it was so thickly covered in chocolate glaze.
  • Le Donut is closed on Mondays. This isn’t important to the scores but if you ever try to plan a donut taste test on a Monday, you’re gonna have to disappoint a bunch of people over the weekend when you reschedule their free donut morning via email. Just a heads up.

Photos by Sierra Hartman

_____________________________

Tacoma Art Museum

It takes time to tell stories about Tacoma, which we wouldn’t be able to afford without the support of local businesses. A huge thank you goes out the Tacoma Art Museum for their support. If you haven’t yet had a chance to check out their Bart at TAM exhibit head on over. It runs through the end of 2019.

_____________________________

  1. would love to see more diversity in your selection of testers. if you say “well this is just who responded” then i would invite you to do some more thinking about ways you can diversify your audience. this is not representative of tacoma at all, and y’all gotta do better.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Delores. We chose the participants randomly from a list of around 80 people who filled out a form online. You do have a good point, though. When we met the testers for the first time that day, we did notice the lack of diversity. It’s something we’re trying to be better about in general. If you’d like to continue the conversation, you’re welcome to email us at editor@gritcitymag.com

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

15 − 7 =

SEE MORE
The 1930 “Tacoma Girl” Song Lyrics That Were Nearly Lost