Since moving away from Louisville one of my self-imposed challenges has been to find foods to fill the void left behind by our favorite hometown eats. While donuts certainly aren’t something we eat weekly (anymore), they are a wonderful weekend treat we indulge in about once a month. Nord’s was our go-to back home, and it has been my goal to find a suitable substitute in Portland. There is apparently a lot of debate over which place has the best donuts, so we set out to taste them ourselves.
By now, everyone has probably heard of Voodoo. It’s practically synonymous with Portland.
They have multiple locations around town, but the original is situated in Old Town. We tried this after a day of hiking. Luckily the line was non-existent at 2pm on a Saturday so we were able to walk right up and had our pick of the menu. Matt opted for the Voodoo Doll, which is jelly filled, while I rolled with the cream-filled, Oreo-topped Pot Hole. We also split a maple bacon, because who can say no to that combo? These may have been “safer” choices when there were Fruity Pebble covered and bubblegum flavored options, but that’s okay by us.
Overall, we’d have to say the donuts, while interesting, were nothing too special. Sure they’re good and the gimmicky flavors are fun to look over and try, but they were a bit too sweet. The price isn’t bad, but keep in mind they are cash only. If you’re in Portland it’s worth a shot, but if you want a truly good donut, keep reading.
Blue Star Donuts
In all my research on Portland donuts, Blue Star was always on the top of the list. It’s apparently a hipster favorite and I can see why. Their flavors are unique and the shops are clean and hip. I tried these during the week so, unfortunately, Matt didn’t get to taste them. As you can see, I went with the Creme brulee and blueberry bourbon basil.
The creme brulee had a crunchy top from the toasted sugar and a good cream inside. However the Cointreau shot put it a little over the top and I could’ve done without that. The blueberry was a solid donut, but I didn’t get any flavor of the bourbon or basil. The dough also had a slightly off flavor; while it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t quite the sweetness I would expect from a donut. At $3.50 a pop, these are not a cheap treat. While they get a lot of hype, I would save my money and skip Blue Star.
Helen Bernhard Bakery
I had high hopes for Helen Bernhard Bakery…just look at that case of donuts! It’s located in the Lloyd District of Portland and is in a small house-looking building. The inside is your standard bakery – cases of baked goods and fresh bread all around. We went as soon as they opened on a Sunday and there was already a line of people.
I honestly don’t remember the exact donuts we got, but we did a half dozen assorted. They were good, standard donuts. The glaze was nice but Matt’s apple fritter was the star of the bunch. We didn’t realize that on Sundays they do day old donuts, so that might have factored a little into the flavor and made them a bit more stale than fresh ones. The plus about going on a Sunday, though, is that everything is half priced! We got a half dozen donuts for about $3.50 (the same price as ONE from Blue Star). If you’re looking for a solid donut, this isn’t a bad option….just don’t go on a Sunday.
Coco donuts, like Voodoo and Blue Star, have multiple locations around town. Luckily for us there is one just a few blocks away. We swung by here on a Friday morning to grab a morning pick-me-up. As you can see, we got a half dozen assorted: custard filled, glazed, and lavender for Beth; jelly filled, chocolate coconut, and old fashioned for Matt.
These donuts were what I’d been waiting for! The were light, fluffy, and not cloyingly sweet. The flavors were perfect. I initially wasn’t sure of the lavender as I’ve cooked with the flavor before and it can get very overpowering, but it was done perfectly. There was just a hint of lavender in the glaze and it was a great complement to the dough. Matt’s old fashioned was another show stopper. Normally we’re not fans of cake donuts, but this was great. It wasn’t dense and had a great texture to it. They were very reasonably priced with the whole lot costing around $7. If you’re looking for a really good donut to go with your Stumptown brew, we highly recommend Coco.