With all due respect to Disney World, I think donut shops are the happiest place on earth. The lines are heck of a lot shorter, and it will only cost you a few dollars. Not to mention, the aroma of a donut shop is what I imagine it will smell like in Heaven. Nothing gets me salivating quite like the smell of donuts frying, fresh icing, and a hint of some freshly brewed coffee in the air. You don’t even have to be in the donut shop to feel the excitement either. Is there anything better than getting to work and finding that one of your amazing colleagues has left a couple boxes of donuts in the breakroom? A box of donuts can instantly change your outlook for the day. It is one of the few foods that are loved universally, and if you don’t like donuts, I’m not sure we can be friends.
As a self-proclaimed donut connoisseur, I have been an active member of the Lexington donut scene for quite some time now. It has become an almost every weekend tradition for our family to wake up on Saturday and head out for a box of deep-fried goodness. Sometimes before we even get out of our pajamas. As a frequent visitor to every Lexington location over the years, I decided to once and for all settle the argument of best donut in Lexington.
Over the course of about 2 months, I visited a different Lexington donut shop every weekend (these are the sacrifices I am willing to make as a writer for Lex, Buds, & Pick ‘n Roll. Someone had to do it). At each stop I got an original glazed and some sort of specialty donut. The glazed serves as a basis for comparison, as this is something every shop has. I then gave each donut a score on a scale of 1-10, and noted the pros and the cons of my experience there. Finally, I created categories, as there may be different things that you are looking for out of your donut experience. For example, where should you go if you are in a hurry and need to be in and out, or if you’re heading to tailgate at Kroger Field and need to pick up a couple dozen for cheap.
Donut Days Bakery
The first stop on my tour-de-donut, Donut Days, is located on Lexington’s historic Southland Drive. They are approaching 50 years as a staple of the south side community. People love this place so much, that a Cynthiana police officer and his lovely bride even tied the knot inside the shop last year. <Insert your own police officer/donut joke here>.
Regular donuts $0.95; $9.50 dozen. Fancy donuts $1.59; $15.90/dozen
This was one of the few shops with a drive-thru, which is a huge advantage if you’re picking some up on your way to work, or have kids who aren’t on their best behavior and aren’t ready for public interactions at the moment. They featured a large variety to pick from, but also featured a lot of non-donut items such as cake by the slice, cookies, and muffins. There is also plenty of room for indoor dining and I have to imagine that there are groups of old-timers who regularly gather around a large semi-circle on early mornings to discuss the Cats and local politics.
The parking lot can be a little difficult to navigate, but there are enough spots. Our donuts were placed in a bag so a lot of the icing rubbed off on the side of the bag and on the other donuts (this is a personal pet peeve of mine with most places).
- Specialty: Chocolate Cream Long John. The chocolate was good, but the cream filling was what set this one apart. Seriously, they should just sell the stuff straight up in aerosol cans. Rating: 8/10
- Glazed: This was your old school donut. If you are imagining a glazed donut right now, it probably is just like the ones at Donut Days. Traditional. Good. It was a little light on the glaze and thus a little dryer for my preference. Rating: 6/10
- While I enjoyed my experience at Donut Days, I think my kids loved it even more. I don’t think either of them have ever finished an entire donut. They usually just eat the icing off the top. But low and behold if they both didn’t eat their entire donut before we even got home with the bag. So needless to say, if you have kiddos, they will love the sprinkled options.
Alright, so the second stop on my list isn’t technically in Lexington, but can’t we just adopt the east end of Versailles into Fayette County? Kind of like how most of northern Kentucky could just be called southern Cincinnati? I mean it’s just a few horse trots away from Keeneland. And the people in Woodford County are good, friendly, donut loving folks just like us.
$1.09 Glazed, $1.29 chocolate glazed, $9.80 glazed dozen, $11.90 variety dozen
You get a free glazed donut when you fill up with a tank of gas! As if that wasn’t enough incentive, they also offer donuts from the previous day for half price. So, if you are on a budget, or like your co-workers but don’t like them enough to pay full price when it’s your turn to bring breakfast, this is the deal for you. There are cinnamon rolls and muffins too, for the non-donut eaters in your life. It’s also the PERFECT spot if you’re about to head out on a road trip to fill up your gas tank and your belly.
If you’re driving from Lexington you have to do a U-turn to get on the other side of the road to enter the parking lot. Not a huge hindrance since it’s not a terribly busy road early in the morning, but an annoyance nonetheless. They also put the donuts in a bag and of course much of the chocolate was lost before I got home (I told you this was a pet peeve). And if you’re someone who cares about presentation, they aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing donuts you will eat.
- Specialty: I was only going to get the Chocolate Raspberry Filled, but the lady at the register told me it was a better deal if I bought one more, so I also got the Chocolate Fluffy Filled. The jelly was very fresh and filled the donut fully. The fluff in the chocolate didn’t fill up the whole donut, but it was an above average size so I’ll cut some slack there. Rating: 5/10
- Glazed: Was very big around and definitely much larger than your average donut. Which is good because I like to get my calories worth. It also had more glaze than the average places I visited. Rating: 5/10
- I can say this with a fair amount of confidence: These are the best donuts you will ever eat from a gas station. I normally cringe when I am traveling and see a gas station/donut combination, but not Dough Daddy’s. What it may lack in presentation, it makes up for in taste. You also get the lovely scenic drive of going past Keeneland and the Castle to get there.
As someone who used to make the commute from Lexington to Clark County every morning for work, I must have driven by the Winchester Frank’s Donuts hundreds of times, and it was nearly impossible for my craving to not make me stop and pull over for a sugary breakfast. Every single morning, I had to have an internal debate with myself on whether I had time to get a couple donuts before teaching my 1st period class. I give my apologies to all the 7th graders who had to watch me chow down on a sweet donut while I did the morning attendance. Needless to say, I was pumped when Frank’s announced they were opening a Lexington location in 2019.
$0.64 glazed, $7.00 for a dozen; $1.00 long john with filling
Frank’s is one of only two local Lexington shops with a drive-thru. Which makes such a difference if you’re in a hurry in the morning rush hour. They are fast and efficient. It was also one of the few places who put my donuts in a box instead of a bag, so major points there! There is a pretty good variety of menu options, that also includes cinnamon rolls, muffins, and apple fritters. And if you want value, it’s hard to find a better price point than $0.64 for a glazed or $7 for a dozen.
The donuts are pretty airy. So, if you’re starving and looking for something to get you through until lunchtime, you’re probably going to need to eat a couple of them. If you’re only stopping for a donut or two for yourself, make sure you bring cash as there is a $3 minimum for credit card purchases. And while there are a lot of other menu options, the selection of donuts is not as large as some other places.
- Specialty: Chocolate long john with cream filling. As you can see in the picture above, this one was cut in half like a sandwich instead of being filled through a hole in the donut. The edges were a little crisp, and the cream wasn’t quite as creamy as other places, it tasted more like Cool Whip. For a large donut though, I didn’t feel disgustingly bloated after eating it. Rating: 7/10
- Glazed: Was smaller in circumference than most other places, but was much thicker. As far as glazed donuts go, it’s solid. Probably not the best you’ll ever eat, but certainly not the worst either. Rating: 6/10
- If you’re looking for the best value in Lexington, you will not top Frank’s. Seriously, I don’t know how they are making any money because they are practically giving these things away by the dozen. There were a variety of different colored sprinkle donuts, which the kids will love, and because they are a bit on the airy side, you’ll feel like a million bucks after you eat one. I think I could even run a marathon fueled on nothing but some Frank’s donuts.
Magee’s Baking Co.
Few places in Lexington are as historic and iconic as Magee’s Baking Co. Or as most of you know probably know it as, Magee’s Bakery. Located on Main Street, they have been serving up delicious treats for 65 years. In fact, if you took every donut they’ve sold and lined them up side-by-side they would stretch from Lexington to the Moon (I have no idea if that statement is true, but I feel like the donuts I’ve eaten alone from Magee’s could at least stretch to the top of Pine Mountain).
Glazed- $1.25, Chocolate- $1.50, Chocolate Long John- $2.50, Assorted Dozen- $18
Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. When you walk into Magee’s you are surrounded by a warm, inviting atmosphere, and it feels like it is the place to be on Saturday morning. There is LOTS of seating available, and even a few tables outside, so you can sit down and savor your breakfast pastry of choice without having to feel rushed out the door. And they do much more than donuts. You’ll find bagels, croissants, eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, and hash browns on the breakfast menu. Curbside pickup is available.
There will very likely be a line, and it may be out the door. The parking lot is a bit tight, so if you have a large vehicle it might be difficult to navigate. But I’ve always been able to find a spot. I was very disappointed that they do not offer cups of water to drink on the weekend (a sign said this was because of staffing issues), and I instead had to buy the more expensive bottle of water. It is also on the high end as far as price point. The donuts were put in a bag, so of course some of the icing smeared.
- Specialty: Chocolate Long John with cream filling. This was definitely the heaviest donut I ate on my journey. For real, I felt like I was holding a quarter pounder instead of a pastry. The layer of chocolate was very thick, and the filling was very smooth and creamy. Rating: 5/10
- Glazed: Much smaller, and quite frankly it doesn’t compare after eating the Long John. It was much lighter and a little airy, and wasn’t as filling as other glazed options I tried. This really drove home the point that their strength is in their icing and cream. Which for a place that makes decadent cakes that we’ve gotten for many a birthday celebration in the Bentley household, it makes sense. Rating: 5/10
- I LOVE Magee’s. But before you try it, I will issue a disclaimer if you get one of the frosted donuts. They are very, very rich. These donuts are not for the faint of heart, and you will likely be on a sugar high when you finish. For this reason, I freely grant you that they might not be for everyone. But if you can handle it, you will leave satisfied and smiling, and with a full stomach.
North Lime Donuts
I’ll be honest. The first time I had North Lime Donuts, I was a skeptic. For generations, donuts were made in the same circular shape. I like to think this is because just like a circle never ends, so does my love for donuts. And then all of a sudden somebody comes along with a, gasp, SQUARE donut! What is this sorcery? But once I had my first bite, I was a skeptic no more. Just like Huey Lewis, North Lime proved that it’s hip to be square.
Glazed- $1.50, Chocolate- $1.75, Glazed Dozen- $12, Specialty Dozen- $20
There are 2 locations in Lexington, meaning you are never too far away from that square goodness. North Lime is way ahead of the curve as far as online ordering, which is something not a single other shop offers, and they also will bring them to you curbside when you arrive. This was especially great for me during the peak of the pandemic. There is also a HUGE coffee selection, definitely the biggest of any shop. And even though I’m not a coffee drinker myself, the aroma you get walking inside is top notch.
My donuts were put in a bag again. Although I will say they typically will put them in pizza style boxes, which is genius because it ensures that none of the icing comes off. The variety of donuts available on a given day is probably the least of any shop. You will probably have a slower line at North Lime because of the number of specialty coffee drinks that are offered. These simply take time, and you may have to wait a few minutes for your order.
- Specialty: Peanut Butter Oreo (pictured above). This was without a doubt the best donut I ate from any shop. It featured peanut butter icing buried under a layer of Oreo cookie crumbles. Was. Amazing. There was a very generous portion of Oreo’s, the top was completely covered, and the icing was smooth and creamy. Rating: 9.5/10
- Glazed: North Lime’s donuts are pretty large and will definitely fill you up. They are a heavy donut and there isn’t much fluff in them. Aesthetically it wasn’t perfect as one side was larger than the other. Rating: 5/10
- One of the things that separates North Lime for me is their daily specials. Every day they will have at least 2 unique flavors that are outside the normal rotation of flavors. These could be anything from Maple Bacon to Fruity Pebbles, and it’s always fun to try some of the unique combinations they come up with. Every March they do an NCAA Tournament style bracket where the specials compete against each other to determine a final champion.
Next, we are on to the newest player in the Lexington donut scene, having just recently opened on Buckhorn Drive, it’s OMG Donuts. One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to seek out the best local donut places. While my family loves swimming the salty waves at the beach or hitting up a twisty rollercoaster at the theme parks, my fondest memories of family trips are of that salty pretzel donut or twisty glazed I had for breakfast. So needless to say, after having gone to the same shops in Lexington for years, I was excited to try out someplace new!
Glazed- $0.89; Glazed with Icing- $0.99; Dozen Glazed- $8.99; Dozen with Icing- $9.99
Definitely one of the best values in town. There is a wide selection of donuts, as well as other food options. Menu choices include breakfast sandwiches, turnovers, bear claws, and cinnamon rolls. There is also a decent coffee selection too, or if you’re looking for something without caffeine, some delicious looking smoothies.
I was a little disappointed with the amount of icing on each donut, it left a little more to be desired. None of the donuts I tried really stood out as being exceptional, and to borrow another sweet treat term, they were very “cookie cutter-ish”. They are a pretty standard donut, nothing more, nothing less.
- Specialty Donut: Chocolate Long John. The chocolate and the cream filling were solid, I just felt like there wasn’t enough and wanted a bit more. The cream also didn’t extend all the way to the end of the donut. Rating: 6/10
- Glazed Donut: A good amount of glaze, and the donut itself was of average size. I would say it was just OK compared to other shops I visited. Rating: 5/10
- OMG has a lot going for it, and I think it will do very well in its current location. You basically have to drive through a neighborhood to get there, and you totally get that friendly neighborhood vibe while you are there. If you have kids they will love all the choices of icing and sprinkled donuts, and I very much want to go back to try out one of their breakfast sandwiches and smoothies.
When you think of historical events that occurred in 1929, the Stock Market Crash is what you’ll most likely read about in the history books. But that also happens to be the same year that Spalding’s Bakery started hand-forming their delicious glazed donuts. What more evidence do you need for a great donut than that they were able to stay in business through the Great Depression? If you were to ask any random Lexingtonian what their favorite donut is, there’s a good chance the answer will be Spalding’s. Seems like a great place to finish up my donut adventure!
Glazed- $1.00, Chocolate- $1.00, Dozen- $12
The pricing is very reasonable. I was actually quite surprised that my donuts were only $1 a piece. Spalding’s seems immune to the inflation that has occurred during the pandemic. There is plenty of parking available, even on a Saturday morning. I also love that they wrap the boxes up in string, because boxes of glazed donuts tied up in string are a few of my favorite things.
Be prepared for a line. I don’t think there is a time you can go where there isn’t a line, and there’s a very good chance people will already be waiting when the doors open at 6:30. There is no dining area or public restroom available, so don’t plan on sticking around. Finally, make sure you bring cash, as they accept cash only. No credit card, Venmo, Apple Pay, Facebook Pay, Bitcoin, or bartering will be accepted.
- Specialty: Chocolate Glazed. There was a solid layer of chocolate icing, which was good, but strangely takes away from the deep-fried flavor. Kind of like dipping a piece of fried chicken into chocolate fondue. Rating: 5/10
- Glazed: Hands down, the best glazed donut and it’s not really close. They’re a little light, but filling enough for a glazed so that you know you got your calories worth. Much more of a deep-fried flavor than any other shop in town. I felt like I was tasting the grease from thousands of others of their donuts since 1929, and it’s as if they all combined to make a sweat, greasy, unique flavor that just melts in your mouth.
- Spalding’s like to keep things simple. They know what they are good at, and they stick to it without trying to expand their menu selections too much. They offer no frills, not a huge variety, and are closed on Monday and Tuesday. But they know that they do a glazed donut better than anyone, and that will be enough to keep people coming in masses. It is as historic as they come, and I can’t imagine anyone has ever left disappointed.
After completing my 2-month journey tasting the best donuts Lexington has to offer, I’ve gained a couple of things: 1.) a few inches around my waist; 2.) an appreciation for how lucky we are to have so many great donut shops for a small city. And in case you’re wondering if I would mention them, yes, we do have Dunkin and Krispy Kreme in town too. And while both of those places are good in their own ways, I long for the secret recipes, the creative flavors, and the family traditions that have been formed around all of our local places. Every location I reviewed was good, but there does have to be some winners. So here they are:
Best Overall: North Lime Coffee & Donuts Runner Up: Spalding’s Bakery
Best Glazed Donut: Spalding’s Bakery Runner Up: North Lime Coffee & Donuts
Best Specialty Donut: North Lime Coffee & Donuts Runner Up: Magee’s Baking Co.
Best Value: Frank’s Donuts Runner Up: OMG Donuts
Best for Kids: Donut Days Doughnuts Runner Up: OMG Donuts
Best for On-The-Go: Doughdaddy’s Runner Up: Frank’s Donuts