King Donuts, in Rainier Beach since 1987, is notably social, multigenerational and cross-cultural. The family is expanding its menu to include teriyaki and Thai food. But, don't forget the doughnuts.
Neighborhood doughnut shops highlight Seattle’s increasingly obvious Great Divide. Toward the center of the city, choose between $4 doughnuts served on marble countertops or $3 doughnuts crafted on artisanal doughnut anvils; these elegant brands are primarily embraced by earbud-adorned solo adults. King Donuts, on the south end of town since 1987, is notably social, multigenerational and cross-cultural.
There is a busy laundromat in the back, red-vinyl booths, early-morning card games, and antsy kids herded like proverbial cats between the doughnut case and the nearest available seat. The doughnuts are fried with graceful speed and a pair of long chopsticks, not fanciful ironmongery. If you feel a Dickensian Tale of Two Doughnuts rant coming on, it’s probably best to shut up and eat a doughnut.
King Donuts has had two changes of ownership since its founders Chea Pol and Heng Hay sold it in 2016; it’s now owned by the Chhuor family, who fled Cambodia in the 1980s, first landing in Los Angeles and later owning a doughnut shop and bakery in Texas. Travis is the doughnut-fryer; his brother Hong is helping out on the marketing side while continuing his full-time job at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service in the Chinatown International District; their mom, Kim, is leading kitchen experiments on the savory side of the menu. They’re using their own doughnut recipes.
The doughnuts: The yeast doughnuts are tender and light, with well-proportioned glazes and fillings. Some combinations are mildly unusual, like the delicious creme-filled/maple-frosted, but in general these are the classics, no surprises. The French cruller is properly hollow and eggy, while the buttermilk bar is tangy perfection; the apple fritter is somewhat dense but generous with the apple. The plain cake was the biggest surprise: its flavor isn’t mace, the classic cake doughnut spice, but sharp and almost floral, perhaps involving cardamom. Travis keeps his blend a secret.
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The coffee: Not for espresso aficionados, but it gets the job done. There is diner-standard drip in three sizes (note a 45-cent charge for refills), and a push-button machine offering mochas or vanilla lattes. If you want something like a half-and-half beverage with those options, they’ll work with you.
The teriyaki and Thai food: These are a work in progress. The family is new to both Seattle-style teriyaki and a commercial kitchen making much beyond doughnuts, but felt that it was important to keep this menu in the community. For now, teriyaki is limited to chicken, and the sauce is thicker and sweeter than usual; it comes with plenty of rice but none of the standard salad. Pad see ewe had a mild heat (ordered at four out of five stars on the spicy scale) and abundant vegetables with decently crisp texture but no smoky wok flavor. Nothing lived up to the doughnuts, yet, but the Chhuors make all things seem possible.
Prices: Two cake doughnuts ($1.25 each), cruller ($1.50), buttermilk bar ($1.50), apple fritter ($2), creme-filled ($2), and three coffees ($1.50 each) added up to $14 plus tax and tip for breakfast for three. Pad see ewe ($9.99), chicken teriyaki ($7.99), and two sodas ($1.50 each) equaled $20.98 plus tax and tip for dinner for two.
King Donuts: 9232 Rainier Ave. S. (Rainier Beach), Seattle; open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Wednesday (closed Thursday); 206-721-3103, facebook.com/kingdonutsseattle