I used to think I wasn’t a morning person. But I wasn’t really a night owl either. Until about two years ago, the only time I ever saw sunrise was if I was up for an early flight. But lately, I’ve come to love the stillness of the morning. I’ve seen the sunrise nearly every day since early August because I’m out walking.
There is something else open that time of the morning, something else I’ve (dangerously) come to love. It’s your neighborhood doughnut shop — where the air is heavy with the scent of cinnamon and sugar, and pristine rows of maple bars, crullers and bear claws await. Most open at 5 a.m., but Chuck’s in Renton will be there for you at 3 a.m. These are family-owned shops specializing in classic doughnuts and, outside the random bacon crumble on a maple bar, there are no frills or flair beyond Seahawks-colored sprinkles.
Instead you’ll find hand-dipped glazed rings and twists rolled in cinnamon-sugar dust. Sprinkles might change with the seasons, but the doughnuts will remain solidly the same, dependable and delicious in their simplicity.
Here are four Seattle-area doughnut shops I’ve hit up in recent predawn mornings.
5 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 2100 N. Northgate Way, Seattle; 206-368-9107
The couple running this little strip-mall shop in Northgate greets every person with a hearty “Good morning!” even when it’s barely 6 a.m. There’s a large selection of bars, rings, raised, cake, claws and even cinnamon rolls. I got an assorted half dozen for $8.49: a strawberry-glazed cruller, sugar twist, maple bar, blueberry glazed, a glazed ring and a plain cake doughnut. Strangely enough, the plain cake doughnut was my favorite. It had a crisp, almost crunchy exterior and a dense, not overly sweet interior. I wished for a bag of doughnut holes made of the same stuff. Second favorite would be the springy strawberry-dipped cruller — this, I lost to my kid after one bite.
5 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 140 S.W. 152nd St., Burien; 206-241-8929, luckydonutswa.com
I made it to Burien’s Lucky Donuts around 7 a.m. the day after Labor Day. When I asked the man at the counter why it was so quiet, he laughed, “It’s the holiday. Everyone is hungover this morning!” Lucky me, I guess, since I had a full array of doughnuts to choose from. Again, I got a half dozen ($8.75), including a chocolate-topped buttermilk bar and a maple-glazed yeasted triangle. The runaway winner was the glazed twist. It was like eating a cloud of sugar, so light and airy. The buttermilk bar was also very good, with a density that made it a perfect accompaniment to coffee and a chocolate frosting that leaned toward the dark side. Lucky has two doors, one clearly marked as an entrance and the other as an exit to keep traffic moving smoothly.
3 a.m.-noon Monday-Saturday; 5335 N.E. Fourth St., #1, Renton; 425-228-6336
There are two words that surface any time Renton shop Chuck’s Donuts comes up in conversation: maple bar. And according to my maple-loving Vermont-raised husband, it is indeed the best maple doughnut from the four shops we sampled. I can attest to the body — it’s got a little heft but isn’t too dense. I also loved the glazed bar with a ribbon of cinnamon sugar running through the dough and a lemony glaze. In fact, the regular glazed ring had a burst of citrus to it as well, which was a welcome zing to plain glaze. I also nabbed a custard-filled Bismark and a raspberry-jam buttermilk bar ($8.85/half dozen). The shop closed in mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurants in the area, opening again in May with shorter hours. They still regularly sell out, but there’s now an online order form to ensure you get your favorites.
7 a.m.-noon and 5-7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday-Friday, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 9232 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-721-3103, facebook.com/kingdonutsseattle
Hong Chhuor and his family took over this beloved neighborhood shop in Rainier Beach in late 2017. They still serve doughnuts in the morning and teriyaki and Thai dishes in the evening. Currently they close from noon-5 p.m. on weekdays due to the pandemic. When I arrived just after opening, the doughnut case wasn’t yet full, making King the only shop of the four at which it didn’t pay to arrive early. Still, I grabbed a blueberry glazed, a chocolate bar and a maple old fashioned ($4.80). Out of all the doughnuts I’ve eaten lately, that chocolate bar was the absolute best. It was crunchy and had a texture that was almost cakelike. The chocolate wasn’t too thick or too sweet. I swear I tasted a hint of coconut — perhaps from the oil? Additionally, the blueberry glazed was a blueberry doughnut coated in plain glaze, just like my favorite doughnut from my childhood. I’ll be back to try the ones I missed.