Respectable donuts are fried up every morning in central Arkansas, but not all are created equal. I’ve been scouring the land for the best fried dough since the first day I landed in Arkansas several years ago. When you’re looking for a sweet start to your day, allow this guide to help you discern the best breakfast selections available and make the most out of those calories. Here they are — from least to greatest — our ranking of Central Arkansas donuts:
12. Dunkin’ Donuts: Somehow, Dunkin’ has managed to infiltrate nearly every country across the globe, and maintains a stronghold on the worldwide donut market. But I’ve been consistently disappointed by every DD experience I’ve had in Arkansas…and I’ve given them several chances. Dry, lifeless, and flavorless offerings seem to be served no matter what time of day…and at this point, I rarely find a reason to go back.
11. Ed’s Custom Bakery: The non-bakery offerings may be a bit more promising, but this classic Conway eatery leaves much to be desired on the donut front. Donuts are often stale and lackluster, many needing a bit more sweetness to succeed…not terrible, but there’s definitely better options in the area.
10. Community Bakery: Community’s longevity and general popularity in the Little Rock community has enticed me to stop by several times over the last few years. But I’ve just never been able to get too excited about the place. The donuts are often served stale and lack flavor, although there are times I’ve gotten donuts at the peak of freshness and they are a little better. If I’m stopping in, I stick with their glazed “beignets” — little balls of light, eggy, chewy pastry coated in sugar…these are worth coming back for.
9. Krispy Kreme: This national chain earns points for offering late-night donuts to anyone who gets the craving during non-breakfast hours. And no one can deny that a hot, regular glazed, fresh off the conveyor belt is a satisfying morsel. But otherwise, I find KK to be generally mediocre…overly sweet and artificial. Their half-life is so short, and if you don’t eat them quickly, they become even less impressive.
8. Asher Donuts: Once a Shipley’s outpost, this small, easy-to-miss Asher Ave. establishment has since altered their recipes just a bit. It’s certainly not a bad way to go…and there aren’t too many other options on this stretch of road, so it’s worth looking in on at some point if it’s on your morning commute.
7. Daylight Donuts: Another national operation that is worth patronizing in a pinch. They operate several locations stretching from Benton to Jacksonville, and they do a good job keeping this part of the city fed in the A.M., putting up a good fight against some of their more popular competitors. Here, I prefer the cake donuts to the yeast…but the cinnamon rolls are worth picking up, as well.
6. Julie’s Sweet Shoppe: This newish Conway bakery nestled along Skyline Dr. offers a more interesting selection of donuts than most of its competitors in the area. They keep their display cases chock full of pastries of all sorts…so if you’re interested in more than just donuts for breakfast, they’ve got you covered. The donuts are hit and miss, honestly…but I’d go back for the red velvet cake donut anytime. And they do blueberry fritters…which I’m always pleased to see on a menu.
5. Strawn’s Donuts: This quiet, family-owned Bryant donut shop doesn’t get much attention due to it’s slightly out-of-the-way and difficult-to-find location, but they churn out some quality donuts…and have been for nearly 20 years. Their donut offerings are fairly standard compared to their competitors, nothing too surprising on their shelves…but their fritters and giant cinnamon rolls are especially worth checking out.
4. Shipley’s Do-Nuts: Shipley’s dominates the Arkansas donut market…and for good reason. They’re not the best, but they put out a consistently good product at all their locations. Their popularity allows them to produce fresh pastry throughout most of the morning…and that’s important in the donut world. You’ve probably got your own favorite Shipley’s location (mine happens to be the Shackleford Rd. shop), and all of them seem to vary just slightly. For me, there’s nothing finer than their apple fritters…in fact, I haven’t found a better one in Arkansas. They’re thick, greasy, super sweet, and delicious…and eating only one is enough to keep you full until the mid-day meal.
3. Dale’s Donuts: The donut darling of Saline County…it’s worth making the drive down occasionally, even for Little Rock residents. They’ve got the look, feel, and smell of a great community donut shop. It’s nearly always busy in the mornings and it’s the go-to breakfast for many Saline Co. families and business-types looking to grab a box for their co-workers at the office. I’m a sucker for their maple-peanut coated donuts, but their chocolate cream Long Johns are no joke, either.
2. South on Main: Is it fair to slip in a full-service, highly-celebrated restaurant into the mix? Admittedly, they’re not a “donut shop” by any stretch of the imagination, but pastry chef Matt Lowman has been churning out some of the state’s most delightful donuts since the restaurant first opened its doors in 2013. Lowman’s creative, whimsical take on all variety of donuts have made them an irreplaceable part the dinnertime dessert menu. I’ve had numerous fantastic donut offerings from South on Main…but the hot pecan fritters rolled in sugar and cinnamon stick out in my mind as one of the best.
1. Mark’s Do-Nuts: Anyone who’s made the trek to North Little Rock to sample the fine offerings at Mark’s comes back saying the same thing…these are some seriously good donuts. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes them so spectacular, really. They’re light, soft as a pillow, and perfectly fried to golden-yellow perfection. Not overly greasy and just the right amount of sweet. No matter how far you have to drive to get here…if you love donuts, they’re worth it. They’ve unquestionably earned the title, “Best Donuts in Central Arkansas.” (Note: this place is CASH ONLY, so come prepared.)