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Donut madness: Bob's, Rolling Pin, Donut Wheel

I really do like the occasional donut. I also like to see what neighborhood donut shops can do with the standard donut shop palette. I am a fan of Bob's on Polk in the Tenderloin, because after a night out in the city, they are open 24 hours and the super fresh donuts are ready to go when the bars close, especially the warm and almost gooey apple fritters that seem to go into the fryer between 1:50 am and 2:05 am (n=4 visits).

I have recently been able to check out some other 24 hour donut operations and can report back how the three stack up. The donuts checked at each place are plain cake, cinnamon and sugar cake, glazed old fashioned and glazed buttermilk, and glazed raised. My wife also claims that the plain cake with chocolate at Donut Wheel is the best she has ever had. I will say that the cake donuts at Donut Wheel in Cupertino are totally awesome.

Donuts listed in order of preference of location:

Cinnamon and sugar cake:

1) Bob's- Bob's cake donuts have a nice crust and them, while the insides are a nice balance of soft and dense (not too much of either)
2) Rolling Pin- Rolling Pin cake donuts do not have a nice cake donut crunch, and their donuts are soft and spongy. They taste pretty good, but they seem like really fresh/good versions of a Hostess donut. Possibly great for coffee dipping, but not preferred by me at all.
3) Donut Wheel- DW did not have cinnamon and sugar cake while we were there, but their cake donuts are the best of this bunch- see below.

Plain cake:

1) Donut Wheel- light yet almost crisp, delicate crust to the donut. Absolutely fantastic. Lighter donut-y flavor of the insides.
2) Bob's- heavier crunch on outside, but not as uniform as DW, stronger flavor of inside that DW. Still really good.
3) Rolling Pin- No crunch and spongy, not my fave.

Glazed old fashioned (this donut is the best donut I think to try if you want to judge taste but might not have an absolutely fresh one to compare)

1) Bob's- great crunch, lighter glaze, slightly lemony taste, cake donut taste comes through, and the glaze does not feel greasy in the mouth.
2) Donut Wheel- good crunch but not as good as Bob's, heavier glaze, kind of coconut taste to glaze, not too greasy.
3) Rolling Pin- thick, great crunch, heavy glaze reminiscent of coconut, but also glaze and donut combine for greasy mouth feel (like you can get from apply fritters that are greasy and have a lot of glaze).

Glazed raised:
I don't love any of the glazed/raised donuts from these three spots

1) Bob's- when fresh have a nice chewiness and OK taste.
2) Rolling Pin- decent, not spectacular.
3) Donut Whee- DW raised donuts are pretty tall, and every tall raised donut I have had has been a little bready. They are OK, though.

So to sum up, Bob's for fresh apple fritters after the bar and old fashioned, Donut Wheel all the way for cake donuts. Rolling Pin if you like softer donuts.

I will try Stan's as well, but their hours are much more for the commuter and not the late nighter. Stan's glazed seem to have a great rep, but they will have to wow me on the cake for me to alter my new love affair with Donut Wheel.

Bob's Donuts
1621 Polk Street
San Francisco, CA 94109-3614
+1 415 776 3141

Rolling Pin Donuts
429 San Bruno Avenue,
San Bruno, 94066

Donut Wheel
10250 N. De Anza Blvd,
Cupertino, 95014

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  1. This is good stuff and you certainly have your thoughts on donuts. I like an occasional donut as well but don't have any idea where to find one. I live in the city. Have you ever tried an All Star donut? Are they any good? I prefer a regular glazed donut or old fashioned glazed. Any recommendations you could offer?

    1 Reply
    1. re: poulet_roti

      You know, I actually have been to All Star, but only once. I had a glazed old fashioned and it was OK, but a little greasy feeling. If you get over to Bob's (on Polk in the Tenderloin), I think they have the best old-fashioned glazed, and this is the one to compare to- All Star's old-fashioned were closer to DW and Rolling Pin- quite sweet.

    2. Pic of awesome cake donut at Donut Wheel-


      Note the nice, delicate crusty outside.

      1. I really like the place in my neighborhood, Eagle Donuts. I think their donuts in general are of very good quality. It's 3303 Mission (29th & Mission). I think their sign says they open at 5:30 AM, but I've seen them open much earlier than that as I was driving by on my way to catch an early flight at SFO. I believe they close at 7:00 PM. The woman at the front counter routinely works a 14-hour day, yet manages to remain cheerful throughout.

        1. Great write-up. I'll have to try Donut Wheel. I'll probably be down that way to do my Easter food shopping. Also nice to know when to score hot dunuts at Bob's.

          Another good 24 hour donut shop is Andy's Donuts in Richmond

          I was re-reading an old post ... it isn't 24 hours but Bear Claw Bakery in Pinole makes a fine cake donut. They are plump and tender and have a good crumb with a delicious chocolate topping.

          Another not 24 hour place ... last chance to get donuts at La Fayette in San Rafael. This bakery that has a great selection of made from scratch donuts ... including real French beneights ... closes in April.

          Last opporunity to see what a real raised glazed donut tasted like ... yeasty and not just light flavorless Krispy Kreme air... at La Fayette they don't need to be warm to taste good. Believe it or not, at one time the glaze was just the ... well, icing on the donut ... unlike KK where the donut is there to frame the icing. At La Fayette it is about the donut and not the sugar. After eating the donut at La Fayette, for the first time I was angry about KK.

          And donut forget ... March 19th, St. Joseph's day is coming ... zepolle day at Italian bakeries. Victoria has the best ... so decadant ... follewed closely by Emporio Rulli

          2 Replies
          1. re: rworange

            I always remembered being able to have randomly delicious raised donuts from grocery store bakeries, where they were lighter but with some chewier substance than a KK, and the glaze would not overpower. KK is great for what it is but I think it is squeezing out some classic and different raised donut goodness. I will make a special trip to La Fayette.

            1. re: P. Punko

              You can always take the San Rafael bridge and hit the 580 23rd St exit for a side-trip to Andy's

              La Fayette opens at 5 am and is closed Sunday

          2. Here's Bob's donut schedule:

            10pm-1130pm Buttermilk Old Fashioned French and Cake donuts
            1230pm-2pm All the varieties of Raised Dough, Apple Fritters being last

            Nothing beats a fresh out of the fryer donut from Bob's!

            2 Replies
            1. re: anna

              I think those are a.m. times for the last, and that totally fits my observations!

              1. re: P. Punko

                You're probably right. I copied that for the owner's post on Yelp and didn't pay attention to that. Thanks for pointing that out.

            2. Does anyone know whether The Donut Wheel has their own recipe or if they use the generic industrial/Sysco mix that most supermarkets and donut shops use?

              3 Replies
              1. re: Humbucker

                I am going to try Bob's apple fritters tomorrow morning with my folks. My family is continually astounded that my relatively small body can consume a whole "manhole cover" in one sitting. In fact, they better than to try and come between me and my fritter. Any other favorite spots for this delicacy as opposed to doughnuts? All Star doesn't cook theirs longer enough- I'm mean, who wants a doughy middle ;-)

                1. re: SFfoodette

                  Bob's right out of the grease are almost melty in the middle, so you get that kind of experience, but not with the cooled ones. Kind of like a hot cookie being soft but firming up when it cools, as opposed to an undercooked cookie that is only soft because it is not done all the way.

                  1. re: P. Punko

                    Uh-huh... Sounds like a real early morning stop on the way to work is in my future!

              2. Bob's powder sugar cake donuts are great. If I'm driving by Bob's and there's a parking space w/i two blocks I will automatically stop and get one. I don't get donuts much so this is sort of a control method.

                BTW, way back when they use to have a sign on their door "The Official Donutmakers for the Knights of Columbus".

                1. If you can get to Stan's before 7:00AM you will be in donut heaven, but after 9:00AM it is nothing special.

                  Worth getting up early.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: yimster

                    I've been buying some All Star donuts on 10th and Clement recently, around 7am on weekdays and they have been awfully satisfying, especially the plain glazed donuts.

                  2. hi punko, thanks for the post
                    but donuts are such a commodity that i feel comparisons are only useful if we get to some hard specifics. for me, it comes down to

                    1 - is it leavened with yeast or chemicals? i suspect that the vast majority of american donuts are chemical, so i was pleased to hear rw orange's post about the place in san rafael, but sad that it is closing. for me, chemical leavening leaves a nasty aftertaste, particularly with a buttermilk bar, cake or old-fashioned donut.

                    2 - is their frying techinque good? i'm not sure which grease, which temp, or other variable produces it, but what we seek (i assume) is generally a crispy exterior perhaps with a toasty carmelized flavor, a moist interior, but above all, little or no greasiness.

                    3 - glazing. for me, glazing is hazardous. you can easily oversweeten with a thick glaze (like krispy kreme), and i think it can also contribute to greasiness (it has oil, doesn't it?).

                    4 - trimmings. most 'chocolate' glazing sucks, and so do those multicolored sprinkle pellets. ditto on any 'jelly' or 'lemon' or 'custard' or 'creme' fillings. this is made even worse when they know they won't give you quality, and try to make up for it with quantity. ick.

                    for all these reasons, my 'classic' donut is the raised sugar. they rarely taste of baking soda, seem less greasy, and are usually less sweet than a glazed. however, they dry out more quickly, so they need to be fresh. on the other hand, i love an apple fritter like sin.

                    so given these criteria, i'd like to know who, if anyone, makes yeast raised donuts. i think bob's is often good for frying technique, but maybe that's just a freshness edge. and who, if anyone, actually has notably good toppings/fillings?

                    ok, so this is all about who makes the best 'traditional' american donut, but is the donut the last bastion of food mediocrity? i feel like we're debating who made the best 70's style pizza: straw hat, shakey's, or round table. we've already had quality revolutions in almost every other food category, so when will we get to the donut? granted the donut in full 70's regalia is still a tempting little retro treat, but come on food entreprenuers, take heed. this is your market calling.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: echo

                      I'm sure there will be a super upscaling of the donut at some point, but, I will say that the best frying technique I would guess of the ones here would be Donut Wheel. The lightest, crispest coating, with the least greasiness, but that was on their cake. Raised donuts can be very disappointing. "Quality" toppings is a totally different category from the standard, I will grant you. I think a lot of people do have a place in there heart for an everyday 75 cent donut, which kind of has a different scale relative to yummy stuff.

                      In all seriousness, for raised sugar, I like to go to Krispy Kreme and have them take a hot donut (before it hits the glaze) and sugar it. I think these are great. Unless I am doing a morning commute and can get a raised sugar somewhere fresh, they just are not worth it. As for glazing of cake, I think Bob's does not overdo their glazed old fashioned, where several places do. I'm not sure if my palate is usually in the frame of mind to register baking powder taste of the cake donuts, I try to check the crust, the freshness of the inside, and the greasy mouth feel. And then a gulp of milk.

                      1. re: echo

                        Andy's makes donuts from scratch. However, not it the sam league as the soon-to-close La Fayette.

                        1. re: rworange

                          what do people think of King Pin in Berkeley (durant/university food court)?

                          My 2 cents on the donut topic.
                          I'm a Bobs person. have been for about 9 years. I can't bring myself to get a donut anymore unless i know its been made in the last hour or so. Knowing bobs schedule sure helps with this. the times above are relatively correct, though they seem to start at least by 930 these days. years ago they started everything after 11. Aya's, the lady working most nights, attitude makes the whole experience that much better. she's the nicest darn person in the world.
                          old fashioned are definitely my favorite there. i'm quite the fan of the crunchy donut.
                          It seems best to give the donuts a time to rest and drain a bit of the oil, or they can be a bit to oil laden if you get them too soon.

                          Rolling Pin in san bruno. i lived around the corner from this place for 2 years, and went about 4 times... it just does not compare to bobs. Bobs donuts have a bit of a flavor to them... i'm almost positive they put nutmeg in the batter.... But rolling pin has a flavor too... and its pretty gross in my opinion. something just tastes slightly wrong. like they used spoiled milk. or buttermilk in donuts that aren't supposed to have buttermilk... maybe that's it. they also put way too much icing on things.
                          However, they have glazed donut holes filled with custard... and that is truly an amazing concept, even though eating just one almost makes me puke.

                          I personally think King Pin in Berkley is pretty great too. they have a pretty broad cooking schedule, so its easy to get fresh donuts there as well, and like bobs, you can see them making the donuts (though you can't sit at a counter and watch). They don't have quite the pleasing flavor of bobs, but definitely tastier than Rolling Pin. They also have more options, such as coconut on top, or peanuts... i quite like the peanuts on chocolate option.

                          someone mentioned allstar. allstar is really about as low as one can go, or as low as i've gone at least.
                          i must say. Happy donut, (especially the one on third street), is far better, and at least that place has some personality.

                          sorry about the ramblingness.
                          here's a video by local mc "jelly donut"
                          partially shot in Bob's Donuts

                          1. re: kairo

                            Happy Donuts are hit and miss, the one on El Camino in PA/Mtn. View is pretty good when they are cranking out donuts all night for Silicon Valley meetings. A step below Bob's and Donut Wheel.

                      2. I tried Bob's yesterday and was not that impressed. I got a glazed doughnut--it was not yet late enough for the apple fritters everyone is raving about. I have also tried Eagle and All Star. The Eagle doughnuts seemed to me to be just as good as the one I got at Bob's. All Star, not that exciting.

                        While on the subject of warm, fried yeast goods, I also had occasion to try the beignets from Boulette's and was really un-enthused. Warm and sugary but altogether too eggy.

                        I love apple cider doughnuts. I love glazed, and chocolate frosted, and coconut-topped doughnuts but I'd like a better quality product than those I've encountered. Anything I'm missing?

                        And Bob's--is it really all about the late night apple fritters?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: linz

                          Apple cider donuts sound really good...where do you get these??

                          1. re: ChowFun_derek

                            I haven't come across any here in SF but when I used to go apple picking in NY state we'd get them at the orchards. So good--and warm! There is a recipe in Gourmet this month for apple cider beignets, if you want to make yer own...

                            1. re: linz

                              Apple Hill on the way to Lake Tahoe has a number of places for wonderful apple cider donuts.

                              In fact, amoung the best are those from Rainbow Orchard which sells at a number of farmers markets ... but no donuts. For years I keep asking them to bring some ... maybe if more people annoyed them ... uh, asked them to bring some to the farmers markets they might.

                              Sure, they won't be as good as the fresh from the fat version on the farm, but I've brought some home and they were still mighty fine.

                        2. I too like Bob's donut off Polk but must disagree with you about the plain donut at Donut Wheel. I was there a month ago and had two of the worst donuts ever. I use to frequent the past a couple of years ago when I lived around there but I think the owners must have sold the business. We had the raised glazed donut and the plain cake one. We originally got the glazed one first but had to ask for a new one because the donut was hard as rock and very dry. Then we got the plain cake one - that one was better but still dry. Maybe it was their off day but I don't think I will go back unless I am desperate.

                          i will second the recommendation of Stan's on Homestead though - man they have the bet raised donuts. That place is awesome - uummm donuts!

                          1. Last month I had occasion to drive on Woodside Road in Redwood City several times and discovered Chuck's Donuts. They're not only open 24 hours but they bake the doughnuits throughout the 24 hours so they're always fresh, sometimes still warm, regardless of when you stop there. I had several types over the period. The only one I didn't think was very good was their French doughnut, a type that most places do poorly.

                            Chuck's Donuts
                            801 Woodside Road
                            Redwood City

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: Mick Ruthven

                              There's a Chuck's Donuts in Belmont that makes my favorite Glazed Raised. They're large and substantial, with more of a chew than others. It isn't overly sweet and has a nice yeasty flavor. Now that my brother has moved from Belmont, there isn't much reason to visit from Berkeley, so I haven't had one in awhile.

                              Chuck's Donuts
                              641 Ralston Ave

                              1. re: dedicateddourly

                                Here's my post on Chuck's in Belmont.

                                Chuck's Donuts
                                801 Woodside Rd # 16, Redwood City, CA

                                Chuck's Donuts
                                641 Ralston Ave, Belmont, CA

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  From your Belmont Chuck's post: "this 24-hour spot makes donuts around the clock"

                                  Sounds like the Belmont and Redwood City shops are owned by the same people and have the same type of operation.

                                  As far as "cruller" meaning a French doughnut, I didn't know that and some web searching doesn't confirm that. I'll repeat that the French doughnut at the Redwood City Chuck's wasn't great, which seemed to be your experience of it in Belmont.

                                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                    Googling for "french cruller" turns up many photos, recipes and other listings that agree with my usage. (g)

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      I'll certainly agree (without searching) that "french cruller" probably means the same thing as "french doughnut" (gg)

                                    2. re: Mick Ruthven

                                      My favorite French doughnut is from the Chinese Eastern Bakery. Moist and tender like a popover with a drizzle of slightly bitter sugar syrup. That and the gim fon from Sam Wo are about the only things that can get me into Chinatown.

                                      1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                        Where is Chinese Eastern Bakery? Google doesn't show anything for it.

                                        1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                          With SF Chinatown as the clue, probably this one.

                                          Eastern Bakery
                                          720 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

                                    3. re: Melanie Wong

                                      Has anyone compared Chuck's Donuts with Donut King (in Redwood City)?

                                      Donut King
                                      3123 Jefferson Ave
                                      Redwood City, CA 94062
                                      (650) 369-4996

                                2. I adore Rolling Pin. Even though I now live in San Jose instead of Millbrae we still try to make pilgrimages there. Most of the reason I like Rolling Pin is because I can go there (between 9:30 and 11:00 p.m. - a.k.a. doughnut time) and nearly always get hot, melt in your mouth doughnuts. Unlike hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts these won't give you a toothache because of their sugariness. Also, they have other flavors hot other than plain glazed.

                                  1. Sounds like you did your homework! Just to get my 2 cents in...the best donut for my money is found at a neighborhood bakery in the coastal town of Pacifica called Mazzett's Bakery. I LOVE their chocolate glazed raised donuts and the reason for this love affair is that Mazzett's is the only place I've found that sugar glazes their donuts first and then chocolate dips them...let me tell you, this is HEAVEN! They also use a very high quality chocolate and plenty of it...not that thin, flavorless chocolate glaze that a lot of donuts shop use.There is nothing better than a almost warm...I don't like hot or warm donuts, but I do like them very fresh...chocolate glazed donut and a cup of their delicious coffee in the a.m...they make them fresh every day and it is well worth the drive out to Pacifica to sink your teeth into these light, fluffy, chocolatey sweet treats!

                                    1. I always get Happy Donut and Rolling Pin mixed up... now I'm thinking it's Rolling Pin with the old original location out of the city where you can smell them baking apples and cinnamon from blocks away, right?

                                      Bob's is nice just because they taste less prefab, but the downside to it feeling more handmade is they tend to be doughy. When the cake is gummy, the sugary toppings taste like they belong on another donut. Sometimes they just taste like they were made by someone with dishpan hands or something off putting.

                                      I'd love to see a high end donut revolution, but California is blessed with good classic donuts. Other cities rely on Dunkin Donuts, or Krispy so their "artisan" donuts are usually just struggling to make a donut taste like a donut. There's always the Bombalini from the Ferry Building, and one of the cafes on Hayes, but they always taste a bit stale, probably an hour after they took them out of the oil.

                                      1. Impressively detailed post. Amen on Bob's. When I'm stumbling home drunk (or, as you politely put it, "after a night out in the city"), it's nice to see it open and serving fresh, saturating food. Lately I've been craving savory at that hour, so I love their ham and cheese croissant. It's not always available, which probably means it isn't fresh. And I can't officially recommend it to other chowhounders since, let's face it, I've never had it sober. But still, I love it.

                                        In more-or-less the same neighborhood, Mr. Punko, have you tried that late-night (if not all-night, not sure) donut place on Van Ness between Geary and Post? I think the awning says "8 Flavors" or something, not sure how that means. Across from the Cathedral Hill Hotel. I get off at the Muni stop in front of it all the time, since I live a block away, and the smells wafting out of it are like a siren call. Wondered if it was worth crashing upon those shores.

                                        There's something special about a 24-hour donut place. Anybody remember the Rolling Pin donut shop on Castro at 18th? My most vivid memory of that place was at about 4am one night (just a random night, not even Halloween or Pride) when some crazy, bearded, barefoot man in a gold-sequined dress was thrown, literally, out of the place. Repeatedly. He'd rant incoherently, stomp back into Rolling Pin, get heaved out, rant, stomp back in, get heaved out, on and on. Takes an admirable sort of person to serve donuts to strangers at 4am.

                                        1. I have been watching the calories have shed some pounds but I did slip the other day and had my favorite donut at Bob's the maple bar, its was a good as I remembered.

                                          I found this from ms. tablehopper- yum

                                          "A few months ago I alluded to a new ice cream project happening on 24th Street—let’s break the lid off of that one too! Coming soon is an ice cream shop called ~HUMPHRY SLOCOMBE~, named after a character from the lowbrow British show Are You Being Served? (as the owner noted, not quite as lofty as the origin of Chez Panisse’s name, heh). Jake Godby, a local pastry chef whose background includes Candybar, Coi, Tartare, Fifth Floor for two years, and Boulevard for four, is calling this “ice cream for grownups,” with small batch, artisanal, and unusual flavors, like Secret Breakfast, a bourbon ice cream with caramelized corn flakes, a salted licorice flavor, and caramel ice cream with balsamic vinegar. Godby described the interior as a 1930s French café that has been remodeled in 1973, featuring eight stools from an old Woolworth’s counter, plus glass bricks, tile, and Formica. The opening is targeted for mid-August, and will be open Tue–Thu and Sun 11am–9pm, and Fri–Sat 11am–10pm, closed Mon. 2790A Harrison at 24th St."