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West LA donut showdown: Primo's vs Royal Donuts

II love, love, love Primo's buttermilk bar. And when their cinamon twists are warm, they are so delicious - soft, sweet, fragrant. Overall, I'd say Primo's wins because even their worst donuts are still pretty good, however...

I did a Primo's vs Royal Donuts cinamon roll and coffee taste test a couple weeks ago. Much to my surprise, Royal came out on top in these two categories.

Looks: In a side-by-side, Royal's cinamon roll looked burnished and generously-sized compared to Primo's pale speciman. Primo's roll looked a little sad and wan.

Taste: Royal's was crisper, more caramelized and deeper flavored. Primo's was okay, but in comparison, bland and had more of an undercooked doughy taste.

Coffee: Primo's is too weak and clearly from some industrial Sysco-type brand can. They offer it for convenience, but on average, it's better to skip it. I think Primo's only has non-dairy creamer. Royal's coffee actually tastes freshly brewed, it's of normal coffee strength (i.e. not watery), and they have actual dairy creamers. I'd say it was as good as Coffee Bean across the street, and like half the price.

Royal also does a mean apple fritter, which I have yet to see at Primo's. (next, I'll have to do a Bob's vs Royal apple fritter test).

But the rest of Royal's donuts are somewhat uninspiring. The rest of Primo's are consistently decent, sometimes transcendent if you catch them while they're hot.

Also, ambiance wise, Primo's blows Royal out of the water. Primo's is bright and clean. Royal is probably clean, but it's dark and has the kind of decor that your neighborhood wino would feel comfortable in.

But if I want a cinamon roll, an apple fritter or coffee, Royal every time.

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  1. Primo's had two types of cinamon rolls. One is the pale, smaller flatter round guy you had and the other is a giant, dark brown fount of deliciousness that blows its smaller, paler cousin into the weeds. Not always available, but when available always fantastic. Also keep an eye peeled for their chocolate pretzels. They will leave you weak in the knees when fresh.

    Thanks so much for the report.

    2 Replies
    1. re: tony michaels

      Mungus, I think I would agree with you only on the coffee front (and I guess Royal wins Battle Apple Fritter automatically, though I find them a bit too heavy and greasy for my taste). But in my opinion, the assorted cinammon donuts at Primo's are far better. And would we include their butterfly donuts in this category too? I've never had a donut at Royal that impressed me the way the ones at Primo's do consistently.

      What am I missing?

      1. re: banjoboy

        Primo's does do apple and custard turnovers. Normally they are at the far right end of the display case as you face the "donuts"

    2. Primos also does a cinamon butterfly doughnut.....which is perfection especially when warm. Where is Royal located?

      2 Replies
      1. re: Tinitime

        My bad - Primo's is on Sawtelle just north of National, on the east side of the street in a minimal.

        Royal is on Palms, just east of Sepulveda on the south side of the street, in the same minimal as Yoku Yoku (or is it Yoku Yaku).

        If this were a scientific taste test, I'd have gone back several times, you know, for consistency.

        Maybe I need to be more scientific. Those were the results the day I went, but clearly I will have to return. Again and again. And again.

        You know, for science.

        1. re: mungus

          I think you had the Spanish spelling. ;-D The one type of donut that Primo's doesn't do that I really like is a chocolate covered whipped cream filled type. Did you see one like that at Royal?

          And FYI. You can go back in and edit your posts if you catch something you see and want to change after you post.

        2. I can agree on the coffee issue at Primo's - when one is seeking a great coffee experience that would rate in this Starbucks-inspired era, Primo's serves coffee from a bygone period where the standard for the best cup of joe was from a freshly opened can of Hill's Brothers that was percolated incessantly. Correct me if I'm reaching here, but my assumption is that the brew at Primo's is more for Mr. Primo and his Breakfast Club - all of whom are from an era when coffee wasn't the focus, but great conversation and lifelong friendships were.

          1. I picked up two boxes from Royal this morning to take to my vet's office. I've been there -- yes, to Royal and to the vet's -- a lot lately, but thankfully the cat should be better. Ordered a dozen donuts and also a few cinnamon rolls and muffins, She threw in some donut holes and who knows what else. Two heavy boxes, a lot of happy staff and appreciative doctors, for ridiculously little money. (Several bills and change from my $20.)

            3 Replies
            1. re: nosh

              I am happily smiling that Royal is getting richly deserved attention. Do keep in mind that it is a mom & family operation, with a hardworking proprietress who is almost always there, often assisted by her husband or daughter. But please, try the crumb donut. I love the cinnamon roll, crispy fried and glazed. I love almost all cinnamon rolls. I enjoy Primo's cinnamon rolls, yeastier and lighter but very delicious and tender.

              But I'm gradually realizing that the gem at Royal, besides the ownership, is the crumb donut. Really exceptional.

              1. re: nosh

                Thanks for the added info about Royal - always more than willing to support local mom&pops, especially when they our cranking out superior products and service. How lucky can we Westsiders be with not one, but two great mom&pop donut shops that are within a half-mile of each other... Blessings to your kitty as well!

              2. re: nosh

                They've got good people at Royal (not withstanding Primo's as well). I like the service, even when I'm ordering one measley cinnamon roll at Royal.

              3. Thanks for the report. We moved into the area relatively recently and I've been meaning to try both. I don't eat a lot of donuts usually. My wife is the donut freak in the family and she loves Primo's. As usual I have the board to thank for making me look good when I pointed her in that direction.

                I usually stick to apple fritters when I do get donuts and now will have an excuse to drag the wife to Royal so she can do a taste comparison.

                1. I recently and finally had a whole cinnamon roll at Royal (instead of just a bite-sized sample), and I must say I concur with your assessment wholeheartedly! Royal's version is undoubtedly superior to Primo's. Crispy, yet doughy layers with hints of cinnamon and glaze. The thing is huge, too, which it better be for $1.10. It's like a meal, though. I wish they had smaller ones, in which case I'd eat them more often. I can't finish a whole one all at once, and it's no good if you let it sit too long.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: hch_nguyen

                    Glad you enjoy the cinnamon rolls at Royal. I like the crispy, crunchy glazy outer rims best myself. I'll admit they're big -- need to find a ChowMate who goes for the softer, doughy interiors. The other thing that they really excel at is their crumb donuts, very light and delicate and delicious.

                    1. re: nosh

                      lol, I was thinking the exact same thing!! I didn't enjoy the softer, doughier center as much as the crispy, glazed outer rims....sort of like the way I prefer muffin tops over the stumps...wish I could just purchase the rims...

                      1. re: hch_nguyen

                        I prefer muffin tops too, but rather have the softer, doughier center of a cinnamon roll. You can count me in hyh and nosh!

                        1. re: justagthing

                          haha, justagthing, too bad you're not in West LA. I'd save all the centers for you if I thought they would keep well. I hate wasting food and only eat them begrudgingly!

                          1. re: hch_nguyen

                            I've recently tried both Primo's and Royal for the first time. I really liked the idea that Primo's has been around for 50+ years and Mr. and Mrs. Primo are still working in their clean shop. I'm not a coffee drinker so I can't speak to the coffee; however, I really enjoyed the Royal donuts much more than the Primo donuts. In a quiet way, I found the Royal proprieter friendly; although, the dark environment was less enticing (I believe that was previously mentioned by a poster, maybe not on this thread) than Primo's. Anyhow, I brought the donuts home, so I was less concerned about the darkness and they were open early on Sunday (Primo was closed). And as an added bonus, "Mrs. Royal" tossed in three donut holes and an extra "brown" donut. My overflowing pink donut box and package of two freshly hot apple fritters from Royal was ten dollars and change--well worth the calories and cholesterol.

                    2. re: hch_nguyen

                      Agreed, the cinnamon rolls at Royal don't resemble your usual roll-types, but feel like a yeast donut left to grow for inches. It's very light and not too sweet.

                    3. Just bought a dozen at Primo's yesterday to take over to the in-laws who had half a dozen laborers putting in their new back garden. Thought the guys could use some sugar after my mom in law's kvetching.

                      I can't compare to Royals (I will try them soon, though), but thought the buttermilk bar I had was out of this world.

                      It's nice there are two great places out there with superlative doughnuts.