Image: Doughnut Plant
Sarah Lemoncelli  /  Courtesy Travel + Leisure
Evoke childhood lunch memories with the peanut butter and jelly-filled square doughnut at New York City's Doughnut Plant. (Or, if you want something a bit more decadent, order the Tres Leches doughnut.) The bakery, which makes its glazes fresh with in-season fruit, started in a tenement-building basement 16 years ago. It has since blossomed into a famous doughnut outlet (including nine locations in Tokyo).
updated 11/7/2010 1:14:59 PM ET 2010-11-07T18:14:59

We’ve all been there. That alarm clock goes off, the questionable outfit’s been picked, the dreary commute commences, and we’re craving a small treat — something familiar and delicious — before the workday begins. Enter: doughnuts.

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It’s hard (but not impossible) to go wrong with sweet, deep-fried dough. But there are some places that just, well, do it better than others. They use unique ingredients. They pile on never-before-seen toppings. Or they just serve up a hot, fresh doughnut that melts in your mouth.

Slideshow: America's best doughnuts

Let’s take a moment to give some serious praise to the Dutch, who are largely credited with inventing doughnuts in the 19th century. They started frying up balls of dough, but there was a problem: cooking the treats all the way through, without burning the outside. One solution? Fill the center with fruit or nuts. The other? Punch a hole in the middle.

Of course, doughnuts really began to take off in the mid 1900s, after Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts were founded (1937 and 1950, respectively). Today, you can pretty much get a doughnut no matter where you are. But if you have a choice, why settle for cold, flavorless calories?

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Instead, head to a place like Bouchon Bakery, in Yountville, Calif. Here, chef Thomas Keller, the mastermind behind nearby French Laundry and New York’s Per Se, creates decadent doughnut delights, using brioche as his bread base, which he then stuffs with such ingredients as rich chocolate ganache or a lighter, in-season fruit filling.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, try Round Rock Donuts, in Round Rock, Texas, where you can sample honey-glazed doughnuts, fresh from the fryer (if you’re lucky). The bakery prepares its doughnuts with the same tried-and-true recipe it’s used for more than 80 years.

Some doughnuts have even received kudos from celebrities, like Brooklyn’s Peter Pan Bakery, which was recently given the approval of "30 Rock"'s Tina Fey in Esquire magazine. We can’t, ahem, repeat her direct quote here (Google it if you’re really that curious), but trust us when we say: She’s a fan. A big fan.

So whether you side with the tried-and-true original doughnut type, or opt for the more adventurous pastry concoctions, there’s a spot out there for you to get your fix. Check out our list of America’s Best Doughnuts, but please, try not to drool on the screen.

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