The ideal doughnut, according to most doughnographers (or at least this one), transforms its grease, sugar, flour and yeast into a poem, an emotion, a manifestation of the progress of human civilization.
A bad one looks like the flabby ring you can make by cupping your hands around your belly button, and by its taste reminds you it’s heading just there. You want the grease to sing to your intestinal tract, not to scrape along like a rusty anchor.
A good doughnut is just sweet enough to balance a cup of dark, hot coffee. Coffee and doughnuts have an important relationship, most doughnographers say (see previous disclaimer); it is similar to the friendship between rhubarb pie and ice cream. It is tricky, but not impossible, to find a handsome doughnut to dance with your taste buds in Costa Rica’s capital.
The Tico Times found it prudent to offer its San José readers a metropolitan doughnut tour. Our study tried to consider establishments that put doughnuts on their front platform (it’s not entirely coincidental that the five doughnut shops reviewed are between this reporter’s bus stop and the office of The Tico Times).
Donuts Supreme has 10 locations around the metropolitan area; one of them is downtown on Avenida 1. The quality and selection of doughnuts are good, but the ambience and pricing seem to be straight from a shopping-mall food court. The cheapest option is a regular doughnut, fried and sugared, for ¢475 (about $0.95). Moving toward ¢550 (about $1.10) are “dippers,” “bismarks,” “éclairs” and “muffins” – which some may say have no place in a doughnut shop. Unless you sit on the sidewalk, you must take your doughnuts to go. Coffee (¢400, about $0.80) is offered in Styrofoam cups from a Nescafé machine (doughnographer score 6.3).
Donuts Supreme is on Avenida 1 between Calles 5 and 7. Type of doughnut: Factorymade, some filled. Compression rating: Soft, at noon (8.1). Flavor: Not too greasy, not too sweet (8.0). Atmosphere: Not much (5.1). Overall score: 6.9.
Panadería El Tejadito claims its doughnuts are the best in San José, “because they’re large, soft and with good flavor,” said Marcela Huang, a bakery worker. Although El Tejadito’s one type of doughnut isn’t at the top of the menu or display case, it is a decent, hand-rolled doughnut with some holding power (certainly through 10:30 a.m.), and, at ¢280 (about $0.55), it won’t break your bank. They sell 150 a day, Huang said. The chocolate topping is a bit waxy, even sweaty, but the overall texture is smoother than one would guess. Doughnut and coffee come on a nice little tray, and the coffee (¢200, about $0.40) was acceptable without sugar (6.9).
Panadería el Tejadito is on Avenida 3 between Calles Central and 1, behind El Carmen Church. Type of doughnut: Handrolled, chocolate-topped, caramel-filled. Compression rating: Not quite tough (7.1). Flavor: Slightly greasy, sweet (7.5). Atmosphere: Spacious (7.9). Overall score: 7.4.
Soda Kikodonas serves one type of doughnut and does it well: the buy-’em-bythe- sack, fried-and-frosted mini-doughnut. A man known to restaurant staff only as Julio brings fresh trays around 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. He reportedly services other locales as well, but it’d be hard to beat the cozy, urban atmosphere of Soda Kikodonas. The doughnuts glisten in a glass display (¢650 for six and ¢1,200 for a dozen, about $1.25 and $2.25). Six vinyl-covered tables and a counter nestle into about nine square meters. The doughnuts were still buttery soft at late morning. The percolator coffee (¢200, about $0.40) is terrible (4.7), but comes in darling little cups and saucers.
Soda Kikodonas is on Avenida 1 between Calles 3 and 5. Type of doughnut: Mini. Compression rating: Great (8.3). Flavor: Tenderly sweet (8.5). Atmosphere: Intimate (9.0). Overall score: 7.6.
La Bendición de Dios – the name is true enough, but you need to arrive when the doughnuts are hot to get the full blessing. Proprietor and doughnut chef Durley Chica mixes the dough behind the counter, rolls it out with a PVC tube, spreads it with caramelized milk, lets it rise and fries up 40 or 50 doughnuts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Come around 5 p.m. These are some of the cheapest in town (¢250, about $0.50) and the atmosphere is second to Kikodonas in local charm. La Bendición de Dios is built of corrugated steel and chain-link fence, just a sidewalk away from roaring buses. Chairs are chained to the table, so don’t get any ideas. The coffee (¢250, about $0.50) isn’t too bad (6.8), and comes in hourglass-curved diner cups.
La Bendición de Dios is on Avenida Central, just west of the Plaza de la Democracia artisan market. Type of doughnut: Hand-rolled with caramel filling. Compression rating: Soft when warm (7.2). Flavor: Sweet, greasy if older than four hours (7.6). Atmosphere: Authentic San José (8.3). Overall score: 7.5.
Doña Dona has six booths in Costa Rica, mostly in area malls. One of them is in the “Food Factory” storefront near the Post Office and Central Bank. This is good for passersby, as the Doña has the best selection around (eight shapes and sizes, with many sub-choices), and they’re good, and not terribly expensive. Several options go for ¢350 (about $0.70), and a few are cheaper. This reporter ate a cherry-centered surtido, and he’d do it again. Very soft, not throat-burning sweet or greasy, and the coffee (¢200, about $0.40) was better than most, though it came in a Styrofoam cup (7.0).
Doña Dona is on Calle 4, just north of Avenida 3 (one block west and one block north of the Central Post Office). Type of doughnut: Factory-made, some filled. Compression rating: Tender in the morning (8.0). Flavor: Strong distinction of different flavors (8.2). Atmosphere: Strip mall, with
seating (6.9). Overall score: 7.5.