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Persistent donut cravings lead to Copper Top

Walk up or drive thru for hand-dressed donuts in Mission Hills

The Camp Fire donut, modeled after s'mores with marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker toppings
The Camp Fire donut, modeled after s'mores with marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker toppings

It was just one of those mornings everybody and their brother wanted donuts. Out on an early morning errand, I knew I would pass the bustling Solomon Bagels & Donuts on the way home. I even thought to call in an order ahead of time, but couldn’t get through. When I arrived, I saw why: the line went out the door.

Place

Copper Top Coffee and Donuts

101 West Washington Street, San Diego

Okay, no problem. There are other donut shops in the world. A little farther west, I approached the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru in Hillcrest. But the drive-thru was so backed up I couldn’t even get into the parking lot. It’s located across from a hospital between one-way streets, in the thick of Hillcrest traffic, so cars tend to back up down the block in the name of a sugar fix.

The Copper Top donut: maple, salted caramel, and espresso dust.

No big deal. Dunkin’s donuts aren’t good enough to warrant a sig alert. And I knew I could head a little farther west to reach another drive-thru donut opportunity in Mission Hills.

Copper Top Coffee and Donuts sits in the style of A-frame shack favored by fast-food hot dog chain Wienerschnitzel. After that fast-food chain cleared out a few years back, this stand-alone coffee and donut shop took over its tiny kitchen, maintaining both the drive-thru and walk-up ordering windows.

A drive-thru donut and coffee shop inside an abandoned Wienerschnitzel.

Both especially handy features these days. Solomon is great, but its mask-wearing customers stand in lines that wind around the interior of the shop, and when hungry groups show up, most abandon any pretense of social distancing and try to cram themselves inside anyway. Dunkin, meanwhile, has had to build an ad hoc external shelter to control the flow of walk-in customers to its small operation.

The Dirt Pile on this donut consists of crumbled Oreos.

Though Copper Top proves easier to access, don’t expect the drive-thru line to move quickly. This isn’t fast food. Rather than trays of ready-made donuts sitting behind glass, it serves freshly baked cake donuts, each one glazed and otherwise dressed based on your order.

So if you ask for the signature Copper Top donut, for example, moments later it will be drizzled in salted caramel, slathered in maple cream, and dusted with espresso powder. Meanwhile, the better-than-it-sounds Dirt Pile will be frosted then dusted with a generous pile of Oreo cookie crumbles.

Bananas and granola top the nutella donut Everything Nice.

Now, these aren’t the fluffy, raised donuts that get the most attention at Dunkin. Rather, they are cake donuts, baked and then frosted, which essentially means they’re little, round cakes selling for two bucks apiece. They’re a slightly different experience, and they look it. Especially the Everything Nice donut, which stacks slices of banana on top of nutella, then sprinkles it with granola.

Others are inspired by anything from bear claws to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My personal favorite would be the s’mores inspired Camp Fire: spread with a layer of marshmallow fluff, drizzled with chocolate syrup, and dusted with graham cracker crumbles.

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The Camp Fire donut, modeled after s'mores with marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker toppings
The Camp Fire donut, modeled after s'mores with marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker toppings

It was just one of those mornings everybody and their brother wanted donuts. Out on an early morning errand, I knew I would pass the bustling Solomon Bagels & Donuts on the way home. I even thought to call in an order ahead of time, but couldn’t get through. When I arrived, I saw why: the line went out the door.

Place

Copper Top Coffee and Donuts

101 West Washington Street, San Diego

Okay, no problem. There are other donut shops in the world. A little farther west, I approached the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru in Hillcrest. But the drive-thru was so backed up I couldn’t even get into the parking lot. It’s located across from a hospital between one-way streets, in the thick of Hillcrest traffic, so cars tend to back up down the block in the name of a sugar fix.

The Copper Top donut: maple, salted caramel, and espresso dust.

No big deal. Dunkin’s donuts aren’t good enough to warrant a sig alert. And I knew I could head a little farther west to reach another drive-thru donut opportunity in Mission Hills.

Copper Top Coffee and Donuts sits in the style of A-frame shack favored by fast-food hot dog chain Wienerschnitzel. After that fast-food chain cleared out a few years back, this stand-alone coffee and donut shop took over its tiny kitchen, maintaining both the drive-thru and walk-up ordering windows.

A drive-thru donut and coffee shop inside an abandoned Wienerschnitzel.

Both especially handy features these days. Solomon is great, but its mask-wearing customers stand in lines that wind around the interior of the shop, and when hungry groups show up, most abandon any pretense of social distancing and try to cram themselves inside anyway. Dunkin, meanwhile, has had to build an ad hoc external shelter to control the flow of walk-in customers to its small operation.

The Dirt Pile on this donut consists of crumbled Oreos.

Though Copper Top proves easier to access, don’t expect the drive-thru line to move quickly. This isn’t fast food. Rather than trays of ready-made donuts sitting behind glass, it serves freshly baked cake donuts, each one glazed and otherwise dressed based on your order.

So if you ask for the signature Copper Top donut, for example, moments later it will be drizzled in salted caramel, slathered in maple cream, and dusted with espresso powder. Meanwhile, the better-than-it-sounds Dirt Pile will be frosted then dusted with a generous pile of Oreo cookie crumbles.

Bananas and granola top the nutella donut Everything Nice.

Now, these aren’t the fluffy, raised donuts that get the most attention at Dunkin. Rather, they are cake donuts, baked and then frosted, which essentially means they’re little, round cakes selling for two bucks apiece. They’re a slightly different experience, and they look it. Especially the Everything Nice donut, which stacks slices of banana on top of nutella, then sprinkles it with granola.

Others are inspired by anything from bear claws to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My personal favorite would be the s’mores inspired Camp Fire: spread with a layer of marshmallow fluff, drizzled with chocolate syrup, and dusted with graham cracker crumbles.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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