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Barrio Donas finds beauty in fried dough

San Diego’s most creative donut maker is just getting started

A foil wrapped Ferraro Rocher confection fits inside the hole of this chocolate-hazelnut donut.
A foil wrapped Ferraro Rocher confection fits inside the hole of this chocolate-hazelnut donut.

“Chubby, round, and very pretty.” That’s how Google translates gordita redondita y bien bonita, the Spanish words written in pink neon on the wall of Barrio Donas.

Place

Barrio Donas

4714 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego

The shop’s name itself translates to “neighborhood donuts,” which suggests this Clairemont Mesa business might be simply another among dozens of donut shops spread out among San Diego’s various neighborhoods. But as I peruse the contents of this glass counter, it quickly becomes clear that that the donas in question actually live up to their neon description. These are some of the prettiest donuts I’ve ever seen.

A small donut shop in Clairemont Mesa, also coming soon to Old Town and National City

It’s apparent this donut shop stands out thanks to a Mexican culinary influence. That’s evident in several of the donuts, and more so in a menu that features tortas ranging from chorizo and egg to carne asada ($6-11.50), and banana leaf tamales of pork or chicken ($4).

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I try a few of the savory items, and particularly enjoy a carne asada sandwich, which features beans, lettuce, tomato, red onions, mozzarella, and a thick chipotle salsa, on a toasted telera roll. But it’s the donuts that keep attracting my gaze.

The neon sign refers to donuts, but the shop also serves tortas and tamales.

Now, I’ve ordered donas from Mexican bakeries (panaderias) in the past, and they’ve been great, though relatively boring. That is, they’ve been standard donuts, glazed with chocolate, sugar, or vanilla, not any different from mainstays of conventional donut shops. In recent years, I’ve also noticed several shops begin serving ube-glazed donuts, following the lead of Filipino-inspired donut shops (such purple donuts popularized by Nomad Donuts, locally).

The mazapan dona with chocolate drizzle

But even Nomad falls short of the imagination in play at Barrio Donas. A few of the Mexican-inspired offerings are rather obvious: the fast-selling churro donut, for example, adopts the ridged crust of the cinnamon and sugar treat. The abuelita takes its cues from cinnamon-infused Mexican hot chocolate, and the tart jamaica donut owes its own, pinkish-purple glaze to the hibiscus flower that flavors the staple taco shop aqua fresca of the same name.

The jamaica donut owes its pink-purple glaze to hibiscus.

However, it’s not merely an appreciation for Mexican flavors that makes this donut shop special. There’s a creativity that goes beyond literally adapting cultural associations to the donut medium. Probably my favorite dona here is the chocolate glazed mazapan. Similar to the almond-based confection marzipan, the Mexican version, known as mazapan replaces almond with peanut. Barrio Donas takes this concept, and turns it into a donut with peanut butter glaze, topped by mazapan crumbles (offered with or without the chocolate drizzle).

The "beary berry good", a glazed bear claw filled with mixed berry jam

It’s fantastic, and it’s not even the most innovative donut in the case. That would be a dona dubbed Mi Rey, a chocolate and hazelnut donut that actually draws inspiration from the Italian confection Ferrero Rocher. The $3.75 treat even includes a piece of the gold-foil-wrapped candy, plugging its donut hole. For starters, the donut itself is topped with a chocolate glaze, with a hazelnut (Nutella) drizzle over the top of that. Then, one half of the donut is topped with crushed hazelnut, the other with shavings of a rich, dark chocolate. Finally, the entire thing is sprinkled with edible gold dust.

I could go on about the shop’s top quality vegan donuts, about donas incorporating dolce de leche, cajeta, mango, guava, toasted coconuts, and macadamia nuts. About the bear claw stuffed with berry jam, the arroz con leche stuffed with rice pudding, or the gansito chocolate cake donut bar stuffed with both strawberry jam and vanilla cream.

But at this point, it should be clear that just about all of the $2-4 donas here are worth trying, and then some. And that this neighborhood donut shop is worth driving out of the way for. And as two new locations are coming soon, Old Town and National City have chubby, round, and very pretty futures ahead.

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A foil wrapped Ferraro Rocher confection fits inside the hole of this chocolate-hazelnut donut.
A foil wrapped Ferraro Rocher confection fits inside the hole of this chocolate-hazelnut donut.

“Chubby, round, and very pretty.” That’s how Google translates gordita redondita y bien bonita, the Spanish words written in pink neon on the wall of Barrio Donas.

Place

Barrio Donas

4714 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., San Diego

The shop’s name itself translates to “neighborhood donuts,” which suggests this Clairemont Mesa business might be simply another among dozens of donut shops spread out among San Diego’s various neighborhoods. But as I peruse the contents of this glass counter, it quickly becomes clear that that the donas in question actually live up to their neon description. These are some of the prettiest donuts I’ve ever seen.

A small donut shop in Clairemont Mesa, also coming soon to Old Town and National City

It’s apparent this donut shop stands out thanks to a Mexican culinary influence. That’s evident in several of the donuts, and more so in a menu that features tortas ranging from chorizo and egg to carne asada ($6-11.50), and banana leaf tamales of pork or chicken ($4).

Sponsored
Sponsored

I try a few of the savory items, and particularly enjoy a carne asada sandwich, which features beans, lettuce, tomato, red onions, mozzarella, and a thick chipotle salsa, on a toasted telera roll. But it’s the donuts that keep attracting my gaze.

The neon sign refers to donuts, but the shop also serves tortas and tamales.

Now, I’ve ordered donas from Mexican bakeries (panaderias) in the past, and they’ve been great, though relatively boring. That is, they’ve been standard donuts, glazed with chocolate, sugar, or vanilla, not any different from mainstays of conventional donut shops. In recent years, I’ve also noticed several shops begin serving ube-glazed donuts, following the lead of Filipino-inspired donut shops (such purple donuts popularized by Nomad Donuts, locally).

The mazapan dona with chocolate drizzle

But even Nomad falls short of the imagination in play at Barrio Donas. A few of the Mexican-inspired offerings are rather obvious: the fast-selling churro donut, for example, adopts the ridged crust of the cinnamon and sugar treat. The abuelita takes its cues from cinnamon-infused Mexican hot chocolate, and the tart jamaica donut owes its own, pinkish-purple glaze to the hibiscus flower that flavors the staple taco shop aqua fresca of the same name.

The jamaica donut owes its pink-purple glaze to hibiscus.

However, it’s not merely an appreciation for Mexican flavors that makes this donut shop special. There’s a creativity that goes beyond literally adapting cultural associations to the donut medium. Probably my favorite dona here is the chocolate glazed mazapan. Similar to the almond-based confection marzipan, the Mexican version, known as mazapan replaces almond with peanut. Barrio Donas takes this concept, and turns it into a donut with peanut butter glaze, topped by mazapan crumbles (offered with or without the chocolate drizzle).

The "beary berry good", a glazed bear claw filled with mixed berry jam

It’s fantastic, and it’s not even the most innovative donut in the case. That would be a dona dubbed Mi Rey, a chocolate and hazelnut donut that actually draws inspiration from the Italian confection Ferrero Rocher. The $3.75 treat even includes a piece of the gold-foil-wrapped candy, plugging its donut hole. For starters, the donut itself is topped with a chocolate glaze, with a hazelnut (Nutella) drizzle over the top of that. Then, one half of the donut is topped with crushed hazelnut, the other with shavings of a rich, dark chocolate. Finally, the entire thing is sprinkled with edible gold dust.

I could go on about the shop’s top quality vegan donuts, about donas incorporating dolce de leche, cajeta, mango, guava, toasted coconuts, and macadamia nuts. About the bear claw stuffed with berry jam, the arroz con leche stuffed with rice pudding, or the gansito chocolate cake donut bar stuffed with both strawberry jam and vanilla cream.

But at this point, it should be clear that just about all of the $2-4 donas here are worth trying, and then some. And that this neighborhood donut shop is worth driving out of the way for. And as two new locations are coming soon, Old Town and National City have chubby, round, and very pretty futures ahead.

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