Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee is a small-batch, made from scratch daily donut shop with locations in California’s Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange Counties. In this review, we’ll cover why they’re the world’s best doughnuts, share food photos, and offer recommendations of what to order (and skip).
The story of Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee starts in 2012, just as California’s cupcake craze was in full swing. Founded by Chi-lin and Sumter Pendergrast, the couple began with a humble test kitchen and food truck in Costa Mesa, inviting friends and family to weekly taste-tests and using the truck to share fresh doughnuts around town.
Momentum snowballed quickly, with Sidecar’s flagship doughnut shop in Costa Mesa opening only a year later. Locations popped up in Los Angeles and San Diego Counties in the following years, each dedicated to the freshest and highest quality doughnuts, top-notch customer service, and delight in doughnuts…
Sidecar Doughnuts now has locations in Santa Monica, Del Mar, Torrance, and Fairfax, California. While Sidecar is still relatively small, these locations are convenient to most major tourist destinations in Southern California.
Our “home” Sidecar Doughnuts is the flagship shop, located at 270 E 17th St #18, Costa Mesa, CA 92627. This is pretty convenient to a lot of places in Orange County, under 30 minutes from Disneyland or Laguna Beach, 15 minutes from Huntington Beach, and 5 minutes from Newport Beach.
As the address suggests, the Costa Mesa flagship location is in a strip mall, which is pretty common. Some of Southern California’s best restaurants are in unassuming strip malls.
Depending upon when you visit, there can be a line here to order. On weekends, it might even stretch around the block. Fortunately, there’s online ordering on the Sidecar Doughnuts website and outdoor pick-up when things are particularly busy so you don’t wait in a 30 minute line.
It’s a relatively small and straightforward space inside. In addition to the freshly-made doughnuts, Sidecar also serves a variety of coffees–hence the full name, Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee.
We haven’t tried all of these, but we’re partial to the Sidecar Vintage Blend. It’s two high-grade specialty coffees from Colombia & Brazil, with notes of dark chocolate, toasted almonds, and a hint of smoke. Sourced and roasted exclusively by Common Room Roasters.
Our standard practice at Sidecar is to order 4 doughnuts and 2 coffees, eating them on-site outside at one of the tables off to the side of the entrance. In a perfect world, some of these doughnuts would be so fresh they’re still hot.
On occasion, we’ll order a larger pack to either share or take home.
Speaking of which, Sidecar sells doughnuts individually or in preselected 6 and 12-packs.
There’s a Seasonal Pack and a Classics Pack, with the former being pictured above. If it’s your first visit to Sidecar, we would not recommend the Seasonal Pack, as tempting and eye-catching as it might be.
The “problem” (heavy air quotes) with the Seasonal Pack is that, while delicious, several of these more inventive flavors obscure simple brilliance of Sidecar’s freshly-made cake doughnuts.
Don’t get me wrong–I love almost anything I try at Sidecar, but there’s a reason the permanent menu is mostly classics with minimal toppings.
For example, I enjoy the Strawberries & Cream option (pictured above) from the seasonal menu, and think it would be a standout at most other doughnut shops. Its flavor and freshness are fantastic, and it’s certainly eye-catching.
However, unlike other trendy doughnut shops, Sidecar doesn’t need gimmicks or Instagrammable doughnuts to draw in customers. A visually “boring” doughnut at Sidecar simply tastes ten times better than the photogenic options all around Southern California.
I don’t pretend to know the history of Sidecar’s menu or the genesis of its flavors, but when recommending the doughnut shop to friends, I always refer to the Huckleberry as its OG option. This is the must-order doughnut at Sidecar.
The Huckleberry doughnut is chock full of freshly foraged Oregon huckleberries, a huckleberry cake doughnut, and is topped with huckleberry glaze. Getting a hot one of these puppies with still-wet glaze is pure bliss, a truly transcendent experience. This is the one doughnut we order each visit to Sidecar without fail, even if we do one of the seasonal packs.
Another Sidecar favorite is the Maple Bacon. This is a raised doughnut topped with pure Vermont Maple Syrup glaze and crispy, all-natural bacon.
Maple bacon doughnuts are no longer the novelty they once were, but this takes that pairing and perfects it. The flavors complement, rather than overpower, one another. Moreover, the excellent doughnut itself is still able to shine.
A few more quick hits of flavors that we love at Sidecar Doughnuts: Saigon Cinnamon Crumb, Old Fashioned, and Butter & Salt. In fact, what you see above is a picture of a go-to single-serving order for the two of us.
The commonality with this trio is they’re all sweet cake doughnuts that take a conservative approach approach and use toppings to enhance rather than overwhelm. The Butter & Salt is a great savory pick, the Old Fashioned elevates a classic, and the Saigon Cinnamon Crumb adds spice and texture.
Ultimately, that’s pretty much everything you need to know about Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee and why it’s a must-try on your next visit to Southern California. As for these being the world’s best donuts, that’s admittedly a tough case via photos and text. After all, there are a lot of doughnuts in the world.
Let’s try to make the argument in a different way, though. Los Angeles is widely considered the doughnut capital of the United States. (Yes, really!) The area also has a reputation for being trendy and superficial, including when it comes to food, the popularity of which is often dictated on the basis of its looks. Taking those things to be true, it really says something that one of the area’s most popular and local-favorite doughnut shops, which still sells out of varieties on a regular basis and draws long lines, has a menu of classic flavors with simple presentations and humble appearances. Sidecar Doughnuts is the real deal, Southern California’s best–and by extension, the world’s best–donut shop!
If you’re planning a trip, check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles or Laguna Beach, California Planning Guide. If you’re visiting other spots during your California vacation, check out our California category of posts for other things to do. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you been to Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee? Have any favorite flavors? Agree or disagree with our recommendation to try the classics over the seasonal flavors? What did you think of Sidecar? Any other Southern California donut shops you prefer, or recommend in addition to Sidecar? If you’re planning a visit Southern California, does this doughnut shop interest you? Any questions? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!