Since I have, completely unintentionally, become blogging.LA’s resident donut expert (I do write about other things, I swear!) it seemed only natural that I would pick Randy’s Donuts as my landmark of choice.
I’m not in LA right now – I’m on a two month research sabbatication in the UK, and if there’s one thing that LA does well that is missing on this side of the pond, it’s that amazing SoCal affinity for kitsch. I mean, yes, there is all manner of quaint-English-country-village/Victoriana kitsch over here, but what is lacking, if you ask me, is buildings shaped like giant food items. And when I fly back to LA in a few weeks, you can bet I’ll try to do what I always try to do: I’ll try to spot Randy’s out the window as my airplane approaches LAX, although I have never had any success with this particular mission. All I ever see are dozens of blue swimming pools staring up at me, which is maybe slightly ironic because the giant donut that crowns Randy’s is basically a swimming pool turned inside-out. It’s made out of gunnite, the building material that’s sprayed on to finish the insides of pools.
I had always known about the existence Randy’s – I don’t know where I first heard of it, though, it was sort of like a piece of collective knowledge implanted subliminally into my brain. However, my close, personal realtionship with Randy’s Donuts (and, as we shall see, with other oversized donuts) began one evening last spring. A friend and fellow LA-adventuress and I had just been to see a Charles Phoenix retro slideshow out in Pasadena (and as an aside: if you don’t know the man and his work, you need to educate yourself about it right now!), and we wanted to cap off our evening with something auspiciously Phoenix-esque, something ridiculous and tacky that he would be proud of. We decided that a visit to one of LA’s cuilinary landmarks of mid-century wackiness would be just the thing. And so we set off to Randy’s. It didn’t matter that it was nowhere near Pasadena, it didn’t matter that it was the middle of the night, it didn’t matter that, in terms of navigational aids, neither of us had a GPS-equipped phone at the time and so we were armed only the vague idea that Randy’s was somewhere by the airport. Famous last words were spoken: “I’m sure we’ll find it. It can’t be that hard. It’s a giant donut.”
We drove around and around. And around and around. We did see some dudes cross the street on horseback in the middle of the night (seriously) but there was no giant donut in sight. Subsequent map checking indicates that we were basically driving in a big circle, spiralling around Randy’s, but somehow only just missing it. We headed back east and went to DuPar’s for pie instead because we knew it was open and we knew where it was.
This event marked the beginning of an almost obsessive impulse to visit every single one of the giant donuts in Los Angeles. There are five left: they used to be part of a chain called Big Donut (quelle surprise) although the chain is now long gone and they’re all independently owned and operated. And I am happy to report that I have now been to all of them, and then some.
Looking for big donuts? Apart from Randy’s, at Manchester and La Cienega, other former Big Donut franchises that are still open for business are Kindle’s at Normandie and Century, Dale’s Donuts at Alondra and Atlantic in Compton, Donut King II* at Western and Marine in Gardena, and Bellflower Bagels** at Bellflower and Arkansas Street in lovely, scenic Bellflower. The Donut Hole in La Puente (at 15300 Amar Road) wasn’t part of the original Big Donut chain and doesn’t have the same kind of donutchitechture, but it is so totally awesome (YOU GET TO DRIVE THROUGH THE DONUT! A tradition, as we learned on Donut Summit Day, for local newlyweds!) that we put it on our giant donut hit list. There are also two Angel Food Donuts, both in Long Beach (at 3860 Long Beach Blvd and at 2657 Santa Fe Blvd), that have somewhat humbler giant donuts that look like they’re made out of vinyl.
And which one has the best Donuts? Well, I will say that Randy’s apple fritters are amazing when they’re hot and fresh and you need a quick breakfast en route to the airport. But other than that, I think you need to go on a Giant Donut Adventure and find out for yourself.
*Which of the many shops named Donut King is the Donut King I in question? It is a mystery lost to the sands of time, unless one of you, dear readers, has the answer!
**Because, you know, if you’re going to repurpose a giant donut, your options are pretty limited.
Awesome, epic Randy’s photo by Thomas Hawk.