Monthly Archives: April 2012

I was enjoying the always well-written and well-photographed food blog Gas•tron•o•my when I saw what at first glance I thought must be a chapter from a dark, distopian novel where residents of Chicago, living in a sort of cross between Weimar Germany and Stalinist Russia, have to wait in long lines at the “Doughnut Vault” with the hope that they will be able purchase a single (and, as it turns out, mediocre) jelly doughnut for $3 before the supply runs out for the day.

You can imagine my surprise when, upon closer examination, I realized that this is the actual reality facing Chicagoans today, rather than some implausible fiction.  Even more shockingly, the whole thing seemed to be considered a normal – even an estimable – state of affairs.

Now, I don’t often go out for doughnuts – as much as I enjoy them, abstaining is one of those small nods in the direction of dietary self-control which I make for the sake of form – so I thought that perhaps the doughnut world had changed in the 6 or so months since I last indulged. In order to know for sure, I made a special trip to Donut King in Pleasant Hill.

Donut King, one of the better doughnut shops in central CC County, is located in a somewhat down-at-the-heels Contra Costa Blvd strip mall (the anchor stores of which are Grocery Outlet and Goodwill). It is flanked by a Pho restaurant and a vacant store front. Stretching out to the west is Gregory Gardens – a sprawling early-50s tract from which I would guess Donut King draws much of its clientele.

The interior is functional, even sterile, with nothing resembling character. On my visit (around 10 AM) I found a typical retiree-heavy mid-morning doughnut shop crowd – a couple of older ladies at one table and four guys in Giants hats talking sports at another.

There was plenty to choose from and, as always, it was an agonizing decision to choose just one. The purpose of my visit, however, narrowed things down quite a bit, although even here, I was torn between the various jelly doughnut options. I had intended to go with a standard glazed with raspberry filling, but when I saw the lemon oozing out of the powdered sugar, I changed my mind.

Now, with a low-rent jelly doughnut you get about a bite’s-worth of jelly and lots of bland, bready doughnut, but this one had the enough tangy lemon filling for a half-dozen of Safeway’s finest. The doughnut itself was well-cooked, with just a hint of crunchiness to the outside. In short, it was great and well-worth the slight premium you pay for such quality at $1.45.

So, the good news is that the Great Chicago Doughnut Crisis has apparently not yet reached the West Coast – at Donut King, at least, the shelves are full, the lines are short, the prices are reasonable, and, best of all, the jelly doughnuts are delicious and full of jelly.

Donut King
1607 Contra Costa Boulevard
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523
(925) 682-8128

Richmond’s 23rd St runs north from the old downtown’s main drag, ending at San Pablo Avenue. It is a border street, separating the more “desirable” (but still quite modest) “North and East” neighborhood from the grittier “North and West.”

The street is lined with a dense profusion of small businesses, many of them restaurants. Towards the southern end, these are mainly Mexican, but as you move north, passing Richmond High, there is more of a mix, (including a Laotian spot which I’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t made it to yet). Overall, it’s one of those streets whose restaurants you could spend a good year blogging over without repeating yourself (especially if you are as lackadaisical a poster as I am).

Anyway, when I’m over that way, as I often am, I’ll stop at my favorite non-vehicular taco truck, at the corner of 23rd and Esmond.

El Tapatio, which at first glance might deceive you, is actually a traditional sit-down Mexican restaurant with a faux taco truck hanging off the side.  I’ve never actually eaten inside, preferring the excellent and super-cheap offerings of the “truck.”

Everything I’ve had here has been a least very good, but I’m most partial to the burrito al pastor. The carnitas and asada are good too, but, to be honest, I most recently had the cabeza and thought it was a little bland.

(The tacos are also an excellent option here. I have not, however, tried the tortas since typically these are tough to eat in the car without ending up with half of it down the front of your shirt and they don’t travel as well as a burrito if you’re doing take-out.)

The prices are awesome. At $3.00, the regular burrito (rice, beans and whatever filling you order) strains the stomach. The $4.00 super burrito is also a bargain, although I find that all that guacamole and stuff is a distraction from what the burrito is all about – ie, the meat.

Here’s the cabeza burrito that I picked up a few days ago. (That day I brought home dinner for myself, my wife, 2 of my kids and 2 of their friends and the whole meal didn’t even set me back $20.00!)

The truck is open 24 hours a day – so if you’re desperate for a burrito at, say, 3:00 AM, head on down there. Personally, though, I’m never that desperate. While 23rd is a bustling street during daylight and I’m pretty comfortable there, after dark – and especially in the middle of the night – well, I’d just have to be really hungry.

(And, correct me if I’m wrong – but isn’t that a bullet hole there in the side of the truck? Hopefully it was just a stray…)

El Tapatio
910 23rd St
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 215-6999