There is no right way to eat a burger and a doughnut together. They come from different ends of the flavor spectrum. They are meant to be eaten at different times of the day. To eat both in a single meal is like drinking coffee and beer at the same time; their discordant existence plays tricks on your mind, body and palate.
And yet, whether you decide to treat yourself to the sweet doughnut or gorge on the savory burger first, it somehow works, a combo that makes sense here in Southern California, where mashing disparate foods together has always been the inevitable cultural norm.
More than a few places in Orange County have a sturdy reputation of serving the peculiar duo of doughnuts and burgers from behind the same counter, a concept that continues to work for businesses new and old.
Royal Donuts and Burger in Mission Viejo is among the stalwarts, a South County strip-mall dive (home to one of the more makeshift drive-throughs in the region) that’s never tried to draw a line between its two namesake specialties.
Royal is, at its core, a classic SoCal doughnut shop with all the trimmings: croissant-based breakfast sandwiches; piping-hot diner coffee; a fridge full of energy drinks; and several bakery cases that refill daily with an ample selection of cake doughnuts, glazed doughnuts, bar doughnuts, jelly-filled doughnuts, fritters, tiger tails, eclairs and bear claws.
The only thing that veers from the archetype here is the second half of the menu, which pulls from another type of iconic SoCal eatery — the burger shack — with five different takes on the standard hamburger. Want a big patty? A small patty? A turkey patty? A veggie patty? Want two patties? Either way, Royal’s got you covered — plus a doughnut on the side.
The only thing more unconventional than a killer doughnut shop that also serves delicious burgers is one that fully encourages the consumption of both at once. Royal’s default burger combo, the Royal Special, comes with a traditional side of starchy fries as well as your choice of cake or glazed doughnut from the case. And if you had doubts about where this shop’s allegiances lie, the more demure Junior Special nixes the fries but keeps the doughnut.
For an off-menu spin that combines the two, order the doughnut cheeseburger, which replaces the sesame seed bun with a glazed doughnut that’s been sliced in half and turned inside out, sticky side pressed firmly against bacon, cheese and meat.
At Glee Donuts & Burgers in Fountain Valley, a new generation of doughnut and burger convergence is emerging.
The first Glee opened in early 2016, taking over what used to be Kelly’s Donuts and Burgers. A second Glee opened in Anaheim last summer (now with Dole Whip!).
Inevitably, both Glees operate as a neighborhood doughnut shop that’s added a modern burger joint inside. With its fridges full of Gatorades and energy drinks (and a microwave near the trash can) the original is still the kind of place where morning transactions rarely crest $5.
But the cases at Glee are filled with more than the typical glazed rings. The team makes daily batches of peanut butter and jelly doughnuts, cronuts smeared with Nutella, Voodoo Doughnut-inspired maple-bacon bars and strawberry-stuffed croissants. The burger menu is no afterthought either, serving over a dozen different creatively stacked burgers on puffy, grilled potato-brioche buns layered with patties of beef, chicken, salmon, pastrami and even crab meat. Some variations are topped with fried eggs, guacamole, jalapeños and pineapple.
The latest addition, the Stinkin’ Burger, comes with the house-made Stinkin’ Sauce, a garlic and basil spread that works on everything from bagels to burgers.
“In-N-Out has Animal Style, but we have Stinkin’ Style,” the owner said in a sales pitch one day.
He also has quips about the spicy mayo Glee Sauce, which goes great with Glee’s Cajun fries, tossed in a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-like powder that lingers on the lips long after it’s gone — “So you’ll remember us,” he said.
The burger combos at Glee don’t inherently come with a doughnut on the side, but as the business name hints, you should probably order one anyway. There might not be a right way to eat these two disparate all-American dishes together, but thankfully, in Orange County, you can always keep trying.
SARAH BENNETT is a freelance journalist covering food, drink, music, culture and more. She is the former food editor at L.A. Weekly and a founding editor of Beer Paper L.A. Follow her on Twitter @thesarahbennett.