I really like Pao, and I really, really like his donuts, but to be completely honest the huge pictures hanging in his donut shop (you know, the ones that each feature one of his three kids, at age one, propped up and smiling next to - quite literally - a chocolate-covered cake donut the size of a garbage can lid) kind of weirded me out a little at first. I mean, they're not even fake donuts - they're REAL. You can tell by the flecks of chocolate frosting on the baby blankets, or perhaps more graphically by the crazy smiles on the kids' faces (they're sitting next to a big-ass chocolate-covered cake donut the size of a garbage can lid, after all).
But I'm over that now. A still-warm glazed donut and a tall cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup will do that.
"People ask about them," Pao later tells me. "But they're not good when they're that big. You have to cook them too long. They get burnt."
He's talking about the huge donuts in the picture, not the kids. This takes a few seconds to register, but makes sense in retrospect. After tasting Pao's regular-sized donuts, why wouldn't you be intrigued by the prospect of getting your hands on a few the size of garbage can lids?
There's nothing fancy about Pao's donuts, which is the inherent beauty of them. Whether you're in the market for cake or raised, Pao easily has some of the very best in town. The cake donut selection, from powdered sugar, old fashioned and buttermilk to what I found to be my personal favorite, cinnamon and sugar, are remarkably moist and cooked to perfection - not overly crisp, or thick, or weighed down with oil. The raised, which also come in all the standard varieties (Pao says the maple bars, predictably, are best-sellers), are big and airy, the kind of treat you remember from your childhood, sitting in classic, swivel chair donut shops much like Pao's. After working at his brother's donut shop, Frank's in Spanaway, for a few years, Pao and his wife opened for business in their current location and have been pumping out donuts by the dozen ever since.
There are no twists added, and you won't find the latest in donut innovation, but what you will find at Pao's is real donuts, done the way you remember, by a family that's been doing it for more than 15 years. By a family that wakes up at the crack of dawn every morning to get the donuts frying and the shop open by 5 a.m. (6 a.m. on Sundays), and a family in which donuts are so much a part of its fiber that they feel compelled to shoot baby portraits with chocolate-covered cake donuts the size of, well, you know.
"Word of mouth," Pao tells me of the root of his business's success. On an unrelated note, he later tells me the toasted coconut donuts are his personal favorite.
"Word of mouth and honesty," he continues. "It's a good, honest business. You see some people in here everyday. They're just like family now. They're loyal to us, and we're honest to them."
Yep, he's right. It is the honesty and family-approach that make Pao's the best in town.
But the donuts are a very close second.
Pao's Donuts & Coffee Shop, 6919 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.565.4692