You’ve no doubt seen the ubiquitous pink boxes being carefully shepherded through the Portland airport by tourists, giddy to bring home a taste of “quirky” Portlandia. You may have also seen the long lines of customers snaking around the block on 3rd Ave in Old Town, waiting for their turn in this iconic establishment. It is, of course, Voodoo Doughnut that I speak of. Long have I railed against this Portland institution and pleaded with visiting friends not to waste their time there. I’ve maintained for years they’re widely overrated and—dare I say it?—just not very good. And now, my friends, vindication is mine.
A new study was published yesterday by USA Today for a piece entitled, “Top 100 biggest tourist traps worldwide.” In it, they analyzed over 23 million Google reviews of the top tourist attractions in the country. When words like “expensive” and “overrated” were found, the attraction was flagged. And get this—out of 500 overrated tourist attractions in the country, our very own rebel donut shop was number one, baby! That’s right, according to the report, and I quote: “Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon, is the most overrated tourist attraction in the world,” meaning it had the highest average of reviewers who used the word “overrated” when describing their experience.
So, given this semi-conclusive data, why does Voodoo Doughnut remain so popular? Honestly (and here’s where I’ll give credit where credit is due), they’re masters at branding. It’s no coincidence that Voodoo’s first Old Town location opened in 2003—the same year the city rolled out the now hackneyed slogan, “Keep Portland Weird.” The stars aligned and the two marketing forces took off like rockets. Twenty years later, despite the countless reviews warning people away, it hasn’t flagged in popularity.
Voodoo’s eclectic and funky decor, risqué donut names (“Old Dirty Bastard” and “Cock n’ Balls” come to mind), and non-traditional ingredients (Cap’n Crunch cereal, Double Bubble gum, red chili pepper, and being the originator of the bacon maple bar (so says their website)) gives Portland tourists exactly what they’re looking for: they snap their Instas, eat their donuts, and feel like they’ve had a true “Portland” experience.
At the risk of being overly critical, I should admit that I personally don’t love donuts the way that others seem to. And when I do eat them, I opt for something I don’t have to wait an hour in line to get. But I don’t want to diss them entirely: the donuts are fine; the shops are cute; the marketing is smart. And yes, they’re wildly overrated.
Should that stop you from going there? That’s up to you. If you are considering snubbing Voodoo, please consider the following local options which (I believe) all make better donuts: Delicious Donuts on Grand, Doe Donuts on Sandy, Pips on Fremont, and a shout out to Joe’s Donuts in Sandy.