The food choices in a city like Chicago appear infinite—until you start tallying up specific categories. That's when you realize how few examples Chicago has of something as basic as doughnuts. Until our artisanal doughnut craze hit, vast swaths of the city had no non-chain doughnut destinations. Old school bakeries, still common in the 1980s, had mostly died out, save for a few like Dinkel's; more surprisingly, local doughnut and coffee spots, the kind that attract cops and other night owls like a bug lamp in other cities, barely existed at all except, for some reason, on the far South Side, home to Old Fashioned Donuts and Dat Donuts.
Then we got our artisanal doughnut craze, and if you're willing to pay $2.75 and are interested in unusual flavors, now you can get doughnuts as fine as any known to man in this city. That is, if you're willing to go downtown and wait in line, at a doughnut shop that doesn't open till 8 or later, and may not be open on the weekend at all. We have doughnuts now, sure, but we're hardly closer to having the proletarian, 24-hour doughnut joints you'd expect to find here.
Which brings me to 5112 W. Fullerton. Actually Mexican food brought me here, but the prospect of a bright-looking new doughnut shop in the middle of nowhere (the Cragin neighborhood) seemed worth a buck or so to check out. The friendly Chinese-American owner has had Somethin' Sweet Donuts for about a year; it's the only one of its kind, and it has ice cream and a few coffee drinks. That's about all I could get out of his modest English.
But the doughnuts speak for themselves: fat cake doughnuts in flavors like cherry and pumpkin; shiny fluffy glazed doughnuts, topped with chocolate icing and every artificial color of sprinkle imaginable; crinkly globby dense apple fritters.
They're not artisan doughnuts, they're just doughnuts, less than a buck apiece, and darned good. They open a full 2-1/2 hours before some of those artisanal places every morning, and stay open hours past the time the artisan places have sold out given up for the day. In short, hardworking doughnuts for the city that works.