2309 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Price: $

By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer

To my surprise, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken is a true gem. I say “to my surprise” because, frankly (and no disrespect to the management!) I wasn’t expecting much out of what ostensibly seemed like another hipster-ish donuts and “fill-in-the-blank” joint.

Excuse my cynicism but fried chicken, including the very spicy variety, is all the rage across Los Angeles, ever since Howlin’ Ray’s came to town from Nashville.

The original Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken started four years ago in Washington, D.C., and there is a second one nearby in Falls Church, Virginia.

The lore behind LA’s Astro outlets are almost as colorful as its baked goods.

“I was walking in D.C. and I saw a huge line for a nondescript food truck,” recalled Art Levitt, former CEO of Hard Rock Cafe and Fandango, who has also worked at major entertainment entities such as Walt Disney Company (ESPN Zone).

People were waiting in line for an hour for the product, and when they ran out of donuts, the patrons begin “rocking the food truck.” The owner told Levitt that this happens everytime.

Levitt decided, “I had to have one.”

Two years ago Levitt opened Astro in downtown LA. Now he has opened the fourth location just down the hill from the Palisades on Main Street in his Santa Monica neighborhood.

The Westside iteration made its official debut on March 28.

A colorful assortment

Since we’re adults here, let’s start with dessert before our dinner. Donuts here run from $2.50 to $3.50 each while a dozen can be purchased for $38. There are the evergreen staple flavors—Plain, Cinnamon Sugar Cake, Vanilla Glazed and Raspberry, for instance; all are up to snuff.

And then there are the decadent special (temporary) flavors, four of which are replaced each month. In May, those seasonal donut varietals included such creative ideas as Cannoli, Root Beer Float, the scrumptious Chocolate Raspberry Truffle flavor and the outstanding Strawberry Guava Smoothie. To be sure, this was the first time I have heard the word “smoothie” in the name of a donut, and this flavor was inventive and exceptional.

The Maple Bacon here will give the flavor’s originator Voodoo Doughnuts a run for its money. Another not-run-of-the-mill flavor, Crème Brulèe, sure enough arrives lathered in burnt caramel glaze that falls off in big chips and is a must with your coffee.

The by-now more common special flavors offered here work well, too, particularly the Nutella Cake donut and PB&J, an epically gooey delight, which does not at all skimp on either creamy peanut butter or jelly.

Another delight made here is called French Toast. You get the idea.

Count on Astro to hop on the current CBD-additive craze with its chocolate-y varietal (after all, this place is called Astro … but don’t worry, one won’t get buzzed off this flavor other than perhaps a sugar rush).

Poultry wise, we ordered a Fried Chicken BLT and a Spicy Chicken sandwich (with arugula, cheddar, pickles, green goddess and homemade bun), and both were delicious. They came with an array of sauce choices—Sriracha Mayo, Sriracha Buffalo, Honey Mustard, Ranch and BBQ.

The pieces of fried chicken utilized in all of these sandwiches, salads and appetizers are encased in delicious batter; the white breast meat quality, tender, moist and flavorful. Fried Chicken Cobb offers such morsels atop a bed of mixed greens with bacon, egg,  tomatoes and green goddess.

5 Chicken Fingers

Portions at Astro are generous. Our order of 5 Chicken Fingers included five sizable, plump morsels, accompanied with a ranch sauce, that are very nearly a meal in themselves.

Some of Astro’s sides are gloriously offbeat: One can order Pickle Chips, soft marinated cucumber slices coated in batter that are absolutely addictive. For something less fried-tasting, try Roasted Brussels Sprouts, dotted with cranberries and a balsamic reduction.

Big bonus points for the inclusion of Kimchi Cole Slaw side, further Americanizing Korean delicacies into our national culinary conversation. This top-notch side order was my personal favorite.

The pitch-perfect, more traditional Tater Tots can accompany your chicken order, while the Cheddar Biscuit, with honey butter, will add a Southern touch to your meal. (Like the donuts, all biscuits and buns are baked in-house.)

Fried Chicken BLT with Kimchi Cole Slaw

There are all kinds of special touches to appreciate at Astro. First off, the menu is very vegan-friendly, from Vegan Portobello Wrap (loaded with mushrooms and tomato in a lettuce wrap) to Vegan Veggie Salad. The Nutella, Raspberry, Cinnamon and Plain donut varietals are all vegan. There is also beer and wine sold here.

Fans of the donuts who get on the shop’s email list will be privy to previewing the monthly new flavors a day before they are sold to the public.

Astro also has a truck and does catering and food festivals.

According to Levitt, “everything is made fresh to order,” and leftover donuts are frozen and donated to the Salvation Army.

Really, about the worst thing you could grouse about regarding Santa Monica’s Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken is the parking situation on Main Street. But that’s an external element, no fault of the establishment—so bite the bullet, make the trip down Chautauqua and fight for a spot.

If you enjoy gourmet-level fried chicken and designer donuts, you won’t want to miss out on Astro’s quality fare. Highly recommended.