The Best Pancakes in the Country
These restaurants are serving up some of the most-satisfying stacks in the country — some classic, others playful or straight-up over-the-top.
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Drip Cafe (Hockessin, Delaware)
Serving pancakes with bacon is a time-honored American tradition, but Drip Cafe goes a bit further by serving its hot buttermilk pancakes studded with crispy bacon bits throughout, a technique that ensures the perfect balance of sweet and salty in every bite. The innovation doesn't stop there: Once plated, the pancakes are topped with roasted apples, more smoky bacon and housemade salted caramel sauce for a sweet-and-salty breakfast bomb that leaves customers feeling sated for hours.
Clinton St. Baking Co. & Restaurant (New York)
When husband-and-wife team Neil Kleinberg and DeDe Lahman opened Clinton Street Baking Company on the Lower East Side, in 2001, it fast attracted the brunch hordes. They came for the biscuits and omelets, but the pancakes, ethereal rounds slathered in warm maple butter, have a cult following. In fact, every day in February, in honor of Pancake Month, the restaurant highlights inventive twists on the dish, such as Japanese pumpkin and German chocolate. If, for some reason, the buttermilk fried chicken doesn’t tempt for dinner, the usual roster of wild Maine blueberry, banana walnut and chocolate chunk pancakes can also be savored come nightfall.
The Mockingbird (Nashville, Tennessee)
At globally influenced diner The Mockingbird, dinner revolves around specialties including bechamel chicken pot pie and bulgogi hanger steak. Brunch is just as quirky, with a slate of chorizo-egg-potato tacos and churros-style Belgian waffles, as well as pancakes billed as "syrup cushions." Blending almond granola, brown butter-glazed apples and a drizzle of miso-caramel sauce, they're a fortifying companion to the boozy Paloma popsicles.
The Lakehouse (Bellevue, Washington)
Coffee flour hasn't yet become a household phrase, but James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson is a champion of this nutrient-dense byproduct spawned from the fruit discarded when coffee beans are milled and extracted from plants. He celebrates it on the brunch menu at his farmhouse-inspired restaurant, in forms including cocoa coffee flour pancakes covered in honey-vanilla yogurt, fresh blueberries, maple candied walnuts, and homemade sticky toffee and chocolate sauces.
ROCKsalt (Lahaina, Hawaii)
The Hawaiian Islands don't lack for local ingredients to add to their dishes. ROCKsalt at the Sheraton Maui infuses local flavor whenever possible, including into its breakfast pancakes. Ube Pancakes are vividly purple, thanks to the purple yam, grown on nearby Molokai, which is best-known in Filipino dishes. The dish is also made with coconut cream, ube syrup, crisp coconut flakes and strawberries, blueberries and bananas. The fluffy stack is great as-is, or topped with an additional drizzle of coconut syrup.
Proud Mary Cafe (Portland, Oregon)
The first stateside location of this Melbourne, Australia, import is known for its coffee made in tandem with small, ethical producers. Breakfast, particularly the gorgeous Golden Child Ricotta Hotcake, is the ideal accompaniment while you savor a cup. Underneath an artful mess of edible flowers is a light, airy pancake decked out with charred peach, pineapple-black sesame crisp, creme fraiche, maple and peach syrups, and cobbler crumbs.
South Main Kitchen (Alpharetta, Georgia)
Contemporary Southern cuisine, like country ham arancini with coffee mayo and South Carolina game hen alongside ricotta gnudi, is the focus at South Main Kitchen. The bronzed pancake available at Sunday brunch is a spin on the French fruit dessert clafoutis, cooked and served in a cast-iron skillet. It teems with fruits — roasted fig and cinnamon apple in the autumn, peach and blueberry come summer — and is served atop a bed of tangy Greek yogurt.
Half & Half (Clayton, Missouri)
Coffee from local roaster Blueprint flows at this popular husband-and-wife-run joint in suburban St. Louis. Tackling the hot fried chicken sandwich on brioche for lunch is a good idea, but consider breakfast here, too, with a spread of housemade sausage biscuits, jalapeno-spiked breakfast fried rice and oven-baked oatmeal. The triple-stacked Clara Cakes, named for the couple's daughter, are also tempting, with their plumped-up layers of raspberry jam, mascarpone and granola.
Aretha Frankensteins (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
Craft beer and omelets teeming with refried beans are among the reasons to pay a visit to Aretha Frankensteins. But the quirky restaurant also dishes out stellar slim and fat stacks of pancakes that can be amped up with blueberries, chocolate chips, pecans, apple butter or strawberries. Snag one of the boxes of their all-natural mix to whip up those same dense disks in your home kitchen.
Modern General (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Spicy carrot concoctions and turmeric shots are whipped up at Modern General's juice bar, but the cafe fare is just as nourishing. The toasts, for instance, are based on bread made with fresh stoneground flour, and the Modcakes also embrace whole grains — dig into the green chile-Jack cheese corn cake variety crowned with a sunny-side-up egg, cilantro-lime crema and red-chile maple syrup. Then check out the shop, where earthy kitchenware and toiletries prolong the uplifting vibe.
Grato (West Palm Beach, Florida)
Lemon-ricotta pancakes can be delicious, but they're undeniably common, appearing on countless brunch menus. But the ones at Chef Clay Conley's Grato — a laid-back Italian restaurant serving dishes like pistachio-studded pizza and meatballs with Parmesan polenta — are elevated by blueberries and a generous scoop of cream cheese gelato that decidedly push them into dessert territory. Make the pancakes the finale to crispy rock shrimp with cherry "bomb" butter.
Surf Lanai (Honolulu)
Open since 1927, the Royal Hawaiian is a Honolulu icon. Surf Lanai, its breezy beachside restaurant, is one of the best places to revel in the luxury resort's magical grounds, lemongrass-roasted pork belly sandwich in hand. Although the expansive breakfast buffet is a hit, little can compare to the rosy-hued Pink Palace Pancakes, graced with a tropical melange of balsamic-strawberry relish and coconut-makrut cream.
Tiger Mama (Boston)
In the evenings, Tiger Mama is crowded with diners sipping tiki cocktails and devouring smoked fish larb and Singapore street noodles. Brunch is just as popular, thanks to dishes like crispy pork ribs with cilantro-peanut crumble and Shrimp Toast Benny, but the pancakes here are no afterthought. These ever-changing fluffy orbs also channel Southeast Asia, including a chocolate chip rendition with a smack of coffee butter and a Vietnamese coffee glaze.
Miss Shirley's Cafe (Baltimore)
Southern style and fresh Maryland ingredients meld at Miss Shirley's Cafe, a feel-good family hangout with an extensive menu including the likes of strawberry-goat cheese biscuits, crab cake and fried green tomato eggs Benedict, and blackened shrimp salad. The kitchen also has a knack for sweets. Griddle cakes, packed with raspberries and white chocolate chips, sate diners' morning dessert cravings.
M. Henry (Chicago)
On weekends, locals queue up at Andersonville favorite M. Henry, for bottomless mugs of organic coffee sipped alongside black bean cakes and drunken eggs. In-the-know diners also share dessert in the form of the decadent Blackberry Bliss Cakes, swaddled in warm fruit and vanilla mascarpone, and topped with a brown sugar-oat crust.
Upbeat Sushi-san, part of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant empire, is known for its express lunches and intimate omakase dinners at the sushi counter. Even if you've filled up on nigiri, maki rolls and miso-glazed salmon, stick around for dessert. The Japanese Breakfast, a trifecta of souffle-style pancakes, is dressed up with matcha butter, powdered sugar and dark, velvety Okinawan black sugar syrup that's poured tableside for a theatrical flourish.
Jack Flaps Urban Breakfast Shoppe (Cleveland)
At this offbeat cafe the pancakes naturally are called jack flaps, and they share star billing with other imaginative grub, like the everything-bagel cream cheese breakfast banh mi and the sweet potato Benedict strewn with pork belly lardons. The lavender creme brulee iteration of the jack flaps, which unites lavender creme anglaise, caramel sauce and fresh blackberries, is essentially an excuse for morning dessert.
Venus Restaurant & Catering (Florence, South Carolina)
Pecans are a beloved staple of South Carolina cooking. In fact, there's even an SC Pecan Trail in Florence, and one of the featured stops is Venus Restaurant & Catering, an institution for more than 40 years. The restaurant's famed pancakes feature the prized nuts both on top — along with powdered sugar and maple syrup — and in chopped form, woven throughout the batter. After enjoying them for breakfast, plan a lunchtime visit for a patty melt and hot fudge cake.
The Hay Merchant (Houston)
Bananas Foster prepared tableside is certainly a special-occasion ritual. But during weekend brunch at The Hay Merchant, James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd reinterprets the dessert as pancakes, complete with toasted pecans and whipped cream. Order a to-be-shared plate of them after enjoying the fried green tomato-pimento cheese BLT on Texas toast and the chicken wings with caramelized fish sauce.
At lunchtime Milktooth patrons have a hard time choosing between, say, the beef-and-bacon sloppy joe and the smoked whitefish salad on sourdough challah. Breakfast at this whimsical diner also invites deliberation, yet it's hard to resist the golden Dutch Baby pancake. Two types, savory and sweet, are always available, but the recipes constantly change, leading to such beguiling combinations as cherry and blackberry with lime curd, toasted oat and mahleb-spiced caramel.
Cafe 21 (San Diego)
The husband and wife who run Cafe 21 are from Azerbaijan, and their restaurant has soulful, international flair to match, mingling flavors from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Europe. Do spring for the quinoa-beet tartare and cast-iron duck confit omelet, but end with the tiramisu pancakes — the Italian dessert reimagined as a heady breakfast of espresso maple syrup, mascarpone cream, chocolate sauce and cocoa powder.
Polly's Pancake Parlor (Sugar Hill, New Hampshire)
An array of mixes from Polly's Pancake Parlor can easily be purchased online. The real fun, however, awaits in the rustic dining room, a former 1830s carriage shed (a ritzy revamp of the space will make its debut in May 2015). Here, batters made from stone-ground organic grains lead to plump buckwheat, oatmeal-buttermilk and gingerbread pancakes dotted with walnuts, coconut, blueberries or chocolate chips.
The Buffalo Grille (Houston)
Since the mid-'80s, family-run Buffalo Grille has been an institution for the likes of Acapulco-style catfish and chicken-fried steak. At breakfast, the go-to order is the massive, plate-filling hotcake. A side of thick-cut, pecan-smoked peppered bacon gives the sweet and buttery confection a hearty boost.
Big Bad Breakfast (Oxford, Mississippi)
Chef John Currence put genteel Oxford on the culinary map with his small empire of restaurants, including City Grocery and Snackbar. Big Bad Breakfast is the homiest of the bunch, a destination for sweet potato hash, chili-stuffed omelets and a short stack of oatmeal pancakes dressed up with whipped cream and strawberries (and chocolate chips, blueberries, pecans or bananas if you so desire). Balance the sugar rush with a side of andouille.
Florida Avenue Grill (Washington, D.C.)
From harried Congress members to young families, Florida Avenue Grill, an old-timey soul food restaurant that’s been going strong since the 1940s, lures in a vibrant swath of the nation’s capital. Chances are the crisp-edged hotcakes, tricked out with cinnamon sugar, will appear at each of their tables.
HomeGrown (Wichita, Kansas)
HomeGrown Wichita prides itself on building community through lunches of chicken noodle soup and Reuben sandwiches as well as nostalgic breakfasts. This daytime spot cranks out made-from-scratch Pop Tarts brightened with sprinkles, as well as coffee cake slicked with buttermilk-caramel sauce and even orange juice margaritas. The sweet potato pancakes get the same thoughtful treatment, buoyed by candied pecans and a cream cheese glaze.
Delta Diner (Delta, Wisconsin)
Established in 2003, this self-proclaimed "little diner in the middle of nowhere" has gained serious traction with audiences near and far thanks to its straightforward, comforting breakfasts and the made-from-scratch Blue Plate Specials. And although the inspiration for the overall appearance and decor of this classic American roadside diner came from the East Coast, there’s no doubt that the belly-warming Norwegian Cakes will sustain you through the harsh Wisconsin winters. Thin yet tender and ever so slightly spongy (all the better for absorbing that lemon and powdered sugar), these comforting pancakes are something of a Wisconsin tradition, thanks to the large wave of Norwegian immigration to the Midwest during the mid-19th century. Pair the 'cakes with a side of bacon and some hearty fried eggs for the full backwoods breakfast experience.
Harley's Old Thyme Cafe (Anchorage, Alaska)
Harley's Old Thyme Cafe has a decidedly Southern air, thanks to the longtime owner's Oklahoma roots. If you fall for the hearty brisket-and-eggs platter (as you should), be sure it's accompanied by an order of pancakes. The restaurant makes its own sourdough starter, which elicits a stack of thin, nutty-flavored beauties enjoyed best with a side of ham steak.
Weft & Warp Art Bar and Kitchen (Scottsdale, Arizona)
Inside the Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa is Weft & Warp Art Bar and Kitchen, a soothing restaurant with a fire pit and Camelback Mountain views that accentuate its desert locale. Arizona Medjool dates and green chile-roasted chicken capture the flavor of the Southwest, as do the blue corn pancakes, a breakfast go-to paired with rye whiskey syrup and orange poppy seed custard.
Magee's Curbside (Stamford, Connecticut)
Luring in locals with pure comfort food is the mission at Magee's Curbside. In the afternoons that translates to bourbon caramelized onion burgers and short rib burritos, and in the mornings to bacon-egg-and-cheese empanadas and granola-crusted French toast. The ring-shaped house pancakes are especially clever. Marrying caramel, chocolate and toasted coconut, they are a spot-on ode to Samoas, the addictive Girl Scout cookies.
Bramble Breakfast & Bar (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
Chocolate chip pancakes are on the menu at the morning-and-afternoon-only Bramble, as are bacon-bourbon ones, but those with savory inclinations will gravitate to the tangy white cheddar cakes, whose flavor pops with a generous dousing of jalapeno-maple syrup. Wash down the pancakes, and the must-try mojo pork breakfast poutine to follow, with a cucumber-infused gin Bloody Mary.
Sunday in Brooklyn (Brooklyn, New York)
Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood is buzzy and fashionable, but it's also home to laid-back lairs like Sunday in Brooklyn, where locals plunk pretzels into beer cheese and find happiness in soft-serve s'mores. When it's time for brunch, sambal-laced mezcal Bloody Marys pave the way for nutty malted pancakes shellacked in hazelnut-maple-praline syrup and capped with a pat of brown butter. Share a plate of them as a prelude to the cheddar scramble.
Talkeetna Roadhouse (Talkeetna, Alaska)
Many of Talkeetna Roadhouse's rustic cabins attract intrepid climbers bound for Mount McKinley. The less adventurous guests seek out this circa-1917 establishment for its down-home, family-style seating breakfasts. The bakery is renowned for its cinnamon rolls, but the cafe's massive mixed-berry sourdough pancakes are a clamored-for stack of history: They're made with a starter that dates back to 1902.
The Duck & Bunny (Providence, Rhode Island)
Set in a historic, fireplace-dotted home, The Duck & Bunny is a cozy spot — the restaurant does deem itself a "snuggery," after all — for afternoon tea, banana-Nutella cupcakes, and crepes stuffed with Brie, pear and scallion. The daily brunches also take sweet cravings into consideration. One favorite is the vegan pancakes, a rich mash-up of chocolate, vanilla glaze and crumbled Oreo cookies.
A1 Diner (Gardiner, Maine)
The quaint, historic city of Gardiner is the quintessential backdrop for A1. In this vintage chrome diner car, a throwback to the 1940s, patrons may spend their days hunched over corned beef hash and chocolate cream pie, but mornings are reserved for fluffy pancakes studded with juicy blueberries.
Al's Breakfast (Minneapolis)
Small, narrow Al's Breakfast — a stone's throw from the University of Minnesota — oozes retro charm. Specials like ricotta cakes with poached eggs and bacon waffles on a stick keep the crowds coming, but the buoyant blueberry buttermilk pancakes flipped on the griddle are a perennial favorite. When autumn arrives, regulars clamor for the pumpkin version.
Plow (San Francisco)
Airy, light-filled Plow, the Potrero Hill restaurant from Joel Bleskacek and Maxine Siu, offers a stellar brunch revolving around dishes like healthy chia seed pudding and rich blood sausage and eggs. Bright lemon ricotta pancakes, tart and dusted in powdered sugar, are another showstopper. Those embracing a gluten-free diet find salvation in Annie's almond flour pancakes.