Breakfast in Los Angeles: Top 10 Spots
Most days, it's just a cup of coffee. Other days, cereal and milk. And at Pee-wee Herman's playhouse, it's pancakes, eggs, bacon and Mr. T's cereal via a Rube Goldberg breakfast machine that involves whirling fans, a life-size model of Abraham Lincoln doubling as flapjack flipper, and a toy skeleton pterodactyl swooping down to drop bread off into the toaster. Pee-wee just takes a few bites of this overproduced breakfast before getting on with his big adventure, a testament to how much we love the pomp and circumstance of the most important meal of the day, even if we don't have the time to eat it all.
These are our favorite places to spend our mornings when we do have the time to eat it, when we can linger and contemplate. Rube Goldberg machine optional.
10. Bánh Mì My Tho
If you are a happily transplanted New Yorker whose one gripe about this city is that you cannot roll out of the bed, stumble into a corner deli and grab a simple breakfast sandwich, you either need to accept that the breakfast burrito is the breakfast sandwich of L.A., or just move to the SGV already. There, you can roll out of bed, stumble into any corner bánh mì shop, and grab a bánh mì op la. This is your traditional Vietnamese sandwich stuffed with an egg omelette instead of the BBQ pork you might have at lunch. The best version might be the one at Bánh Mì My Tho; add in a few slices of cha lua (Vietnamese ham), and your breakfast is complete. 304 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra. (626) 289-4160.
9. Nick's Café
Nick's Cafe is located on the dusty edge of Chinatown, across the street from where the Southern Pacific Railroad built a passenger depot in 1875. The L.A. State Historical Park now stands where the depot stood, but Nick's, which opened in 1948, has enough photos of trains to provide the requisite diner nostalgia. It's a step up from your neighborhood greasy spoon, particularly if you're in the mood for ham and eggs. LAPD officers often take up counter space the way the squad did when it was protecting and serving selected populations under the command of William H. Parker. Some things don't change. 1300 N. Spring St., dwntwn. (323) 222-1450.
8. Square One Dining
When it opened, Square One's major contribution to breakfast was its "bacon-enriched caramel sauce" drizzled on top of its fluffy pancakes. Now that everything is saturated with bacon, you thankfully are free to order something else without the annoyance of being told you're missing out on a once-in-an-L.A.-lifetime moment. That's not to say the pancakes aren't good, because they really are, but so are the baked eggs served in individually sized cast-iron skillets. The most unexpected find: the fruit bowl, which lives up to Square One's seasonal and organic ethos with plump fruits actually in season and not, say, oversized chunks of pale melon and mealy strawberries. The view of the Scientology building across the street, so cartoonishly blue and unconvincingly imposing that it looks like it should have co-starred in Starship Troopers, is a bonus. 4854 Fountain Ave., E. Hlywd. (323) 661-1109.
7. El Huarachito
This small, homey restaurant in Lincoln Heights serves breakfast all day, which means you can have an excellent plate of huevos rancheros whenever it is that you happen to wake up. But that's just the beginning: You also have your choice of huevos con machaca or huevos con chorizo or almost any other type of egg dish on the restaurant's enormous list, all served with fresh homemade tortillas. If you're not too keen on eggs this morning though, the chilaquiles verdes also are fantastic, as are any of the huaraches. If you're lucky, someone will have picked up a box of sweet bread from the panaderia a few doors down and will have a few slices to share. Add a café de olla, and this might become your Sunday morning ritual. 3010 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights. (323) 223-0476.
If you're not in the top 25 percent, much less the top 1 percent, but it's your birthday and you have a dear monied friend who has no qualms buying breakfast at dinner prices, head directly to the Brentwood Country Mart. There, Farmshop's fantastically luxurious breakfast offers superb versions of the classics. The French toast, for example, is one of the best French toasts we've ever had, and comes with whipped creme fraiche, pistachios and bacon. Coddled eggs are on the menu, but really, all the eggs at Farmshop are coddled with the utmost care. Scrambled, they're as light and fluffy as they look when Jacques Pepin does it on public television; shirred, they're perfectly baked so the whites firmly set but the yolks slowly ooze. The high prices come from the high-quality, highbrow ingredients. And, well, you're in Brentwood. Happy birthday. 225 26th St., Santa Monica. (310) 566-2400.
5. Viet Huong
If you hit up most pho spots at 8 or 9 in the morning, chances are you'll find the fish swimming in the tanks, keeping an older generation of Vietnamese men and women company while they read the paper and clank their chopsticks and slurp their bowls. This just shows what the young 'uns are missing. Few things comfort your soul better than a hot bowl of soup in the morning, and while you really have your pick of any pho restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley, Viet Huong's bowl is particularly flavorful. The menu is aimed for universal appeal, as it's written in four languages, and there are bowls to satisfy both carnivores and vegetarians. 10727 Garvey Ave., South El Monte. (626) 454-2590.
For the best ham and eggs in L.A., go to Nick's; for the best green eggs and ham, go to Huckleberry. Be forewarned that it is perpetually crowded, especially on the weekends, when you might be better off picking up something (like other Santa Monicans do) and eating it curbside (like other Angelenos do). Whatever you pick up, it's bound to be good. The pastry case is filled with delicious treats like croissants and doughnuts and scones. Try the brisket hash, or those green eggs and ham (pesto supplies the green, La Quercia prosciutto, the ham). We would eat them in a boat, with a goat, in the rain, in the dark, on a train ... 1014 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 451-2311.
3. Huge Tree Pastry
Most people have their go-to for dim sum (for those who don't: Elite in Monterey Park or 888 in Rosemead), but if you want a variation on the theme, try Huge Tree Pastry's Taiwanese breakfast. Start with a bowl of sweet or savory soy milk, then dive right into new breakfast classics like sweet buns filled with red bean, sesame cakes and green onion pancakes. The Chinese donut is a sweet fried dough sprinkled with sesame seeds, and is a nice treat to round out your meal. 423 N. Atlantic Blvd. No. 105, Monterey Park. (626) 458-8689.
2. Salt's Cure
This is the ultimate local's restaurant: all the ingredients, from animal to vegetable, are sourced from somewhere within California. The brunch menu changes every weekend, but for those Type A people who do not like surprises, however pleasant, someone usually is diligent about Facebooking a photograph of the following day's menu. You can count on a few dishes to show up in most of these photos, including the 2x2x2 (two eggs, two bacon slices and two sausage patties) and the hearty and thoroughly delicious oatmeal griddle cakes. 7494 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd. (323) 850-7258.
Canele's rustic, seasonal brunch menu certainly seems innocuous enough. "Thick French toast," for example, or a "side" of "baked pancake with meyer lemon custard." As it turns out, this "thick French toast" is a trio of inches-high slabs of French toast, ridiculously crispy on the outside, wonderfully custardy on the inside. The "baked pancake" is what happens when a pancake meets a tart, a fluffy concoction served in a ramekin and topped with a custard just lemony enough to offset the sweetness of the dough. The savories, like the fried faro with eggs and sriracha, are just as good, and that house-cured bacon! It's everything you want in bacon, and then some. That the dishes are nothing you expect — only infinitely better — is endearing, in a way, as if the restaurant is much too shy to ever tell you that the best brunch in Los Angeles is served up between its li'l ol' brick walls. 3219 Glendale Blvd., L.A. (323) 666-7133.
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