Pancakes done right are nothing short of virtuous, and we feel the establishments serving the best ones deserve medals for their public service from the City of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the city doesn't have pancake sampling at the top of its to-do list, so we've eaten our way through not a few diners, breakfast joints and restaurants to bring you a list of the best places in L.A. to grab a stack of these beloved breakfast carb-bombs.
Within the world of pancakes are many different options. You may prefer plain old-fashioned buttermilk — light and fluffy and drenched with salted butter and maple syrup sucked straight out of a Vermont tree. Or you might prefer bananas, nuts, coconut, chocolate chips and Oreo cookies jammed into pancakes that are smothered with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and powdered sugar. Then there's farm-to-table fare, old-school diner flapjacks made by amateur moms and pops, and high-end cheffy creations. In the culinary mecca of L.A. you can find all of these, and then some.
While we appreciate the trending spots that serve up pancakes for brunch on weekends, this list features places that serve them seven days a week, a respectful nod to the serious pancake eater.
10. Blu Jam Cafe:
You'll have to bear Melrose groupies and Hollywood types if you want to hit up Blu Jam for pancakes — that or visit the spot extra early in the a.m. before the cool kids wake up from their nightly playtime. Either way, their to-the-point pancakes do something no pancake on this list does: They provide thickness and crispiness in the same bite, getting a dark golden brown on the exterior, enough for a near-crunch that's really unexpected. Don't over-soak them in syrup and ruin this delicate crunch. Though they serve up three per order, these aren't the size of Frisbees, so it's a digestible portion. Order them straight-up buttermilk or with fresh blueberries. 7371 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 951-9191.
9. Salt's Cure:
Yes, these pancakes are pretty toasty around the edges. We don't care. Chris Phelps and Zak Walters, the culinary masterminds at Salt's Cure, are the only ones to whip out the cast-iron griddle, which sears their oatmeal griddle cakes into a crispy and thin — but somehow fluffy and very tender — deep golden brown. Cast-iron works wonders for pancakes, creating kaleidoscopic browning on the surface with multifaceted flavors to match, and this sets the griddle cakes at Salt's Cure apart from the pack.
Despite their slightly charred edges, these have a mild taste, thanks to the oatmeal, and come with a rough quenelle of delicately spiced cinnamon butter and lots of powdered sugar. We're grateful for the modest portion, insurance against a debilitating case of pancake overload. 7494 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 850-SALT.
The building on the southwest corner of Beverly and Vista has been playing musical restaurants for many years; it was once home to Opaline by Hungry Cat's David Lentz, a restaurant we dearly miss. But BLD, which has been cooking with gas since it opened seven years ago, makes up for that with its blueberry ricotta pancakes.
Blueberry ricotta pancakes don many $$ breakfast menus around the city, and their corresponding recipes smear the pages of baking blogs and foodie pages throughout the cybersphere. We've had many, many, many iterations around town, but the ones at BLD — brainchild of pastry chef Maria Swan — are dynamite. Hyper-fresh and hefty, these are loaded with a chunky and dry ricotta (necessary, when making ricotta batters) and big, fresh blueberries. We've sampled too many that scrimp on the cheese and include dried or previously frozen berries, but these deliver. To top them off, they arrive with a small tin of warmed maple syrup along with a generous side of fluffy, room-temperature butter. Though these tip a bit on the sweet side, they are a must if you're a ricotta and blueberry fan. 7450 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 930-9744.
If you want a break from millennials, hipsters, transplants, tourists, cheffy chefs, foodies and Hollywood types, look no further than John O'Groats on Pico in West L.A. At the nondescript and somewhat old-school counter, you'll dine amongst white-haired pre-baby boomers (75+) reading The Los Angeles Times in print while sipping coffee — respite from the city's younger, more image-conscious crowd. This family-owned, homey and mix-matched spot serves up some great flapjacks and has been doing so since 1982. Its renown buttermilk pancakes are super thick, fluffy, golden and slightly dense — completely scrumptious.
Don't head over the hill if you live in the Valley; at the other end of the 405 is a great location in Encino. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 204-0692. 16120 Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 501-2366.
6. The Griddle:
There really should be a special prize or T-shirt or ceremony for anyone who finishes an entire order of pancakes at the Griddle in WeHo — that or a 5150 hold. One order weighs around 5 pounds and could easily feed a party of four, but with a selection of 19 flavors it's tempting to order more so you can sample an assortment. We recommend the Teacher's Pet (warm apple cinnamon), Sow Your Oats and Banana Nana. You'd think some of the outlandish flavor combos, like the boozy Saturday Morning Fever or espresso-filled Eyes Wide Open, would be really bad — but they somehow work. Though you might not be able to eat more than six or seven bites of the Black Magic pancakes (buttermilk flapjacks stuffed with Oreos), they'll definitely be some of the tastiest bites you've ever eaten.
This is another classic L.A. spot with an interminable line stretching up Sunset on weekends around breakfast and brunch time. If you're old enough/sober enough to be awake by 8 a.m., you won't have a tough time getting a table. But by 9 or 10 prepare for an obscene wait, especially if you've got a pack of cronies with you. 7916 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 874-0377.
The Pantry, which is open 24/7/365, is perhaps the most clogged iconic restaurant in L.A., one of those historic joints with an obnoxious line constantly stretching out the door. From Lakers fans to tourists to USC kids to business types, the place gets packed and stays packed all day and into the hours of the night, rain or shine, weekday or weekend. Your best bet? Go sometime around 1 a.m. If not, prepare to wait.
But the wait is worth it, if you've got a craving for old-school, no-fuss buttermilk pancakes. They're listed on the menu, which is posted on the wall, as simply pancakes. That's it. This is the only spot on our list that doesn't have some sort of description or boastful blurb about how its pancakes are the best in the universe. And they're cheap too: $6.95 buys you three fluffy, somewhat dense and exceptionally flavored — very well-seasoned — pancakes on a plate that probably dates back to 1924, the year of the restaurant's inception. 877 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles; (213) 972-9279.
4. Fred 62:
Don't let hipster antipathy prejudice you against Fred 62; it's a serious eating establishment with some serious pancakes. The 24/7/365 retro diner has been serving up the “Best Pancakes in the World” according to Esquire magazine since 1997, and they certainly are some of the best we've sampled to date. If you're a Fred's foodie, you know the pancake recipe has changed over the past few years — what once was a flatter pancake born on cast-iron has turned into a fluffier, cakier concoction cooked on a standard griddle. Somehow, the newer version doesn't disappoint — despite the former's deliciousness.
These really beat out the competition in their moistness and tenderness. They have great flavor and are fluffy but not overly thick or dense, which allows all the syrup and butter to penetrate through the porous cake — a nice effect. Fred's ever-changing menu now offers brunch on weekends.1850 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 667-0062.
3. Jacks N Joe:
If Jackson Pollack had worked in batter instead of oils, he'd have ended up with the WTF? pancakes at Jacks N Joes, an inviting breakfast café just a few blocks from USC.
Hawaii native, former architect and USC alum Mark Bednorz opened the spot in 2011 with his wife, Vianney Bednorz, on a whim, with no restaurant experience, and the place skyrocketed to success. Jacks N Joes is a tribute to the Bednorzes' daughter, Myckala, who had died five years earlier from a viral heart infection. They dreamed of a cozy place that specialized in pancakes. With no recipe, Vianney hit the kitchen and experimented for months and months. Her labor seriously paid off.
Squeezed out of a bottle, the WTF? batter cooks into a flatter and crispier pancake rather than a fluffy one. We were skeptical at first, but these, with their sweet cream cheese spread and fresh berries, are very good — we couldn't put the fork down. The plain old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes are stupidly delicious, with a heavenly texture — extremely moist and light — that only serious pancake pros can execute. Overall, this breakfast spot that services USC students and locals alike is happening, homey and a much-needed addition to the neighborhood. 2498 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles; (213) 748-4565.
Mazzy Star and Zero 7 fill the small dining room at Square One Dining with tempered hipness, which somehow pairs well with breakfast. The pancakes here go above and beyond their counterparts at other high-end seasonal spots, resembling a plated dessert more than breakfast — but without the sugar overload.
The warm butternut squash pancakes are delicately laced with orange zest and topped with just the right touch of spiced vanilla whipped cream, which, with one swoop of your knife, saturates even the lowest cake on the plate. A modest trail of pecans falls off the stack, adding a sublime crunch to an already well-textured dish thanks to the al dente squash. If you're not a butternut squash fan, try the cold berries or the pancakes plain with bacon-infused caramel. 4854 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 661-1109.
In its 75th year of operation, the original Du-par's at Third and Fairfax is another L.A. icon still buzzing with business, and it's no surprise — its pancakes knock even the hottest trending chefs right off their pedestals. Despite a corporate buyout in 2004, the original location never changed its recipe. These pancakes are superstars, extremely moist yet still thick and fluffy, perfectly seasoned and light enough that you can consume a healthy portion without feeling like you just ate a bag of pie weights. No frills — just straight old-time goodness.
Du-par's does the remarkable and serves its pancakes with salted clarified butter, which is a pretty intuitive move. The typical pancake eater has to apply and reapply and then reapply again cold or room-temp pats of butter to get the desired butteriness, often requesting and then waiting for more butter. But here, one dump of the clarified butter and the pancakes are perfectly saturated — although these pancakes are so moist they don't need much butter anyway. Du-par's also serves them with two ramekins of syrup, another gesture that endears us to its eater-friendly sensibility.
This is a destination spot for traditional pancake lovers all over L.A. County. Luckily, there's a Studio City location of similar caliber — although surveys say the best flapjacks are flipped only at the original. 6333 W. Third St., Los Angeles; (323) 933-8446.
CiCi's Cafe in Tarzana almost made the cut. 18912 Ventura Blvd, Tarzana; (818) 881-6704.
Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer and a pastry chef at Lucques. Follow her on Twitter. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.
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