Photo by Anne Fishbein
The Spam-fueled Hawaiian aesthetic of Pacific Rim cuisine contrasts fairly radically with Wolfgang Puck’s, especially at the old-line Gardena café Bruddah’s. And the breakfast dish known as loco moco could be entered into evidence as Exhibit A: a Close Encounter tableau of rice topped with two well-done hamburger patties, in turn garnished with two fried eggs and drenched in a thick, viscous, dark-brown goo that shares certain characteristics with mushroom gravy. Looked at objectively, of course, a loco moco is a culinary Chernobyl, but the discs of meat are oniony and extra-crisp, and there is a certain stark beauty in the composition, especially when you scrape off most of the sauce. The man who faces down a loco moco at breakfast time is a brave man indeed. 1033 W. Gardena Blvd., Gardena; (310) 323-9112. Open all day, seven days. Lunch for two, food only, $10–$14. No alcohol. Street parking. Cash only.
JOHN O’ GROATS
The best cowboy breakfasts may be an hour away out toward Pearblossom, but everybody seems to know the best regular-guy breakfast place on the Westside, which is why on weekend mornings the line spills out down the block. Fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, sourdough French toast with Vermont syrup, crunchy pecan waffles: John O’ Groats has it all. The restaurant is named after a town at the northernmost point in Scotland, a cod’s toss from the Orkneys, but the menu is pretty much all-American, no finnan haddie or haggis or anything like that, but plenty of splendid, stretchy buckwheat pancakes dotted with fresh blueberries or with pecans. Fat smoked pork chops are intensely smoky, salty as prosciutto; eggs Benedict are made with profoundly smoky ham and a lemony hollandaise. And although there seem to be no actual groats on the menu — which is kind of a relief — the steel-cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and heavy cream is fine. 10516 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 204-0692. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner Wed.–Sat. Breakfast for two, food only, $9–$14. No alcohol. MC, V.
Marston’s is a converted old house across from Memorial Park and down the street from Fuller Theological Seminary, serving strong coffee, crisply fried potatoes, and orange juice dense and sweet as a Creamsicle. At breakfast, the place serves exactly the sort of food a missionary might crave after a stint in rural Chile. The thin, buckwheat-based blueberry pancakes are dense and dark, pliable as crepes, barely sweetened, studded with fruit — blueberry pancakes for grown-ups. The macadamia-nut pancakes are basically thin scrims of buttermilk-pancake batter stretched between crumbs of roasted nut, served with a shot of maple syrup and dusted with more nuts. Marston’s may be a little Calvinist in its hours (it closes on Sundays and Mondays and stops serving breakfast abruptly at 11 a.m.), perhaps guided by the notion that laggards don’t deserve to eat anything as good as its French toast — thick slices, nearly saturated, dipped in crumbled corn flakes before frying for a crunchy, golden crust. 151 E. Walnut St., Pasadena; (626) 796-2459. Open Tues.–Sat. for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast for two, food only, $8–$13. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
MIDDLE EAST RESTAURANT
Unlike most Lebanese restaurants, the Middle East Restaurant makes a specialty of breakfast, of scrambled eggs with the spicy Armenian sausage sujuk, or of fatch, a fantastic mess of chickpeas, toasted pita, garlic and pine nuts fried in olive oil, then doused in homemade yogurt. Before 10 a.m., there is a $5.99 combination that includes a plate of the yogurt-tart homemade cream-cheese labneh slicked with olive oil; a turnover stuffed with the thymelike herb zaatar, a squarish sort of Danish thing with a sweetly spiced forcemeat; a basket of pita; a plate of olives and pickles, and another plate with onions, tomatoes and fresh leaves of mint; two kinds of cheese; a glass of hot tea; and a giant bowl of foul moudamas, the herby, tart fava-bean salad Egyptians traditionally have in the morning. 910 E. Main St., Alhambra; (818) 281-1006. Open daily 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Breakfast, lunch or dinner for two, food only, $12–$20. Beer and wine. Takeout and catering. Lot parking. AE, CB, DC, Disc., MC, V.
The perfect breakfast is hard to find. Soul food is too fattening, diner food too bland, Japanese pickles just too weird before noon. If you like noodles, you might think Pho 79 serves the perfect breakfast, light, tasty and just exotic enough, inexpensive and filled with vitamins: beef soup. The strong, dark-roasted coffee, dripped at the table in individual stainless-steel French filters, is among the best I’ve had anywhere. And in an area — Chinatown — thick with Vietnamese noodle shops, Pho 79 serves the best noodles. Of course, the place does have a few drawbacks: On weekend mornings, you may have to wait for as long as five minutes. Plus, it hasn’t changed its one Vietnamese easy-listening tape since it opened a few years ago, and if you go every week, you get to know the songs pretty well — maybe too well. 727 N. Broadway, Suite 120, Chinatown; (213) 625-7026. Open daily 8:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Breakfast, lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7–$10. Beer only. Validated parking. Cash only.
Drawing weekend crowds that spill out onto the sidewalk, Roscoe’s is the Carnegie Deli of L.A.’s R&B scene. The most impressive dish is something called Stymie’s Choice, a daunting mountain of fried chicken livers sluiced in gravy, swamped in grits and garnished with a couple of eggs. Still, the basic currency at Roscoe’s is the chicken — a pleasant enough bird deep-fried in oil — and waffles: big, round jobs that look and taste a little like Eggos on steroids, surmounted by an egg-size daub of whipped butter. There are chicken-and-waffle combinations of every description: white meat or dark, smothered in onion gravy or left alone, served with grits and biscuits or with nicely seasoned stewed mixed greens. Why chicken and waffles? Do they just happen to coexist on the same plate, allowing for the occasional serendipitous splash of maple syrup on a succulent fried wing? We may never know. 1514 N. Gower St., Hollywood; (323) 466-7453. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals for two, food only, $9–$15. Beer and wine. Takeout. AE, DC, Disc., MC, V.
YUNG HO TOU CHIANG
At Yung Ho, the breakfast protocol is easy. You order some soy milk, then some stuff to go along with the soy milk: flaky buns stuffed with sweet, simmered turnips; steamed buns filled with spiced pork or black mushrooms; crusty fried pies stuffed with pungent messes of sautéed leek tops; small steamed pork dumplings bursting with juice. The sweetish soy milk itself is a resolutely bland, nonexotic substance; when it’s paired with dumplings, however, its flavor opens up, tempering the richness of simmered stuffings and the greasiness of fried ones. The traditional accompaniment to soy milk is a long, twisted, light-as-air cruller, and Yung Ho does them well. For another buck or so, you can get the cruller smeared with a salty paste of pounded meat and wrapped inside a cylinder of sticky rice, simulating the texture of a good sushi roll. 533 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 570-0860. Open daily 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Breakfast for two, food only, $5–$10. Beer. Takeout. Lot parking. Cash only.