This is a list celebrating the best classic French toast in Los Angeles, from Montecito Heights to Venice, Northridge to San Pedro. We chose to highlight the basics of this decadent breakfast treat: bread dipped in egg, dairy or some mix of the two, then fried in a copious amount of oil (or butter if the cook feels generous). These are not French toasts coated with crispy cereal for crunch nor stuffed with cheese cream or ricotta. For while sizes and garnishes range, sometimes you just need French toast, fantastic without too much fuss.
When you’ve started enough of your days with French toast (it's a hard job, but somebody's got to do it), you’ll discern an empirical truth about local interpretations of the syrupy brunch staple: bread matters, and it better be one outside the quotidian supermarket variety. Give us challah, brioche or Hawaiian. We’ll even take a baguette or maybe sourdough — as long as it’s well-leavened and sliced on the thicker side so as to stand up to its own custard bath.
We also looked into flavor profiles, opting for restaurants adept at turning out a well-rounded toast. In the genus of sweet breakfast foods, it's pancakes versus French toast versus waffles, entrées grouped more by size and their accompaniments than anything else. Unlike pancakes and waffles, though, French toast is slower to absorb syrup or preserves, appealing more to palates leaning center in the taste and texture gamut, not too partial toward sweet over savory. Whereas we like dessert as breakfast on occasion, we seek a bit more balance when we order French toast as our main.
So with all that in mind, read on to find our picks for the top 10 classic French toasts in L.A., ones that we'd gladly order at breakfast or brunch or pretty much any given time on any given day of the week.
10. The Coffee Co.
French toast here begins with Hawaiian bread, dipped in eggs long enough to create a thin custard layer under the crust. The server will almost immediately set you up with a clear squeeze bottle of maple syrup, sometimes warm to the touch. You may not need to use any, since the already sweet bread gets dusted with powdered sugar. You can pair it with eggs cooked how you like and a side of chicken wings — or bacon or hot turkey sausage. Roughly five minutes — well, at least 25 during current construction these days — from LAX, the restaurant is no less hectic than a domestic terminal during peak brunch hours midweek and certainly on weekends. 8751 La Tijera Blvd., Westchester; (310) 645-7315.
9. Square One at the Boathouse
Square One at the Boathouse borrowed a few culinary tricks from its older sister, Square One Dining in Los Feliz, including the beloved recipe for French toast. The lakeside snack shop has put its own remix, doing away with toppings, cutting up the toasts into bites, or fingers, and pairing them with a maple-flavored cream whipped stiff to two degrees away from becoming soft cheese. Not insignificantly steeped in eggs and cinnamon, the French toast bites are more fork- than finger-friendly. They are nevertheless portable enough for a jaunt to a nearby bench with your preferred view of Echo Park Lake. 751 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park; (213) 481-8495.
8. Aloha Cafe
Before it settled in its strip-mall digs on the edge of Little Tokyo, Aloha Cafe was in Monterey Park, slinging Big Island morning meals in the vein of eggs and Spam, Portuguese sausage and fried rice. French toast, three chubby slices per order, pan-fried to tawny gold, is made with Hawaiian bread, natch. Butter and maple syrup come with the regular plate, though you could add fresh whipped cream and strawberries or choose one of six meats, from char siu to bacon. The outside is hardly indicative of the steady hum of regulars maximizing their lunch hour with island comfort favorites. 410 E. Second St., Downtown; (213) 346-9930.
7. Amandine Patisserie
The inside of Amandine Patisserie's French toast is nearly liquified, thinly held together by its caramelized crust. You can add one — or all — of the garnishes for an additional charge, whether it's whipped cream, fresh fruit (as in strawberries, orange supreme or banana slices) or a berry preserve. A cinnamon raisin version with cream cheese is another option. Stick with the regular version on your first try, as it's served with a small pitcher of maple syrup. You're informed by the menu that there's a 15-minute wait or so for your entrée to arrive, which you can easily while away perusing the pastries and cakes, then catching up on the latest celebrity feud via the cafe's free Wi-Fi. 12225 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood; (310) 979-3211.
The challah French toast, a recurring weekend breakfast special, is accompanied by trimmings such as slim wedges of apple and dried cherries with a side of orange-hinted caramel sauce. For anyone whose French toast preferences gravitate toward evenness in custard-to-bread ratio, owner Judy Ornstein's version, using bread from Got Kosher, hits closer to the medium than most. The market café sets a brisk pace, no less slowed during the weekend when Westsiders are out for brunch. There can be a wait for a spot inside as a result, at which point you can choose a seat outside if it's set up. You'd much rather enjoy your meal al fresco anyway. 10571 Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 441-7770.
Corina Weibel's menu-described "thick-cut French toast" has become a particular favorite among brunchers in L.A., appearing on several lists of musts when it comes to delineating great from good. She cuts her baguette on the stubbier end before allowing each side to caramelize for a while on the griddle, unafraid of stark contrasts in comfort form. Poached prunes and marscarpone are optional sides, but you wouldn't want to leave the pair out as well as they complement the French toast. 3217 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 666-7133.
4. AOC Winebar
At Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne's wine-driven restaurant, brunch is already a weekend indulgence, available until 3 p.m. The vanilla bean French toast with apples and hazelnuts, dressed in a boozy brown-butter bourbon reduction, only takes the meal to another strata of extravagance. For those with less of a sweet tooth, the entree stands alone without much need for the maple syrup. A tin of Goin's signature bacon-wrapped, Parmesan-stuffed dates might still be needed as a savory foil. On a fair day, which is really most days in L.A., opt for a table outside in the covered patio, where you can observe how Angelenos of different age brackets translate understated sartorial cool. 8700 W. Third St., Beverly Grove; (310) 859-9859.
3. Lemon Poppy Kitchen
Appearing decadent, the challah French toast triangles, a bit savory and unmistakably tinged with cinnamon on its own, at this Glassell Park cafe taste rather restrained. The never too-sweet toppings, sometimes strawberry preserves and sometimes blueberry vanilla syrup, are swapped out often enough to understand why. (If you inquire, they may sell you a small container of that syrup.) Share with a friend who chose the more sensible breakfast of polenta cakes with eggs, or take on a plate all by your lonesome. You've got the making of a good day if it leads with great French toast accented by house drip coffee from Cafecito Organico and not-so-faint wafts of freshly laundered clothes from the laundromat two doors down. While it's available every day, look for it on the specials board to the left of the iPad register. 3324 Verdugo Road, Glassell Park; (323) 739-0012.
2. The Sycamore Kitchen
Karen Hatfield asserts her mastery of paradoxes with this nearly square, neat block of cinnamon brioche toast garnished with green apple slaw, crème fraiche and, on the side, maple syrup. You won't want to avoid including all elements on the plate — maple syrup cut by the thick soured cream, green apple slivers chiming a bright note here and there, as the molten middle unfolds. Halfway past, you understand that Hatfield really understands it's all about the tension, sweet against sour, crunch against custard. It's offered on a frequent basis, though not listed on the regular breakfast menu tacked to the right side of the entrance. 143 S. La Brea Ave., Fairfax.
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SHOW ME HOW
Can bread taste texturally like cotton candy? Resist the front-counter spectrum of pastries that would land a Saveur front cover long enough to order the French toast made with brioche baked — and soaked overnight in custard — by Margarita Manzke, then transformed again by husband and fellow chef Walter Manzke. One slab and one mini cup of syrup per plate, the French toast is almost unassuming, served with concerted minimalist bent. If it's your first time, your realization of what's really within will be a bit belated. Slice way past the well-buttered crust and find how steep in contrast the consistencies are when the gossamer center dissolves without much chew. It heeds all the more in the ways of Ferran Adrià, José Andrès and modernist gastronomes alike. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park; (310) 362-6115.