Brunch. You'd think it was invented in Los Angeles, the way we revere this epic, midday meal. Come the weekend, we line up for it on unshaded sidewalks, among the crowds of sunglasses and messy hair, and we wait patiently, determinedly, like we're in line for Prince tickets. There's a bevy of brunch restaurant round-ups out there, including our list of the best spots in L.A. And sure, even if you're gluten-free you can find the antidote to Saturday night's transgressions at any of these places — typically something scrambled or fried, hold the toast. But you don't want to eat huevos rancheros and goat cheese omelets every. single. weekend.
Thankfully, a truly satisfying gluten-free, carb-full breakfast is easier to come by these days. Sweet, savory, from the griddle, or in a mini cast iron skillet — the options are almost as endless as the wait time. So, when eggs just aren't gonna get the job done, here are 10 brunch finds that will.
10. John O'Groats
If you were one of those kids who lived and breathed Eggo waffles, or at the very least considered a day without them not a very good one... If you delighted in filling every perfectly square crevice with salty butter and sweet, sticky Mrs. Butterworth's... If you had your own method of cutting the waffles up, in perfect pie-slice triangles or four by four squares... If they're the one childhood favorite you still stare longingly at in the grocery store freezer section, and pine for while eating the less-than-worthy frozen GF waffles you had to buy instead... Then it's time to turn your sad little frown upside down, because John O'Groats, the West L.A. institution of minimalist diner food with polish, makes a nearly identical version that is crispy, eggy and blessedly gluten-free. Oh, and they have killer GF pancakes, too. 10516 W Pico Blvd., West L.A.; (310) 204-0692.
9. Larchmont Bungalow
If you're of the "Nutella makes everything better" mindset (who isn't?), then grab your fat pants and head over to Larchmont Bungalow. The brunching equivalent of a middle finger to raw/vegan/sensibly portioned hotspot Cafe Gratitude up the block, the Bungalow offers gluttony for every dietary persuasion. The lengthy menu runs the gamut from light and healthful to downright shameful, and offers several gluten-free options. Not to be missed is the signature LB French Toast (a k a your Sunday morning Everest), a generous serving of egg-battered GF toast stuffed with Nutella and plantains, slathered with more Nutella and plantains, and garnished with hazelnuts and a light hazelnut syrup — which truthfully, you may not even need, because… Nutella. 107 N. Larchmont Blvd., Hancock Park; (323) 461-1528.
8. Bru's Wiffle
Crowds flock to this busy Santa Monica cafe on the weekends for their waffles-every-which-way concept. Roscoe's may be the famous original, but Bru's Wiffle one ups the soul food chain with their gourmet-ified version of chicken and waffles that can also be made gluten-free. (Fair warning for those with a severe allergy — the GF chicken is fried in the same oil as the non-GF.) The large Belgian waffle is ever so slightly crisped on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Resting on top are two crispy, plump and juicy chicken breasts, which are breaded in the same garbanzo and potato starch flour mix used to make the waffles. The dish is served with ranch and hot sauce for dipping, but you'll want to douse the whole thing in maple syrup, because these waffles are made for soaking. 2408 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 453-2787.
This West Hollywood institution (with a sister location in Studio City) pioneered healthful eating before "organic" became ubiquitous, "vegan" became trendy, and "gluten-free" even existed. Hugo's evolved from a gourmet deli to a bastion of brunch by giving the same attention to the first meal of the day as to the last, and the restaurant's manifesto for healthful living is evidence of their dedication to good-for-you food. They've eliminated gluten from their cooking (except for in obvious wheat-based dishes like the breakfast Pasta Mama), so many things on the menu are or can be made gluten-free — for example, eggs Benedict comes on a chewy gluten-free flat bread, if requested, and you can order gluten-free/vegan sticky buns. That's right, warm, icing-glazed sticky buns. If you can even look past the buns, we recommend the pancakes — specifically, the pineapple coconut pancakes. Thick and soft, fluffy yet toothsome, the cakes are flecked with pineapple, topped with banana, toasted almonds and shredded coconut and served with a coconut cane syrup you'll be tempted to toss back like a tequila shot. 8401 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 654-3993. 12851 Riverside Dr., Studio City; (818) 761-8985.
6. The Must
Though you might be lean toward the more breakfast-typical giant buckwheat pancake with blueberry compote and date cashew butter, you'd be remiss to pass up the The Must's cholo fried rice. On paper, it sounds like a heavy, gut-busting Mexican-Chinese mashup: your choice of fried tofu or carnitas (just do it) with avocado, jalapeño, onion, cilantro and rice topped with an organic, cage-free egg. What you get is a lovely plate of fluffy, not at all greasy rice that is pan-fried with a light hand. The creaminess of the avocado tempers the jalapeño's spiciness, the onion slivers, runny egg yolk and shredded carnitas add texture and that magical umami note, while the cilantro provides an allover herby complexity. You may order this dish thinking you'll take the rest home, but you won't get a chance because it'll be gone. 117 Winston St., DTLA; (213) 628-2000.
5. Cafe Vida
Located on Culver City's restaurant row and erring on the indulgent side of healthful is Cafe Vida, the third in a budding chain with outposts in Pacific Palisades and El Segundo. The pretty, tree-shaded patio and vibrant Latin-influenced menu that doesn't eschew vegan or gluten concerns has made Vida a solid favorite among the neighborhood's organically-minded families, studio executives and health-conscious foodies. For brunch, we recommend the virtuous organic brown rice pancakes. The cakes are soft yet substantial and texturized by a crunchy center of almonds, flax and chia seeds. Topped with strawberries, blueberries, powdered sugar and maple syrup, they're almost too pretty to eat. Almost. 9755 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 287-0140.
4. Cafe Buna
For an authentic greasy spoon experience minus the gluten, head to Cafe Buna on the border of Venice and Marina Del Rey. The wait will be long, sometimes even after you finally get your table and have to flag down a server. Presumably, the staff here knows the lengthy menu can paralyze hungover brains. Most likely, the polite, no frills service is because they're always slammed. And with good reason. You can get eggs with things like jalapeño bacon or kielbasa, omelets named after places and people, all the usual Mexican brunch suspects, and even something called a "kalewich." Gluten-free folk are not excluded from the fun, and there are GF pancakes to boot, but the only option in our book is the cornbread French toast. Made from slices at least an inch thick, with hints of cinnamon in the batter and crispy edges, this is one plate of thick, fluffy, buttery deliciousness that you will not regret. 3105 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey; (310) 823-2430.
You may not be able to partake in Jessica Koslow's famous 2-inch-thick brioche toast, purported to draw the carb-fearing masses into long lines out the door, but you most certainly won't feel deprived here. This celebrated cafe in the Silver Lake enclave hipster locals refer to as Virgil Village offers some inspiring gluten-free dishes as well as at least one daily GF dessert in the counter pastry case. On the savory end, there's the nutritiously indulgent brown rice bowl jazzed up with sorrel pesto, preserved Meyer lemon, lacto-fermented hot sauce, and French sheep feta, or the seared polenta cake, topped with vegetable fricassee and an oozy fried egg — don't be embarrassed to slurp the magical broth it swims in either. For early risers or those just craving the simplicity of a bowl of warm cereal, we recommend the Kokohu Rose brown rice porridge. Made with Straus milk (or house-made almond milk if you're vegan), an artful smatter of toasted hazelnuts and a dollop of sweet jam, it's impossibly creamy and soothing. 720 N. Virgil Ave., Silverlake; (323) 284-8147.
Our last two picks essentially tied for the #1 spot...
For a most elegant brunch experience, settle into a cushy booth in Crossroads' plush dining room and summon the roving Bloody Mary cart — they're vegan, just like everything else here. The brunch menu also boasts several gluten-free options. Experience chef Tal Ronnen's synergistic magic with a savory Tuscan eggless frittata made with organic tofu, baby kale, mushroom bacon, truffle cream sauce and soy mozzarella. Or give in to your sweet tooth and order the GF French toast. Two oversized squares of GF sandwich bread from Rising Hearts bakery are lightly coated in an ingenious batter of almond milk, rice flour, banana, cinnamon and nutmeg, then pan-fried to a crisped crust. What really elevates this classic dish, however, is the lemon-scented almond "mascarpone" slathered between the slices, adding an almost floral citrus note for a refined complexity you don't often taste this early in the day. 8284 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 782-9245
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1. Bea Bea's
The motto at Bea Bea's in Burbank is 'breakfast is everything," but based on their exhaustive menu, with 20 varieties of pancakes and 17 varieties of French toast plus pretty much every morning food item imaginable, it could just as easily be "everything is breakfast." (Including lunch — they have that, too.) Narrowing down your choice to dishes that can be made gluten-free at this airy, modern diner doesn't make deciding what to order any easier. They can sub their house-made gluten-free rice flour blend for most of their tricked out pancake and waffle concoctions, which hold up surprisingly well under their heaped toppings, keeping light and fluffy bite after bite. Plus they have gluten-free bread for French toast and our long pined-for favorite, a fried egg sandwich. They even have gluten-free hamburger buns! Sometimes places with this many options can fall short on quality and consistency — especially at the breakneck pace it takes to keep up with a packed house from open until close — but every picture perfect plate out of their kitchen tastes incredibly fresh and delicious. Definitely worth the wait. 353 N Pass Ave., Burbank; (818) 846-2327.