Pancakes. Hotcakes. Griddle Cakes. Flapjacks.
No matter what they’re called, they happen to be one of my favorite ways to start the morning, and when I travel around the country I make it a point to seek out the very best local places to find these breakfast staples. I personally don’t like a lot of extra stuff on or in my pancakes: whipped cream, chocolate chips, strawberry sauce, ice cream, hot fudge – in my opinion they are just ways to mask a boring pancake. A really top-notch pancake should be able to stand on its own, maybe with some simple blueberries in the batter, and always with a little help from butter and real maple syrup.
I shudder to think just how many pancakes I’ve consumed in my life, or how many different places I’ve visited across the U.S.A. to get my fix. But after many years of research (someone had to do it), I am now ready to declare my choice for the top 10 places to get pancakes in the country. If you travel within a 100 miles or so of any of these places, trust me, you need to check them out. But please be a serious pancake aficionado and whatever you do, don’t go to one of these places and decide you’re more in the mood for scrambled eggs or an omelet!
So here they are, the Top 10 from Maine to Maui!
#10. Sleepy Bee Cafe, Cincinnati (Blue Ash), Ohio https://www.sleepybeecafe.com/location/sleepy-bee-cafe-blue-ash/
This local chain in a suburb of Cincinnati is lauded among local area residents for serving the best pancakes in the Metro area. I had to check for myself, and was confronted with two types of pancakes on the menu: original “fluffy” buttermilk and high protein, healthy gluten free. I decided I’d get one of each and see for myself. While I have to say that the gluten free pancake was delicious and was better than pancakes I have had in many other places, the fluffy pancake in all of its gluten-filled splendor won this contest, putting Sleepy Bee at #10 on the pancake charts!
#9. Snooze, Denver, Colorado https://snoozeeatery.com/
Another popular local chain with locations around the Denver and Boulder metropolitan areas, Snooze offers some innovative flavored pancakes. My favorite is the Pineapple Upside Down Pancake, but if you can’t decide on which variety you want, try the “pancake flight” which allows you to sample up to three different flavors of pancakes.
#8. Pele’s Kitchen, Pahoa, Hawaii https://www.facebook.com/PelesKitchenRestaurant/
Tucked away in the small town of Pahoa on Hawaii’s Big Island, Pele’s kitchen has survived the most recent eruptions on the island, perhaps because it is named after the volcano goddess herself. This friendly restaurant serves up wonderful egg dishes and French toast made with fresh organic ingredients, but whatever you do, don’t miss the pancakes, which come in a variety of flavors with coconut, lilikoi (passionfruit) or traditional maple syrup to complement them. Make sure to visit this place if you’re on the Big Island; Pele would want you to!
#7. Husk, Charleston, South Carolina https://huskrestaurant.com
Husk is an amazing restaurant featuring some of the most innovative southern cuisine I have ever tasted. One needs to make reservations literally weeks in advance. On the brunch menu, along-side such staples as shrimp and grits, and various omelettes and French toasts Husk periodically offers gigantic oven baked pancakes that are like nothing I have ever tasted. They rise and have a fluffy consistency, almost half-way between a souffle and a pancake and they will stick to your ribs for the rest of your day, as the photo below illustrates!
#6. Deluxe Town Diner, Watertown, Massachusetts http://www.deluxetowndiner.com
A small diner located in the Boston suburb of Watertown with friendly service and great ambiance, but really, it’s all about the pancakes. Deluxe Town offers a few different types, but my go-to are the original sourdough-buttermilk. As Bostonians say, “Wicked awesome!”
#5. We have a tie! These two establishments, on opposite coasts, both serve up fantastic pumpkin pancakes year round. If you’re a fan of this popular pancake variant, try one or both of these places and see what you think!
Flapjacks, Lincoln, New Hamphire http://www.flapjacks.biz/pc/
Located in the bustling little town of Lincoln, the western end of the famous Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains, Flapjacks is the place to go for a hearty breakfast with a special emphasis on pancakes. The staff are very friendly and the space is cozy, with a toy train set regularly passing by as it makes its way through the two room restaurant. But the real draw is the flapjacks themselves, especially the pumpkin pancakes, which are about as good as they get, but unfortunately only grace the menu in the fall. Fluffy, flavorful and hearty, they are served with real maple syrup. I also enjoy substituting the homefries with Boston baked beans, a very New England breakfast touch! Very crowded on weekends, but sometimes going closer to noon will get you in a little faster. Regardless, it is worth the wait!
24th Street Cafe, Bakersfield, CA http://24thstreetcafe.com/
Most people don’t make Bakersfield a destination, but it is a convenient stop on the busy routes between L.A., San Francisco, Sacramento and Vegas. But if you’re a fan of pancakes, especially pumpkin pancakes, the 24th Street Cafe will make Bakersfield a destination in and of itself. The photo below may not do the pancakes justice, but at least twice when I have visited this cafe I was so eager to chow down on my pancakes that I forgot to take a decent photo!
#4. Bee in the Biscuit, Virginia Beach, Virginia https://www.beebiscuit.com/
Away from the salt water taffy stands and t shirt shops of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront is the rural neighborhood called Pungo, home to a madly popular breakfast and lunch place called Bee in the Biscuit. They have free valet parking to manage the crowds and a very pleasant outdoor garden area where customers can have a coffee or a drink while they wait for their table. While the menu is diverse and all the food is good, I found their pancakes here to be among the best I have ever tasted, earning them the #4 spot in my countdown.
#3. Palace Diner, Biddeford, Maine, http://www.palacedinerme.com/
This tiny diner is located a few miles south of Portland. It’s located inside a 90+ year old, converted train car that contains perhaps 15 stools at the counter. That’s it, so time your visit between the breakfast and lunch rushes if you can to avoid a lengthy wait. They make a beautiful stack of fluffy and uniquely flavored lemon-buttermilk flapjacks that despite the rather steep price of $11 (cash only), is worth every cent. And they serve REAL maple syrup, always a plus in my book! They have several other breakfast choices if you are not the pancake addict that I am, and they do lunch as well. If you’re anywhere in southern Maine and needing a big plate of comfort, this is the place to come!
#2. 808 Grindz Cafe, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii http://www.808grindzcafe.com/
Having read glowing reports about this place on tripadvisor, particularly the pancakes, I recently visited and found a line with a predicted 45 minute long wait at 10:30AM on a weekday. As it turned out, it was well over an hour, so I went into this feeling rather skeptical. I ordered some eggs, hash and a short stack of banana pancakes with the restaurant’s signature Mac-Nilla Sauce. After one bite I knew my wait had been worth it, and as I ate more of them, I could not believe just how wonderful they were. I called the waitress over and told her, with a serious expression on my face, “I made a terrible mistake!” She looked concerned and actually sat at my table and asked what was wrong. “I should NEVER have ordered just a short stack!” She laughed and asked if I wanted another pancake and I decided to try on of the macadamia nut cakes, and it was equally wonderful. As if Maui is not already paradise, now I know they have some of the best pancakes on the planet!
#1. P & G Pamela’s Diner, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania http://www.pamelasdiner.com/
Say it three times, fast: I must get pancakes at Pamela’s of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Pamela’s Diner has 6 locations scattered around the city and nearby suburbs, and while they serve a variety of excellent breakfast and lunch dishes, their pancakes are not to be missed. These pancakes are extremely thin, almost crepe-like, and are the size of a large dinner plate. Don’t even think of ordering a short stack… go all the way. You will not regret it! What gives me goosebumps about Pamela’s pancakes is that they are crispy around the edges, like the pancakes I remember during my childhood, and yet soft and tender in the middle. And the flavor is absolutely perfect with strong hints of vanilla and cinnamon. I will let the photo speak for itself. Pamela’s is NUMBER 1!
Honorable Mentions: The two establishments below used to be in my top 10, but have been knocked out of the running, at least temporarily, and I’ll explain why in my descriptions.
Honorable Mention #1: Pancake Pantry, Nashville, Tennessee http://www.thepancakepantry.com/
Regardless of when you arrive, morning or noon, summer or winter, rain or shine, there will be a line at the Pancake Pantry. Do not be discouraged! The line really does move very quickly. My first time at the Pantry, I asked a woman ahead of me in line if it this place was really worth the wait, and she laughed and assured me that yes, I would not be sorry. That day I began a love affair with the Sweet Potato Pancakes, which are served with cinnamon cream syrup. They have to be the lightest, fluffiest and most flavorful pancakes I have ever eaten… I call them “Little Bites of Heaven”. I have tasted other varieties of the 20-some types of pancakes offered at the Pantry, but the sweet potato pancakes are so unique, so special, that now I never even consider ordering anything else. HOWEVER, I visited Pancake Pantry in August 2017 and am sad to report that due to a switch in the sweet potato base used for these pancakes, from a powder to flakes or vice versa, the consistency of these beautiful pancakes has changed and they are now much firmer and drier than before. I hoped they’d use up all the ingredients they purchased and return to the original, because the new batch is a pale shadow of the prior version! I just revisited the Pantry in August 2020, and alas, they were good, but still not as they once were. However, there are many other varieties to sample and so I will give Pancake Pantry an honorable mention here. But hey, a technical #11 is not that bad!
Honorable Mention #2: Gould’s Sugar House, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts http://www.goulds-sugarhouse.com/
Gould’s Sugar House was my former #2 pick for the best pancakes in the USA. One unfortunate issue with Gould’s was that it was typically only open for a few weeks every year: Spring season is March and April and Fall Foliage season is September and October. This year, however, I was dismayed to learn that Gould’s would not be open at all for the 2019 – 2020 season. I am hoping this doesn’t mean the place will close permanently, but it certainly doesn’t seem to bode well. At any rate, if you are anywhere near Massachusetts’ scenic Mohawk Trail in the northwestern part of the state at these times of year, call ahead to check whether they are open, and if so, a stop at Gould’s is a must. The menu is very short: pancakes, eggs, bacon or sausage. And of course, real maple syrup made on the premises is the perfect match for the perfect pancakes they serve here. Weekends during fall foliage season can mean a considerable wait, but on weekdays the lines are much shorter. Nevertheless, I’d wait in line (and browse the gift shop or watch the video about how maple syrup is made) for an hour or more just to dine on these beautiful pancakes. To the owners of Gould’s, please, please, please reopen again and if you decide not to, please, please, please send me the recipe for those amazing pancakes!
Do YOU have suggestions of places to add to this list? Please feel to leave a comment and let us know where your favorite pancakes are served. Thanks!