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 am updating this post for the first time in two years. Things change: even the most fabulous restaurants may go out of business; some places that used to be good seem to fade in quality; and in my continued travels, I discover new places that I feel obligated to include in my list. So… here are my latest rankings as of October, 2022.
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 15 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!
R.I.P. Gould’s Sugar House, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
One of the saddest casualties of the COVID pandemic was the demise of Gould’s Sugar House, which used to be among my top 5 favorite places for the best pancakes in the USA. Before they closed permanently, my only complaint about Gould’s was that it was only open for a few weeks every year: Spring season in March and April and Fall Foliage season in September and October. Perhaps it was the “hard to get” aspect of things that made the pancakes taste even better, but I still think they were some of the best pancakes I’d ever had. Alas, they are now gone and I only wish that the owners would share the recipe for their cakes with a pancake-hungry world.
Honorable Mention #1: Husk, Charleston, South Carolina https://huskrestaurant.com
Husk is an amazing restaurant featuring some of the most innovative southern cuisine I have ever tasted and one needs to make reservations literally weeks in advance. On the brunch menu, along-side such staples as shrimp and grits, and various omelets 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! They are not in the top 10 list because you cannot always reliably count on them being on the menu, but if you’re there and they are being served, don’t miss them!
Honorable Mention #2: 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 Pantry’s 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 I never even considered ordering anything else. However, I visited Pancake Pantry a few years ago 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 had changed and were 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 was a pale shadow of the prior version! Unfortunately, the last time I visited the Pantry they were still not as good as they once were. However, there are many other varieties to sample and you are bound to find one to suit your tastes, so I at least have to give the Pancake Pantry an Honorable Mention shout-out!
OK, without further ado, here is my updated list of the top 10 places to get pancakes in the good old USA! Enjoy!
#10. 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 homefries with Boston baked beans, a very New England breakfast touch! Very crowded on weekends, and you can expect to wait in a line almost any time, but sometimes going closer to noon will get you in a little faster. Regardless, it is worth the wait!
9. 24th Street Cafe, Bakersfield, California: 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. However, 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!
#8. 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.
#7. Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles, Cherokee, North Carolina: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Peters-Pancakes-Waffles/175631575802084
Tucked away in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina is Peter’s Pancakes and Waffles, a cheerful and bustling restaurant serving up platters of hotcakes: golden brown, fluffy, yet crispy around the edges – just the way I love them. Sit at the counter for a clear view of Eric, the owner (Peter was his dad) dutifully creating dozens of these beauties at the grill. For those who seek out a somewhat healthier version of pancakes, try the Backpacker, a combination multi-grain/buttemilk cake with three types of nuts. I tried one of these and it was just as good as the traditional blueberry… and I don’t even like nuts!
#6. 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!
#5. 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!”
#4. 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!
#3. Sugar and Spice, Mendon, Vermont: http://vtsugarandspice.com/
On U.S. Route 4 between Rutland and the Killington ski area you will find Sugar and Spice, a working maple sugar house and restaurant that serves up wonderful New England fare, such as a hearty and delicious corn chowder. But their breakfast menu features what have to be some of the very finest pumpkin pancakes I have ever come across… and I have come across quite a few! The texture and fluffiness were an A+ and there are subtle flavors of spices that really elevate these pancakes to another level. On my last visit the waitress asked if I would like to sample some maple sugar candy, a New England tradition that basically tastes like hardened brown sugar and sits for years or decades on general store shelves across the region. I was going to pass, but was told that this candy was still warm, had just been made and bore little resemblance to what I was used to, so I tried it, and she was correct. Creamy, sweet and mapley… a perfect dessert after my perfect pancakes!
#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!
Do YOU have suggestions of places to add to this list? Please feel to leave a comment and let us all know where your favorite pancakes are served. And remember… pancakes make mornings easier to cope with!