Breakfast is inherently utilitarian — energy consumed to allow you to function for your waking hours. And so, it follows that this functional meal is, even at its most decadent, less complex than the wares that you see from lunches, dinners and even some desserts. There’s no molecular gastronomy in breakfast.
That means the resplendent part of breakfast comes in humble servings, done right — the perfect eggs, pancakes, coffee. There’s room for innovation in breakfast, but the most memorable parts are the staples done perfectly.
This isn’t a list of the most highly praised food spots in every major American city. This isn’t a list of the most celebrated chefs. This is a compilation of places to eat when looking for the best meal of the day done a bit better. There are places off the beaten path in major cities — places you’d have to get lost to stumble upon. And there are spots out on the great expanses of the US, cafes and diners that serve up something hot and delicious every morning, without fanfare. They don’t have stars mounted at their entryways. They don’t have white coats. But they do serve up utilitarian food with soul, and each bite helps to get you through the day, full and happy. That’s the spirit of breakfast.
– Matthew Ankeny
The Best Breakfasts in America 2015
ABRACO – Manhattan, New York
HUCKLEBERRY CAFE – Santa Monica, California
PANCAKE PANTRY – Nashville, Tennessee
FLOUR BAKERY AND CAFE – Boston, Massachusetts
PLOW – San Francisco, California
THE BONGO ROOM – Chicago, Illinois
GREEN EGGS CAFE – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
FLORIDA AVENUE GRILL – Washington, District of Columbia
HASH HOUSE A GO GO – Las Vegas, Nevada
CAFE PATACHOU – Indianapolis, Indiana
GREAT LAKES COFFEE – Detroit, Michigan
GREG’S BAGELS – Baltimore, Maryland
FIRST WATCH – Charleston, West Virginia
CHEEKY’S – Palm Springs, California
LYNORA’S OSTERIA – West Palm Beach, Florida
VERA CRUZ ALL NATURAL – Austin, Texas
SARDINE – Madison, Wisconsin
THE HOMINY GRILL – Charleston, South Carolina
JUMBARS – Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
BERTHA’S DINER – Buffalo, New York
MAMMA JANE’S PANCAKE HOUSE – The Dalles, Oregon
MAGNOLIA BISTRO – Burlington, Vermont
EDDIE MAE’S EATERY – Delano, Minnesota
PARKER’S MAPLE BARN – Mason, New Hampshire
Forgettable Storefront, Memorable Meal
Like most storefronts in New York’s East Village, Abraço, at 86 East 7th Street, is both tiny and forgettable. But the family-run kiosk, opened in 2007, has quietly become a neighborhood institution, as notable for its cortado and savory olive oil cake as its rotating collection of ’70s-era records spinning behind the counter. Patrons know that mornings here are only what you make of them. Stay a while and chat up owner Jamie McCormick (formerly of Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco) — who greets his regulars by name — or simply ask for a quick cap’ to go. Your drink will come in a nondescript Anthora, the words “It’s our pleasure to serve you” hugging its sides. It’s white noise at most coffee stands around Manhattan, but the words here still read genuine and warm, even when you’re running late.
– Jack Seemer
Breakfast on the Beach
When in Los Angeles, direct yourself to Santa Monica. And when in Santa Monica, direct yourself to Huckleberry Cafe. This delicious staple, beloved by west siders, offers food mostly culled from the fantastic farmers markets in the city — this means GMO-free, organic and very fresh produce. If you want a simple breakfast, opt for a piece of coffee cake and house-made granola, or keep it fresh with mixed berry crumble tart and lentil ragu or a quinoa bowl with veggies and eggs. The weekend crowds make it tough to find a seat, but then you can order to-go and head to the beach for an even better view.
– Bradley Hasemeyer
Music City Flapjacks
In the heart of Hillsboro Village, Nashville, and walking distance from Vanderbilt University, one breakfast joint stands more proud than most. Opened in 1961 by Robert Baldwin, the Pancake Pantry has preserved its family roots — ownership has since passed from Robert onto his son, David. And as the name would suggest, pancakes are the big draw. Served all day, the menu presents a long list of flapjack variants, including those topped with strawberry compote, chocolate ganache, or made entirely of stone-ground cornmeal. But the famous ones are the sweet potato pancakes, made with real sweet potato batter and topped with cinnamon cream syrup. It’s thanks to those flapjacks that the restaurant enjoys both its notoriety, and the line out the door.
– Jack Seemer
Flour Bakery & Café
Chef Joanne Chang started romancing the city of Boston with her classic, indulgent pastries and savory treats 15 years ago in the city’s then-developing South End. Now, the hungry masses can converge with friends, a latte, and a buttery cinnamon cream brioche in three additional locations throughout Boston: Central Square, Back Bay, and that latest up-and-comer, Fort Point Channel. Bright and bustling, designed with the same air of simple pleasure you’ll find in the food, each Flour is likely to be filled with folks from all walks of Bostonian life — moms, hipsters and financial types alike fill the tables, drawn together by an undeniable craving for perfectly baked everything. Sweets cravers will have a hard time choosing from a full spread of favorites like pain aux raisins, sticky buns and the amazingly crumbly, old-fashioned sour cream coffee cake. Heartier appetites should go for the egg sandwich and revel in the magic combination of smoky bacon, spicy arugula, fresh-baked bread, and the tangy “dijonaise” that has made Chef Chang something of a hometown hero. True to her roots, Chang sources Flour’s ingredients from New England farms and businesses — from eggs to coffee — so it’s a homegrown effort, even when the menu nods French. Don’t forget to pick up some much-loved cookies or tarts to share, too; returning from Flour empty-handed will earn you the same ire as a cheer for the Yankees.
– Lauren Friel
Traditional Food, Unconventional View
The view from Plow’s porch, on Potrero Hill, is not an iconic one. You can see the ballpark, the high rises and the Bay Bridge, but not the icons you expect from the San Francisco skyline: Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, Transamerica. This unconventional view is a detail worth discussing, and you’ll have plenty of time to discuss it; Plow, San Francisco’s holy grail for brunch, always has a wait. Midwesterner Joel Bleskacek and SF local Maxine Siu do breakfast staples made better, and the word is out. The egg sandwich spills yolk and unifies the flavor at the first bite, and the lemon ricotta pancakes perfectly toe the line between sweet and tart. All the fare is worth the wait, so show up, put your name in, be patient and contemplate, analyze and perhaps enjoy the skyline view.
– Matthew Ankeny
The Bongo Room
Decadence in Wicker Park
Located in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park area (as well as a second location in the South Loop), the Bongo Room is a crowd pleaser, and expect crowds (especially on the weekends). The austere brownish/grey exterior is consistent with the no-nonsense wood-and-brick digs inside, but the sparse decor is a far cry from the decadent options, like Oreo and praline flapjacks, a chorizo potato avocado omelette, and the piéce de résistance — Meyer lemon and blackberry hotcakes with a graham cracker crust, warm Meyer lemon cream, blackberry coulis and fresh blackberries.
– Amos Kwon
Green Eggs Café
Southern Fare in South Philly
Despite its name, the Green Eggs Café won’t cajole the long-lost Dr. Seuss lover out of you. The name comes from the restaurant’s green attitude and commitment to recycling its waste and biodegradable foods. But name confusion aside, this small spot shells out indulgent breakfasts. Stationed in South Philly, between Dickinson and Clarion Streets, they serve red velvet pancakes, a crème brûlée French toast, and an omelette named “The Kitchen Sink” (if you’re feeling adventurous, get it). For something more Southern inspired, they also have chicken and waffles or pork bacon-creole shrimp and grits — both of which induce transcendent food comas.
– Tucker Bowe
Florida Avenue Grill
A Staple Endures a City’s Change
DC has changed a lot in the last 30 years, and once vibrant neighborhoods have been torn apart and are now starting to get back on their feet (albeit with a slightly different demographic). Through all the change, one constant has been the Florida Avenue Grill. Serving heavy soul food for the last 71 years, the neighborhood spot right near Howard University has endured everything the city has gone through and stayed true to its roots (even with a couple ownership changes). Everything on the menu is good (if heavy), but the highlights include the halfsmoke and eggs, the hot cakes and the sweet tea.
– Henry Phillips
Hash House a Go Go
Las Vegas’ “Twisted Farm Food”
With the mantra of “Twisted Farm Food” and a kitchen that never closes, this is quintessential Southern goodness in the heart of the desert. While Hash House A Go Go has erected locations in Chicago and San Diego, the original and its cousins are scattered throughout Las Vegas. The place hangs its hat on serving up portions that could be viewed as criminally large, with single pancakes checking in at nearly a foot in diameter. Brave souls with no regard to their long-term health should go for the chicken ‘n waffles platter, but we’d recommend bringing a hungry foursome if you don’t want leftovers. Big though the meals may be, they’re also delicious and affordable.
– Darren Murph
An Omelette You Can’t Refuse
Café Patachou is an Indiana-only establishment, so don’t waste time on another breakfast spot. Its fully stacked self-serve coffee bar (Fair Trade) will keep you occupied while you wait for a table, as will scouring the enormous menu. Dishes range from gluten-free waffles to omelets with every kind of pork product inside. Notable are the broken yolks sandwiches, in which two runny eggs accompany any number of accoutrements. Have one with pork sausage and white cheddar, salmon, or ham and cheese. Omelettes, too, come in a variety — customize your own, or try “The Omelette You Can’t Refuse”, containing bacon, white cheddar, sour cream and potatoes. Craving a sugary breakfast? The stuffed cinnamon French toast — brioche stuffed with ricotta and topped with cinnamon sugar and bacon-infused syrup — should do the trick.
– Caitlyn Girardi
Great Lakes Coffee
Detroit’s Communal Center
As Motor City dusts itself off and tries again, there’s one word you’ll hear on the lips of every resident hoping, working and rooting for their hometown: community. So while there might be spots up and down Eight Mile dishing out heartier morning plates than the simple, locally made pastries, granola and egg sandwiches Great Lakes offers, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that’s so invested in promoting that thing keeping this city’s chin up. Great Lakes Coffee bills itself as a community space, and the large, light-filled, open-beam design layout easily lends itself to providing everything that community needs, morning ’til night — the space multitasks as a wine bar, beer geek hangout, date spot and arts space in the later hours. During the day, it’s a much-needed meeting place for the start-ups, food projects and tech heads scheming up the next step for this great city. And, if coffee really is the most important meal of the day, Great Lakes has that covered, too; the cafe began as the award-winning Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, and those lauded single-origin beans are still fueling the city’s eager movers and shakers in the form of obsessively brewed pour over, as well as less-expected creations like the Lavender Latte and the Sexy Mexican, a spicy mocha number that’s as tasty as it is cheeky. Recovering caffeine addicts will find an array of locally sourced, house-made tonics and juices to go with their waffles. When the weather warms, grab a table on the sidewalk patio, nibble on a fresh-baked scone and watch the future walk by.
– Lauren Friel
A Stubborn Bagel Shop
Stand in his way and Greg Novik will politely tell you to let an old man through. He means himself. He’s been running his bagel shop for over 25 years, a few of those as the only eatery in Belvedere Square that weathered the recession, besides the pizza shop across the street. And through all of it he’s never taken credit cards — only cash or Rolex watches. He never stays open past mid afternoon. He’s known to jet off on vacation unannounced, leaving his shop closed rather than leaving it in the hands of someone else. And he’s never cared much for your opinion on any of this. He shuffles around in old sweatpants and a stained shirt and keeps his hair as a mess of gray. His bagels are all hand rolled with honey malt and boiled to be perfectly crisp but doughy. They are the best bagels in Baltimore, and Greg has a wall of awards to prove it. Along with the largest selection of spreads in the city, including duck confit, apricot spread and pistachio paste, the biggest draw is the wide selection of smoked salmon, which is ever changing and scrawled along a chalkboard behind the counter.
– Travis Smith
Elevated Food in the Mountains
West Virginia’s capital city isn’t exactly known for its culinary expertise, but those passing through between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. owe it to themselves to stop downtown for a bite at First Watch. While it’s technically a small chain with a few outposts here and there, it’s undoubtedly the best breakfast you’ll find in Charleston. The staples — eggs, bacon and bagels — are always cooked to perfection, but it’s the extensive gluten-free menu, with copious amounts of fresh fruit (tough to come by in the mountains), and the protein-packed pesto chicken quinoa bowl that steal the show.
– Darren Murph
A Desert Celebrity
Fame and fortune might run high in Hollywood’s favorite desert oasis, but Palm Springs is still a small town, with a drought of solid eateries to prove it. If there’s one joint to defy mediocre expectations, it’s Cheeky’s, also boasting a notoriously harsh wait time. Open until 2 p.m., six days a week, the house specialty is breakfast, rotating with mains colored in local, organic produce that packs plenty of seasonal flavor. The stalwart sides are the reason to visit, however. The cheddar scones are made on site, the juice pressed to order and the coffee from Blue Bottle. Despite an air of exclusivity, the consensus goes undisputed: you’ll find no better fare for over 100 miles in any direction.
– Jack Seemer
Casual Florida Fare, Meticulously Made
Lynora’s is new to the competitive brunch scene of the Palm Beaches, but its Italian spin on brunch has proven a coastal force. Sit inside and enjoy the A/C, or sit outside for views of the waterfront park and Intracoastal Waterway. A serving of fresh ricotta donuts is a good start, and alongside bottomless cocktails, choose between tomato frittata with mushroom ricotta, brown butter and sage sauce and Nutella-stuffed French toast with maple syrup. All the egg dishes are hearty and delicious; a duck omelette with spinach, caramelized onion and mozzarella and open-faced eggs with prosciutto will keep you full all morning, but also leave you hoping you had room for more.
– Caitlyn Girardi
Veracruz All Natural
Keeping Austin’s Brekkie Weird
Breakfast tacos are a staple in Austin (there’s even a book about them) and the best can be found at one of Veracruz All Natural’s three trucks throughout the city. If you want the full experience, head to the original blue truck on Cesar Chavez, order a Migas taco (eggs, tortilla chips, avocado, pico, cheese) and a classic egg-and-chorizo taco, fill up at the salsa station and savor the best $5 breakfast in Texas.
– Henry Phillips
A Touch of the Med in the Heartland
Mediterranean is not a descriptor most would associate with breakfast in America’s heartland, but Sardine’s extensive use of meats like prosciutto, soppressata and bayonne ham in their weekend brunch menu is a clear indicator of the eatery’s European leanings. White subway tile backsplashes, frosted pendant lights and a glass facade overlooking one of Madison’s lakes set a debonair mood for dishes like grilled pork sausages or the melt-in-your-mouth baked cream eggs with prosciutto and gruyere. If you’re recovering from a bender the night before (thanks to Wisconsin’s notoriously underpriced booze), Sardine’s omelets are a classic option with — because this is still America — a side order of crispy, golden frites.
– Andrew Connor
The Hominy Grill
A Slow-Paced Southern Breakfast
The design of downtown Charleston’s Hominy Grill, a restaurant inside a historic home, matches its ethos of Southern hospitality. They don’t take reservations, and there isn’t much room to sit out front, but they’ll charm you with a sun-drenched patio and cocktails while you wait. The waiting area has its own bar window; try the Bloody Mary (which foregoes celery for a garnish of pickled okra, a Southern specialty). Their most famous dish is the shrimp and grits, but the salmon potato cakes — which sit in a roasted tomato sauce alongside poached eggs — take a close second place. During the week, try the poached eggs served with a tortilla, black beans, rice, avocado and fresh salsa, then walk it off in historic downtown.
– Caitlyn Girardi
Merry Flavors in the City of Brotherly Love
Don’t try to squeeze in a quick breakfast amid a harried morning routine here — everything on the menu is made from scratch, to order, and that takes a bit of time. Breakfast at Jumbars, located near the Moravian College campus in downtown Bethlehem, is so worth the wait. Everything has a unique twist — from the grilled and sliced sticky bun starter to the thick, homemade whole-grain English muffin or the fluffy buttermilk pancakes with a perfect hint of exterior crispiness. Main courses include delicately packed and folded omelets, fritattas, organic oatmeal, and PB&J-stuffed French toast. Chef Paul Hoffert uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible and he makes practically everything in the place, including the breakfast toppings bar crammed with jams and jellies and the range of baked goods you purchase to bring home. The small dining room is cozy and comfortable, but it seats fewer than 25 — so get there early.
– Eric Adams
Upstate’s Old-School Diner
A locals’ favorite and still a hidden gem to many, Bertha’s Diner on Hertel Avenue is the place to breakfast in Buffalo. It’s a tiny, ’50s-style diner that serves hearty and delicious breakfasts at extremely reasonable prices ($4.50 for two eggs, home fries and toast). The menu’s filled with classic breakfast staples, but the local favorite is the Dennis — bacon, eggs, cheese and a spicy chorizo-stuffed hot pepper on sourdough toast served with home fries.
– Sung Han
Mamma Jane’s Pancake House
Where Size Comes Standard
If you make The Dalles a pit stop on your way to a long day’s hike at The Gorge, Mamma Jane’s Pancakes is where you have to fuel up in the morning. There’s the traditional buttermilk, honey whole wheat, or buckwheat pancakes, but the local favorite is the lemon pancakes slathered in warm homemade lemon sauce and whipped cream. If you’re feeling up to it, you can gorge yourself on the pancake sandwich, a traditional breakfast of eggs and bacon between two large hotcakes. Mamma Jane’s pancakes are massive, so if you prefer something closer to what your mamma probably made, you can always opt for the silver dollar pancakes for a smaller size with no loss in quality.
– Bryan Campbell
An Eco-Conscious Breakfast
A beloved breakfast spot in Burlington since 2006, Magnolia Bistro emulates all things VT — it’s the first Green Certified Restaurant in the state, purchasing organic grains, corn, and soy to avoid GMOs, recycling or composting 90 percent of their waste, and is a member of the Vermont Fresh Network. Their Vermont Omelet (maple sausage, cheddar cheese and apples) brings Green Mountain staples all into one bite.
– Chase Pellerin
Deep South Sweetness
It doesn’t get any more Deep South than this. Clary’s isn’t elegant or fancy, and that’s the point. Locals and tourists alike show up in tattered tees and flip-flops for a no-frills, always-enjoyable breakfast. Given that it’s in downtown Savannah, you can get plenty of fried goods — apple turnovers and hash browns are good places to start. The homemade potato latkes, otherwise known as potato pancakes, are great as well, but you’d best save room for the famed chocolate eclair. Easily as big as your head, the details surrounding calorie count are murky at best. Be prepared for a wait on the weekend, and bring your camera — plenty of gorgeous scenery is just a few blocks in any direction.
– Darren Murph
Edie Mae’s Eatery
One Thing, Done Right
Located on the western outskirts of town (technically in Delano), Edie Mae’s is famous for one thing: stuffed hash browns. The friendly staff at this little joint have mastered the art of shoving a hash brown into eggs and bacon, and they take pride in big portions. One tip: make sure you’ve a robust workout planned for later in the day — these things tend to stick with you if you aren’t careful.
– Darren Murph
Parker’s Maple Barn
The Morning Meal Worth Electing
If you’re a local, what comes to mind when you think of breakfast in southern New Hampshire is small-town diners in the town center, the kinds of places political candidates make stump speeches and shake hands every four years. Less visited and slightly off the beaten path is Parker’s Maple Barn, a sugar house and restaurant near the Massachusetts border in the tiny town of Mason, population 1,382, which feels like a slice of the North Country. Parker’s has been around since the 1960s and it has the look and feel of a ski lodge from the same decade — with prices that come pretty close, too. Get the Parker’s Special (two eggs, two pancakes, three meats, potatoes) and be sure to upgrade your stack to the pancake of the month, which was packed with raspberries last time I stopped in.
– Jeremy Berger
Producer: Matthew Ankeny. Writers: Eric Adams, Matthew Ankeny, Jeremy Berger, Tucker Bowe, Bryan Campbell, Andrew Connor, Lauren Friel, Caitlyn Girardi, Sung Han, Bradley Hasemeyer, Amos Kwon, Darren Murph, Chase Pellerin, Henry Phillips, Jack Seemer, Travis Smith.