New York: Perla
Even the pancakes themselves are big on personality: half an inch thick with an almost yeasty character. An open, fluffy crumb welcomes the sweet-tart juices from caramelized peaches that come along for the ride. And then there's the foie gras butter, less a weird pancake topping and more an extra savory and complex butter that foie lovers and novices can both enjoy—to say nothing of its natural affinity for peach. Swoop a syrup-drizzled dollop of the stuff with pancake and you won't think foie overload. You'll just think, "man, that's really good."
Market Lunch: Eastern Market, D.C.
Look for Market Lunch's communal table at the end of Eastern Market's long corridor. Though its name may reference another meal, it serves a formidable breakfast. The blueberry-buckwheat pancakes ("blue-bucks") are light, buttery, juicy-berry-studded, and only sold on weekends, when the line starts forming before 8:00 am. If you're there on a non blue-buck day (that is, a weekday), the "regular" pancakes are a fine substitute.
Pamela's: Pittsburgh, PA
Hotcakes from Pamela's, a cash-only breakfast and lunch joint with six locations in the Pittsburgh area, are somewhere between crepes and pancakes, with all the good qualities of each. Thin, slightly spongy, and plenty buttery, they get that brown lace-like design on the surface. But the best part, hands down, are the crispy edges. They're like the crusts of perfectly well-done latkes, all crackly, and you immediately fork-cut them off. The hotcakes come rolled up two to a plate; they’re best stuffed with fresh strawberry slices, brown sugar, and tangy sour cream.
Pamela's is one of those must-visit institutions in Pittsburgh (there's a framed photo of President Obama near the door from his visit during the 2008 campaign), but the hype is deserved. It’s all about the crazy crispy edges.
Ina's: Chicago, IL
Ina Pinkney is breakfast royalty in Chicago’s West Loop. But while her restaurant Ina’s has the comfortable, worn-in feel of a old-time diner, the food is taken much more seriously. Ina’s signature pancakes are the Heavenly Hots—coaster-sized little cakes based on a recipe from Marion Cunnigham of The Fanny Farmer Cookbooks. (Ina called Marion herself to ask permission to use the recipe.) Made with eggs, sour cream, the smallest bit of flour, and potato starch to keep them from falling apart in the pan, they’re creamy and custardy and cloudlike in their lightness; and though they need no adornment, they’re served with an alluringly spiced fruit compote of peach, raspberry, and blueberry.