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.
Stanley: New Orleans, LA
Right on Jackson Square, Stanley is a bright upscale diner from chef Scott Boswell, chef-owner of the highly regarded Stella! next door. You won't go wrong with a stack of banana pancakes, topped with a melty scoop of vanilla ice cream—syrup, warm banana, and ice cream all start to fuse together, giving the crisp-edged pancakes a custardlike interior.
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.
Coffee Cup Cafe: Sully, IA
Even if you’re quite a ways from the teeny farm town of Sully, Iowa, the drive to this modest dining room is worth every minute—because the light, fluffy pancakes with a crispy exterior are enough to make you moan with pleasure with each bite. They don’t use 100% maple syrup. They actually make their own “pancake syrup” with two kinds of sugar, two kinds of corn syrup, vanilla, and maple flavoring. It’s tastier than you’d think, smooth and sweet and perfect for pancakes. Time may have aged the Coffee Cup (it’s been around 1917, and looks every bit its age) but the food hasn’t suffered in the slightest.
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.
Al's Breakfast: Minneapolis, MN
Served at the justifiably famous Al's near the University of Minnesota, these pancakes have just the right amount of tangy tartness from the buttermilk that goes into them. You'll stand and wait a while to get served, squished with strangers behind the row of stools, but it's worth it. We’d recommend an order of pancakes with blueberries and corn. Yes, that’s right: corn kernels in a pancake.
Maialino: New York, NY
One word: ricotta. That's why the pancakes at revered restaurateur Danny Meyer's Roman trattoria in the Gramercy Park Hotel are so ridiculously creamy-tasting and porous—great for syrup fiends, though they’re so tasty on their own, they’re easy to eat naked. And just in case you didn't get enough ricotta in the pancakes, they throw a mountainous dollop on top.
Matt's Big Breakfast: Phoenix, AZ
The griddlecakes at Matt's are light, impossibly airy, a little flaky, a little sweet, and, best of all, just slightly crisp on the surface. Served with a dollop of sweet cream butter and real maple syrup, these things are heaven. Even for someone who's more a savory bacon-and-eggs than a sweet waffles-or-pancakes type.
Magnolia Cafe: Austin, TX
"Sorry, We're Open," apologizes the sign. But owners Kent Cole and Diana Prechter aren't really sorry—and you won't be, either after trying the gingerbread pancakes that have attracted a cult following in the city, especially for latenight snackers. Both locations of the Magnolia Café are open 24 hours (so interpret late however you wish). The gingerbread pancakes will make you feel like it's Christmas, even in the middle of sweaty June. They have all the spicy goodness of a gingerbread cookie in cake-like, fluffy form.
2304 Lake Austin Boulevard, Austin TX; (map); 512-478-8645;
Polly's Pancake Parlor: Sugar Hill, NH
Great alliteration aside, this is one of the best pancake joints in New Hampshire (and there are many—this is maple syrup country, after all). Attached to an old sugar house where they make their own syrup, Polly's gives you plenty of options for your six-pancake order. Buttermilk, oatmeal, buckwheat, or whole-wheat, and that's just the batter. For mix-ins, you can have blueberries, walnuts, coconut shreds, or chocolate chips. These pancakes come out three at a time, with the second trio waiting until the first are finished, so they never get cold on your table.
Note: This is a photo of the take-out box. We couldn't resist eating them while they were hot, and didn't snap a pickcha in time!