There’s nothing more comforting than a stack of hot pancakes, whether you’re a child on your first day of school or a hungover adult trying to forget last night. Pancakes are a stalwart cornerstone of most breakfast and brunch menus, but in the East Bay, they’re definitely not an afterthought. Here’s a guide to pancakes in Berkeley and Oakland that range from traditional to inventive. Your favorite not on the list? Let us know what we missed in the comments.
The always crowded La Note is a Berkeley brunch institution that deserves its popularity: the restaurant takes hedonistic American brunch staples and adds a Gallic sense of restraint and balance. Perfectly cooked omelettes are delicately filled with just a few ingredients, and their mocha in a giant bowl is bittersweet, not cloying. They offer a wide variety of pancakes, including crème fraîche pancakes and oatmeal raspberry pancakes. Speckly, dense gingerbread pancakes are flavorful and barely sweet on their own, but topped with real maple syrup and elegant poached pear--whose fruity richness complements the ginger spice--it’s the ideal amount of decadence for your morning.
La Note Restaurant Provencal
2377 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704 [map]
Ph: (510) 843-1535
Hours: Mon-Wed 8am-2:30pm; Thur-Sat 8am-2:30pm, 6pm-10pm; Sun 8am-3pm
Facebook: La Note Restaurant
Price range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17)
Rockridge Cafe is a welcome respite from the overwhelming fanciness of its neighborhood, a homey diner with children’s illustrations tacked up on the wall, leather stools at a counter overlooking the kitchen, and giant pots of unfancy coffee. But, since it is still Rockridge, the food is considered and good, with flourishes that elevate it above typical diner fare: dishes include an unfolded omelette, kale scramble, and gluten-free rhubarb waffles. The ricotta pancakes are light, fluffy pillows that aren’t sweet at all. It may sound heretical, but I liked them just as much with only butter as I did after adding a drizzle of maple syrup, which added just enough sweetness. A short stack, served piping hot, gets you two giant pancakes for less than just $7, leaving you with more money to spend at À Côté next door or Market Hall across the street.
Rick and Ann’s, a crowded family-friendly spot near the Claremont, devotes a good chunk of menu real estate to pancakes of all kinds. There are traditional pancakes, savory pancakes, and daily pancake specials. Their cornmeal pancakes taste more wholesome and intriguing than the usual buttermilk, with more flavor and textural interest to contrast and complement the sweetness of the syrup. They offer gluten-free rice flour pancakes that take a few bites to get used to, but the delicate flavor of orange and blueberries works well together, and with their pleasing texture, they’re the perfect option for the gluten-free brunch-er in your group.
Mama’s Royal Cafe is a funky institution, two rooms full of cozy wooden booths, individual jukeboxes (sadly unusable), and old aprons decorating the walls. The cash-only restaurant features a menu packed with classics and ambitious specials (beef bourguignon the day I went). The pancakes, classic buttermilk, are a taste of home: light and fluffy and with a tangy kick. Perhaps less outwardly exciting and Instagram-worthy, but extremely satisfying and childhood-evoking. Again, the size of the short stack--two giant pancakes crowding each other on my plate--impressed me. “This time they came out bigger. They’re not always this big,” my smiling server said, but according to the pictures on Yelp, he’s lying: Mama’s Royal is the place to go for giant, nap-inducing stacks of comfortingly huge pancakes.
Mama's Royal Cafe
4012 Broadway, Oakland, CA [map]
Ph: (510) 547-7600
Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30am-2:30pm; Sat-Sun 8am-3pm
Facebook: Mama's Royal Cafe
Price range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17) Cash only
The tiny, beloved Venus Restaurant has a breakfast menu that contains standard brunch favorites spiked with interesting flourishes and decadent touches: akoori scrambled eggs, a butternut squash scramble, a 14-hour slow-roasted pork sandwich. They also have a dedicated griddle section of the menu, with pancakes, flapjacks and hotcakes (which are all the same thing). The ostentatiously-named named “Luxury Flapjacks” are an upgrade to your childhood chocolate chip pancakes, with chunks of fruity Valrhona dark chocolate that create bittersweet pockets that complement the small chunks of strawberry. The pancakes have a wonderfully light and fluffy texture, and are barely sweet, highlighting the dual richness of strawberries and chocolate. These are especially unique pancakes, ideal for any sort of breakfast-time celebration.
2327 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA [map]
Ph: (510) 540-5950
Hours: Mon 8am-2:30pm; Tue-Wed 8am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-9pm; Sat-Sun 8am-2:15am, 5:30-9pm
Facebook: Venus Restaurant
Price range: $$-$$$ Entrees ($11-$24)
Like the other places mentioned on this list, expect a wait at Bette’s Oceanview Diner. The Fourth Street favorite is consistently packed, with friendly, efficient waiters ducking around each other in the small space as they serve generous portions of hearty breakfast fare. (If you’re in a hurry, go next door to Bette’s-To-Go for take out.) One of their signature dishes is the the Guy Fieri-blessed Souffle Pancake, a stately puff of a pancake, composed of eggs whipped sky high then baked. Choose from a variety of flavors--banana rum, chocolate, seasonal fruit--and the result is a giant pillow of a pancake with the lightness of a meringue and the delicate, yet sturdy, texture of a souffle. It’s airy and light, a pleasantly different take on tradition. More of a dessert than a well-rounded breakfast, it’s definitely something to share. Prepare to wait for a long time for the pancake on top of the already long wait for a table, but know that the majesty of the dish makes it worth it.