S.F.’s best pancakes
When a restaurant exists solely for breakfast and brunch—this spot shutters at 2pm every day—you know they’re not messing around with a morning classic. The lemon ricotta pancakes are legendary, the ideal mix of sweet, tart, and rich. Owners Joel Bleskacek and Maxine Siu source their ingredients from over two dozen nearby farms and it shows. The airy ricotta is made in-house, the citrus is locally grown, and the honey butter is the real deal. Follow the lead of Potrero Hill regulars who order their own dishes, plus a pair of pancakes to share.
This perpetually slammed indoor-outdoor eatery is known for its “miracle pancakes,” which frequently run out before noon. Though the flavor changes every week, they’re unfailingly delicious. Past iterations include red velvet, lemon poppy seed, cornmeal, raspberry, pumpkin spice, strawberry, and bread pudding. (Order them in quantities of 1, 2, or 3.) You’ll also find perennial favorites: buttermilk, gingerbread with Meyer lemon curd, and gluten-free pancakes made with steel-cut Irish oatmeal, pureed bananas, and cinnamon. Spring for Sara Jane’s pancake flight, which includes one buttermilk pancake, one gingerbread pancake, and one slice of stuffed French toast.
This pair of New Orleans-style joints are rightfully known for their beignets. But it’s the pancakes that are the overlooked specialty. At Brenda’s French Soul Food, the original location, go for the crispy, subtly sweet granola pancakes, which are heaped with fresh fruit and drizzled in vanilla bean cream. At the NoPa sister-restaurant, Brenda’s Meat & Three, opt for the flapjack stack with your choice of bananas, berries, pecans, chocolate chips, or—a noteworthy curveball—butterscotch chips. Start with Grandma’s Molasses, an iced coffee flavored with black walnut, or the tongue-tingling Creole Bloody Mary.
Don’t let the daunting wait list scare you away. (The bar turns over quick.) The star of the brunch menu is the Dutch pancake, served puffy and sizzling in a cast-iron pan. Created by pastry chef Brooke Mosley—also the inventor of the sticky buns and pistachio doughnuts—the pancake can be ordered in sweet or savory form. Depending on the season, that might incorporate apples, potatoes, berries, sesame, smoked bacon, pickled onion, parsley, and more. Add a dollop of house-made ricotta or an extra slab of bacon for two bucks.
The MBC pancakes are a heart-stopping, gut-busting San Francisco legend. Forget breakfast—the stack is more of a cake-like dessert, drizzled with vanilla cream, piled with seasonal fruit and pistachios, and drizzled with bourbon syrup. The restaurant goes through its patented bourbon syrup by the gallon, whether slathered on the Frisbee-sized pancakes or the lavender-infused French toast.
IHOP, it ain’t. This no-frills Outer Sunset cafe serves chewy, flavorful Asian-inspired pancakes in a dozen varieties, from chicken, pork, lamb, and beef to vegetarian-friendly renditions like sesame, veggie, and onion. The spot’s specialties are the beef roll pancake, which envelops tender slices of juicy beef, and the pungent, slightly spicy green onion pancake with egg. Nothing on the list tops $10 and most of the meat-free versions hover under $5, so you can stuff yourself for cheap and avoid the usual S.F. brunch lines.
What would a pancake list be without a healthy dollop of buttermilk? Marlowe takes a classic recipe, executes its flawlessly, then gives it a highbrow twist. The meltingly fluffy stack comes slathered with a mound of smoked butter, sprinkled with a garnish of crumbled bacon, and doused in maple syrup. The resulting package—sweet and salty, light but rich—is the stuff of breakfast dreams.
A marble and concrete-swathed paean to gluten-free, dairy-free eating may seem like an ill-advised place to order a pancake. In fact, chef Eric Lilavois’s gluten-free spin on the classic is a revelation. Based in quinoa and almond flour, sweetened with fresh blueberries and vanilla coconut cream, and drizzled in maple syrup, the flavorful, lightly cakey stack is favored by gluten-lovers alike. Grab a seat at the long elm bar and start with a pot of the fragrant Holy Basil tea, perfumed by basil, rose, and lemon balm.
This Asian-inspired cafe is known for the Millionaire’s bacon, house-made spicy-sweet candied pork, which is why most end up ordering for the Millionaire’s eggs benedict. But it’s worth going to the sweeter side of the menu for the fluffy lemon ricotta hotcakes. They’re typically finished with mixed berries, but for an extra three bucks you can upgrade to caramelized banana and maple-glazed walnuts. It’s served alongside a generous dollop of honey butter to complement the natural tartness of the pancakes.
Most pancake connoisseurs strive for a light, fluffy consistency. But sometimes you just want a breakfast with a little more substance. At the upscale brewpub Old Bus Tavern, the oatmeal-maple pancakes have a chewy, slightly crunchy texture akin to underbaked oatmeal cookies (in the best way). They’re topped with brown butter syrup, seasonal berries, and sweet pralines. Spring for one of the spot’s funky-fruity sour beers, flavored with fig, citrus, or cherry.