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Golden Gate
1/15/2005
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The Seattle Pancake Page

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This page explores the plethora of pancakes to be enjoyed in the greater Seattle area. Why? Well, why not? Once a week or so, I'll indulge myself with a nice breakfast. Rather than going to the same place all the time, I thought I'd see what the area had to offer. I used to live in Lynnwood so my old visits are sort of biased toward the northern part of town, but I don't mind going out of my way occasionally to try something new. (I'm in Bellevue now so will try to concentrate equally on the Eastside and Seattle proper.) Typically, I have an omelette or bacon and eggs with a side of buttermilk pancakes. The traditional buttermilk is the yardstick by which any pancake house's stature must be measured; you can conceal an inferior pancake recipe with blueberries or other embellishments, but there's no disguising the quality (or lack thereof) of your basic 'cake.
 


EXTRA! What do you do if you're a pancake fanatic with the munchies? Well, if you're in a town that happens to have enough of an Asian population to support importing of Japanese snacks to the local grocers -- like, say, Seattle -- you could try Tohato Maple Syrup "Hot Cake" snacks. At a Seattle Weblogger meetup, I was presented with a package of these C-shaped delicacies. The aroma upon opening the package was enticing; it smelled like real maple syrup on pancakes! However, I should have been tipped off by the fact that "Hot Cake" is in quotes in the product's name. They taste nothing like pancakes; in fact, they're corn snacks, really more like a corn pops cereal. They're not bad, mind you, but the only real flavor they possess is the maple, and after a whole bag, that starts to feel a little one-note. After the initial crunch, the snacks quickly dissolve in your mouth like those starch-based biodegradable packing peanuts that were so popular with mail-order companies before they invented the air-based packing materials, which is just the wrong thing for food to remind you of. Still, I did eat the whole bag!

112th Street Diner
11126 Evergreen Way, Everett

Those of my readers who keep whining that most of the places I've reviewed aren't even in Seattle, as if a good plate of pancakes weren't worth a little bit of a drive, are going to see red when they discover I'm reviewing yet another place in Everett. Well, if you don't like it, write your own dang pancake reviews, you frickin' city snob! That said, this place is only average in terms of quality, and the menu doesn't have much breakfast variety. The pancakes were bigger than usual, but didn't have the flavor of a four-star or better joint, and the "butter" was a margarine/butter "blend" of which butter was only the third ingredient. (Still, credit for having least some butter in it. That's better than you get at some places.) After the fake butter I eyed the syrup suspiciously, but it did seem to be real. Bottom line: probably not worth the drive if you live waaaay down in Seattle, but if you're a local, check it out.
 
12th Avenue Cafe
775 NW Gilman Blvd., Issaquah

This place is in Issaquah and it's not actually on 12th Avenue, which are two strikes against Seattle denizens ever running across it. But if you have business on the Eastside, it's probably worth stopping in -- it's in the Issaquah Commons, which is easily accessible just off I-90. (The name refers to the old location.) The decor is classic diner, although the furnishings are of more recent vintage. The breakfast menu has some unusual stuff on it, like the Mexican omelette I tried, and the portions are quite generous. Do not under any circumstances try to eat an entire large Montana Special by yourself (the small is what you want if you're dining alone). The service was super-efficient and friendly, and the pancakes were well above average -- one review I found online called them "the best around," which I didn't find to be quite the case, but they were certainly very good. One caveat: while my companion and I were seated immediately on a Sunday morning, I hear there is sometimes up to an hour's wait.
 
A. P. Barbara's
4025 196th St. SW, Lynnwood

I've been to Barbara's several times for lunch and dinner (the "A. P." was added during a remodeling in 2001, presumably to make it clear that it wasn't the owner's first name but rather a family name), but I'd never tried them for breakfast. I'm glad I finally did. It was a very satisfactory breakfast experience; the waitress topped off my coffee so frequently I'm not even really sure how many cups I drank (nit-picky downside: I had to keep adding smidgens of cream and Sweet-N-Low to keep it the way I like it), and the three-egg breakfast combo actually came with four eggs! The pancakes weren't quite as flavorful as the ones at Elmer's, perhaps, but they were very good nonetheless. Easily one of the best breakfasts I've had at a local non-chain establishment. By the way, Barlee's on Lake Ballinger Way in Edmonds (where the Coco's used to be) is run by the same family and is just as good.
 
Beth's Cafe
7311 Aurora Ave N., Seattle

When I tell people I review local breakfast places, they often ask if I've ever been to Beth's Cafe. Now I can say I have. The place is a favorite local dive; open around the clock, breakfast anytime, it's the kind of place the awful Pine Cone (see below) might aspire to be. The place is run-down, but from long use rather than neglect, and the walls are covered with drawings done by patrons. And what patrons. There were actually some people with honest-to-god Mohawks and all the other punk accoutrements sitting in a booth when I visited on a Saturday evening; I thought that style had died out decades ago. A couple of well-worn men at another booth philosophized about how women deal with bad relationships, comparing it to the way a cat kicks sand over its droppings. "They cover it up, but deep down, it's still there." I could never make that up. If you're into people-watching, or if you like being watched, Beth's may be your Mecca. There's also a jukebox that still plays 45 RPM vinyl singles, right next to the only non-smoking booth in the place. The service was friendly and the pancakes were quite good -- nice flavor, and just a tad crispy on the bottom. Nevertheless, I felt quite out of place, and I ate quickly and cleared out as soon as I could. If your tastes are more Bohemian than mine, maybe you'll become a regular.
 
Brown Bag Cafe
12217 NE 116th St., Kirkland

The Kirkland Brown Bag is the larger of the two available locations; the other is in Redmond. "No Sissy Food Here," advise the menus; the decor is pleasantly rustic, and the portions are huge (my breakfast companions split an omelette dish and neither could finish even their half). I had the Big Mike, which included two eggs, bacon or sausage or ham, a veritable mountain of hash browns, and two pancakes that looked nearly a foot wide. This breakfast is impressive, even daunting, when it's sitting in front of you, but the pancakes had a slightly rubbery texture and were no great shakes flavor-wise -- overall, a disappointment. I added one point for the build-up (quantity), but then took it back for the letdown (quality). Everything else was good, but remember, we're rating pancakes here.
 
Chace's Pancake Corral
1606 Bellevue Way SE, Bellevue

According to locals, Chace's Pancake Corral has changed very little since it opened in the 1950s. (They imprinted my credit card, for God's sake. I haven't had my credit card imprinted since -- oh, well, I guess that would be the last time I went to CompUSA. I almost forgot they still do that.) There's a definite atmosphere of old-time family-style hospitality to the place. When I met up there with a fellow pancake-lover on a Sunday morning, there was a twenty-minute wait to get in -- sure testament to how much Bellevue loves this place. The pancakes? A little better than average. The selection? Pretty decent, with a variety of pancake styles including crepes (or, as we call them now, "freedom pancakes"). If you can't decide, there's a sampler plate. The service? Excellent. Closes early afternoon.
 
Coastal Kitchen
429 15th Ave. E., Seattle

Apparently this Capitol Hill establishment changes the menu every few months to reflect the cuisine of a different coastal region. On the occasion of my visit, the spotlight was on New Orleans. As a service to my readers, however, I eschewed the crawdads and andouille to stick with the more traditional fare -- a "grand slam" breakfast with eggs, bacon, and buttermilk pancakes. (Two people in this pages's comments recommended the blueberry pancakes, which I'll try on a future visit. Basics first.) The eggs were tasty and perfectly cooked, the bacon thick and hearty, and the pancakes were soft and had an excellent texture -- a tiny bit of crispness around the edges that testified that the pancakes had known a griddle Biblically. While the pancakes weren't quite as flavorful as some I've had, they were definitely fresh and tasty. The service was brisk and efficient; my waitress won my loyalty by asking me if I had a "good cream ratio going" before refreshing my half-empty coffee cup. Definitely worth the trip. Warning: Their Web site claims "breakfast all day," but when I visited for dinner one day I discovered this means there is one breakfast dish on the dinner menu, and it had no pancakes. Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!
 
Coco's Bakery Restaurant
7929 Lake Ballinger Way, Edmonds

The Coco's chain started in California and has since established several outposts in the Seattle area. Like Shari's, Coco's has an in-house bakery. And the pancakes at Coco's were near-clones of the ones at Shari's (see below): thick, yet light and fluffy, with a nice mouth feel. The coffee at Coco's was better, in my opinion. While you might think "breakfast potatoes" would just be hash browns, you'd be wrong -- they're much, much more flavorful, thanks to the addition of grilled onions and perhaps some spices. Yum. Update: They seem to have closed all of these. Bummer.
 
Crystal Creek Cafe
22620 Bothell Everett Highway, Bothell

Crystal Creek Cafe is one of several dining establishments under the same management (others include the Village Square Cafe in Redmond, the Woodinville Cafe, and the Issaquah Cafe, and there may be more). I presume the fare at each is similar. The Crystal Creek piqued my interest through their firm commitment to the morning meal, as demonstrated by the slogan on their sign, "Where it's never too late for breakfast." They further warmed the cockles of my heart by providing booths in which the tables were not immutably fastened down, so that they could be shifted slightly to better accommodate men of girth (although, if current waistline trends continue, this won't be a problem for too much longer). The four-egg omelette was among the best I've ever had, the coffee was strong and robust -- and, like Plum Delicious (review below) they provide Splenda as well as sugar, Equal, and Sweet-n-Low, along with the added bonus of flavored creamers if such strike your fancy. The pancakes were very good -- not the best I've had, but the 100% real light maple syrup elevated them from the usual breakfast fare. You do pay a price for all this breakfasty goodness, though; the $12 tab (plus $2 tip) was among the highest I've paid. The service struck me as a little uncoordinated, as well; I was asked by two different waitresses if I'd like anything to drink less than a minute apart (thankfully, they didn't both bring me coffee) and then just as I was starting into the pancakes I accepted the offer of a refill on my coffee, but the refill itself didn't arrive until I was nearly done with the pancakes. So: good food, nice decor, iffy service, high prices. Not a disaster by any means, but there are definitely better deals out there.
 
Cyndy's House of Pancakes
10507 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle

The decor at Cyndy's is so retro, it's almost fashionable again. Check out the immense leather-backed chairs (not stools!) at the counter. I had bacon, eggs, and pancakes. The pancakes are smallish at Cyndy's, but they have a light, delicious flavor and texture, and they don't fail to satisfy. The coffee was a bit weak on my visit, though, and the check took forever to arrive when I was finished eating. Their menu is a bit limited, too (no omelettes, for instance). Keep in mind if you decide to visit that this is one of those pancake houses that closes after lunch; no evening breakfasting here.
 
Elmer's Pancake and Steak House
3411 184th St. SW, Lynnwood

This, a northern outpost of a Portland chain, is actually the closest non-IHOP pancake house to where I used to live, but somehow it escaped my notice for nearly two years, and I first visited in July 2002. (There is also one in Tacoma.) The omelette was very savory and had obviously been cooked in real butter, and the pancakes were nearly as good as those at the Original. On my first visit, the coffee was so weak that I tasted the creamer more than the coffee itself, and while the waitress obligingly made another pot, it didn't improve matters much. This problem was solved by the time of my second visit and I left completely satisfied. The decor is nice, and they have a wide range of non-breakfast foods as well, though I've not tried the eponymous steak.
 
Family Pancake House
23725 Highway 99, Edmonds

This local chain has a few locations in the greater Seattle area (other locations include Redmond, Port Orchard, and two in Bremerton). It's a definite step up from IHOP both in decor and quality of food. The buttermilk pancakes are fine, and they also have corn pancakes which I found quite tasty. Don't let the name deceive you; FPH is a full-service family restaurant, and they also have sandwiches, dinners, and that sort of thing and are open fairly late (until 10 PM if I remember correctly).
 
International House of Pancakes
10301 Evergreen Way, Everett

You know IHOP. You might even love IHOP -- if you've never been to the Original. Like most chains, many of the ingredients are delivered in bulk and pre-mixed. While this practice makes the food remarkably consistent from one outlet to the next, it inevitably diminishes the flavor a bit; the experienced palate will have no difficulty tasting the difference between a made-from-scratch pancake and the kind you get at IHOP. It's certainly serviceable breakfast fare (it is, after all, pretty difficult to completely screw up most breakfast dishes as long as you don't burn them) but there's much better to be had in this town. I include IHOP only to provide a baseline for my other ratings. Although I do admit to being partial to their Colorado omelette, which is a meal in itself.
 
Mr. Bill's Restaurant
1402 SE Everett Mall Way, Everett

Mr. Bill's is a 1950s-themed diner-style restaurant in the Everett Mall, with a convenient entrance in the mall's food court and also a more direct inlet at the front of the mall just to the north of Sears. The '50s theme apparently isn't strict, judging by the inclusion of songs like the Hollies' 1966 hit "Bus Stop" in the dining music, but it's fun. Most of the items on the enormous menu have somewhat corny theme names -- such as the "Big Bopper" pancakes. I had two of the Big Boppers (you can order one, two, or three) and found they were aptly named: I couldn't finish a stack of two, leaving me feeling well and truly bopped. If you're sharing breakfast with someone, splitting a stack of three would probably be about right, and quite economical. The texture and flavor of these pancakes were simply excellent. But there's only one pancake-and-egg combo on the menu, and it comes with five silver-dollar pancakes rather than a Bopper. On the other hand, given the hugosity of the Boppers, maybe that's a good thing. You can always order a la carte in any case; the prices are pretty reasonable. Best of all, in the words of my waitress, they serve breakfast "all day every day."
 
Original Pancake House
130 Parkplace Center, Kirkland

This place sets the standard for breakfast: fast service, nice flavorful coffee, generous portions. The place is very popular, which means you'll probably wait a while to be seated, but once you have your food in front of you (about five minutes after you sit down, unless you've ordered the Dutch Baby, which takes a while to bake), you'll find it to be worth the wait. Even the plain buttermilk pancakes have an incredible flavor and texture that just shouts out "fresh" to your taste buds. The only downside -- breakfast is all they do, so they close in the early afternoon. There's plenty of other tantalizing stuff on the menu, including omelettes enormous enough for two (I'm not kidding, I had to eat my omelette over the course of two breakfasts). Definitely worth the trip. They have one in Seattle now as well, on 15th Ave NW just north of NW 80th St.
 
Pancake Chef
15215 Military Rd. S., SeaTac

If you look it up in the yellow pages, you'll be told that the Pancake Chef is in Seattle. The mail may be delivered from a Seattle post office, but the establishment itself is definitely in SeaTac -- a relatively new municipality surrounding the airport, Seattle-Tacoma International, which is also called SeaTac by locals. If you're looking for a place that was established in 1959 and has barely changed since then, the Pancake Chef might well be your place. When you order coffee, they bring you a giant stainless steel carafe of the stuff, and the cream still comes in a little metal pitcher; likewise, the sugar's in a shaker rather than in packets. The Chef's "full stack" of pancakes turns out to contain "only" three, but they puff up to at least an inch and a half high in the middle, and I couldn't finish the order! Best of all, the pancakes have a crumbly texture and that unmistakable fresh taste. The menu is extensive and the service is efficient, although I thought the kitchen was a little slow (even considering how busy it was on my visit). If you're in SeaTac to catch a morning flight or something, it's worth a visit (but like too many of these places, they close in the early afternoon).
 
Pancake Haus
530 5th Ave. S., Edmonds

Pancake Haus, which you'll find just south of downtown Edmonds, sports exactly the sort of faux-Bavarian decor its name implies, as well as rather garish window paintings that really did not add anything to the ambience. They offer some specialty items that most other places don't have, such as a concoction similar to Original's Dutch Baby, which I did not try. I found the basic pancakes to be pretty much average, maybe a little better, and the service to be a little on the slow side. Not a bad place to breakfast, but nothing special either. They close early, too.
 
Patty's Eggnest
402 164th St. SW, Lynnwood

This local outfit claims to have Seattle's best breakfast, but the hipsters would scoff, since it's not actually in Seattle, and in any case, they're up against the Original Pancake House. They have three or four locations, although which locations they actually are is sort of fuzzy. The Web site claims an "at Tommy Tomato's" location on 196th in Lynnwood, but I know for a fact that that restaurant (which has had five names since I've moved here) is now called Amanti, and I don't think it has anything to do with Patty's anymore. At the actual restaurant I visited, the menus listed a Monroe location that isn't mentioned on the Web site, but the 45th St. location (in Seattle proper!) wasn't listed. I have verified with my own eyes that the Everett location ("at Chuckwagon Inn") does exist. All this talk of locations is not meant to overshadow the food, which was well above average. I had the pancake sandwich (two eggs and bacon or sausage on two pancakes) and it was delicious. The service was fine, and they serve breakfast until they close at 3 PM each day.
 
Pete's Egg Nest
7717 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle

Pete's came highly recommended to me in this page's comment thread. It's one of those little places that every neighborhood has, the kind that's been there for decades. There's barely any decor to speak of at Pete's, and the furnishings are not even slightly fancy, but the owners have kept the place up, and the aura is welcoming, not decrepit. There's also no air conditioning, which means on a summer day it can get a bit warm inside even with the ceiling fans running, but I imagine it feels quite cozy in winter months. The pancakes were above average in size, with a nice texture and a perfect golden brown color. They weren't the best I've had, but they were better than most. Best of all, unlike far too many places in this town, they serve them all day.
 
Pine Cone Cafe
18929 Highway 99, Lynnwood

Wow, what an incredible dive this place is. And by "incredible dive" I most emphatically do not mean "hip, Bohemian joint." Textured ceilings yellowed ("browned" might be more accurate) from decades of cigarette smoke; a handful of cramped Formica booths from the fifties; harsh fluorescent lighting; a pair of eighteen-inch cabbage heads sitting on a table (I was afraid to ask) -- the Pine Cone is a non-stop assault on any aesthetic sense you may possess. Now, I've had some great food in places like this at bargain prices, so I kept an open mind. The pancakes here were actually better than some, sizable and fluffy if not particularly flavorful, but margarine instead of butter, fake maple syrup served in a grungy squeeze bottle, sausage links that probably came from a box marked "Swift," and weak coffee earned the Pine Cone culinary demerits on top of the dismal ambience. Also, the price was only a couple bucks less than I might have paid at, say, Elmer's. The service was friendly, though, and there seemed to be a small crowd of regulars chatting with the staff. (See this page's comment thread for a couple more Pine Cone reports.)
 

Plum Delicious
3212 N.E. Sunset Blvd., Renton

Plum Delicious is an appropriate name for this family restaurant: the outside of the building is painted purple, and the food's very good. The decor is warm and inviting and very tasteful, a definite cut above standard family restaurants. They provide no fewer than four different sweeteners for your cofee or tea; besides sugar, Equal, and Sweet 'n' Low, there's also Splenda in yellow packets. It's the first time I've ever seen Splenda in a restaurant, and it seems typical of this place's attention to detail. The pancakes overflowed the plate on which they were delivered and were anointed with a great gob of butter. Their flavor was excellent, although their texture was a trifle spongy. The staff was a bit shorthanded the day I visited, which led to some service hiccups -- I was almost done with my breakfast by the time the coffee refill arrived that I'd been promised when my meal was delivered. (This wasn't a problem on a previous non-breakfast visit, so I'd say it wasn't just an excuse.) The prices are a little high compared to some other places you might breakfast (the special was $8.99 the day I visited), but the food and ambience comes close to justifying the cost. They serve breakfast all day.
 

Rainbow Cafe
112 E. Main St., Auburn

A cafe that's less than packed on a Sunday morning is either a lousy place to eat, or is in the wrong location. There was only one other table occupied at the Rainbow when I arrived, but fortunately for my stomach, there is nothing at all wrong with the food. It's just that downtown Auburn as a whole is very quiet -- I saw maybe a dozen other cars on the road. I imagine it's a lot busier during the week, and I have evidence to support that theory: some of the specials are only good on weekdays. In fact, the breakfast I had costs two bucks more on the weekends than it does during breakfast rush Monday through Friday. The decor is not fancy, and it looks like it kind of just happened instead of being planned, but the pancakes were pretty darn good. The other patron was enjoying a Belgian waffle (piled high with strawberries and whipped cream) that looked quite enticing. If you're down in Auburn for a jaunt through the SuperMall, stop in at the Rainbow for breakfast.
 

Ruby's Diner
Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood

What with the Coca-Cola posters and the hats on the busboys and the waitresses, this '40s theme chain diner is so convincing, I felt odd telling my server that I had done most of my Christmas shopping on the Internet. After all, they didn't have the Internet in the '40s! I had pancakes, eggs, and sausage; the eggs were seasoned with the perfect amount of salt and pepper, the pancakes were fluffy and flavorful, and the oversized sausage links worked very well drenched in maple syrup. If you're going to breakfast at a chain, this one certainly isn't a bad pick. At this writing, Ruby's also has outlets in Redmond and Woodinville. The only bad news: they stop serving breakfast in the afternoon.
 

Shari's Restaurant and Bakery
19428 Highway 99, Lynnwood

A restaurant with its own bakery has great potential for breakfast goodies, and Shari's did not disappoint. While the pancakes were not as flavorful as some I've had, they were amazingly fluffy (you might even call them puffy). The very first time I visited Shari's, I'd had terrible service (they left a hungry me sitting there for twenty minutes without taking my order) and I hadn't gone back in nearly two years, but the service was prompt and friendly on this visit. Like Denny's, they're open 24 hours, so now you have an alternative for your late-night breakfasting. Oh yeah -- they also have blintzes, for those of you so inclined.
 
Village Inn
8525 Evergreen Way, Everett

The orange Village Inn sign helpfully points out that they are a pancake house in addition to all the other things they are. Originally I had said that the fare was serviceable but not exceptional, and more or less interchangeable with other family-style restaurants. After a couple more breakfasts there, I reconsidered; the pancakes are as good as Shari's or Coco's or Barbara's, or indeed those at any restaurant named after a woman, and so Village Inn deserves the same ratings as those joints. In fact, it actually seems like the pancakes have got better on each of my visits! The other food's decent in that family restaurant way, the service is fine, and they serve breakfast all day. Short of the Original Pancake House, what more could you ask for?
 

More to come. There must be dozens of great breakfast places in this town. Got a favorite neighborhood place? Feel free to drop me a pointer in e-mail. I've got several actual Seattle places in the queue now. Regardless of how far I must roam, I won't rest until I've found the best pancakes in the Seattle area!