The Best Breakfast Spots in America
According to doctors and the backs of cereal boxes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And because we always agree with whatever they say on Lucky Charms boxes, we combined our forces to track down the best breakfast spots around the country, then went back for more biscuits and gravy... just to make sure.
At the end of it all, these 22 spots offered up our favorite breakfasts in the nation (and no, we’re not talking about places that exclusively worship at the altar of weekend brunch; these places do breakfast all the time). If you disagree, or think we omitted something, or just want to tell us an unrelated anecdote because you need someone to talk to on the Internet, drop it below in the comments. But for now, just come in and sit down. Breakfast is served:
New York City
Atla made a huge splash when it opened in NoHo, landing a place on our best new restaurants in America list and capturing hungry hearts thanks in large part to a breakfast menu that manages to evoke a Mexico City cafe, even if there's a blizzard going on outside. Here, breakfast comes in the form of dishes like flaxseed chilaquiles coated in smoky chili sauce and topped with a poached egg, thoughtfully layered ranchero eggs, and house-made coconut yogurt. During the weekend, the offerings expand dramatically thanks to a brunch menu that includes chia bowls, apple-kissed corn pancakes, and sweet house-baked conchas, which pair wonderfully with the cafe de olla (that's Mexican coffee). Regardless of what you get, each dish concocted by Daniela Soto-Innes -- our pick for best NY's chef of the year in 2017 -- is constructed with precision and artistry. This is the kind of place you can visit every day and still find new surprises on your plate. And you really should.
Run by a husband and wife team named Miller who also mill their own carefully sourced grains (the name's both literal and clever), Baker Miller has established itself as one of America's best bakeries thanks to its incomparable sweet treats (s'mores pie, sourdough cinnamon rolls) and breads (order the "Toast Bar," and you'll be forever changed) that make you feel slightly better about loading up on carbs because you at least know they were sourced and treated with care. But the bakery also shines as a superlative breakfast joint thanks to its impeccable grits and oatmeal bowls, towering biscuits topped with baked egg custard, a massive ploughman's breakfast loaded with sausage and "bread soldiers," and other dishes that are excellent vessels for those immaculately crafted and infinitely loved baked goods.
San Francisco, California
If you knew nothing of San Francisco, and just spent an entire day in the Ocean Beach neighborhood, you would come away thinking that SF is not all that different from its more beach-focused Southern counterparts. The hood (which obviously sits right across the Great Highway from the actual Ocean Beach) is more of a surfer’s enclave, more laid back and less bustling than the rest of the city, and offers some (relatively) undiscovered gems, Java Beach owners’ Patrick and Buffy Maguire’s Beachside Coffee Bar being one of them. Though they keep the same exacting standards with the coffee that they do at Java Beach, it's the food here that shines, from the fantastic Irish Breakfast Sandwich, to our personal favorite, the fried chicken and waffle, with their bacon-in-the-batter waffle substituted in.
Don’t order Call’s smoked pork and fried egg sandwich on brioche. Yeah, it’s delicious, but this Scandinavian-influenced, counter-service cafe is offering unique flavors and culinary wizardry not often seen on a breakfast plate, and it don’t need no stinking egg to do it. Order a little bit of everything, like the aebleskiver, a decadent, Munchkin-sized Danish pancake puff served atop rotating preserved fruit (like blackberries) and ricotta. Mini tartines on rye are topped with whatever ingredients inspired the chefs that day, and the larger versions feature smoked salmon, curried onion, herbs, and garlic aioli dollops that make it look like an edible art project. Yogurt and seeded granola with seasonal fruit sounds plain, but this citrusy, honey-filled bowl is filled with plums and a spoon-worthy cranberry apple jam. Save room for the ever-changing spread of house-made pastries like sticky, sweet cardamom knots, fruit galettes, sourdough snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, and smoked s’mores brownies.
You can find a greasy spoon diner in any neighborhood in America, but few griddles are blessed with the level of charm as Counter Cafe. Save for a few sardine-packed tables, CC is almost all counter, and the line cooks are close enough that you'll be able to smell every single piece of bacon that comes off the grill. But what sets Counter Cafe apart is food, which nails the platonic ideal of breakfast with plates like biscuits smothered in sausage-studded gravy.
When Folk Detroit opened its doors in the city’s Corktown, founders Kiki Louya and Rohani Foulkes were already riding a high note with their first project, the Farmer’s Hand. The tiny market and cafe made its mark for the partners’ focus on providing its Michigan-centric vendors with fair compensation. With Folk, situated a couple of doors away, equitable workspace philosophy is expanded upon. That the breakfast and lunch menu of farm-fresh ingredients is delightful just takes it to another level. Diners can indulge on an array of bread items from famed Zingerman’s bakery like avocado toast with beet hummus or toasted benne seed and pea shoots on a choice of seeded wheat or sourdough. For a blast of protein, the savory and filling Tigress Aussie Meat Pie with steak, bacon, white cheddar, and thyme comes baked in a flaky pastry. On the other side of the spectrum, the Folk Bowl is loaded with a lush assortment of locally-sourced kale, roasted fennel, berbere spiced carrots, and vegan cashew dressing. For good measure, try the turmeric-infused steamed milk and a slice of seasonally-sourced pie from the city’s iconic Sister Pie, one of the best bakeries in the entire country.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
An inaugural visit to the venerable Friendly Toast can be intimidating, so you wouldn't be wrong to just shrug, point at the menu, and walk away with a perfectly great plain waffle. But this is a place to get something a little outlandish. Case in point? There's a breakfast appetizer menu. Further argument? Said menu includes breakfast egg rolls stuffed with kimchi slaw, corned beef hash, eggs, and cheese. After that, get down on the like their Sklarmageddon omelet “built to kill” with sausage, bacon, ham, red-chile pecans, jalapeño-Jack & Swiss, plus a zesty maple sour cream, or the outstanding new personal favorite, the King Cakes -- two not-very-“mini” pancakes packed with chocolate chips/bananas, slathered in peanut butter, topped with whipped cream, and surrounded by bacon. Suck it, regular waffle. But also, thank you regular waffle, for being a wonderful gateway drug.
Iowa City, Iowa
Forget about the fact that presidents now consider it a must-stop on their way through Iowa or that we sat next to a signed picture of Roseanne and Tom Arnold from the very early '90s or that it happens to be the oldest family-owned restaurant in Iowa City. You can even forget about the fact that No.s 1 and 3 no longer exist. But don’t forget their omelets, especially the terrifyingly unhealthy/delicious Hawkeye Hog, featuring sausage, hash browns, and American cheese, all smothered in country gravy. Or really make the state proud and make that Hawkeye Hog a Tater Topper, and then tuck griddled home fries or hash browns under it. Oh, and while your eyes are locked on Tom Arnold’s sick ‘do, you might as well get the Cinnamon Roll French Toast too.
Kansas City, Missouri
Happy Gillis is like that well-loved denim jacket that's repeatedly handed down, getting just a little tattier and more lovable with each new owner. The cafe in Kansas City's old-time Italian neighborhood of Columbus Park is situated in a little two-story brick building with roll-up window armor and a classic Coke sign hanging above the door. Happy Gillis opened a decade ago under Todd Schulte, a journeyman restaurateur responsible for a few of the city's best-loved brunches. In 2013, Schulte sold it to his chef, Josh Eans and his wife Abbey-Jo. Josh ran the kitchen until September, when his wife took over, adding her own stamp with lighter fare and more whole grains. The magic is the tight but diverse menu, which manages to meet you in any mood you wake up with: there's hearty house biscuits and sloppy-good sausage gravy, house granola, and even trout rillette. It's a rangy lineup, but it doesn't feel the least bit tossed together, wearing each diverse dish like a patch sewn on by someone who enjoyed the hell out of it before passing it along.
New York City
When she opened her small, ultra-casual coffee shop in the Lower East Side, chef Kyo Pang made it her goal to bring a taste of Nyonya cooking — a hybrid of Malay and Chinese techniques — to New Yorkers who either sorely needed a taste of home or a strong reminder that breakfast needn't always be served sunny side up. Served from -10:30 daily, Kopitiam’s breakfast spread includes the national dish of Malaysia, nasi lemak, which pairs coconut rice and fried anchovies with cucumbers, peanuts, and hard-boiled eggs for an explosion of early morning energy and flavor. The thick-cut kaya butter toast, topped with coconut jam, is the kind of dish that will forever render avocado toast obsolete to anyone who gets a taste, while soup offerings include fish ball with vermicelli noodles and a delicately balanced, made-to-order pan mee: hand-pulled flat noodles swimming in an anchovy broth alongside mushrooms and minced pork. Were those not eye-opening enough, the place makes good on the coffee shop designation with full Malaysian kopi (coffee) service. It, like everything here, is at once pure comfort and a total revelation.
Harrisonburg is about as purple as a place can get. Sitting on the western edge of Virginia, this college town is nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, separated from the presidential plantations of Charlottesville by the Blue Ridge and from the tin-roofed shacks of West Virginia by the Appalachians. This worker-owned vegetarian diner exists between those worlds, too, borrowing the best of both create a unique cuisine of scratch-made Southern-tinged hippie food. The fluffy biscuits here are whole wheat buttermilk and the sandwiches are made with towering stacks of housemade tempeh. Pancakes come loaded with pumpkin spice and flaxseed, bananas, and other fillings and are made with both unbleached flour and buckwheat (potato cakes round out the great "cake" offerings here). The shabby chic room is also a sometimes music venue, perhaps best known as the place where the singers from two bluegrass revival acts with local roots, Old Crow Medicine Show and The Hackensaw Boys, played their first open mics. No word on whether they were paid in pancakes.
When Matt and Ernie Pool first opened their breakfast spot a decade ago, it was a simple homage to the old-school diner but set inside a vamped-up 25-seater. Today, the simple formula is still working with delicious, fresh, organic meats and breads from local vendors, but the hours-long waits have forced a move a few blocks North to a 50-seater spot. The wait is still unavoidable, but you’ll forget all about it when you watch that sweet, buttermilk Belgian waffle slowly soak up the maple syrup. The real star though is the bacon. It’s thick-cut and mouthwateringly crisp, yet chewy with a peppery coating that balances the porky fat. People have been known to order more on the side, and NO ONE IS JUDGING YOU, OKAY?
When it opened in 2015, Milktooth landed a spot on our list of Best New Restaurants in America, which is no small feat considering the place only does breakfast and lunch. But Chef Jonathan Brooks is doing just that in a former garage space in Indy, and it's because of the Dutch, baby. Sorry, it's because of the place's ever-changing take on the brunch dish known as the Dutch baby pancake -- right now it's served with local pears, honey almond yogurt, caramel corn, and puffed rice. Other times of the year it's served with berries and lemon curd. And for a new twist on a Southern staple, try the fermented quinoa grits and slow-poached egg -- the sweet pepper sauce and spiced chickpeas ensure the dish is rescued from the curse of bland grits. Don't forget to pair whatever you order with any of the more inventive brunch cocktails in the land, or just slum it and order beermosas made with Hamm's and OJ for the whole table at $25 a pop. Just because your breakfast is fancy doesn't mean your glass can't slum it a little.
Since 1928, this Pollard Company lunch car has been parked in Biddeford offering breakfast to folks who plop down on one of the 15 vinyl stools. Since 2014, when the food was elevated by the business’ sixth owners, the competition for one of those seats has gotten fierce. All eight options on the breakfast menu improve core diner classics, but the most essential is The Deluxe Sandwich, a total breakfast sandwich makeover. A griddle-smashed English muffin is filled out with brittle bacon and a soft square of baked egg topped with pickled jalapeños and melted cheddar. The smashed and salt-flaked "Palace Potatoes" are as much a feature of the plate as the sandwich itself. Both the sandwich and the potatoes crunch with an invigorating saltiness. Order the sandwich with a bottomless cup of the "Ladies Invited" blend from Portland's Tandem Coffee Roasters and bask in the glow of Americana evolved.
The trick to a great stack of pancakes is a century of preparation. At least that is the case at Paul’s Pancake Parlor, a strip-mall diner in a sleepy part of Missoula that greets curious passers-by and locals alike with perhaps the best damn pancakes in the West. Paul’s would just be the kind of no-nonsense breakfast and burgers diner you find across the country but for the Blueberry Sourdough Pancakes, made with a sourdough starter first brought to life over 100 years ago by the great grandmother of the restaurant’s original owner, Paul Gjording. Paul’s blueberry pancakes look innocuous, but they pack a fermented punch as sharp as aged cheddar. They're a revelation in breakfast -- the familiar tower of sugar and dough belying the depth and balance of a loaf of fine sourdough bread.
New Orleans, Louisiana
This is your Slim's game plan: grab a friend who can get there early and write your name on the clipboard -- it’ll be sitting on the stool out front. Get another friend that knows how to mix a spicy, strong batch of Bloodys and is ready to bring the plastic cups so y’all can sip while you wait out the long line on Magazine Street. Because, despite claiming a two-room space, there will be a line. And then you’ll need to be the helpful guide who directs everyone towards the Slammer section of the menu. But claim the Creole Slammer for yourself. No matter how out-of-sorts NOLA has left you, this plateful of hash browns, over-easy and gloriously runny eggs, and subtly spicy crawfish étouffée will put you back on track.
Los Angeles, California
Sustainable? Check. Vegan-friendly, small-batch, and globally inspired? Yep. Super instagrammable and consistently sporting a long line where you'll likely recognize somebody from TV, movies, or some obnoxious YouTube channel? Always. Sqirl is about as LA as it gets, with only the presence of carbs keeping it from the top of the heap. But what carbs they are! Chef Jessica Koslow's Sqirl only serves breakfast and lunch but that’s apparently all that’s necessary to build a cult following; on weekends there are hordes of people -- some famous, all hungry -- angling for a table in the sparse, 800sqft cafe, with the shady sidewalk seats serving as prime real estate. The food is as delicious as it is photogenic and occupies that sweet spot between healthy (“Kabbouleh” with crispy brown rice, kale, cauliflower, and sumac) and indulgent (Guittard chocolate and hazelnut butter on thick-cut brioche toast). While terms like “lacto-fermented” might have some rolling their eyes, the meals will simply have eyes closing in ecstasy. Take some jelly to go, too: This is, after all, a place that began life jarring preserves, and they taste as good on Wonder Bread as they do the house brioche.
Asheville, North Carolina
Although it's a Low Country delicacy, Asheville's food-loving culture has fostered an admirable scene for shrimp and grits. The best you’ll get is at West Asheville's Sunny Pointe Café. Their version gets flavorful twists at all corners, from roasted tomatoes, spicy chipotle-laced cheese grits, and a white-wine/dijon cream to cut through all of that butter. Like any good breakfast version of shrimp and grits, the bacon on top is generous and crispy, and comes studded with black pepper and glazed with a hint of maple. This version is spicier and smokier than most, so you should contrast it with their daily selection of home-baked sweet treats. The café offers a sunny garden to explore, where they grow herbs and vegetables for the kitchen. Grab some organic coffee and take a peaceful stroll to pass the wait for a table. It's like zen on top of zen.
Picking the best spot in the breakfast-rich City of Roses is a fool's errand. Could it be the legendary fried chicken at Pine State Biscuits? The Scandinavian delights of Broder? Maybe the old-school southern goods of Screen Door or the the shakshuka at John Gorham's Tasty empire? Sure, but, we're going with perhaps the Portlandest breakfast spot of all. Sweedeedee's a weirdly named little hole in the wall across the street from an organic market and bar, and next door to a record shop in a newly gentrified stretch of town… basically, it's a Portland stereotype come to life, right down to the long lines for absolutely amazing food. The counter where you order is stocked with Mason jars of pickles and display cases of pies, leading to an open kitchen where you'd half expect to see grannies running coffee. Only here, that fresh-baked heartland cookin' is served with a (slightly hippie) chef's touch and much better coffee. Think deeply satisfying corn cakes and fresh-baked rye to go along with the mellow smoked trout. Hell, even the granola's made in-house. Be advised: Do NOT skip the honey pie, a slice of sticky-sweet bliss on a flaky crust that has managed in a few short years to achieve a legendary status that most Southern grandmothers could only hope for.
This cozy, well lit-- well, when the sun decides to come out… natural light's a fickle beast in Seattle -- restaurant does wonderful things with veggie hash and biscuits & gravy (you have a choice between sausage and mushroom gravy), but where it truly excels is in taking regional dishes from around the world (often with giggle-inducing names) and spinning them on their heads. Take, for example, the Hangtown Fry, a skillet of fried oysters, cured pork belly, and poached eggs seemingly forged by a gormound dockworker on the California coast, where the dish originated. Traditional British Bubble & Squeak gets kicked up with braised brisket, while the southern Grits & Grillades pairs pork loin with spicy gravy. Don't overlook the impossibly fluffy biscuit sandwiches, and definitely don't overlook the Old Dominican Hangover Helper, a chef's choice blast of nutrients made at the chef's whims.
Atlanta's chock full of places where biscuits that are approximately 95% butter (and 5% love, if the menus are to be believed) are the stars, and true to form this modern-ish throwback experience brings the thunder courtesy of a build-your-own biscuit menu that keeps things simple, cheap, and delightful. Eggs, too, are perfect, packed with anything from pecan-smoked bacon, to ham, sausage, roast turkey, and a half dozen cheeses. But it's the spins on classics that sets West Egg truly apart, including a shrimp & grits loaded up with andouille sausage, fancy butter, and roaster okra; fried chicken hash kicked in the tastebuds with Swiss chard and portobello in the mix; and a Georgia benedict that puts turkey sausage (and turkey sausage gravy) onto split biscuits with eggs. It's southern comfort that takes things slightly out of the comfort zone. And if that all sounds too fancy, well, you can still grab a ham biscuit for like $3. If you must feel literary, go ahead and call it the "green light special."
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