Semi-Annual Nighthawk Review

I last had Nighthawk pancakes nearly a year ago during peak pandemic. They were takeout pancakes and they “were excellent, but not outstanding.  They were perfectly fluffy, perfectly moist with an on-point mouthfeel, but something was missing.” I recently revisited Nighthawk in Venice Beach, in-person, and dined at their newly expanded outdoor back patio.

I had just come from a particularly treacherous kayak outing, where the winds picked up just as my dad and I turned around at the jetty and created impressively rough waves for being inside the marina. A sailboat lost control and very nearly careened into us, then regained steering at the last moment. So I was covered in ocean crud and extremely ready to eat pancakes.

Nighthawk currently has a one-hour dining limit, so the food came out pretty fast. The first thing I noticed about the “Big Bird and Short Stack” was that the fried chicken, which on several past occasions has been disappointing, looked much more robust and crispy. The second thing I noticed was the scallions. Sure, scallions are a tasty addition to fried chicken, but I just don’t agree with them being sprinkled on pancakes.

The pancakes were good, but not great. The taste seemed a little off to me, and they were slightly overcooked. The dish is served with a plate drizzle of “apple-cinnamon gastrique” which I forgot to ask they omit, because I don’t enjoy the taste of it. It adds a cloying sweetness that is not complementary to the already sweet pancakes. They were not the “perfectly fluffy” pancakes I was expecting, and the mouthfeel was a little disappointing.

In a role reversal, I thought the fried chicken was better than the pancakes this time. I ate all the fried chicken, and took half the pancakes home for “the leftover test.” I am saddened to report that they did not pass. They got worse when I reheated them, and were too dense in the middle.

I feel bad giving Nighthawk anything less than an eight on the TastyStacks scale, especially given pandemic restaurant challenges, but I know these pancakes could be better. The Candied Bacon Mary on the other hand, gets a 10/10 every time.

JUST THE STACKS – 7.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Good but not great. Very good fried chicken.

Mouthfeel: A little disappointing, dense bites.

Size: Three good looking pancakes that looked fluffy but weren’t quite there.

Presentation: Excellent, even despite my scallion criticism. This looks like a stack you want to sink your mouth into.

Price: $17

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292

Tasty Stacks Turns Two – A Pancake Celebration!

What better way to celebrate moving to LA than driving all over the LA freeways in search of a food trend you saw online?

I celebrated my third year LAnniversary and the second year blogiversary of TastyStacks the best way I know how –  Pancakes. And not just any pancakes, but mini-pancakes drenched in almost offensive toppings. 

You may remember mini-pancakes from Early Pandemic Times, when “pancake cereal” made the TikTok rounds. To be honest, it looked like a painstaking pain in the ass. If I’m making pancakes, I’m making one giant pancake because I am efficient. 

Street vendors have now taken up this idea and streamlined it in an Instagram-worthy and tasty way. If something isn’t Instagram-worthy can you even eat it? If you live in LA, the answer is no. Even if you’re vegan. Or maybe especially if you’re vegan. 

The mini-pancake food trucks near me, which I had to find mainly through TikTok without rolling my eyes too much, were actually not near me. The closest one with the cutest name was Delicious Minis in Echo Park. My handsome pancake-partner-in-crime and I drove out there on a Friday night. It only took us 45 minutes from the South Bay which tells you that LA traffic still isn’t back to normal.

Unfortunately for everyone’s pancake plans, upon arrival we were informed their generator was broken. There would be no pancakes from this tiny pancake enterprise. I was crestfallen, mainly because I knew this meant we would now have to drive to North Hollywood and I was hungry. But what better way to celebrate moving to LA than driving all over the LA freeways in search of a food trend you saw online?

Ms. Mommy Stacks, the next closest option at that point, had a similar setup: food truck style serving with speedy pancake turnaround. They offer three sizes: Kiddystack (12 minis), Mommystack (25 minis), and Daddystack (60 minis!)

We opted for two different Mommystacks – one with strawberry, banana, and Nutella; the other with a caramel drizzle and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Other absurd pancake topping options include Fruit Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Oreos, ice cream, and a variety of syrups.

You might be thinking Cinnamon Toast Crunch doesn’t really belong as a pancake topping, and you might be right. For the sake of pancake research, we decided it was important to double check. 

They were fucking delicious. I was ready to tear these apart and categorize them as Pancake Crimes. That many ridiculous toppings?! And some of them are crunchy?! But these were great. The pancakes themselves had the most perfect fluffy mouthfeel. The fresh fruit and Nutella? You can’t go wrong there. And the caramel drizzle and Cinnamon Toast Crunch? My pancake partner in crime, who historically hates foreign objects in his pancakes, thought these were the best. We didn’t even mind that they were crunchy.

 If you’re craving super cute, super tasty, and super fun pancakes, (and also happen to find yourself in The Valley), you can’t go wrong at Ms. Mommy Stacks

JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Scrumptious – slightly buttery, sweet, and elevated by ridiculous toppings.

Mouthfeel: Perfect miniature pancake fluff fairies in your mouth. 

Size: Mini! You can’t get cuter than these. 

Presentation: Messy, but nicely contained.

Price: $7-$20

Location: 6138 Vineland Ave, North Hollywood, CA 91606

Shoop’s Part Two – Takeout Pancake Heaven

New year, new pancakes! Except this is more like – New year, same fucking pandemic, getting the pancakes you love to-go and hoping for the best.

Shoop’s, located in downtown Santa Monica and just blocks from the beach, previously scored a coveted 10/10 on the Tasty Stacks scale. How do they hold up in a takeout environment?

My friend and I ordered the Pineapple Pancakes and the Savory Tomato Basil Pancakes to share. The latter comes with “fresh tomato and basil, topped with 2 over-medium eggs, fresh pesto, and feta.” We scooped up our pancakes from the ever-friendly Shoop’s staff and walked them down to the beach. This is the second best way to eat pancakes if you can’t eat them right then and there at the restaurant.

What’s the most common pitfall of takeout pancakes? The fluff deflates, leaving you with a flat circle of sad flapjack. I was expecting at least some fluff deflation, based on past takeout pancake experiences. Instead, we were gifted with two stacks of unexpectedly luscious and perfectly fluffy pancakes.

Most notably, the Savory Tomato Basil pancakes, which I thought for sure would be soggy and weird with the amount of egg and pesto on top, were outfuckingstanding. They were soft inside, not soggy, and Shoop’s has managed to perfect the stuffed pancake technique – these had delicate morsels of tomato and basil in every bite. The eggs and pesto on top elevated the experience – this is a satisfying pancake on every level.

The Pineapple Pancakes were the perfect complement to the savory pancake. The pineapple morsels are caramelized which gives the pancake that coveted ever so slightly crispy edge. If you are looking for pancakes that not only hold their own, but go above and beyond considering the takeout environment, Shoop’s is one of the best choices you can make.

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sweet & savory pancake fluff heaven.

Mouthfeel: Unexpectedly luscious – even more so considering the deflation danger.

Size: Three substantial discs of deliciousness per stack.

Presentation: These are as good as you can make pancakes look in takeout containers. Take them to the beach for bonus aesthetic points!

Price: $10.50-$15.95  

Location: 2400 Main St A1, Santa Monica, CA 90405

Morongo Casino: Gambling With Pancake Basics

They looked fluffy, but of course the real test happens in the mouth.

If you ever find yourself at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa and craving pancakes, you might want to go somewhere else. Morongo is located outside Palm Springs just before the wind turbines and is well equipped with lovely poolside cabanas, a very good steakhouse, AND Panda Express, but they fall short on their pancake performance.  

The Good Times Cafe, located within Morongo, seemed promising enough for pancakes. At the very least, it seemed like they had food we could eat. On the omelette menu, you can substitute toast for two large pancakes for only $2.99, a tempting offer after a night throwing your money at $25 blackjack tables.

Visually, the pancakes looked good. They were large and golden brown. The edges were lightly crisped, and the stack was topped with powdered sugar. They looked fluffy, but of course the real test happens in the mouth.

My fellow dining companion described them best, slicing them was “like cutting into a yoga mat.” One of the most important rules of pancake eating is that you should never have trouble cutting into a pancake. It does not foreshadow deliciousness, only dread. Anyways, these weren’t terrible but they weren’t that good. Ample amounts of butter and syrup improved them, obviously. 

I neglected to take any pancake photos, or least any worth viewing, so instead please enjoy this photo of wind turbines I could see from the hotel room. 

JUST THE STACKS – 5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Extreme mediocrity bordering on bad. 

Mouthfeel: Two-ply yoga mat.

Size: Two large pancakes – good value but not good taste.

Presentation: Deceptively nice.

Price: $2.99 – $8.99

Location: 49500 Seminole Dr, Cabazon, CA 92230

Mini Review: Japanese Pancake Balls

Moto Azabu Sushi Bar & Grill, in Marina Del Rey, CA has reopened under social distancing guidelines, and is the perfect place to have your temperature taken and wear a mask in between sunny, sushi bites. I’ve been here several times and this was the first time I noticed Japanese Pancake Balls on the menu. The pancake signal rang out, and I answered.

They were cute. Four perfectly browned pancake balls with veggies and octopus inside, topped with bonito, seaweed flakes, pickled ginger, mayo, and “special sauce.”

The balls tasted like pancakes, maybe slightly more fried. The octopus inside was tasty, and all the toppings worked well. We may never know what the special sauce contains, but the whole appetizer was flavorful with a savory, complex mouthfeel.

JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Slightly sweet and definite pancake flavor, plus octopus bites.

Mouthfeel: A little bit crunchy, a little bit creamy, a lot of delicious.

Size: Four large pancake balls.

Presentation: Nice small-sized ingredient stacking on top.

Price: $6

Location: 517 W Washington Blvd 2nd Floor, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

The Nighthawk Saga Continues: Takeout Celebration Stacks Part Two

 Obviously, I am going to keep eating Nighthawk pancakes. How could I not? 

Nighthawk and I have a delicious, yet complicated relationship. They were my first pancake loves of Los Angeles, and it’s hard to forget those early days of “super fucking delicious pancakes that elate your taste-buds in ways you might not have thought possible.” Then I had to end things due to poor pancake behavior. Then I decided to give them another chance and was pleasantly surprised, for the most part.

That brings us to May of 2020, in which we find ourselves in the midst of an actual pandemic, which is something we all used to read or watch disaster porn about (well I did), but never truly expect to live through. It also brings us to my annual celebration of another trip around the sun which called for a pancake celebration. 

My three person Quarantine Crew (who shall remain masked and anonymous) and I decided we would venture out to Nighthawk for takeout pancakes. Actually, I decided, because #birthdayrules. We were immediately shocked by the normalness of Venice Beach; people were biking in big groups and others were strolling mask-less without a care in the world. It was wild. We picked up our pancakes and to-go Candied Bacon Mary’s and got the hell out of there. 

I have acknowledged that takeout pancakes are going to have a tough time competing with the dining-in experience. So with that in mind, these sweet potato pancakes that don’t taste like sweet potatoes were excellent, but not outstanding.  They were perfectly fluffy, perfectly moist with an on-point mouthfeel, but something was missing.

Maybe it was the fried chicken, which was nearly inedible. Because this is an integral part of this dish, Nighthawk lost points on the TastyStacks scale (which has been adjusted to account for pandemic takeout times).  It was pretty sad, because Nighthawk used to have really fucking good fried chicken. 

The Candied Bacon Mary’s here are outstanding; they pack a spicy and exciting punch. I was thrilled we could get them for takeout. One person in my three person Quarantine Crew strongly disagreed with my taste buds on this and didn’t even want to finish his, which was a win-win for me.

Obviously, I am going to keep eating Nighthawk pancakes. How could I not? 

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Delicious stacks of almost-heaven.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy and moist. 

Size: Standard Nighthawk three-piler. 

Presentation: Great. How do people like my re-plating skills?

Price: $17

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292

J Nichols Kitchen: Takeout Celebration Stacks Part One

For a variety of reasons, all pandemic related, the pancakes needed to be takeout and I couldn’t even bring them to the beach to eat them.

J Nichols Kitchen, in Marina del Rey, serves a menu item called “Pork & Pancakes” that I had to have.  Described as “pancakes layered with house-smoked bbq pork, maple pecan butter, and a sunny side up egg” this seemed like the perfect excessive way to celebrate my second year in LA. Also, I learned nothing from my previous piled-high meal.

For a variety of reasons, all pandemic related, the pancakes needed to be takeout and I couldn’t even bring them to the beach to eat them. This was probably for the best because who likes sandy pancakes?  Takeout pancakes are risky. The temperature is no longer perfect once you get home to eat them. You may have to re-plate them for photos. Pancake life is tough.

The pancakes themselves were great. The mouthfeel was an explosion of taste in all the right ways. They were fluffy and buttery rich. The house-smoked bbq pork was delicious. The egg…was an egg. 

It was all too much for a pancake, or three small but hefty pancakes. I ended up scraping off the bbq pork and eating it separately. There was enough for a whole second meal. I thought there was too much bbq sauce and scraped that off as well, to a small abandoned pile on my plate. 

The lesson here is that just because you can top your pancake (or waffle) with every fucking thing you want, doesn’t mean you should.

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: There’s no denying these pancakes were excellent.

Mouthfeel: Pretty damn good, see “explosion of taste” comment above.

Size: Pancakes were appropriately sized for their richness, though there was too much bbq pork and sauce on top of them.

Presentation: Meaty and messy.

Price: $17

Location: 4375 Glencoe Ave, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

TastyStacks Turns One!

A brief rundown of my year in pancakes – pour yourself some syrup and enjoy.

For everyone who asks me what my favorite pancakes have been so far, I always mention Nighthawk, but with a caveat. Nighthawk was my absolute favorite, and also my first review. Then I had to break up with them, and it was not because of my shoeless date. Then Nighthawk redeemed themselves and has been back in my pancake cravings ever since, with only slight suspicion.

I ate a lot of mediocre pancakes, including an all-you-can-eat pancake date with a time limit. I had several really bad pancakes, some of which forced me to create the category “Not Pancakes.” I’ll save you the trouble of clicking that link and let you know that Erewhon makes raw vegan bullshit pancakes that are flat and circular shaped but are most definitely not pancakes. And Birch Benders, which makes one of my favorite protein pancake mixes, totally misses the mark on what makes a pancake with their dreadful “Keto Cups.” Hard pass.

I ate a ton of protein pancakes and pretended to be a runner. Just kidding, I have never pretended to be a runner, though I have finisher medals that say otherwise. You can let me have this humble running brag, as running is basically my kryptonite.

Finally, I had a lot of delicious pancakes and met a handsome pancake purist along the way (only excessive syrup allowed) who didn’t mind when I accidentally flung pancake pieces at him. I look forward to another year consuming delicious carbs and contemplating mouthfeel. And remember, you should never have trouble cutting pancakes.

Pre-Pandemic Pancakes: Home Run Happiness

Slightly sweet and full of impeccable pancake flavor, these shocked me with how good they were. 

In pre-pandemic days, when you could still eat inside restaurants and breathe in people’s faces, I had pancakes at Clutch and Coffee in Torrance, CA. These weren’t just pancakes though, they were really fucking good pancakes. Spoiler alert: I’m giving them a 10/10 on the TastyStacks scale. They are only the third restaurant ever to achieve this mouth-happy rating. The other two are Shoop’s and Nighthawk.

Back when you could travel in large groups I came here with an army of seven, including myself. Doesn’t that seem incredible now? And also maybe no longer allowed depending on where you live? Anyways, the point is we met at Clutch and Coffee at 8 am, which is exactly 10 minutes before it gets crowded.

I hate to admit this, but I wasn’t in the mood for pancakes that morning. Luckily, I’m dating someone who offered to get an order of pancakes as his breakfast so I could try them.  He went with the Buttermilk Pancakes but the menu also offers Strawberry, Blueberry, and Banana Cream Pancakes.

They arrived in a large fluffy stack of three with powdered sugar and butter on top. I took a bite before my date drowned them in syrup and was taken aback by how good they were. I also instantly regretted not getting my own plate.

They were perfectly fluffy. The mouthfeel was a luscious surprise of bliss, much like my date. They didn’t need syrup or any extra “foreign objects” and therefore easily scored the highest level on the naked test. Slightly sweet and full of impeccable pancake flavor, these shocked me with how good they were. 

More good news! Clutch and Coffee is still open for pickup and delivery. They are sadly outside my delivery range at the moment, but maybe they aren’t outside yours! 

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Surprisingly perfect happiness.

Mouthfeel: Deceptively delicious.

Size: Large and fluffy and beautiful.

Presentation: Three marvelous stacks with powdered sugar and a dollop of butter on top.

Price: $7.95 – $9.95

Location: 1321 El Prado Ave, Torrance, CA 90501

Paula’s Pancake House: Solvang’s Well Known Pancake Gem

I tend to want to envelop my pancakes in strawberries though, so maybe the amount they use is reasonable.

Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang, CA is known for their their thin, crêpe-like Danish pancakes. I came here on a Sunday morning date which is obviously the most crowded time to go. You would think there were no other cafes or restaurants nearby serving breakfast. There are, but I don’t know if they serve pancakes. To be honest, this place had been on my radar for awhile, but I didn’t want to drive to Solvang by myself, so I convinced my date to drive me. Win-win!

Once we were finally seated, our appetites had become immense and we promptly over-ordered a variety of breakfast food. Our food platters arrived and I thought the pancakes looked lovely. My date thought the whipped cream looked “sad” which I disagreed with. I have seen some tragic whipped cream on pancakes, and this wasn’t that. I also ordered them with strawberries, which went against my dates’ “no foreign objects on pancakes” policy. This meant I got all the strawberries, so it was another win-win.

The pancakes were solidly good, but I don’t think there was anything outstanding about them. They tasted like thick crêpes (but not quite the traditional pancake) and were slightly sweet on their own. The menu describes them as “World Famous Danish Pancakes” and they can be ordered with blueberries, warm cinnamon apples, Danish sausage or ham, or even simple powdered sugar and butter.

Paula’s also serves regular pancakes (including a variety of fillings) and Whole Wheat and Honey Pancakes, which I didn’t get a chance to try. I’d like to go back and order an entire pancake variety spread someday.

Overall, this place is a little too touristy which I found off-putting, but I did thoroughly enjoy my pancakes. The strawberry quality was good, though I think they could have used more. I tend to want to envelop my pancakes in strawberries though, so maybe the amount they use is reasonable. Paula’s also has excellent bacon, some of which I tucked in my purse for a snack on the drive home. 

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Solidly good. Slightly sweet and creamy.

Mouthfeel: Delicate and pleasant.

Size: Large.

Presentation: Two healthy-sized thin pancakes, topped with whipped cream (which may or may not have looked sad) and strawberries.

Price: $8.50 – $11.75

Location: 1531 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463