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

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

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

Bru’s Wiffle: The Inaugural Waffle Post

Back in early March, when it was still fun to watch the movie Contagion and go to crowded restaurants, I ate at Bru’s Wiffle in Marina Del Rey. Bru’s Wiffle specializes in waffles, making this the very first TastyStacks waffle review.

The waffle combinations here are wild. I don’t know how anyone can make a decision or expect to not be in a food coma. The full menu is worth reading if you are into dessert porn. In brief, they serve every kind of sweet or savory waffle explosion: Banana Split, Red Velvet, Churro, the King (peanut butter, banana, bacon), Green Salsa, Golden Goat, Huevos Rancheros, and the list goes on. 

The savory waffle combinations all come with fried chicken. If you’re thinking the “Chicken on Fire”  waffle that comes with onions, peppers, jalapenos, cheese, “blazing sauce,” and fried chicken might be too much, you would be correct. I was tempted to try it because of the spice implication. For some reason, the waitress asked if I wanted to add eggs to this already monstrous combination and I said yes.

Our waffles arrived and all looked like they were on steroids, with the exception of my date’s waffle. Regular readers will remember him from his “no foreign objects” preferences.  Holding true to this, he went with the basic Chicken and Waffles combo, which is the way to go.

The fried chicken and waffles on their own are both very good. They don’t need to be drowned with toppings. It’s too much for even the most sturdy waffle to handle. There are only so many toppings you can dump on before you start asking “what’s the point?

The Chicken on Fire waffle combination was disappointingly not spicy. There was too much sauce which was a turn off. There was also too much cheese, which is not something people usually complain about. All in all, I wished I had gotten the basic Chicken and Waffle combo (“Dwight’s Special). It was fun to order a truly egregiously topped waffle, but the flavors didn’t hold up, it was overwhelming and not in a delicious way.

JUST THE STACKS – 6.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: The score is mainly for the basic chicken & waffles, which are very good on their own. Points were subtracted because of the excessive ingredient dumping on most of the other waffles and false spice advertising. 

Mouthfeel: Basic chicken & waffles had as close to a perfect mouthfeel as you can get with waffles and the fried chicken was well done and crispy.

Size: Massive. My order veered into egregious and overwhelming territory.

Presentation: Fun!

Price: $12.95 – $18.95

Location: 3105 Washington Blvd, 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.

Loaded Cafe: A Burst of Berries

Some people, like my date, would argue that a syrup-moist pancake is the only way to go.

Despite swearing off eating pancakes with boys after my last failed pancake dating experience, I recently ended up at The Loaded Cafe in Lawndale, CA with a handsome blue-eyed boy who immediately impressed me with his knowledge of rockets as well as an interest in ordering lots of food.

The Loaded Cafe has six locations in Los Angeles and offers several hefty pancake options: Strawberry Banana, Strawberry Blueberry, New York Strawberry Cheesecake, and Chocolate Chip. 

I chose the Strawberry Blueberry Combo which comes with eggs, hash browns, and bacon or sausage. Places that offer pancake combos get an automatic extra point on the Tasty Stacks scale. 

My pancakes arrived in a cute stack of two topped with strawberries and a deflated mound of whipped cream. They were obviously fluffy and had a substantial amount of blueberries inside.

It was at this point that my date disclosed several disturbing pancake preferences that I tried to be open-minded about; namely that he didn’t like “foreign objects” in his pancakes. Not even chocolate chips, which is fucking egregious.  

He tried several bites, trying to excavate pancake pieces without berries. The blueberries, by the way, were excellent. They were cooked into the batter just about perfectly, which is hard to do without compromising consistency. I must have had an offended look on my face, because my date did try a loaded bite, complete with a strawberry on top. 

“I was right, that’s just unnatural.” 

Have you ever met someone so wrong about something it’s more fascinating than offensive? That’s what was happening here. 

We both agreed the pancakes had a rich buttery flavor, except when I agreed I did so by emphatically gesturing with my knife which had pancake pieces on it. Yes, they flew in my date’s direction and narrowly missed him. So maybe there will be another date. 

My only pancake criticism is that they did not pass the “naked” test with flying colors (few pancakes do) but were improved with syrup. Some people, like my date, would argue that a syrup-moist pancake is the only way to go.  Overall, these pancakes lived up to the their “loaded” namesake and were pretty tasty. They had a slightly crisped top, a high fluff factor, and an abundance of juicy berries.

JUST THE STACKS – 8/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Solidly “good” and improved with syrup.

Mouthfeel: Buttery and fluffy and bursting with berries.

Size: Medium and appropriately sized for being part of a combo.

Presentation: A short stack of two pancakes, topped with powdered sugar, strawberries, and deflated whipped cream. 

Price: $11.99

Location: 15126-B Hawthorne Blvd, Lawndale, CA 90260

Halfway House Cafe: The Hunt for Blueberry Pancakes

I love pancake combos but if you’re going to call something a sandwich just make it a fucking sandwich.

The Halfway House Cafe in Santa Clarita, CA has been used in a number of films and TV shows including The Twilight Zone, Space Cowboys, Gilmore Girls, and Monk. It’s a cute cafe with an adorably rustic exterior. Most importantly, they serve pancakes.

You can get regular pancakes or blueberry pancakes in a stack of two or four. I went with the Pancake Sandwich, which is sadly not an actual pancake sandwich, but rather two large pancakes with eggs and bacon. I love pancake combos but if you’re going to call something a sandwich just make it a fucking sandwich. If anyone knows where I can get an actual pancake sandwich please reach out to me – pancakes@tastystacks.com.

I have been on the prowl for delicious melt-in-your-mouth blueberry pancakes for what seems like years now. Spoiler alert: I didn’t find them here. The blueberries were good, and obviously fresh. The pancake was cooked evenly, which is tricky when using robust berries of any kind. The pancakes themselves were average, and a little too chewy on their own. I lathered butter and syrup on them which made them pretty tasty. It’s hard not to love something with enough butter and syrup. The star of this dish was the bacon, if you like crispy bacon that explodes with flavor.

I would recommend stopping here if you’re in the area but wouldn’t necessarily make a special trip out here for the food.

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Decent. These are standard unassuming diner pancakes. They won’t wow you but they will fill you up.

Mouthfeel: A little too chewy and bland without the help of butter and syrup.

Size: Large and hearty.

Presentation: Two blueberry pancakes are the star of the plate, with eggs & bacon. Not a sandwich. 

Price: $6.95 – $10.95

Location: 15564 Sierra Hwy, Santa Clarita, CA 91390

Killer Cafe: Strong Stacks

Have these pancakes been lifting?


The Killer Cafe (open 24 hours!) in Marina Del Rey, CA has always struck me as a tourist restaurant, so I wasn’t expecting outstanding pancakes. And I didn’t get outstanding pancakes. What I did get was a giant fucking plate of pancakes. They weren’t as large as The Griddle Cafe, these were stacks you could actually work through. They were fluffy and hearty and very visually appealing. My friend described them as good value pancakes, and at $11 he was right. 

We both ordered the plain Buttermilk pancakes. You can get these topped with blueberries, strawberries, or bananas, for a slightly outrageous three dollars more. As two sets of massive stacks were placed in front of us, a woman stared in astonishment and asked a server what they were. They were quite impressive, and I guess to some people, bewildering. 

I tasted these “naked” first, without butter or syrup, and found them a little on the chewy side and not incredibly flavorful. There are debates to be had about whether pancakes should be able to stand alone or are made to be enjoyed doused in syrup or butter. 

I can see both sides to this. All I’m going to say is it’s a lot of fun to watch someone pour syrup over a giant pancake stack, sticky sugar cascading in all directions, and then dive right in and eat the entire fucking thing. Really impressive work. If I were flirting, (which I never am) I would call it really fucking sexy. 

In any case, after treating my pancakes with a healthy helping of butter and syrup, they were greatly improved. Thick pancakes soak this stuff up really well. These would also make great travel pancakes. They have the heft to withstand a decent journey.

Would I go back to Killer Cafe? Absolutely. But it would probably be for the Killer Shrimp, served in a spicy sauce that is out-of-this-world outstanding. The pancakes here just can’t compete with that. 

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Good but definitely needed the butter & syrup enhancements.

Mouthfeel: A little too chewy on their own, but nice doused in butter & syrup.

Size: Beefy. Have these pancakes been lifting?

Presentation: Impressive and astonishing to bystanders.

Price: $11 – $14

Location: 4213 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Nighthawk Returns…Or Does It?

If you’ve ever thought you could lay your head on a soft stack of perfectly shaped pancakes, these would be it.

After my disastrously disappointing Nighthawk experience, I wasn’t sure when I’d be ready to go back. The opportunity presented itself to me in an unlikely way. To make an awkward story short, a guy came up to me at a show, introduced himself, and asked me out for pancakes. He was wearing shoes and everything so I said yes. Then he suggested…Nighthawk.

Before I broke up with Nighthawk, I would have agreed instantly. Was I ready to go on another date and have more sad, deflated pancakes? Even if the guy was wearing shoes? I decided that yes, this would be a good opportunity to see if my previous experience was more of a fluke than a regular thing. Sure, it helped that the guy was cute too.

I told my date about my previous disheartening Nighthawk experience, which heightened the pancake anticipation. What would the Big Bird and Short Stack be like this time? Would I get heaven cooked in batter form or a sad stack of mediocrity?

I was dumbfounded when the pancakes arrived. They were large and fluffy, with crispy fried chicken on top. If you’ve ever thought you could lay your head on a soft stack of perfectly shaped pancakes, these would be it. They looked like an old love returned to me, but I was suspicious. 

I usually refrain from taking food photos on a first date, but I couldn’t help myself this time. This was a good looking stack that needed to be documented. Luckily, my date was similarly photographically inclined. We proceeded to engage in an eye-rolling, “very LA” display of food photography.  

I couldn’t get over how perfectly sized and fluffy these pancakes looked compared to last time. As I usually do, I tried them without butter or syrup first to determine their natural mouth feel. They were good, but the magic was gone for me. Even after adding syrup and butter, I just wasn’t getting that surge of exploding pleasure. And the butter Nighthawk uses is fucking delicious. The fried chicken was also good, it was substantially crispier and more flavorful than last time. 

Unfortunately, the X factor that pushed these into a 10/10 rating previously was missing. Once your pancake crush crushes you, there’s just no going back (though you’ll notice these are still rated highly).  This is sad, but there are other pancakes out there. I know, I already found them

JUST THE STACKS – 8.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Pretty good, objectively tasty, but not outstanding.

Mouthfeel: Fluffy & pleasant.

Size: Perfect.

Presentation: Really fucking good looking.

Price: $17

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292