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

Uncle Bill’s Pancake House: Searching for a Taste of Fall

I was hoping for an explosion of fall in my mouth. I wanted to be reminded of crunchy leaves and impending snowstorms.

Uncle Bill’s Pancake House in Manhattan Beach, CA has appeared on several of my “best pancakes in Los Angeles” google searches. They’re blocks from the beach with an ocean view and a variety of pancakes: Buttermilk, Buckwheat, Blueberry, Cinnamon Apple, Banana Nut, Macadamia Nut, Chocolate Chip, Strawberry, and Pumpkin Spice. With fall right around the corner at the time of this tasting, the Pumpkin Spice caught my eye. 

As a former East Coaster, the fall season in LA is hard for me. Fall is delightful on the East Coast, especially in New England. The air is crisp and cool (eventually), and the leaves turn colors that make that landscape so visually pleasing not even the ocean and palm trees can compete. You start craving homemade chili, slightly less iced coffee, and pumpkin flavored foods.

Pumpkin flavored food is fucking everywhere in the fall, even in warmer LA-esque climates. I used to be irritated by all the pumpkin flavored items but now that I live where summer never really ends, I appreciate the autumnal enthusiasm and actively seek out pumpkin tastes. This led me to order Pumpkin Spice pancakes on a gorgeous summer day up the street from the ocean. 

The pancakes arrived and they were the wrong pancakes. The waitress caught it before I did due to the fact that I was busy photographing them. So I have photos of their Buttermilk and Pumpkin Spice pancakes. The Buttermilk photographed better. 

Without any butter or syrup I found the pancakes a little gummy. This is worse than chewy. Gummy pancakes are not a great mouthfeel. I soldiered on and spread butter and syrup on them. Either I was very hungry or these additions made them pretty good, because I devoured them. 

Let’s talk about the pumpkin flavor! It was mild. I was hoping for an explosion of fall in my mouth. I wanted to be reminded of crunchy leaves and impending snowstorms. It was a nice change from regular Buttermilk pancakes, but just too subtle. Put some more allspice or New England air in there! 

I don’t agree that these pancakes should be on a “Best Pancakes in LA” list but a lot of people on Yelp disagree with me. If you want cute ocean view pancakes (and who doesn’t) you should go here but temper your pancake expectations. 

Also, if you know of any great Pumpkin Spice pancake places or tried and true recipes please send them my way! (pancakes@tastystacks.com)  

JUST THE STACKS – 7.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: A hint of pumpkin spice, just enough to intensify my cravings.

Mouthfeel: Gummy without the help of butter and syrup.

Size: Reasonable.

Presentation: A stack of two, as part of a combo plate served with eggs and bacon.

Price: $8 – $15

Location: 1305 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

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

Chain-Cakes: IHOP (Marina Del Rey, CA Location)

I don’t know whose pancakes are in the photo but they aren’t the ones IHOP is serving. I suspect this is a case of pancake catfishing. 

Sometimes when I disclose my pancake infatuation to people, they ask if I go to IHOP (International House of Pancakes) a lot. The answer is no. IHOP has done some impressive marketing in that when people hear “pancakes” they automatically think of IHOP. The truth is they have mediocre pancakes and they know it. 

That’s why they started a marketing campaign in 2018 where they fake re-branded themselves as IHOB, International House of Burgers. Flip the P in IHOP and it becomes a B. Super clever, right? A lot of people thought this was a cheap gimmick and told them to stick to pancakes. This year IHOP is telling people to check out their new “pancakes” that are really burgers. IHOP is trolling the Internet, and also your taste-buds. 

I hadn’t been to an IHOP in a long time, and as a pancake researcher it was time for an updated visit. They have a lot of pancakes that sound tasty: Buttermilk, Italian Cannoli, Mexican Churro, Cupcake, Strawberry Banana, New York Cheesecake, Double Blueberry, and Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity® Pancakes to name a few.  I chose the Build Your Pancake Combo with blueberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, and hash browns. 

My pancakes arrived looking small and sad. I’ve ordered many pancake combo meals and this was pretty glum looking. Take some fucking pride your namesake IHOP.  I saw someone else with a full stack that did look fluffier and more like the menu pictures, so maybe that’s the way to go. Or perhaps it’s because I decided to forgo the blueberry topping. Based on past experiences, this is way too sweet and serves to only shroud the pancake in unnecessary sugar, though it probably would have been aesthetically pleasing. I can make excuses all day for this alleged pancake house, but the truth is these pancakes are mediocre, and that may even be too generous.

My stack looked nearly nothing like the menu photo. The pancake fluff in that photo? Lovely and admirable. The pancake fluff in my stack? Underwhelming and dejected. I don’t know whose pancakes are in the photo but they aren’t the ones IHOP is serving. I suspect this is a case of pancake catfishing. 

The blueberries were not evenly distributed, but rather clumped mostly in the middle of the pancake, resulting in an automatic rating downgrade. The taste was slightly off somehow, and they were a little sticky in my mouth. No pancake fluff heaven here.

My friend ordered The Big IHOP Pancake Burger™ and reported he only caught hints of the pancake they randomly inserted in there, though the burger was good. The “unlimited fries” were the most comical part of the meal. They were served a small handful at a time in a small bowl. It was weird. The fries themselves were good, very crispy and appropriately salty. Maybe they should change their name to IHOF, and also serve a real portion of fries to get the party started.

Though I will likely never be impressed with their pancakes, I remember IHOP fondly from my childhood. They had smiley face chocolate chip pancakes that I adored and wanted every weekend. But now that I’m in my 30’s I can make my own smiley face chocolate chip pancakes that are much tastier, and much creepier. Being an adult is fun like that.

JUST THE STACKS – 5.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Underwhelming.

Mouthfeel: Not quite right. 

Size: Too small, I should have just ordered a full stack.

Presentation: Pretty sad.

Price: $6.29 – $11.59

Location: 4070 Lincoln Blvd, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Pancake Face via TastyStacks.

Chain-Cakes: The Cheesecake Factory (Marina Del Rey, CA Location)

More lemon zest please!


One of the best things about The Cheesecake Factory is the massive amount of calories they can fit into a meal. The second best thing is that they post the calorie counts so you can openly marvel at them. For example – 1,620 calories in ONE slice of Oreo® Dream Extreme Cheesecake? Fucking incredible. 

The Cheesecake Factory has several types of pancakes: Lemon Ricotta (1,560 calories), Cinnamon Roll (2,040 calories), Buttermilk (1,370), and Buttermilk with Blueberries (1,460). The downside to posting calorie counts is that I really wanted the Cinnamon Roll pancakes but for some reason could not justify the 2,000 plus calorie price tag. Instead, I opted for my second choice, the Lemon Ricotta pancakes. Were the 480 calories I saved worth it? I’ll have to go back another time to check.   

My friend, who has only ever been to The Cheesecake Factory twice(!), the second time being the time I am describing now, ordered the Monte Cristo. I know this is a pancake blog, but this dish looked delectable and I have been stuck with Monte Cristo cravings ever since. The Monte Cristo clocks in at an impressive 1,880 calories for anyone keeping track.

My Lemon Ricotta pancakes arrived in a Cheesecake Factory sized stack of three, with lemon zest curlicues sprinkled on top, and a small pile of strawberries. The strawberries weren’t super fresh, but at least they weren’t previously frozen.

Ricotta pancakes are hard to get right. These were good, but not great. The middle of the pancakes were slightly underdone. In addition, the syrup resembled sugar water in taste and consistency which is sad. I ended up only eating half and taking the other half to go.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from these leftovers. I even debated throwing them out. But I had a small taste of them cold and was surprised. They were actually kind of delightful. There was a creamy sweetness, without being overpowering. I reheated the rest in a pan and concluded that cooking them longer was a definite improvement. 

My other criticism was the small amount of lemon flavor. More lemon zest please! The tendrils that arrived on top added a nice spark, and these could have used more of them. I did not get any lemon flavor in the pancakes themselves.

My rating increased a notch due to the leftover factor. But if you’re like most people and are expecting your ricotta pancakes to be cooked correctly on the first pass, you may want to try another dish here. Maybe the Barbeque Ranch Chicken Salad for a measly 2,150 calories?

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Mediocre on the first try, better re-heated. Good sweetness level.

Mouthfeel: Creamy & quite pleasant, but too much mush in the middle.

Size: Standard Cheesecake-size, which is large.

Presentation: A good looking stack with powdered sugar on top, but the berry pile seemed a little too small.

Price: $8.50 – $11.95

Location: 4142 Via Marina, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292