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

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.

Sage Plant Based Bistro: Cornbread Cakes

…if you’re going to carb up you might as well do it right.

Sage Plant Based Bistro in Culver City, CA was calling my name one random morning in the week between Christmas and New Years when time is in limbo and no one is quite sure what day it is. Despite being a hardcore meat lover, I’ve never missed it at this vegan restaurant. They have three locations in Southern California and one of the best meat-free taco salads I’ve ever had. But today was about pancakes.

I ordered the Cornbread Jalapeño Pancakes, served with the standard vegan butter and syrup, plus avocado, black beans, and rice. I also ordered hash browns because if you’re going to carb up you might as well do it right. These pancakes are gluten-free and soy-free too if you’re keeping track of those things. 

My first bite sans butter or syrup was good but a little plain. I added butter and an appropriate amount of syrup which easily elevated these to outstanding. Imagine perfectly moist cornbread in pancake form, lightly soaked in buttery syrup, spice, and deliciousness. 

The pancakes had tiny jalapeño flecks inside and a cute little kick to them. In case that’s not enough heat for someone (me), they also added three jalapeño slices on top. A sweet, spicy, melt-in-your-mouth cornbread pancake is hard to beat. Cafe Vida, also in Culver City, comes close but is missing that punch I can’t get enough of. 

The hash browns were similarly outstanding, perfectly crisped on top. I liked that the pancakes came with black beans, rice, and avocado. It felt like a complete (and completely decadent) meal. Go here and eat cornbread the way it should be eaten – as a pancake.

JUST THE STACKS – 9.5/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Tasty as fuck. 

Mouthfeel: Melt-in-your-mouth happiness.

Size: Cute-sized.

Presentation: Three pancakes each topped with a delightful jalapeño slice.

Price: $16.00

Location: 4130 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230

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

Delicious Pizza: And Pancakes!

Fans of pizza, pancakes, and especially alliteration will appreciate this place.

How could you not immediately love a place named Delicious Pizza? They have two locations, one in Hollywood (or the Woo as I like to call it), and one in West Adams, CA.

Delicious Pizza has a variety of pizza, obviously. They also have pancakes, just one type: ricotta.

I ordered the short stack (plus a pizza) and my friendly pancake partner in crime ordered the large stack. After a minor miscommunication in which they brought out only two short stacks, which is definitely not enough pancake to go around, two more shortly arrived. All appeared uniform in fluff, size, and general delight.

Ricotta pancakes can be hard to get right. Sometimes they aren’t cooked enough, and sometimes you can’t even taste the ricotta. These were great. They were, in fact, delicious.

The menu describes them as whipped ricotta, which may be the secret to excellent ricotta pancakes. They had a high fluff factor and sweet tongue taste. I don’t think syrup was even needed and I haven’t had a pancake pass the naked test in a long time. Overall these were simple and indulgent, the perfect weekend or weekday treat.

Fans of pizza, pancakes, and especially alliteration will appreciate this place. I’m more likely to come back for the pancakes instead of the pizza, but I’m an East Coast pizza snob.

JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Delicious, and I don’t think this word can be overused.

Mouthfeel: Sweet, fluffy happiness with a side of lusciousness, thanks to the ricotta.

Size: Medium-large, a short stack is probably not enough on its own.

Presentation: Two to four pancakes with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.

Price: $5.75 – $9.50

Locations:
5419 W Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90016
6601 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

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