The Kettle: A Manhattan Beach Gem (Except for the Pancakes)

The Kettle restaurant, located in Manhattan Beach, CA has been serving food 24 hours a day since 1973. This Manhattan Beach landmark is adorned with, you guessed it, a giant kettle and a view of the ocean, depending on where you sit. 

I have walked by The Kettle dozens of times, but as it always looks packed with tourists and locals, never gone in. I decided it was time to change that on a Saturday afternoon during peak brunch hour. 

For how busy it was, the Kettle runs like a well-oiled machine. Service was swift, and the Lemon Pancakes I ordered arrived quickly given the crowds. They were pretty to look at, with powdered sugar and sliced fresh strawberries, but that is where the compliments end.

Was there lemon in them? Maybe. There were tiny flecks of what was probably lemon zest, but ultimately the pancakes were flavorless and disappointing. I added butter and syrup, which made them tolerable, but ended up leaving the majority of them behind. The older I get the less tolerant I am of bad pancakes. How hard can this be? It makes me wonder if some people don’t know what a good pancake tastes like, or maybe they just don’t care. The opportunity for crafting unexpectedly delicious pancakes was missed here. 

The best thing about The Kettle is anything other than the pancakes (my friend and I also both ordered egg dishes which were quite good), and its ocean proximity.

JUST THE STACKS – 2/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: The best thing on this plate was the strawberries, which were indeed fresh.

Mouthfeel: These bordered on a two-ply yoga mat mouthfeel, and looking back on that previous review makes me realize I have been real fucking lax with these arbitrary numbers.

Size: Average.

Presentation: Appealing. But an appealing presentation with a sad taste makes the whole experience even worse.

Price: $13.95

Location: 1138 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Shoop’s Semi Annual Review: The Best of the Best of the Best

…what can only be described as delicious genius…

People frequently ask me where to get the best pancakes in the LA area. The answer is, hand down and without a doubt, Shoop’s Delicatessen in Santa Monica. 

They are now the standard to which I hold all other pancakes. They have mastered the art of pancake fluff and broken all the rules about savory pancakes in what can only be described as delicious genius.

Most notable about Shoop’s is the quality of their stuffed pancakes. Many places will throw on toppings like sliced strawberries and bananas without a care in the world about pancake integrity. Shoop’s will expertly bake these toppings into the pancake. They are evenly cooked throughout, with crisped buttery edges, and pancake fluff that would make even the harshest of food critics mouth-happy. 

This round of reviews takes a bite into: the Savory Tomato Basil Pancake, Savory Salmon Pancake, and Banana Pancakes.

Savory Tomato Basil: A tried and true favorite, always outstanding, consistently amazing. I have had this many times and it never disappoints. You might think there is too much going on in one oversized pancake – it’s filled with fresh tomato and basil and topped with two eggs, pesto, and feta. But somehow it works in the best way possible.

Savory Salmon Pancake: This was not my favorite to be honest. It could be because I am a salmon snob and like my salmon grilled on a George Foreman or in a backyard in Venice only. The smoked salmon by itself was delicious, and there was so much of it! No stingy toppings in sight at Shoop’s. The pancake was similarly delicious, expert level fluff with tasty, unexpected pockets of cream cheese. But something about the combo together just didn’t work for me. Because the technical pancake skills were obvious, no TastyStacks points were deducted for this. 

Banana Pancakes: Yes, just like the song, but way better because you can actually eat these, and they are mind-blowingly delicious. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since I first tried them. They are truly a “taste sensation,” just like the menu describes.

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sweet & savory pancake fluff heaven.

Mouthfeel: FUCKING LUSCIOUS.

Size: Strikes the perfect chord between thickness and width.

Presentation: A meaty stack of three or a giant pancake with all the fixings. Mouthwatering on all accounts.

Price: $11.95-$17.50

Location: 2400 Main St A1, Santa Monica, CA 90405 (Blocks from the beach! Ample cheap parking in the back.)

All Shoop’s Reviews!

Jiggly Pancakes: When the Hype Doesn’t Match the Bite

“Like biting into a memory foam mattress.”

In the heart of Pasadena, CA (with a second location in San Gabriel), lies Motto Tea Café—a haven for tea enthusiasts and seekers of Japanese souffle pancakes. Their menu boasts an extensive selection of teas and beverages, as well as a variety of souffle pancakes. While they warn that the pancakes may take 20-30 minutes or longer during peak times, my visit on a late Saturday afternoon rewarded me with a relatively short wait of about 10 minutes at most.  

Japanese souffle pancakes may best be known (at least on social media) for their jiggle. These ultra-light and ultra-fluffy stacks are made by incorporating whipped egg whites into the batter. This, along with cooking the pancakes at a low heat, gives them their signature airy texture and wiggle. 

I took along my pancake tasting partner and we ordered two kinds: Nutellamisu Mousse Souffle and Matcha Strawberry Pancake. 

Both stacks were served with a small amount of fresh fruit on the side and a large amount of sauce poured over top. Visually, they were fun and good looking and whimsical. And yes, they had a very satisfying jiggle. Taste-wise, the pancakes were a little disappointing.

They were a little bland, and very eggy, and very light. While the eggy element wasn’t unpleasant, it lacked the richness found in Dutch baby pancakes (also eggy). They resembled a mildly flavored eggy cheesecake, though without the expected burst of taste. The Nutellamisu Mousse Souffle arrived half-deflated, which isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just that as soon as these pancakes come off the heat, you only have so much time to take your Instagram Tik Toks before you lose the fluff-jiggle effect. They were also overly drenched in Nutella sauce and Oreo crumbles. I admit this was my fault as I had been swayed by the social media videos of the sauce all over them, and I wanted to experience the pancakes the way they were portrayed.
I do not recommend this. Get the sauce on the side so it doesn’t overpower the lightness of the pancake.

The second stack, Matcha Strawberry Pancake, was significantly fluffier and looked exactly like it did online, sauce and all. Nestled between the pancakes, was a delightful surprise of crushed blueberries and a light cream. This souffle stack was much tastier. The matcha sauce, with its delicate flavor, complemented the souffle’s own delicateness. Though we both liked this one better, there is just something about the souffle texture that didn’t appeal pancake-wise. Unfortunately, I would not come back here for the pancakes but I would come back here for the massive tea menu.

JUST THE STACKS – 6/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: A little boring. 

Mouthfeel: “Like biting into a memory foam mattress.”

Size: Tall and thicc.

Presentation: Cascading sauce and a nice jiggle, the presentation is the high point for these pancakes. 

Price: $15.50-$16.95

Location: Pasadena and San Gabriel, CA

The Pancake Spott: Bring A Pancake Truck to Work Day

If whimsy were a mouthfeel these would be the definition of it.

As the return-to-work debate lingers on, many employers have turned to creative work perks to encourage employees to return to the office. One of the best things to come out of this pretty stupid circular discussion, was that I had the opportunity to bring in a pancake truck to one of my former workplaces. 

There is no shortage of pancake trucks and mobile pancake stands in the LA area that specialize in mini pancakes. I reached out to several via social media and ended up hiring The Pancake Spott

The Pancake Spott pulled up in a neon pink and purple trailer, decorated with giant mini pancakes all over. I know I’m not rating truck designs here, but it really set the pancake mood. 

Because this was a catered event, each person could order, in theory, as many pancakes as they wanted. Unlimited mini pancakes! Served in portions of ten mini pancakes, toppings included nutella, caramel sauce, dulce de leche, chocolate sauce, oreo crumbles, strawberries, bananas, fruity pebble cereal, and ice cream.

The pancakes were slightly sweet on their own, like little whimsical puffs of deliciousness. Something about mini pancakes (presumably their size) allows for the perfect bite-sized bit of fluff factor in the middle. 

I am usually a pancake topping minimalist at heart but in the name of pancake research, I wanted to try the full array of toppings. For my first round I chose nutella, strawberry, and banana, which is a guaranteed trio of deliciousness. The fruit was fresh, and in large enough quantities that you actually felt like you were getting a hearty serving. The nutella topping was well portioned and didn’t overshadow the pancakes themselves.

For my second round, I started with the same winning topping trio and added oreo crumbles, dulce de leche, and a scoop of ice cream. Too many pancake toppings can definitely overwhelm pancakes, but even with my second heavily topped serving, it was somehow the perfect symphony of sweetness and decadence. 

My favorite part was that The Pancake Spott set up a gorgeous platter of pancakes, using the rest of the pancake batter they had portioned for this event. Sprinkled with fruity pebble bits and a strawberry center, I wished I had a pancake party to take it to. 

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Mini bursts of deliciousness.

Mouthfeel: If whimsy were a mouthfeel these would be the definition of it.

Size: Tiny masterpieces, bite-sized wonders.

Presentation: Ten of the cutest pancakes, topped with whatever your heart desires, as long as it has been previously stocked in the pancake truck.

Location: https://www.instagram.com/thepancakespott/?hl=en

Traveling in the Wilmington, CA area, also available for catering.

Shoop’s Part Three: Pancake Mecca

Mouthfeel: FUCKING LUSCIOUS.

It has been over a year since I last reviewed Shoop’s, and because they have clearly usurped my old favorite Nighthawk for best pancakes – this was the obvious choice for birthday pancakes in order to carb up for a hike (humble hike brag). 


As a bonus, it’s clear all those mediocre pancake dates back in the day paid off – I found someone happy to drive the opposite way of his work on the 405 at 7am to take me out for breakfast, and then drive all the way back on the 405 during rush hour. LA people will understand this as the definition of love.


Shoop’s lets you mix and match items on the regular pancake list, so we chose buttermilk, bacon, and pineapple. We also ordered one of their savory pancakes: Pastrami and Swiss. 


My 405 guy, famous for historically declaring he doesn’t like “foreign objects” in his pancakes, thought the savory pastrami and swiss pancake was delicious. Delicious may be an understatement. It was an unexpected joy to eat. Composed of one giant pancake, the batter is mixed with chopped up bits of pastrami and swiss cheese, and topped with fried eggs and grilled onions. The top of the pancake was lightly crisped, the inside was mouth-happy and marvelous. Imagine pastrami pancake angels dancing on your tongue, encased in warm buttery fluff. Even better, go eat these and experience pancake fluff heaven for yourself. 


The bacon pancake, while still excellent, almost pales in comparison to the magic of the pastrami and swiss pancake. The pineapple pancake, which is stuffed with caramelized pieces of pineapple, and one that I’ve had several times before, held up to the standard of excellence I have come to expect from Shoop’s. If you’re into (or curious about) savory pancakes, Shoop’s has several other varieties: Tomato Basil (fucking fantastic), Bacon Cheddar Jalapeno, and Savory Salmon. The latter two are on my list to try as ASAP as possible. 

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sweet & savory pancake fluff heaven.

Mouthfeel: FUCKING LUSCIOUS.

Size: Goldilocks would say these are just the right size. Savory pancakes comes as one extra large one.

Presentation: Humble and unassuming. Shoop’s has no need for faff.

Price: $11.95-$17.50

Location: 2400 Main St A1, Santa Monica, CA 90405 (Blocks from the beach! Ample cheap parking in back!)

Hustler Casino Cakes: Don’t Bet On These

One Sunday afternoon, I found myself at Larry Flynt’s Bar & Grill located inside the Hustler Casino in Gardena, CA. I was in search of breakfast in the South Bay area that didn’t also come with a 45 minute wait. What I got was a relatively quiet place to eat amidst the gentle clinking of chips, an $8 mimosa, and pancakes that were pretty bad. At the time of eating here, everything was served in takeout containers due to covid policies. I also ordered eggs and bacon which were slightly below mediocre. The real standout of the meal was the bread served on the side. This wasn’t the usual trash toast you get on the side, this was real, bakery-fresh, thick cut bread.

The pancakes were a different, sadder story. The first indication was that they were hard to cut into. This is an immediate warning sign you are about to eat sad stacks. The only thing you can really do with pancakes like this is douse them in butter and syrup and hope for the best. Even sugar and fat weren’t much help. About 90% of the pancakes ended up in the trash.

I guess I might come here again if I had a hankering for a table game and didn’t want to make the hop over to Vegas.

JUST THE STACKS – 2/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Sad.

Mouthfeel: Not enjoyable, hard to chew.

Size: Large but useless.

Presentation: These definitely looked like pancakes.

Price: Do not recall, but not expensive.

Location: 1000 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena, CA 90247


More Casino Cake Reviews!

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.

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

Nighthawk: I Love You but I’m Not in Love with You

This was not the meaty, fluffy stack of heaven I had come to expect. In fact, there was no fluff factor to talk about at all.

I first wrote about Nighthawk: Breakfast Bar in Venice here. I extolled their pancakes, and described the mouthfeel as “exploding pleasure”. No other place has achieved a 10/10 on the Tasty Stacks scale yet. I kept going back because they were dependably delectable on all fronts. Nighthawk could do no wrong with their pancakes in my eyes. 

Well, nothing lasts forever. Not even pancakes.

I came here most recently on a first date. My date wasn’t wearing shoes. Instead, he was wearing a thin strip of cloth, that at a glance, could pass for weird sandals. This was so he would still be served at restaurants, he explained. He was also a vegetarian, which I try to be open-minded about as a card-carrying meat eater.

I ordered my usual – the Big Bird and Short Stack – which is three sweet potato pancakes (that taste less like sweet potatoes and more like “heaven in cooked batter form“) topped with fried chicken.

Of course, I had raved about the pancakes here. My date asked if he could have some and I hesitated. Share my Nighthawk pancakes? I barely knew this person. I agreed because I didn’t want to seem completely pancake crazy on the first date. I like to save that for at least the second date.   

The pancakes arrived and I could tell immediately something was off. They looked thin, like someone had squished all the joy out of them. This was not the meaty, fluffy stack of heaven I had come to expect. In fact, there was no fluff factor to talk about at all. Already anguished, I took a bite sans butter or syrup. The flavor was still there, kind of, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt as deflated as the pancakes. 

The chicken was similarly flattened into thinner than usual cutlets. There was a fried coating, but it wasn’t crispy, which is a sin in the fried chicken world. Even worse, there was very little flavor. 

I gave my date a sizable pancake piece, and I wonder if this was where things went south. These were not up to the standards I had talked about. Maybe he thought I didn’t know what a good pancake was. 

The highlight of the meal was the cookie dough butter. It’s hard to go wrong with butter but this stuff is fucking outstanding. I lathered it on my un-fluffy pancakes. They needed a boost and this helped. 

I would have taken photos of this sad stack, but didn’t want to blow my undercover pancake cover on the first date. Not that it mattered. Though I was fond of my humorous and shoe-less date, he texted me the next day that he wasn’t interested. I didn’t even get a chance to ask him his pancake opinion. I belatedly realized this was because he had been talking so much that I let him run away with the conversation which devolved into backhanded novel writing bragging and a long Coachella acid story (his).

Most importantly, will I go back to Nighthawk? Maybe. But I’m not sure my heart can take another un-fluffy mediocre pancake stack from here. 

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: Disappointing, but not bad.

Mouthfeel: Something was missing. That something was the perfect pancake fluff that used to be here.

Size: The size of these was still ok, but they were so flattened they seemed much smaller.

Presentation: A very flat stack of three pancakes, topped with two very flat pieces of fried chicken. 

Price: $17 (Expensive for the unremarkable quality.)

Location: 417 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292