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

A-Frame: The Legend of the Hidden Pancakes


“I can fucking EAT. So if we do AYCE pancakes, buckle up for a looong first date.”

I went to A-Frame in Culver City on a first date on a weekend morning. We arrived just before they opened, which is definitely something you should do unless you want a long wait. There is also the distinct possibility you will be seated at a communal table, which is a prospect that always terrifies me. This could have added an additional fun element to the date, but luckily we snagged a solo table. A-Frame was transformed from an old IHOP building, and rumor has it there are still smiley face chocolate chip pancakes hidden inside the A-frame walls.

Image via T.Tseng.

The big sell (at least to me) at A-Frame is that they offer all you can eat pancakes “Comin’ at Ya Two Stacks at a time, Order Until You Burst!” which we intended to do. The guy had warned me in advance: “I can fucking EAT. So if we do AYCE pancakes, buckle up for a looong first date.” I was instantly sold, and also instantly skeptical. Once seated, we were told we had a two hour time limit. Just in case you were feeling a little too relaxed about a first date, you now have pancake deadline, and the clock is ticking.

A-Frame has six varieties of two stack pancakes you can order. They are all buttermilk based, with different toppings: Buttermilk, Lilikoi Butter, Banana Mac Nut, P.O.G. (Pineapple, Orange, Guava), Buttermilk Chicken, and Sweet Red Bean. Having just toppings and nothing mixed into the batter always seems a little lazy to me, but there is an interesting variety to choose from.

Each of us ended up ordering only two sets of stacks, plus a couple beers, which may have cut into our pancake appetite. The pancakes were small, but dense. They were good overall, with a solid standard fluff to them, but nothing really stood out, besides the fact you could order AYCE. I was expecting my date to go for a third round after such big talk, but perhaps the pancakes just weren’t worth a third round. I have no pictures of the pancakes because I am (probably) not about to pull out my phone on a first date and start taking pictures of my food. I remember being very full, and very smitten with my date. I have no strong memories of the pancakes themselves, but there is always something appealing to AYCE pancakes.

Just the Stacks – 7/10 Tasty Stacks

Overall Taste: Quality buttermilk flavor but some toppings were overly sweet.

Mouthfeel: Good, but nothing magical.

Size: Small sets of two, but these are AYCE so pace yourself.

Presentation: Cute.

Price: $16

Location: 12565 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066


Protein Pancake Series: Trader Joe’s Mix


This is literally how I imagine myself when deadlifting – as a man, picking up a pancake barbell.

I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s. Many of my fond memories are from the tiniest Trader Joe’s on Boylston St. in Boston and involve Mac & Cheese Bites and Lobster Ravioli. You can imagine my delight when I discovered Trader Joe’s started selling protein pancake mix. The packaging design gets an A+. This is literally how I imagine myself when deadlifting – as a man, picking up a pancake barbell. I am sad to report that the illustration was the high point of my pancake experience. I tried these twice, just to be sure. Like many protein pancake mixes on the market, all you need to add is water, which is great if you are both very hungry and short on time.

My first attempt at making these failed spectacularly. The main problem was too many blueberries. I got overly excited to use fresh farmers market blueberries and dumped a generous handful (or two) in the batter. Due to the blueberry abundance, the giant single pancake I made didn’t cook evenly. Parts of the middle weren’t cooked through and some of one side was burned. Taste-wise it was terrible. I made a painful decision to throw the pancake away.

On my second attempt, I went back to basics, in case these were terrible due to operator error. I made several small pancakes, instead of a single giant one. I added a few chocolate chips to each after I had dolloped the batter into the pan. I monitored them carefully. Finally, it was time to eat them.

Overall, these were mediocre. They were a little chewy and had a slightly odd, grainy consistency. The pancakes themselves were pretty tasteless and needed toppings. At a certain point, adding chocolate chips and syrup to protein pancakes defeats their purpose but that tipping point is a personal decision. These are marketed as “buttermilk” pancakes and include buttermilk powder as one of the ingredients, but they didn’t have any of that decadent buttermilk taste. On the plus side, they were filling, have a decent amount of protein, and virtually no fat or sugar. I felt sufficiently nourished after lifting heavy things and putting them back down, so these served their purpose, though not in the most delicious way.

Just the Stacks – 5/10 Tasty Stacks  

Overall Taste: Bland with a hint of whole grain.

Mouthfeel: Chewy and grainy.

Protein per serving:  10 grams per 1/3 cup (I used 2/3 cup).

Price: $3.49 for a 1lb. box.

Available at: Trader Joe’s stores.

Erewhon: Are These Even Pancakes?


Pancakes should bring joy and delight, and maybe evoke pleasant memories of smiley-face chocolate chip pancakes.

I have been irritated by these pancakes ever since Erewhon started selling them. They’re tiny. They cost $10.95 and don’t even have any gluten in them. Gluten is delicious but I understand some people can’t or won’t eat it. 

I gave these pancakes the benefit of the doubt. I put them on a real plate and heated them up, but not too much, because I didn’t want them to lose their “raw” integrity. I tried to eat them with an open mind and paired them with a good cup of coffee.

I felt like I was eating mashed up fruit & nuts sculpted into a circular shape. They tasted exactly like their ingredients: pecan, cashew, banana, apple juice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, Himalayan salt, red maca. This wasn’t necessarily bad, but it did not delight my taste-buds. I felt cheated out of a pancake experience.

These mini “pancakes” come with syrup and a coconut cream spread. The coconut cream was pretty tasty and added an interesting layer of sweetness but didn’t do much to improve my opinion. The syrup was a nice touch but didn’t make me feel like I was eating pancakes. 

Do these even meet the definition of a pancake? 

Merriam-Webster defines a pancake as “a flat cake made of thin batter and cooked (as on a griddle) on both sides.” I don’t mean to be a pancake militant, but according to this definition and my gut feeling, these aren’t pancakes. Pancakes should bring joy and delight, and maybe evoke pleasant memories of smiley-face chocolate chip pancakes. These did none of that for me.

If I wanted an expensive fruit nut mush snack, I might get these again, but I doubt it. I think there are better vegan, gluten-free pancake options out there. But if you are desperately craving pancakes and you pretend real fucking hard, these might work for you.

Just the Stacks – 2/10 Tasty Stacks 

Overall Taste: These had a definite health bar taste to them.

Mouthfeel: Sweet and mushy, but the coconut cream had a very nice texture to it.

Size: Perfect for a dollhouse.  

Presentation: Not the most aesthetically pleasing.

Price: $10.95

Location:  585 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

C&O Trattoria: Go With the Garlic Knots

So many things are pretentious in Venice, but also delicious, so this is a poor battle to wage.

I came to C&O Trattoria in Venice Beach on a date with a guy who was a twin, which was maybe the most interesting thing about him. He first suggested Great White, which is also blocks from the beach, and at the time had recently opened and was super popular. I’ve still never been; it’s probably still super popular. I suspected we wouldn’t be able to get a seat anywhere on a weekend morning, but since I had recently moved and he should have done his homework better, I agreed to meet there. It was packed. I suggested we look elsewhere, and led him to Nighthawk, despite knowing that would be packed too. I’ve stopped by Nighthawk a few times without a reservation on a weekend morning and it’s never worked out for me, but I like to be hopeful.

Image via TastyStacks.

We took a look at the Nighthawk menu (or I pretended to, knowing it already), but he vetoed the place after reading the “Duck, Duck, Goose” dish (Fois gras). He was a sometime vegetarian so I thought that was the issue, but he commented the place was a little too “pretentious.” I found this incredulous coming from someone who had first picked Great White. So many things are pretentious in Venice, but also delicious, so this is a poor battle to wage.

Increasingly hungry, we picked C&O Trattoria (yes, an Italian restaurant), on a strip a block away from the beach, and very touristy. I was not expecting great pancakes. I was surprised they even served pancakes but decided that was one of the safest options. Of their 3247 Yelp reviews, there are two that mention the word pancake, and I disagree with both of them. Perhaps the problem was that we didn’t get a side of garlic knots? The pancakes were okay. They were structurally sound and topped with slices of strawberries and bananas which was nice, but lazy looking. This isn’t even a breakfast place though, they are just capitalizing on all the tourists hanging out by the beach desperate for weekend brunch. Anyway, my date ordered the crêpes and didn’t like them, but why would anyone order crêpes from a place like this?

Just the Stacks – 5/10 Tasty Stacks

Image via TastyStacks.

Overall Taste: Fine, unremarkable.

Mouthfeel: Mediocre.

Size: Average.

Presentation: Simple, they tried to make the fruit on top look somewhat nice, but it looked slightly sad to me. Maybe I just really wanted Nighthawk?

Price: $11 for three pancakes.

Location: 31 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Monster Cakes: The Griddle Cafe

Let’s talk about the fluff factor! These pancakes measured up to ¾ of an inch thick of pure pancake fluff.

To celebrate my first year in LA, I had to do something big. Something delicious, decadent, and massive. That’s right, I went out to eat giant pancakes. The Griddle Cafe in West Hollywood is known for their gargantuan stacks. You can know this and still not be prepared for them to set down so much pancake in front of you.

I was seated next to a gentleman who debated whether or not to get a pancake at all because they were so large. He was getting on a plane, he explained, and he wasn’t about to take a pancake on a plane. I didn’t tell him that I frequently take pancakes with me when I fly. Pancakes travel pretty well, that’s my travel tip for you.

Image via TastyStacks.

The Griddle Cafe has endless options including “Black Magic” with crushed Oreo’s, “Hear Me Roar” with strawberries and Frosted Flakes, “Banananana” with brown sugar baked bananas, and “Teacher’s Pet” with baked cinnamon apples. I decided on the “BLUESberry,” blueberry filled pancakes with blueberry sour cream on top, and “Eyes Wide Open,” pancakes with a shot of espresso and chocolate chips. I only ordered the short stacks, which is 2 pancakes each. This turned out to be comically too much pancake even for me, but half the fun is having these absurdly large stacks set down in front of you.

The Eyes Wide Open pancakes were fucking divine. The chocolate chips were evenly spaced throughout and they came with a giant scoop of butter. They didn’t even need anything on them, but since I was going for decadent that day, butter seemed like a good idea. It turned out to be an outstanding idea. Both had powered sugar on top, a nice touch. The BLUESberry came with blueberry sour cream on top which was interesting. The first bite was good, but then I lost interest. It just wasn’t that flavorful. The Eyes Wide Open stack was so good this didn’t have a major impact on my rating, but it was a little disappointing. Due to their size, I ended up taking home a good portion. I made my way through the chocolate chip stack over the next 24 hours and it passed the leftover test with flying colors.

Let’s talk about the fluff factor! These pancakes measured up to
¾ of an inch thick of pure pancake fluff. Yes, I measured because I was so impressed. Go here with very hungry friends, or after you’ve come back from an all week hiking or camping trip. Or of course, if you just want to feast your eyes and soul on some truly massive pancakes. It’s impossible for these not to bring a smile to someone’s face.

Just the Stacks – 8.5/10 Tasty Stacks 

Image via TastyStacks.

Overall Taste: The Eyes Wide Open were wonderful, the BLUESberry bored my mouth.

Mouthfeel: Overall luscious and wonderful. Perfect consistency throughout, which can be hard to achieve in such herculean pancakes.

Size: “As big as tires” – the man next to me.

Presentation: Fucking beautiful.

Price: $9.95-$13.95

Location: 7916 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046


It’s Not You, It’s the Pancakes: Mel’s Drive-In


You should never have trouble cutting pancakes.

The worst pancakes I ever had in Los Angeles were at Mel’s Drive-In in Sherman Oaks. It was my second date with a guy who was cute but super flaky. Our second date took place approximately six months after our first one. But also, he lived in the Valley so I didn’t have high hopes for a lasting relationship. Back to the pancakes. In an appreciated effort to be very sweet, he pre-ordered me TWO orders of pancakes before I arrived. This is a risky move. If the pancakes are super fucking amazing, lukewarm or even cool pancakes are no big deal (to me), but if the pancakes are anything less than that, there’s big trouble. I was worried the moment he texted me that he had already ordered me pancakes since I was still a good 10 minutes away.

My fears were well founded. The pancakes were terrible. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. I’ve never had so much trouble eating pancakes. I even had trouble cutting them. You should never have trouble cutting pancakes. I doused them in syrup, which I rarely do. It didn’t help. They were chewy, and a bad chewy. It was like overdone steak you have to chew and chew and finally give up and just swallow the chunk anyway. These are supposed to be your basic “Old Fashioned Buttermilk Pancakes.” You can add berries and bananas which probably would have helped. I don’t know how Mel’s fucked up these alleged buttermilk pancakes so badly, but they did. This is a chain, so I don’t know if the other locations are any better, and I can’t say I am in any kind of rush to compare.

In case you’re wondering what happened to the guy, who knows. He disappeared back into the Valley. But he did leave me with a pair of Superman booty shorts from a certain Superman production, so I don’t have any hard feelings… except about those pancakes.

Just the Stacks – 0/10 Tasty Stacks

Image via Jared from Flickr.

Overall Taste: Trash.

Mouthfeel: Trash.

Size: Decent.

Presentation: Trash masquerading as a stack of pancakes.

Price: $9.95 ($1.75 for berries/bananas added)

Location: 14846 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403