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

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

Protein Pancake Series: Kodiak Cakes

Do you know how hard it is to get perfect pancake fluff with a protein pancake mix? These knock it out of the park every time.

I swiped right on a guy with a beaming smile and muscular arms holding a chicken in his lap. It was the chicken that really intrigued me. “Is that your pet chicken?,” I asked, half jokingly. Not only was it his pet chicken, it was one of several, and they even have their own social media account.

The subject of my pancake blog came up pretty quickly, and he told me his favorite protein pancake mix was from Kodiak Cakes. He made sure to note he could also make excellent pancakes from scratch, but I have yet to verify this. 

Kodiak Cakes is a popular pancake mix with the tagline: “Nourishment for today’s frontier.” The packaging has an aggressive but cute looking bear on the front. They have delicious sounding varieties including: Buttermilk, Dark Chocolate, Cinnamon Oat, Almond Poppy Seed, Chocolate Chip, Strawberry Chocolate Chip (!!!), Peanut Butter, and Buttermilk Chia. 

Up until recently, I had been so happy with Birch Benders mix I hadn’t made room in my belly to try Kodiak Cakes. My date raved about these and I humored him by letting him make me some. He used the Almond Poppy Seed mix and substituted cashew milk for water. This is a brilliant taste-bud discovery we should all be using in our protein pancake mixing. It adds a delicate and silky lushness that makes for a brilliant mouthfeel. 

The pancakes were out-fucking-standing. I topped them with fresh strawberries and syrup but you could eat them plain. They passed the standalone test, or the “naked” test as I like to call it when I’m flirting, which I am absolutely doing here. The Almond Poppy Seed is not a flavor I might have picked on my own and that would have been so sad because these were so damn scrumptious. They were fluffy, creamy, and substantial with a mild, sweet almond flavor. In short, I had found protein pancake heaven.

For the full effect, I recommend these with eggs from your backyard chickens (and bacon, but hopefully not from your backyard pig). Sure, you could use eggs from the grocery store, but what fun is that?

To make sure I really loved the pancakes and was not just smitten with my date, I tried the Buttermilk mix on my own. Absolutely outstanding. Do you know how hard it is to get perfect pancake fluff with a protein pancake mix? These knock it out of the park every time. I prefer the Almond Poppy mix to the Buttermilk but I’m confident in saying these are my new favorite protein pancakes.

Who knows what the future holds, aside from the obvious burning planet and impending zombie outbreak, but one thing is for sure: Kodiak Cakes have seized the coveted golden protein pancake skillet from Birch Benders in a delicious and unexpected twist. You should all be eating these. I’m about to buy every single fucking variety on KodiakCakes.com (because Amazon doesn’t have all the varieties).

JUST THE STACKS – 10/10 TASTY STACKS  

Overall Taste: Pancake bliss; perfectly sweet & fluffy & filling.

Mouthfeel: Really fucking luscious.

Protein per serving: 14g per 1/2 cup (I usually use 1 cup).

Price: $5.50 for 18 oz.

Available at: KodiakCakes.com, Amazon.com

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

Ted’s Bulletin: Summer Stacks

The clump of berries and chocolate tasted like a clump of berries and chocolate.

Ted’s Bulletin in Washington D.C. boasts about their homemade Pop-Tarts, “Ted’s Tarts”, but because I am a rebel I ordered the pancakes. The pancakes come with eggs, hash browns, and a choice of meat. You can add blueberries, strawberries, or chocolate chips. If you’re into decadence like I am, you can choose a combination. I went with both chocolate chips and strawberries.

The pancakes arrived in a solid stack of three. For a moment I was concerned they had forgotten the semi-critical chocolate chip strawberry components. A quick check of the underside revealed they had not. It also revealed a messy clump of berries and chocolate. I did not find it aesthetically pleasing, so there’s no picture of this jumble.

The pancakes were good, but not great. The clump of berries and chocolate tasted like a clump of berries and chocolate. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not outstanding. I have had chocolate chip strawberry pancakes done right. It’s tricky but not THAT tricky. The strawberries could have been cut into smaller pieces and spread out more. The batter could have been a little less chewy and a little more on the melt-in-your-mouth side.

Overall, this is a fun breakfast place. I’d come back, but probably to try “Ted’s Tarts”. I can also recommend following it up with truffle popcorn and frosé at Commissary, but you have to watch out for that one creep who interrupts your afternoon with your friend and nearly reaches his hand into your popcorn bowl.

JUST THE STACKS – 7/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: A solid “good,” but I didn’t swoon over these.

Mouthfeel: A little on the chewy side. Not the good kind of chewy.

Size: Adequately sized especially since they were served with several other breakfast items.

Presentation: Messy on the underside, pristine on the top.

Price: $10.95 – $13.95

Location: 1818 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009



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


Cafe Vida: Party Mood Pancakes

Fucking glorious! These were somehow both fluffy and dense with a texture you’d expect from cornbread.

I went to Cafe Vida in Culver City directly from an early morning dance party (an experience I’d recommend to almost everyone) that started at 6:30 am on a Saturday. I like to practice my terrible dancing in a sea of strangers who absolutely don’t give a fuck, and I’m pretty sure my dancing has improved (slightly) as a result. By 9 am I was very hungry and very ready to eat pancakes. What else would I eat on a Saturday?

Cafe Vida was already busy with at least a 30 minute wait. Be prepared for that if you go here on a weekend with more than just yourself. Luckily, I have not completely shed my loner roots (or is it lonely roots?), and was seated instantly at a counter. 

I quickly located my ideal pancake meal: the “2+2+2”, which is two pancakes, two eggs, and two pieces of uncured breakfast meat. I always appreciate when I can combine pancakes with a savory protein option in one dish. Cafe Vida’s pancake options include: Corn, Buttermilk, Brown Rice, and Blueberry Buttermilk.

I chose the Corn pancakes, which the waitress informed were really Blueberry Cornbread pancakes which is even better. I’m not a huge fan of cornbread. Something about the texture doesn’t work for me. It’s usually cut into big pieces like a cake square and often seems dry. Maybe I’ve been eating bad cornbread? But when cornbread pancakes are involved, it’s a whole different story. 

They arrived with fresh strawberries and blueberries on top, a heap of perfectly scrambled eggs, and a salty slab of chicken sausage. The pancakes were delicious and had a good amount of blueberries inside too. This always scores more points with me than simply dumping them on top. Though imperfectly shaped, they were perfectly cooked. The cornbread flavor was strong but not overpowering, and the delicate amount of sprinkled sugar was a nice touch. My mouth was thrilled.

If I had to find one thing to find fault with it would be the wrapped pad of butter on the side. What am I supposed to do with this? It was chilled, and I’m not about to take the extra effort to unwrap cool butter to add to my already delicious pancakes. Anyway, that’s a pretty petty complaint. These were excellent, and extended my dance party mood to a mouth party mood.

 
JUST THE STACKS – 9/10 TASTY STACKS

Overall Taste: The perfect combination of sweet corn flavor, blueberry, and quality pancake. I added a small amount of syrup for the full effect. 

Mouthfeel: Fucking glorious! These were somehow both fluffy and dense with a texture you’d expect from cornbread. I felt like I was eating cornbread the way it was meant to be eaten, in the form of a pancake.

Size: A solid stack of two, they were perfectly sized to complement the rest of the food.

Presentation: Just darn lovely. 

Price $12.50 – $13.50

Location: 9755 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232