As evidenced by the name of my food blog, I take pancakes seriously. So let’s start with some expectations: For this list of the 10 best pancakes in Houston, I stuck to the traditional American definition of pancakes: fluffy, stove-cooked, sweet and typically topped with syrup. No oven-puffed Dutch babies, no whisper-thin crepes and, for the most part, no savory pancakes (even though Houston is home to a few notable ones).
I define a good pancake mostly by its crumb and flavor, as well as its heft-to-lightness ratio. I prefer thicker pancakes with a tight, almost cakey crumb (though I can occasionally be swayed by a rich, porous crumb) — pancakes are essentially a vehicle for eating cake in the morning, after all, which is why I love them. Lightness is essential, and a faint tang of buttermilk is an occasional plus. Chewy pancakes are my absolute nemesis.
The pancake landscape in Houston is quite vast and varied outside of the typical diners that might immediately come to mind (sorry, Fountain View Cafe, you're not my jam), so forget any rubbery, uninspired diner pancakes you may have ingested in the past and rally some friends for a crawl through the following list of stunning carb creations:
Honorable mentions: Gluten-free pancakes are a relatively scarce find on Houston menus, so Ruggles Green deserves a nod for its gluten-free lemon poppyseed pancakes, which are pretty much on par with its regular pancake offering: delicately lemony, springy, neat rounds dotted with poppyseeds ($8). Additional honorary mentions go to the whole wheat pancakes at Le Peep, which the lowbrow portion of my tastebuds adore, and Revival Market's peaches and cream pancakes (the accompanying peach jam is one of my favorite pancake toppings in Houston).
PESKA: It feels ridiculous to call out the humble pancake at an establishment that does dinner service and seafood so well. However, freshness and superb execution of the delicate pancake duo that I ordered in a last Hail Mary round of PESKA’s unlimited brunch one morning just speak to the excellence that the PESKA team infuses into its dishes. Though on the thinner side, these tender, scratch-made buttermilk pancakes are crowned with seasonal fruit for a beautiful and delicious presentation. Part of the $46 unlimited weekend buffet brunch.
Dish Society: This modern, counter-service dining establishment specializes in high-quality, locally sourced ingredients and gets extra points for working whole grains into its enormous double stack of fluffy, subtly grainy pancakes. Featuring gristmill organic wheat with the option to add white chocolate chips, candied pecans, strawberries or banana for an extra $1.50, the pancakes can be a tough choice to order over the Nutella French toast, but the well-griddled, sugar-sprinkled stack is worth it. $6.
Davis Street: It’s by virtue of the rich amber caramel that blankets this three-pancake-strong stack that the bananas Foster pancakes at Davis Street made the list. Though the pancakes are short on the banana (just three sadly un-caramelized banana coins top the stack) and the pancakes take on a bit of chew once they've cooled, when hot, they're tender, fluffy and essentially blanketed in liquid candy. They’re some of the priciest pancakes I’ve encountered and definitely only for those with an intense sweet tooth. $16.
Helen: These caramelized-edged, almost nutty-tasting pancakes are scratch-made with a semolina flour base and enhanced with vanilla bean. This airy, slightly grainy base is topped by a distinguished trio: a dollop of addictive yogurt whipped cream, chopped almonds and a chewy, winey dried cherry compote reduced with mavrodaphne wine, vanilla, sugar and citrus. Pancakes are available only during Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. $12.
Max's Wine Dive: Skip the gimmicky red velvet pancakes here, which come out so chewy and listless that even lemony cream cheese frosting can’t save them. Instead, go for the jalapeño-kissed cornmeal pancakes — which have more of a bite and interesting texture from whole kernels of corn — or even the regular buttermilk pancakes. Though the buttermilk pancakes lack the beautiful lacy griddled face of others and the exterior can be mildly chewy after they cool, they have a feather-light, almost cottony crumb that takes well to a pour of syrup. $11.50.
Hubbell & Hudson: Each of the house-made buttermilk pancakes achieves a consistently browned sear on its exterior, which houses a cakey, fluffy crumb. Whipped maple syrup, coffee butter and powdered sugar are a dreamy combination of toppings offered at Hubbell & Hudson Bistro (the Kitchen offers maple syrup and fruit). Both locations also have gluten-free corn and rice pancakes topped with apple butter, blueberries, whipped maple syrup and fresh mint. $9.
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Snooze: Houston is notably lacking in novelty pancakes — the kind that are really entire other desserts masquerading as breakfast items. Snooze, the bright and cheery diner transplant from Denver, is here to change that. Scratch-made pancakes include flavor staples such as pineapple upside-down, sweet potato, peach pie and blueberry Danish (classics like plain, chocolate chip and blueberry are available as well), but be on the lookout for Snooze's pancake of the day. The banana pudding special came laced with a silky dollop of Danish cream, chopped banana and brown sugar and topped with caramel and vanilla wafers; it blew me away. Plus, the pancake flights solve every indecisive diner's dream: You can sample three kinds in one dish. $7.50 or $9 for a pancake flight.
Triniti: These beautifully presented mixed-berry pancakes are made from a very simple batter of regular ingredients such as whole milk, butter, sugar and flour. Executive sous chef Pat Sommers calls it a great recipe because "it’s simple, but it turns out every time." Topped with melting coins of cinnamon sugar butter and fresh berries, these rich and thick pancakes are so fluffy that the syrup elevates them to a melt-in-your-mouth texture. $15.
Kraftsmen Cafe: These golden hotcakes have a bronzed, crispy crust that is unequaled among all the pancakes I’ve ever sampled: There is a gentle, audible crunch that occurs when the pancake is disturbed with a fork. They’re thick — close to an inch thick at the tallest point — and while the interior of the pancake is a little coarser-crumbed and airier than my ideal, the flavor is always fresh and delicately milky, and those crusty golden edges are the stuff dreams are made of. Short stack $7, tall stack $9.
Baby Barnaby’s: This comfy neighborhood cafe garners a miles-long wait list on weekends for a reason. Aside from the greens- and cheese-studded egg scramble popular among my savory-inclined friends, the enormous, golden pancake is the stuff of legend. Lightly bronzed from the griddle and topped with a scoop of butter, the inch-thick, plate-size pancake cooks up with irresistibly lacy-crisp edges and a feather-light, buttery and cakey crumb that melts in your mouth. I tend toward the banana- and pecan-studded combo, but it’s delicious with or without add-ins. This is the type of pancake that's phenomenal all on its own, no syrup required. $7.95.