The Absolute Best Pancakes in New York

Vinegar Hill House’s supersize sourdough pancake. Photo: Melissa Hom

You can break most people up into two categories: “savory-breakfast people”and “sweet-breakfast people,” and it’s the latter who usually goes for pancakes, those big, innocuous slabs of griddled carbohydrate that beg to be drenched in maple syrup and sprinkled in powdered sugar. But the truth is, the pancake is a surprisingly versatile thing, and this city is full of thrilling interpretations that will please most anyone, even those who can’t imagine having anything other than eggs in the morning. Herein, New York’s very best pancakes.

The Absolute Best

1. Vinegar Hill House’s Sourdough Pancake
72 Hudson Ave., nr. Water St., Vinegar Hill; 718-522-1018

What makes a great pancake? It should be light and fluffy, but also carry some heft and height, maybe a bit of cakey crumb. It should be hot and fully cooked through — which can be a challenge when you’re pouring a big pile of raw batter onto a stove top — with a slightly crispy, caramelized surface. It should taste of something beyond just flour, sugar, and salt. The pancake at Vinegar Hill House nails it on every count. It’s served as a single unit that fills up an entire plate (though there are two sizes of it, and two correspondingly sized plates). It’s made with sourdough (from a decades-old starter) that gives it a subtle and pleasant tang, offset perfectly by a thin layer of sweet, sliced cooked pear. Best of all, it comes topped with a knob of creamy salted butter, pressed into a little dimple in the dough, and it’s already maple-syruped, positively soaked in it. It’s probably too much, but it tastes just right.

2. Bubby’s Blueberry Sourdough Pancake
120 Hudson St., at N. Moore St.; 212-219-0666

Photo: Jed Egan

Bubby’s, where brunch is served every day, may attract droves of tourists, but it’s no trap, as perfectly illustrated by its outstanding blueberry sourdough pancake. It’s almost crêpe thin, with a stretchily taut, slightly crisp, golden-brown exterior that gives way to an incredibly flavorful, custardy interior that packs a much tangier sourdough punch than Vinegar Hill House’s — perhaps because Bubby’s sourdough starter is from 1890, if you can believe it. It’s not sweet at all, and would taste just as good draped in, say, smoked salmon and crème fraîche as it does in the tart blueberry sauce it comes with, making it the perfect crossover pancake for any savory-breakfast person. For staunch sweet tooths, the James Beard variety, a fluffy, yellow specimen made with sour cream and embedded with caramelized-banana slices, is almost as good, if not quite as interesting.

3. Shopsin’s Mac-’n’-Cheese Pancake
120 Essex St., nr. Rivington St.; no phone

Photo: Jed Egan

Part of the genius of Shopsin’s is how the unlikely combinations manage to stay just on the right side of gimmicky. They can sound outrageous, but they always make total sense, and often push the boundaries of what we think of as foods that “go together.” The mac-’n’-cheese pancake, just one variety of dozens on the menu, is a great example: It may sound like a joke, but it’s dead serious and delicious. A simple pancake batter is poured onto a perfectly heated griddle, then sprinkled with boiled macaroni and cheddar cheese, which gets crispy and caramelized when flipped. It’s served with a slightly spicy barbecue sauce as well as maple syrup, and tastes great with either, or both. For another sweet-and-savory pancake masterpiece, try the original “slutty cakes,” which replace the macaroni and cheese with a dollop of pumpkin purée, peanut butter, pistachios, and cinnamon.

4. Maialino’s Ricotta Pancake
2 Lexington Ave., nr. 21st St.; 212-777-2410

Photo: Liz Clayman

Many menus brag that their pancakes contain ricotta, few get results at quite the level of those at Maialino, Danny Meyer’s Roman restaurant in the Gramercy Park Hotel, which is — at this point — something of a forgotten gem. The pancakes, which come two to an order, are satisfyingly big, thick, and perfectly round, tantalizingly crisp-edged and custardy, yet not — somehow — overly heavy, with so much flavor from the fresh sheep’s-milk cheese (which comes from DiPalo’s) that the seasonal fruit (jam in winter) and maple syrup are almost unnecessary.

5. Le Coucou’s French Pancake
138 Lafayette St., at Howard St.; 212-271-4252

Photo: Liz Clayman

Comme un clafoutis is how this beauty appears on the menu, and why shouldn’t you have a whole clafoutis to yourself for breakfast? If the common pancake is the girl next door, Le Coucou’s clafoutis is the screen siren, a Dutch baby but with more sex appeal, because it’s French. It’s a relatively thin but decadent round of buttery, eggy pastry with a slightly crisp golden exterior from being baked in its own little two-handled dish, airy edges curling up around the sides. Unlike a clafoutis, the seasonal fruit (such as perfectly cut segments of gently cooked apple) gets artfully arranged on top, as opposed to baked in, and the whole creation is finished with a quenelle of crème fraîche, and a scattering of citrus zest.

Honorable Mentions

Café LULUc’s Pancake
214 Smith St., nr. Butler St., Cobble Hill; 718-625-3815

Don’t let the crazy brunch-time lines fool you: This place is essentially just a dressed-up diner — albeit a good one — with a top-notch, classic pancake that’s on the cakey end of the spectrum, cooked in butter in a cast-iron pan, flipped onto the plate crispy-side up, and served with fruit.

Café Select’s Muesli Pancake
212 Lafayette St., nr. Spring St.; 212-925-9322

If a muffin and a pancake had a baby, it might look something like this: a sort of muffin-top griddle cake, on the small side, with a crunchy exterior and a slightly dense crumb, flecked with oats. It comes with vanilla butter, syrup, and gently macerated berries.

Clinton Street Baking Company’s Wild Maine Blueberry Pancake
4 Clinton St., nr. Houston St.; 646-602-6263

It’s hard to argue with these classics, which have drawn clamoring hordes for years now: They’re simple, fluffy, and delicious, made with egg whites and studded with plenty of tangy blueberries. Best of all, they come with melted maple butter, making them especially effortless to dress.

Foragers Table’s Orange-Blossom Ricotta Pancake
300 W. 22nd St., nr. Eighth Ave.; 212-243-8888

Is there anything so seductive as the words “orange-blossom water”? It’s a killer ingredient, and its subtle citrus perfume marries perfectly with ricotta. The finished pancake gets topped in candied orange peel, and maple syrup from the Berkshires.

La Sirena’s Amaretti Mascarpone Pancake
88 Ninth Ave., nr. 17th St.; 212-977-6096

The batter for Mario Batali’s unexpected and most Italian pancake (playing off a most Italian dessert) gets its fluff from the mascarpone, and a bit of nutty sweetness from a splash of amaretto. And for a genius finishing touch, the cooked pancake is topped with shavings of amaretti, the classic almond cookies.

Little Park’s Coconut Spelt Pancake
85 W. Broadway, nr. Chambers St.; 212-220-4110

Given the popularity of alternative grains and flours, it’s surprising that we don’t see more of them used in pancakes. Andrew Carmellini has his finger on the pulse with these thin, healthy-ish creations, made with spelt and coconut flour, but still plenty decadent, and topped with vanilla butter and apple-cider syrup.

Prune’s Dutch Baby
54 E. 1st St., nr. First Ave.; 212-677-6221

Gabrielle Hamilton does just about everything exactly right, and her giant popover of a baked pancake is no exception, down to its irresistibly charming name and its accompaniment of bacon, which you were going to order anyway.

Santina’s Almond Pancake
820 Washington St., nr. Gansevoort St.; 212-254-3000

Another alternative flour put to wonderful pancake use, served with a side of almond butter (plus syrup, if you must) to max out the nut’s potential.

Tom’s Restaurant’s Danish Pancake
782 Washington Ave., at Sterling Pl., Prospect Heights; 718-636-9738

There are few breakfast foods that can be surveyed without mention of Tom’s, and their roster of pancakes does not disappoint, particularly the “Danish” variety, which contain not only ricotta but also a bit of sharp Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and blueberries.

Veselka’s Buckwheat Pancake
144 Second Ave., at 9th St.; 212-228-9682

Veselka’s buckwheat batter falls on the ascetic end of the pancake spectrum, which makes it a good choice for the health-and-nutrition conscious, or the savory-breakfast person who wants a pancake that makes a natural bedfellow for eggs, or a strong and hearty foil for maple syrup.

The Absolute Best Pancakes in New York