Good morning, America. What'll ya have?
Long before the sun appears on the horizon, if it is to appear at all, warm light spills from Becky’s Diner, a fixture along the still-working docks of Portland, Maine. Inside, the counter is already short on vacancies, at this time of the morning the clientele still consisting largely of working types, fishermen, sipping coffee, waiting on sturdy plates to make their way over the pass—those plates will come nice and full, with the house corned beef hash, with steaks and scrambled eggs, or omelets, stuffed with lobster—perhaps you’ve heard, they pull a lot of lobster from the water, around here.
At this point, it could be five, six hours before daylight comes to the West Coast, but in Los Angeles, breakfast has already been underway for some time, since the 1920s to be precise, at The Original Pantry Cafe, which never closes. Day, night, all times in between, this just-the-basics Downtown corner joint—you’ll sit at the counter, happily—is a beacon, a haven for the very hungry and the nearly broke, for overserved night owls, up-early suits, jet-lagged tourists, all filing in for piled-high crispy potatoes, eggs, French toast, and, if they’re smart, those pancakes—too big, too much, too crumbly, made from scratch, unforgettable.
In between, there is everything. What we eat, what we wake up to, depends so much on where in America we hail from, or where in the world we were before we got here, or where we have chosen to begin our lives all over again. Bagels overstuffed with fluffy cream cheese in New York City, chipped beef in white gravy over toast in the coffee shops of the Mid-Atlantic, cathead biscuits dripping jelly in the Carolinas, cortaditos and pastelitos in the Cuban bakeries of Tampa and Miami, puffy beignets—and powdered sugar everywhere—accompanied by café au lait in New Orleans, steaming bowls of restorative pho in Houston, foil-wrapped migas tacos with invigorating amounts of smoky salsa on a chilly morning in an Austin parking lot.
And so it goes, on and on—burritos, bursting from those flour tortillas they craft so skillfully in Tucson, Filipino garlic rice, fried egg and longanisa sausage combo plates in the hot, inland valleys of Los Angeles, every kind of breakfast you can imagine in Portland, and that’s just from the carts; weekday dim sum, followed by classic cappuccinos in Seattle, bringing a double dose of sunshine to a wet winter's morning. And we haven’t even gotten around to talking about the middle of the country—about vegan breakfast at the Lebanese restaurants of the Detroit suburbs, about Chicago’s oldest restaurant, Daley’s, down on the South Side, where they butcher in the back, sending out ribeyes and pork chops with eggs, hash browns and the house biscuits, all at thoroughly reasonable prices.
There is Iowa, too, where on any given morning, there might be more fresh cinnamon rolls than people, there are rivers of chile, red and green, on everything in New Mexico, locally-made Basque chorizo with your eggs in Idaho—and we can't ever forget the reindeer sausage in Alaska, nor Hawaii’s crispy-delicious malasadas, hot from the fryer, filled with tongue-curling lilikoi custard. If life has gotten to you and you have fallen out of love with America, then may we suggest waking up a little earlier, because if there’s one thing this all-over-the-map country has managed to figure out, it is breakfast, and if you cannot find anything to your liking, simply move on to the next state, or even the next town, because we’ve got it all, or very nearly, and we’re getting even better as we go. The question, what’s for breakfast, has never had so many possible answers.
We went state by state, identifying (and celebrating) regional traditions, examining trends, sampling the best of the old and the new, and so we come back here now, in order to share what we have learned.
The snap, crackle, pop of smoky Conecuh
There is a distinct possibility that boom-era Birmingham would have figured out how to feed itself, had the Greek restaurateurs failed to show up, joining all of the others that worked so hard to turn a relative nowhere into an industrial powerhouse, into the Pittsburgh of the South. One could safely say, however, that the eating landscape in Birmingham would look very different now, and there almost certainly would be no Niki's West, a half-century-old steak joint that is also a cafeteria, which also serves breakfast from bright and early, most every morning. Steak and eggs, pork chops and eggs, sausage and eggs, sweet rolls, grits, groups of people who know each other, talking way too loud this early in the morning, about life, and about Birmingham things, and about how their eggs were, today—this is one of those places where you don’t just get breakfast, you also get a show. The state capital of Montgomery might appear to be half asleep at all times, but that’s only until you set your eyes on a busy morning at the classic Davis Cafe, a family-owned soul food spot with all the appeal of your typical church basement, and some of the most delicious hotcakes around. Heading south and all the way east, seek out the small city of Eufaula and Barb’s Country Kitchen. A cozy hangout, Barb’s offers a great-value breakfast buffet, along with French toast and pancakes made at your request. Expect lots of locals, along with the beach-bound—this is a popular stop on many a Gulf Coast road trip. For good reason.
We have the reindeer meats
On a quiet corner in an unremarkable Anchorage neighborhood, the diminutive Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop has been one of Alaska’s best bakeries, if not the best, for some years now—a family affair. Here, the commitment to bread and to baking is so immediately felt, to the point where you won’t mind where you end up having to eat your ham and Swiss croissants, your spinach ricotta muffins, or your blackberry rhubarb scones—everything is just so good. (Good enough, in fact, that there are now two more locations in town, both with more wiggle room.) Downtown’s Snow City Café might have ended up like so many of the tourist feeding troughs, but even after a goodly chunk of time, this straightforward establishment remains a star, serving up so much good Alaska product. King crab, snow crab, salmon, reindeer—the gang’s all here, and it’s all for breakfast. Way down the Kenai Peninsula in Homer, add reindeer sausage to any of the savory crepes at the year-round Wild Honey Bistro, though there’s something to be said for the simple joys of a crepe spread with caramelized wild honey, too. (There’s also something to be said for the biscuits and gravy, or the jalapeño cream cheese and cheddar buns, found at Two Sisters Bakery, also in town.) Driving down from Anchorage, don’t miss one of the state’s most ambitious little breakfast joints, Froth & Forage, right along Turnagain Arm. Brown sugar fennel bacon, blueberry basil compote for housemade biscuits—and some rather extravagant creations involving homemade doughnuts—make the inevitable wait worthwhile.
The Southwest, plus lots else
An unglamorous bit of Phoenix, specifically the one between downtown and the airport, is suddenly home to one of the city’s best places to start your day—Roland’s, the visually arresting reincarnation of a historic neighborhood store, is a partnership between Chris Bianco (the Southwest’s resident pizza wizard) and the bright minds behind Tacos Chiwas, Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez. Wood-fired quesadillas, filled rather generously with chorizo and asadero cheese, for breakfast? Yes please, same goes for machaca burritos, stuffed with carne seca, eggs and beans. There are people who could crunch down on a freshly-baked Guadalajara-style birote from Don Guerra’s exemplary Barrio Bread in Tucson and call it breakfast, but there are more breakfast burritos to consider, wrapped in some of the biggest and floppiest and best flour tortillas this side of the border. They are not difficult to locate in Tucson, but you’ll go to Anita Street Market, a creaky gem in the old Barrio Anita—ask for the BBB, or Big Breakfast Burrito, the one with all the meats (chorizo being one of them), or just order a stack of freshly made, probably still warm tortillas and stand there, eating, wishing the last person to argue for the supremacy of the corn tortilla in your presence was now nearby, just so you could teach them a lesson. Out in the rest of Arizona, Bisbee does mornings well, and we’re not just talking about breakfast—wander through the historic copper mining border town, now a haven for creative types, with a cup of something good from Old Bisbee Roasters, then head just down the road and get in line for your table at the destination-worthy Bisbee Breakfast Club.
Biscuits, with a side of pancakes
The deconstructed breakfast bành mí at the source-obsessed Root Café in Little Rock is a fine introduction to a state increasingly keen to confound perception, and doing so much of this through food and drink. The concept of the Vietnamese sandwich staple for breakfast, well that's hardly new, but such a thing remains an often frustratingly elusive find, at least in most places—here they are doing their bit for the advancement of the culture by creating a particularly nice one, a vegetarian one—two eggs topped with pickled carrot & daikon, fresh jalapeños, a bit of cilantro, and all of the sauces, including a fresh garlic aioli. Oh, and there’s toasted baguette involved, of course. (Meat lovers—very good sausage and ham can be ordered on the side.) Let's say it's tradition—in hearty portions, of course—that you’re wanting, there’s plenty of that around here—just over the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, the no-fuss BJ’s Market Cafe draws a working crowd for ribeye steaks and eggs, fat slices of ham, or even old-timey salt pork, plus the usuals—pancakes, a house specialty, biscuits, and ladlefuls of proper sausage gravy. At Stoby’s in Conway, there are homemade cinnamon rolls, plus memorable stacks of French toast made with chewy ciabatta bread from the bakery next door; at the historic (and still working) War Eagle mill in Rogers, the on-site Bean Palace Cafe throws a weekend breakfast buffet, starring buckwheat pancakes made with the house-milled flour. On the subject of pancakes—everyone in Hot Springs knows it’s probably The Pancake Shop, a relatively modest cafe that has, over time, become one of the most talked-about breakfast joints in the state.
Today’s special is everything
Pop quiz—where is the most popular breakfast in Los Angeles? A lot of you are going to flunk this one, but that’s okay, because you’re going to go jump into the line at Porto’s, along with everyone who knows what is going on, and make up for lost time, and it’s going to be great. This very successful bakery and cafe, opened in 1976 by Cuban immigrant Rosa Porto, now serves you at four locations, and still remains in the family—a trip to Porto’s, whether it be to Glendale or Burbank or Downey or Buena Park (and soon, West Covina), is a weekend ritual for people living nearby, and sometimes coming from much further away. Family after family, in Sunday best and pajama bottoms alike, will be found patiently, and nearly cheerfully enduring airport security-length waits for crispy, airy, sweet cheese-filled pastry rolls, taste-of-the-tropics guava strudel, ham croquetas, big cups of café con leche, sunny egg-topped pork tamales, bathed in salsa verde and littered with those little crispy sticks Cubans love so much (here, made from plantain), and you must try all of this, and then you may move on to the rest. There are plenty of statistics flying around, detailing just exactly how much Porto’s is produced and consumed each day in Southern California, and they are astounding—almost as much as the fact that the existence (and simple brilliance) of Porto’s remains a mystery to so many, often to the sort of person that likes to assume they know everything they need to know about Los Angeles. In fairness, the choices are endless, from some of America’s best pastrami, served with eggs and fresh-sliced rye bread, at the vintage Langer’s, facing MacArthur Park, to pancakes galore at Downtown’s The Original Pantry Cafe, any time of day or night, all the way over to the shirred eggs with lamb merguez, with the West of The 405 set, at the still-delightful Farmshop, one block into Santa Monica. And what of the rest of the state? Where to begin? The bare bones, mostly woman-powered Las Quatro Milpas in San Diego’s Barrio Logan, where the faithful have been lining up in the mornings for tacos and tamales, and menudo on Saturdays, since the 1930’s? The sensational, custard-rich French toast at Sacramento’s iconic Tower Cafe? (Always get the full order.) Entire volumes could be written about breakfast in the Bay Area, beginning perhaps with perfect pancakes at the forward-thinking Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley, where breakfast was taken to new heights decades ago. There is then of course Oakland, where Beauty’s Bagel Shop does Montreal quite proud on a scraggly stretch of Telegraph, and now also right Downtown, offering up some of the best of the genre you will find south of the border. The mellow, stay awhile vibe, and a solid everyday brunch menu (shakshuka, eggs and collards) make this place a true find, one worth a trip over from San Francisco, where you certainly are never spoiled for choice, from counter service dim sum at the Richmond District’s down home Wing Lee Bakery, to extravagant pastry and breakfast dishes at Tartine Manufactory.
Siri, what is a Denver omelet
So much change has been thrust upon Denver in recent years—if you have not eaten breakfast there in some time, the landscape may be all but unrecognizable. Relax and get your bearings at Call, a new all-day cafe in a downtown-approximate neighborhood many used to steer clear of, except now everybody is going there to eat, from early in the morning until late at night. We’ll start, of course, with breakfast, which at Call will be casual, but also quietly elegant—co-owner Duncan Holmes was most recently culinary director at Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine, one of the most notable restaurants on Mountain Time, so you figure. And what will you have? A carefully-constructed tartine on house-baked bread, a porky breakfast sandwich topped with arugula, or perhaps so hot right now aebelskiver, little puffs of Danish-style pancake, served with fruit compote and ricotta? Save room, though—Denver being the way Denver is now, Call is but your first stop. Just up the street, by way of example, you have very good bagels and lox at the recently-added Rosenberg’s, not to mention the also-new Rye Society, a smart deli sourcing (of course) Rosenberg’s bagels. A world away is Pueblo, never Colorado’s most high-profile city, but surely one of the most interesting; in this firmly Southwestern, firmly blue collar town, you absolutely expect to find a joint like Estela’s Mill Stop Cafe, and Pueblo does not disappoint. Go for the huevos rancheros, or a green chile pork combo, with tortillas on the side. You could have driven a couple more hours to get to New Mexico—slow your roll, it's all right here on your plate.
Diners, doughnuts and dives
Perfect diners shoehorned into actual vintage dining cars, no-frills doughnut shops galore, country cafes pushing pie before the lunch hour—it's no wonder Connecticut breakfasts helped give rise to a pre-Triple D, pre-social media, pre-a whole lot else movement, dedicated to glorifying the finest of the simpler things, spearheaded by locals (and Roadfood founders) Jane and Michael Stern. Back when Guy Fieri was still a kid, you could have found the intrepid duo at Speedy Donuts in Norwalk, probably with their reporter’s notebooks, pulling apart golden crullers to examine the eggy insides, or perhaps photographing the casually elegant pancakes (most likely to the amusement of fellow diners) at the Lakeside Diner just off the Merritt Parkway, at the top end of Stamford. There they were, no doubt standing in line just like everybody else (no TV cameras, not just yet) for a stool at the counter inside the cramped, opened-in-1935 Sandy Hook Diner, back before the peace in Newtown was shattered, waiting for colorful omelets, and crispy hash browns. The world has changed, food has changed, even parts of Connecticut have changed, but many of the classic spots are still with us, and if there were a best states for breakfast list, Connecticut would surely be right up there. Everything is here, very nearly, and it’s typically delicious, right down to the last doughnut crumb, but start with neighborhood vibes, and great croissants, at the almost Gilmore Girls-ian Harborview Market in the nice bit of Bridgeport. Up in the Litchfield Hills, don’t miss the morning porchetta sandwich (served all day) with the house kimchi, tomatoes, and a spicy aioli, topped with a fried egg and served on brioche at the relaxed Meraki. And don’t forget Hartford, where good things are happening at the lovely, pint-sized Story & Soil—all of the baking is done right there.
Good things, small packages
You’d probably never find Helen's Sausage House, by the side of the road in tiny Smyrna, unless somebody told you about it—luckily, a lot of people will, and we’re not about to break rank, because this oddball cafe (decked out in Elvis ephemera) isn’t just great for Delaware, it’s a Mid-Atlantic treasure, opening up wildly early for one of the state’s favorite breakfast sandwiches, consisting of remarkable sausage on unremarkable bread, with an egg thrown in for good measure, if you must. Not in a rush to get to the beach, or wherever else it is you’re going? Stick around for the sausage gravy, or maybe a big mess of well-grilled breakfast potatoes. Not hard to find at all is Wilmington's De La Coeur Cafe et Patisserie, an oasis of civilization, nice pastry, and good breakfast from a rotating menu—bowls of rustic hash, French toast, savory crepes, omelettes are all here, in some form, whenever hunger strikes. Already at the beach? In pleasant Lewes, it’s Honey’s Farm Fresh, emphasizing local ingredients, while in Rehoboth, just far enough away to escape the largest of the beach crowds, the mod Egg offers everything from a chili candied bacon laced with Sriracha, to lobster-topped waffles, and that’s just the appetizers.
The key to happiness is Cuban bread, toasted and buttered
The crowded cafeteria with the horseshoe-shaped counters is just one venue within Tampa’s many-splendored La Teresita complex, but this one stays open all weekend long, and this is when you come to see the place—Waffle House, if you will, but for Cuban food—at its most electric, sometime during the small hours, preferably after a drink or two, so as to keep up with everyone else. No matter when or in what state you show up, the food is classic, simple, a delight—toasted, buttered Cuban bread, coffee, and a full array of hangover helpers, chorizo omelets and the like. Down in Miami, things are a sight more refined at Islas Canarias Cafe & Bakery, out in far-west Kendall; it’s not every day a restaurant this deep into the suburbs captures the hearts of a downtown crowd, but then again, when you make some of the best croquetas to be found in Florida, bursting with cheese and ham, and sell them for just over a buck apiece, people find a way. Generous breakfast combos—and yes, more toasted, buttered bread—sweeten the deal; ditto those guava and cheese pastelitos. Maybe you’re headed down the Keys, and you think driving with the top down on a bright December day can’t be improved upon—technically, no, but why not chance it and stop at one of the little cafes along the way, say the very good Morita’s, on Cudjoe Key, for the Cuban breakfast. Here, that means a jumble of eggs, cheese, and chorizo with more toasted, pressed and buttered bread, which you can also get filled with cheese, for just a couple of bucks. Of course, if you’re headed that way, to stop in the agricultural Redlands, your tropical fruit headquarters on the American mainland—for generations, Robert Is Here has been the region’s best-known farm stand, where they wake up each morning to prepare vast quantities of fresh fruit for shakes and smoothies, which come in a dizzying array of flavors, from key lime to papaya to Tamarind to soursop, better known around here as guanabana. And don’t think you’re done with Miami, because you’re not—there’s so much to talk about, but let's focus on the very fine All Day, where they curate some of the city's best baked goods, throw in some of the best coffee in the state and serve breakfast (all day, naturally) in a fringe-y spot just north of a resurgent downtown. Switching gears and heading a couple hundred miles north, take a deep dive into old school Florida with all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts, made with a special blend of five, house-ground flours at the Old Spanish Mill, a historic destination within DeLeon Springs State Park.. Of course, it's not Florida without talking about the best character breakfasts at Walt Disney World—the Four Seasons Orlando is not-so-secretly ahead of the pack, both from a food and child-to-character ratio perspective.
Fried chicken is so a breakfast food
If you are Georgia, America's Waffle House headquarters, do you lay back and bask in the adoration of your Southern brethren, not to mention the love of everyone who has ever road-tripped through Waffle House territory? You don't, and in fact, you work really hard at being good at other stuff, too, because you're so much more than a one-breakfast wonder, and let's talk about the biscuits, which are so good here—good enough, like the ones at Stilesboro Biscuits in Kennesaw, not very far from Atlanta, to be eaten plain, or perhaps with a little butter, and a cup of sturdy coffee—a fine way to start your Georgia day. But who are we kidding—anything that fits (and sometimes everything that doesn’t) goes on top of, or inside of a biscuit, around here. There's Atlanta’s Home grown GA, where you get crispy fried chicken, doused in sausage gravy like it was on fire; across town, at Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South, they open bright and early weekday mornings for one of the most civilized breakfasts in town, but never too fancy for yet another fried chicken biscuit, this time with pimento cheese spread, bacon marmalade and clouds of scrambled egg. Biscuits at The General Muir, not so much, but Atlanta's most delightful deli has all the bagels, so everything's okay, and also there are crispy latkes served with applesauce and sour cream, and a proper coffee cake, just like old times—you’ll never go away hungry. Did you wake up in Savannah? Good going—now head out for catfish and grits at Narobia's Grits & Gravy, and also for pecan pancakes at Clary’s Cafe, but don't overlook the out-of-the-way Back in the Day Bakery, where they excel at a lot of things, but very much at—hello there, old friend—biscuits, in buttermilk, jalapeño and everything, as in bagel. Pepper jelly, pimento cheese, ham—choose your own adventure, you’re going to have the best time.
Here for those malasadas
People seem to get out of bed pretty early around here—who could blame them, living in such a beautiful place, especially if home is Honolulu, somewhere close to Leonard's Bakery, where things kick into gear pre-dawn, and it's all about the malasadas. These Hawaiian descendants of the classic Portuguese fritter might say doughnut to the uninitiated, but they're so much better than that, particularly when filled, say, with tart lilikoi custard—you might end up having a little cry in the parking lot, due to deliciousness. This is merely the eating equivalent of a stretch before the workout, however, because this is Hawaii, and breakfast is just so good. Also in Honolulu, go modern at Lee Ann Wong's creative Koko Head Café—omelets stuffed with poke, biscuits made with poi—or follow the old-timers to the original Liliha Bakery and take a seat at the counter for sweet bread French toast, garlic rice exploding with Portuguese sausage, or grilled hamburger steaks topped with gravy and fried eggs, served over rice and called, yep, that’s the one, loco moco. There are other islands, however, and you're not finished yet—Maui might appear to be tourist central, but there's so much to explore, just minutes from the resorts. Sam Sato's is one of the island's best classic restaurants, known best for noodles, but the no-frills Japanese-Hawaiian diner does great banana hot cakes and a nice little loco moco in the mornings. Not that there's anything wrong with resorts—breakfast on the beach at 'ULU Ocean Grill, a highlight of the Four Seasons Resort on the Big Island, is the stuff of lifelong memories, and not just because of the indoor-outdoor setting, or the fact that the waves are practically lapping at your feet—the hotel also happens to serve some of the best 100% Kona coffee you’ll find being brewed, on the island where Kona comes from.
With Basque chorizo on the side
There are many fine ways to wake up in busy little Boise, but for some time now, pretty much everyone has been in agreement, that you cannot do much better than the eggs benny, the corned beef hash, creative omelets topped with equally creative sauces, the cinnamon roll pancakes and the asparagus and eggs dish served up at Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro, where there are sides of some of Idaho’s own-made chorizo, one of those little everyday reminders of the region’s Basque heritage. Goldy’s has room for about fifty people at a time, things are pretty cozy in here, but complimentary cups of locally-roasted coffee help take the edge of the inevitable weekend wait. Way up in Coeur d'Alene, it's croque monsieur with a raspberry bacon dip, green eggs and ham, house made duck sausage, breakfast spaghetti, and toasted rosemary bread at the good-humored Garnet Café, another unique spot that has people lining up at peak times. Things are a sight more traditional at Old Home Cooking & Crafts in tiny Buhl, not far from Twin Falls, where it’s all about classic Mennonite hospitality, and the all-day menu of biscuits and gravy, chicken fried steaks served with eggs and more gravy, plus cinnamon rolls. Anyone for a road trip? One of the very best Idaho breakfasts can be found hiding out in the majestic Sawtooth Valley, at the Stanley Baking Co. & Café—go for the Basque scramble, with black beans, roasted red peppers, hash brown potatoes, and more of that Idaho chorizo, but also consider the oatmeal pancakes, the migas with a side of turkey chili, and of course, pecan sticky buns, muffins, all the baked goods, really, because you’ve probably come a long way, and you're going to need road snacks for the trip home.
The best stuff is not always where you’re looking
Buritt Bulloch, just call him Mr. B., has seen it all, standing in the window of his Old Fashioned Donuts, way off the grid in Chicago’s hard luck Roseland neighborhood, making some of the finest donuts in America for more than 45 years. Through everything, Bulloch and the accurately-named shop have endured, and you hope, after the perfect sugar glaze begins melting on your tongue, before you even bite into the doughnut cloud, that this place goes on forever. Daley's, underneath the train tracks in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, certainly seems to be aiming at immortality—the city’s oldest restaurant, going back to the late 1800's and in the same family for a century now, opens early for hearty, no-nonsense breakfasts, backed by an in-house butchering operation, so you can have pork chops and steaks with your eggs, unless, of course, you prefer steaks, or catfish, or liver and onions. (The restaurant is currently scheduled to move across the street.) Goat for breakfast? In Chicago’s Mexican-American community, the answer has, for generations now, been a resounding yes. Thanks to the likes of Birrieria Zaragoza, opening bright and early weekend mornings for plates of birria (grass-fed, local) and bowls of restorative consommé, the concept has officially gone wide. Up on the North Side, the Macanese Fat Rice brings a splash of color to any grey day—while the restaurant does a complete brunch on the weekends, the adjacent bakery opens weekdays for pineapple buns stuffed with char siu, taro morning buns, sticky Hong Kong-style tea, and a very fine cup of coffee. Even further north, Tre Kronor is a Scandinavian, family-owned bistro for cinnamon rolls, vanilla and orange-scented French toast, plus hearty omelets with Swedish sausage. And don’t tell Chicago, but there are other places in Illinois, and they’ve got breakfast, too, but what’s more iconic, truly, than those horseshoes in Springfield, technically open-faced sandwiches that vibe more like little food mountains—jumbles of eggs, meat, and your choice of hash browns, or French fries. (There are lunch versions too, arguably even more popular.) Oh, and we haven’t even talked about the toppings—your choice, typically, of cheese sauce, or sausage gravy. Try one at Ritz’s Lil’ Fryer.
Do you like surprises?
Here is a simple statement of fact, which is that one of America’s most memorable breakfasts has, for the past few years, been living in a renovated Indianapolis gas station. Hometown kid Jonathan Brooks, the mind behind Milktooth, blew everyone away, back in 2014, with his exciting menu of shrimp with quinoa grits, okonomiyaki packed with fried mortadella and purple carrots, Dutch baby pancakes topped with a rotating selection of unexpected toppings, a menu backed up by the talents of pastry chef Zoe Taylor, who from the start was turning out beautiful cakes, galettes, unexpected danish. There was good coffee, cocktails just as unimaginable as much of the menu, and some people got Milktooth and others didn’t—the trick is to sit at the counter, trying not to make eye contact with the usually terribly serious cooks, eying everything coming over the pass; as you see dishes you like, ask your server if you can have one, too. These days, the menu feels slightly less insane than it did, but still, exciting—there are the perl sugar sourdough waffles, the Dutch baby pancakes, latkes and biscuits and what have you, but those are merely blank canvases for seasonal (or weekly, or daily) shenanigans. Recently, the waffle came topped with a wild rice horchata syrup, a vanilla sea salt butter, plus coffee-poached pear and sprinklings of candied almond, the Dutch baby with marshmallow fluff and grape jelly, the latke stuffed with potato and celeriac, then served with corn butter and a poblano jam. Try as much as you can possibly eat. The menu at Larry Hanes’ Eggshell Bistro, out in suburban Carmel, is considerably shorter, because it’s pretty much just your new friend Larry, back there—dishes are camera-ready, created with utmost care; this is a place living in a magical world of its own, where shakshuka is a basic standard, something you order when you’re too timid to approach the pined salsify verde, a rather unusual dish of charred salsify, crisp pancetta, sous-vide poached eggs with bourbon-aged sorghum, white pine needles processed so as to be edible, plus vinegar and salt infused with tips of the Sitka spruce. Probably not what you were expecting, or looking for, in the suburbs of Indianapolis—just a wild guess—but go anyway. At the other end of the breakfast universe, consider the bounteous and ubiquitous breakfasts in Amish country, which Indiana seems to have a great deal of; start your eating tour at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury, a quick detour from the monotony of the Indiana Toll Road. Restaurant and bakery both open right at six in the morning, for a nicely-priced buffet with all the home-cooked standards, plus less expected delights like headcheese, and fried cornmeal mush, ideally all but floating in maple syrup.
The state scent is cinnamon rolls
Mornings in heritage-proud Pella are fairly terrific, particularly when you begin them at the Jaarsma Bakery—facing the square, around since 1898, this will be one of the busiest storefronts in town at this early hour. On your first pass, it might register as a classic Midwestern bakery, but there's a lot to get into, and we'll start with those eight-inch tall, S-shaped puff pastries, filled with almond paste and sprinkled with a bit of sugar. Known to Iowans as Dutch Letters, they're the American cousin of a traditional holiday pastry from the old country, and all sorts of people stop in here, year-round, for their fix. They go great with coffee, but then again, so does everything else, particularly the coffee cake ring, topped with buttery crumble, and the cinnamon rolls dripping maple icing; even slabs of simple, healthful brown bread—that big windmill down the street supplies the power needed to process the grain. Does this really feel like the Netherlands? More like the middle of Iowa, which is where you are, but special, all the same. Same for the Amana Colonies, close to bookish Iowa City—this string of historic religious communes (turned, collectively, into a popular tourist attraction) don't vibe quite so ye olde as pitched, but the all-you-can-eat bacon and eggs (plus as much toast with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam as you can handle) at The Ronneburg, a long-running restaurant in a historic home, are undeniably satisfying; while you're here, poke your head into the old Hahn's Bakery, where everything is hearth oven-baked, and they sell out early, so on second thought, start your morning there. Cedar Rapids' flood-ravaged Czech Village is your regional source for breakfast-appropriate kolaches—just ask for directions to Sykora Bakery. Also in the neighborhood, the Village Meat Market & Café offers the best of all possible worlds—breakfast at a good butcher shop, and in this case, you'll get jaternice, or Czech liver sausage, with eggs, along with crowd pleasers like beignets. Fast-forward to the present in Ames, where Provisions Lot F feels all grown up and gone to the big city, with its brioche French toast, bruleed grapefruits and brisket hash; speaking of big cities, or at least bigger ones, there is Des Moines, where an Australian expat serves up Instagram-ready avo toasts and beautiful power bowls at the spacious St. Kilda, one in a string of smart hangouts to crop up in Des Moines, of late.
Carolyn Bontrager is something of a hero in little Arlington, about an hour from Wichita, one of those quiet Kansas towns where the main drag doesn’t see a lot of action anymore. For roughly forty years, however, Carolyn’s Essenhaus has been there for everyone, whether local, or passing through, or even just here in town specifically for Bontrager’s famous breakfasts, which kick off with free coffee and a trip to the pastry bar, where you make your choices (sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, bee sting coffee cake, doughnuts), you drop your change in the basket, and you get to eating. (Save room for the omelets, and the biscuits and gravy, and the giant pancakes, too.) Things are a sight more modern in collegiate Lawrence, and particularly at WheatFields Bakery, where it’s all avocado toasts and veggie omelets and bagels on Sunday, and an array of great breads every day; in the suburbs of Kansas City, Alejandra de la Fuente's Red Kitchen Tamales has been known to draw a crowd for breakfast burritos with chorizo and fresh tomatillo salsa, on very good Sonoran-style (and Kansas-made) flour tortillas, first thing in the morning at the Lenexa Public Market—tamales come out Tuesdays and Saturdays. Want more classics? Kansas is really good at them—get out to Council Grove, where ye olde Hays House dates back to 1857, serving up chicken fried steaks and cinnamon rolls before sunup (your health regimen never had a chance); it’s a similar set-up, but in slightly different surroundings, at Homer’s Drive-Inn, over in Leavenworth, which started back in the 1930’s as a root beer stand.
The food at Lexington’s Keeneland Track Kitchen is fine, more than fine, actually—simple stuff, but good, and always reasonably priced, too. But the food isn’t the point, it’s the surroundings, where you are, and who is sitting next to you—this is Keeneland, the national landmark race track, home of the Thoroughbred; your dining companions will be jockeys and horse owners, and the whole thing feels like a behind the scenes tour, something worth waking up for, which you will gladly do, because there are breakfast burritos. Good ones. South of town in tiny Berea, home to one of the country’s most unique liberal arts colleges, the student-run Boone Tavern, a historic landmark at the heart of town, is where you start your day, with a straightforward but well-executed menu of Southern favorites, composed with good things from the college farm, and other Kentucky producers—the creamy, locally-milled grits don’t even need cheese, but cheese is certainly welcomed; stick around for the brioche French toast, too. In happening Louisville, Gralehaus is one of the city’s most unique lodging options, with just three very popular guest rooms; there’s always room for more hungry people, however, beginning with a spectacular breakfast of lamb and pork merguez with grits, or biscuits with duck sausage gravy. And not to tell you how to run your life, but the two most important barbecue joints in the state—Owensboro’s Moonlite and Old Hickory, famous for mutton—open right at 9 o’clock, because it’s never too early for barbecue, along with burgoo, the state’s unofficial stew. Just thought you ought to know.
Beignets and bananas foster
Eventually, you will get around to it—around to the rest of everything that New Orleans has to offer, around to the lightly-fried local catfish, served with yellow grits and eggs at Marigny essential Cake Cafe & Bakery, around to banh mi and Vietnamese pastry breakfasts at Dong Phuong Bakery, way out East and open early, around to the city’s best coffee and donuts, make that beignets and café au lait, at Morning Call, open all day and night in the middle of City Park. But first, Bananas Foster, set ablaze, tableside. But first, brandy milk punch, a creamy, nutmeg-infused kick in the teeth that you will drink one too many of the first time, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get away with it. But first, roasted Gulf oysters, sherry-infused turtle soup, eggs sardou, comprised of crispy artichokes, spinach and a rich béarnaise tinged with tomato, known as choron—it’s all on the menu at the recently refreshed but still very much Brennan’s in the French Quarter, and it’s all for breakfast and for brunch, easily one of the memorable brunches in the country, speaking quite frankly, and who would know better than New Orleans, where they’ll tell you that they invented brunch, way back before there were paved roads, wherever you come from. Out in Cajunlandia, the daily intake of the house special—boudin, like you had to ask—begins first thing, at gas stations and butcher shops and restaurants alike. An embarrassment of sausage riches awaits awaits you just off I-10, at Exit 97; that’s where the tiny town of Scott is located, the capital of boudin, they’ve even got an annual festival, so you know it's kind of serious. Of your options, The Best Stop is, well, the best stop—this all-things-Cajun country store sells, among many other things, boudin, fried boudin balls, and that other local must, pork cracklin’, seven days a week, bright and early. Eat up.
Living for breakfast
You came here looking for blueberry pancakes, perhaps, but what you really should be asking about—at least when you’re on the road way up north, a whole other Maine, really, settled largely by the Acadians, way back when—is the ploye. The humble buckwheat griddle cake, never flipped, super bubbly and often eaten just with butter or molasses (or maple syrup, if you like), can be found on many a northern Maine table, there’s even a Ploye Festival each summer, in Fort Kent, but if you’re just in town for a short while, do what many curious visitors do and start your search at Dolly’s, a humble cafe practically staring down the Canadians from our side of the St. Lawrence River, just outside the tiny town of Frenchville. Meanwhile, in Maine’s contemporary wing, it’s all a bit different—top talent Briana Holt puts the bakery in Portland’s Tandem Coffee + Bakery, whipping up blue ribbon-worthy cinnamon rolls, quiches and biscuits, which make great breakfast sandwiches, as happens, all in an old gas station given the Scandiminimal treatment. Of course, great bakers are kind of a thing around here—Krista Kern Desjarlais is another name to know, her Purple House in North Yarmouth is worth the short drive from Portland for Montreal-style bagels, spread with local goat’s cheese, or piled with smoked salmon or delicious salted plum glazed ham. Biddeford’s Palace Diner is a low-key fashionable joint that just so happens to occupy a vintage dining car, worth the trip from much further away than Biddeford for crispy potatoes like you’ve never had, breakfast sandwiches zipped up with pickled jalapeños and so much else; when you’ve had enough of Cool Maine, throw it back a few decades with the lobster benny at the Maine Diner, out along the Post Road in Wells, or a pile of pancakes and a free side of atmosphere at the long-running Becky’s Diner on the Portland waterfront, which opens at 4 o’clock in the morning for the fishermen. Join them now, nap later.
Never too early for crab cakes
You have to wake up awfully early to avoid the crush synonymous with weekend brunch at Spike Gjerde’s seminal Woodberry Kitchen, an exuberant embrace of Mid-Atlantic produce and the region’s fine, often underappreciated food traditions—the earlier you go, the more you will enjoy the most hectic meal of the week at what is still Baltimore’s most interesting restaurant, more than a decade after bursting onto the scene. What you get depends on the season—perhaps there will be pots of Tilghman Island lump crab, zipped up with the house hot sauce, made from Maryland-grown fish peppers, and served with little toasts, maybe there will be smoked trout, or a bibimbap with Carolina Gold rice—you’ll always have the bake shop board, offering a selection of the day’s pastries, too. And what of the other days? There are the memorable breakfasts of lemon souffle pancakes at the Ivy Hotel, a magical Relais & Chateaux-member retreat, hidden away at the heart of Baltimore—the morning meal is served only to guests, in a garden courtyard-facing bistro, and for this, it's nearly worth spending the night. A very short ride and a world away, the city’s most democratic breakfast joint—Pete’s Grille on Greenmount Avenue—opens its doors to all, most every morning, for what is easily Baltimore’s most delightful breakfast-based happening this side of the mid-morning crab cake and beers situation down at dear old Faidley’s, in the hopelessly outdated (and soon, it is said, to be reinvigorated) Lexington Market. Meanwhile, in Annapolis, eschew the postcard-cute center of town and hop the creek to the Eastport neighborhood, where Bakers & Co. serves up breakfast quiches and an array of good pastry. (Try the scones.)
We also have malasadas
There are many reasons one might pledge undying devotion to summer on Cape Cod, but first thing in the morning, it's all about the croissant. How a beach destination became such a patisserie magnet, sustaining at least three very good French bakeries that we know of, well, that's just so Cape Cod, and we're not the slightest bit mad. Surf, sand, and boule a saucisse from Maison Villatte in Falmouth, does that sound good? Lots of people think so; even on perfect weather mornings, the highest priority for many a holiday maker appears to be lining up at this welcoming bakery, all stocked up with visually appealing breads and pastries, most people appearing only too happy to stand around for half an hour, maybe longer—that’s because they've been here before. They know exactly what they're waiting for. Eventually, life takes you back over the bridge, but with this much to eat, you won’t mind so much, and let us begin in nearby Fall River, about as far as you can get from the Cape Cod of your imaginings and still be on the same planet, let alone the same state. Jump feet first into New England’s Portuguese heritage with a stop at Barcelo’s Bakery & Cafe in Fall River, where a young Emeril Lagasse landed his first job; look for fresh malasadas, much closer to the fritter original than the better-known versions in Hawaii, as well as rustic pasteis de nata, and breakfast sandwiches, too. At 3:30 in the morning, the lights go on at Kane’s in Saugus, where the up late and the up early crowd collide over some of New England’s finest doughnuts, marrying the best of the classic and traditional (the shop has been here since the 1950’s) with modern technique—think chocolate cake doughnuts with an organic honey glaze, or jelly doughnuts filled with black raspberry jam. So popular is Kane's, they’ve expanded into Boston, where, if it’s a very early breakfast you’re wanting, there’s the South Street Diner to serve you—this vintage institution is open all night long.
Pasties for breakfast
There is no Saturday morning in Detroit without the Eastern Market, not just another historic shed trading in the usual regional produce, but rather a complete experience, a social happening, and also an entire neighborhood, one that managed to draw very nearly everyone down here, all through the bad times. Now, it’s thriving. From local apples to top-flight breads, to entirely-appropriate-for-breakfast corned beef sandwiches over at Louie’s, to an impromptu grilled rib brunch at Bert’s, nobody should go away from the market hungry—there’s an entire industry geared around feeding people their Saturday breakfasts, too, and of your options, you’re typically going to be glad you chose the always in demand Russell Street Deli, a low-key modern diner, focused on better ingredients. All delicious, especially the pastrami hash, but breakfast meat lovers could make an entire meal of their meat sides, because who doesn’t love a platter of bacon (sugar cured), ham (applewood smoked), and two kinds of local sausage? In these times, you don’t really have to ask for permission to eat pie for your breakfast, you just need to head over to Sister Pie, one of the most likable and useful additions to this spanking-new version of Detroit everyone’s been so hot for, these last few years, and get some. The shop opens first thing in the morning, and not to worry, there are egg-topped galettes, and muffins and such, if you’re looking to ease into your slice of, say, salted maple, or cardamom tahini squash pie, or whatever else they’ve got going (flavors rotate in and out). The tomatoey, garlicky, oniony fava bean dish known as foul is a vegetarian breakfast staple at Lebanese institutions in Dearborn like Hamido, which will leave you feeling virtuous enough for a dive down the delicious rabbit hole that is Ann Arbor food (and drink), starting with breakfasts of cold-smoked salmon and white fish salad, involving bagels of course, at Zingerman’s Deli. Back when so much of the Midwest lagged, Zingerman's was (and remains) a delicious invitation to demand more—pop into the vastly expanded flagship, or even just roll by their somewhat-secret collection of storefronts, located in an industrial park at the south end of town—there’s a bakery, there’s a cheese shop, there’s a coffee shop, and what more could you possibly need? Way up north, over the bridge and into Michigan's Upper Peninsula, you’ll drive past more pasty purveyors than they’ve got in Cornwall (okay, exaggerating) in order to get to Toni’s Country Kitchen in post-industrial Laurium, but there’s something about the regional staple baked up at this humble diner, a complete throwback with the same owner since the early 1980’s, something of a pasty master resulting in a symphony of beefy, onion-y flavor—who cares if it’s not yet lunch time, this is the perfect food for a cold morning on the wild Keweenaw, with its miles of Lake Superior coastline. Oh, by the way—the cinnamon rolls here? Superb. There’s one pasty shop you passed that merits a visit, on your way back to so-called civilization, and it’s just down the road in Houghton; Roy’s Pasties & Bakery is a staple for Finnish nisu bread (just follow the scent of cardamom), plus obsessed-over Danish pastry rings in a variety of flavors—go with the almond.
What a testament to the deep, ever-expanding and apparently unstoppable breakfast culture of the Twin Cities, that one could feel a twinge of uncertainty leading off a conversation about the local morning meal with walleye hash and eggs, porridge made from Native-harvested wild rice, house made bison sausage with a touch of maple, and all the other terribly Minnesota dishes at the very unusual Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis. So much has been said about this off-the-wall underground joint, where you absolutely have to try the sausage bread, made with toasted walnuts, black currants, black coffee and an abundance of spices—what more is there to add? Very little, really—except to tell you that you should go, and not to jam you up, but the lemon ricotta pancakes there are kind of a big deal. Save room, because you're only just getting started—next up is St. Paul, and Eddie Wu’s Cook, the modern incarnation of a classic coffee shop in a classic neighborhood, a big-hearted place serving a blended, Korean-American breakfast, where the house hot sauce is quite good, and should go on everything. Then, you’re headed to Sun Street Breads, back in Minneapolis, for sourdough flapjacks, sausage gravy over biscuits, and an array of pastry that’s far from ordinary, including beautiful cardamom twists on Saturdays. In the lucky Kenwood neighborhood, the civilized Kenwood is an everyday (except Monday) breakfast and brunch spot—things start relatively simple, pancakes topped with black walnut butter, eggs with rosemary potatoes and smoked pork belly, moving into brunch service mid-morning. Stay awhile. Speaking of brunch, save Sunday for the spread at Jamie Malone's Grand Café, one of our restaurants of the year for 2018—and for goodness sake, get out of town, too; if you decide to head up to Duluth (good choice) and the scenic North Shore (even better), Betty’s Pies is legendary for for you know what, but there’s great breakfast, too, and has been for half a century.
Southern to the core
Deep into the Delta, long before a lot of Mississippi wakes up, farmers and other early risers are filing into the Fratesi Grocery, out on the highway near little Leland, for fresh biscuits and strong coffee, and omelets and pancakes and grits. The business, which includes a gas station, has been in the Fratesi family since the 1940’s—Italian immigrants to Mississippi, of which there were so many. Way up the other end in Tunica, the service station portion of the vintage Blue & White restaurant—now nearly a century old—closed a good while ago, mostly because the restaurant was so darn popular; if you’re passing through, don’t pass on the country ham with gravy, or perhaps the breakfast ribeye (with eggs, or not). In bookish Oxford, you always want to look in on Big Bad Breakfast, a mod Southern diner from the mind of John Currence; if you don't know about tomato gravy, a very delicious, very regional alternative to the usual sausage, come here and ask to be introduced. Hanging around Jackson? Wake up to Mississippi’s best coffee (from local roaster Bean Fruit) at Sneaky Beans in Fondren, then make your way over to the Mississippi Farmers Market building, near the State Capitol—if you’re here on a Saturday, you’ll be spoiled for options; most other days, you’ll still find one of the best little breakfasts in town at The Farmer’s Table, a counter joint serving up biscuits with preserves, parmesan and cream cheese grits, and a good sandwich of eggs and veggies on fresh bread.
Spectacular things can grow in surprising places. Thriving directly on the divide between two very different versions of St. Louis, Bowood Farms is the modern, urban oasis of your dreams, a well-curated garden center (and shop), complete with smart, on-premises restaurant. Sourcing from an adjacent vegetable garden, not to mention the herb farm up on the roof, along with an array of good Missouri suppliers, Cafe Osage opens early for sourdough pancakes with cherry compote, steak and eggs with parsnips and roasted mushrooms, buttermilk biscuits served with ricotta and honey—this is breakfast to impress, in a cozy, but modern environment, radiating light on cold and dark days, welcoming you in and making you feel good again. Kansas City has no shortage of big ticket breakfasts, but it’s Happy Gillis, a vintage corner spot in the old Columbus Park neighborhood near downtown, that feels the most dialed in. From the outside, it’s all classic, right down to the old Coca-Cola sign; indoors, everything's up to date, the entire all-day menu served right from eight o’clock, most mornings. Breakfast on salads of Brussels sprouts and fresh greens, with fennel and apple and five-spiced walnuts, tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette, or on biscuits with really good sausage gravy, you choose, there are no wrong answers—you’re here, and that’s what matters. Surely, it is not the only cafe in town—for breakfast with a crowd, get to KC's popular and relatively large-scale Messenger Coffee Co., which isn’t only Missouri's best stop for a coffee, this is an all-day café, as well—the in-house Ibis Baking Co. produces some very fine breads; try the bacon and egg toast. Of course, if you’re extremely hungry, look for the bright lights of Branson, where there never seems to be a shortage of food—thin, nearly delicate pancakes (massive ones, mind you, they don’t even fit on the plate) at BillyGail’s are legend, and even though Billy’s gone on and Gail has retired, no fear, because the family’s still in charge, and you can still come to the little log cabin that everybody loves (get in line). Some people like the plain pancakes here just fine, but others opt for the French cakes, which is basically French toast but with pancakes instead of bread, and sometimes they stuff it with things like pecans, or bacon, and now you know, and we bet you’re going to want to try that at home. (You should.)
Carbo loading zone
When you wake up to as many cold, crisp mornings as Montanans do, you want pancakes, you want cinnamon rolls, you want biscuits, and slabs of streusel-topped coffee cake, and you will have all of them, if you think you can handle it, at Stella's, a legendary destination in Billings, founded by an actual Stella, Stella Ziegler, and her husband Ziggy, who have been at this forever, and there has been talk of retiring, so go soon. Another long-running favorite requires a trip up the Flathead Valley, near Glacier National Park, but you should be going there anyway, and not just for the homemade everything (very nearly literally) at the Echo Lake Café, where they're up baking at all hours, where they make their own chorizo, smoke their own salmon, and take an immense amount of pride in the work that they do, proving that successful businesses in tourist towns do not have to be cynical operations. Chicken-fried steaks resting under their gravy blankets, stacks of buckwheat pancakes—this is hiker food, or at least you’d better go hiking, after all that. The menu isn't quite so extravagant at Bozeman's Coffee Pot Bakery, but you can get their sausage gravy over freshly baked buttermilk biscuits all day long—ditto the green chile pork burrito, pressed on the grill, proving that short breakfast menus can be good menus, too. Off to the state capital? Helena's Steve's Café is simple, but delicious, while in fashionable Missoula, there's breakfast galore, but the conversation always comes back to the Hob Nob, a casual, counter service joint for a modern mix of Western breakfast staples—migas, sourdough pancakes, burritos, and great corned beef hash.
Don’t fill up on donuts
If the only thing you ever know about Omaha is to exit I-80 at 13th Street, just before or after crossing the Missouri River, for a quick stop at Olsen Bake Shop, surely one of the city's finest—and surely one of it's most unapologetically retro—doughnut destinations, you will have done well. You will have done even better if you manage to get to the glazed croissant donuts before everybody else—this place sells out of everything, early. Here is a textbook example of croissant donut deliciousness, the kind that was a thing all over the United States, particularly the Midwest, long before that brash New York upstart—the cronut—got a publicist. There’s so much butter, and so much sugar, you shouldn’t eat the whole thing by yourself, but you should also consider buying two, because they’re just that delicious. Blocks away, Archetype Coffee, which is Nebraska’s best roaster, recently opened the doors to a beautiful new cafe that invites lingering, but you’ve got real breakfast to get to, so grab a cup and get yourself to Omaha’s Saddle Creek Breakfast Club, a former gas station turned into the city’s buzziest destination for banana pancakes, jackfruit breakfast tacos, omelets topped with kimchi. In a bagels and lox kind of mood? Ansel’s, a recent addition to the city's burgeoning Blackstone District, is suddenly an essential stop for the classic combo—bagels are made fresh daily, boiled in local brown ale for that extra malty kick. Over in Lincoln, the tiny and very popular Tina's Café is a no-nonsense coffee shop with counter seating—pull over for thick-cut bacon, cinnamon rolls buried under drifts of frosting, and menacingly large portions of biscuits and gravy—don’t just choose, try it all. Continuing west, stop for a bite with actual farmers at the Farmer's Daughter Café in Grand Island. Ham steaks, scrambled eggs, crispy hashbrowns, in a charmingly utilitarian setting? Finally—the Nebraska in your mind.
Here’s how to beat the breakfast odds in Las Vegas—you get up very early, preferably on a weekend, when the Buffet at Wynn lays on the best spreads, and so many people are still sleeping it off, at least for another hour or two. You’ll get in line, and you’ll ask for a table in the sunny Conservatory, with the crazy colors and the faux-floral arrangements, ripped from some cheerful child’s fantasy, and you just go to town on that buffet. You do it all. Your weight in chilled shrimp, everything at the carving station or stations, depending, freshly-made corned beef hash, red velvet pancakes because you deserve it, and so much dessert before ten o’clock in the morning, there ought to be a law. There are other buffets in town, but never confuse quantity of offerings with quality—year after year, few come close to the Wynn. This is a town that has it all, and often 24/7—long before it was a trend, Ronald’s was turning out delicious vegan donuts, while out in an office park, just by the beltway, Olivier Brouillet has been doing his part to civilize Las Vegas with his low-key Baguette Cafe, an oasis for croissant and quiche of the day. Natalie Young’s ambitious EAT took an ascendant downtown Las Vegas by surprise, with beautifully presented, sophisticated breakfast dishes—truffled egg sandwiches, shrimp and grits, chilaquiles, chicken fried steak, and very good pancakes, too, on the ground floor of a budget motel conversion. Up in Reno, where you want to be in the morning is the counter at Carlillos Cocina in Sparks; the busy diner serves up some of the city’s finest Mexican breakfast—chorizo and eggs, machaca and eggs, and huevos rancheros, though the generous plates of carne aside and beans (and the Santa Fe benedicts, with chipotle hollandaise) at the relaxed Sparks Coffee Shop—also in Sparks, if that was unclear—don’t slouch, either. The Villa Basque Café in Carson City is the Home of Pete’s Famous Basque Chorizo, so obviously you’re going, and you can get Pete’s chorizo with everything—with fried eggs, in a burrito buried under sausage gravy, or crumbled on top of a chicken fried steak.
Pancakes and maple syrup for days
An early ride up the White Mountains for breakfast at Polly's Pancake Parlor—it doesn't get much better than that, at least when the weather's nice, or when the leaves are turning, or any time there's snow on the mountains and not on the highway. Coming to Polly's isn't just breakfast, it is a pilgrimage, a touchstone, a nostalgic exercise; the place is largely unchanged (and owned by the same family) since 1938. Buckwheat, cornmeal, and whole wheat pancakes are made from flours stoneground right on premises, though the plain pancakes are very fine too, there’s really nothing plain about them, frankly, and have we mentioned the array of maple products? Must order: locally-smoked ham and bacon, or even a grass-fed sirloin steak, served with eggs. Polly's is a hard act to follow, but New Hampshire is up to the task—back down the highway towards Boston, the Heritage Farm Pancake House isn't open year-round like Polly's, but they do open up on March 1st, which locals call pancake season around here, because that's when the sugaring off typically begins, which means fresh maple syrup. Heritage Farm is an actual farm, complete with wagon rides and chances to make friends with cute animals, but it is first and foremost a place for a bang-up farm breakfast—there's a pancake menu a mile long, from piña colada to pumpkin. In North Conway, itself no stranger to a tourist or two, Peach's is far more charming than it needs to be in a town this busy, and they do a fine coffee cake, as well as pretty much everything else breakfast you can dream of.
Pork roll and pasteis de nata
You've seen it play out so many times on television, in the movies, breakfast at a New Jersey diner—in real life, it's just as you imagined, maybe even better. There aren't many states where diner culture remains entrenched enough that they keep building new ones, each on a mission to outdo the rest, but that's New Jersey for you. They'll have to get up mighty early in the morning to beat Tops Diner, an all-day, all-night affair in East Newark that draws people from all over, despite traffic and parking—the breakfast is ambitious, to say the least, from healthy bowls with quinoa, wild rice and avocado, to chicken and waffles—there's even an elevated sandwich of that Jersey breakfast favorite, a slice of humble pork roll (known as Taylor ham in this part of the state), served on a brioche bun, with two eggs and cheese. Diner-wise, there’s beauty all around you, of course, but there's so much else, too, from egg tarts (pasteis de nata) and and milky coffees at Teixeira's Bakery in Portuguese Newark, to delicate dosas, served first thing in the morning at Sri Dosa Place in Iselin, at the heart of one of the largest concentration of Indian expats in North America. There are Asian bakeries galore, some of them chains found elsewhere, but all offering excellent value—SunMerry, a Taiwanese-style cafe with locations in Fort Lee and Edison, sells an airy brioche filled with cream for a couple of bucks—you’re getting the idea. Don’t forget Trenton, and Ila Mae’s, a soul food institution in the city's Mill Hill historic district, an appealing pocket just a short walk from the train station; the breakfast menu is classic coffee shop, but there’s chicken and waffles and grits, plus a stack of pancakes for a few bucks. All kinds of people show up here, and you should, too.
Just like any other time of day—red, or green?
Where to eat Nobody's going to ding you if you go ahead and default to the very famous, very old school Frontier, when in Albuquerque—decades of tradition, a location along historic Route 66, and those breakfast enchiladas, can't be wrong, can they? Still, we'll happily pitch you the biscuits with green chile gravy at the inimitable Marie Yniquez's Bocadillo's, a downtown sandwich shop that wakes up early in the mornings to get you fed; then there’s the situation over at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, too, something like walking into the pages of a Southwest style magazine—built by John Gaw Meem, one of New Mexico's most prominent architects, is surrounded by fields of lavender, accessed down a long driveway lined with tall cottonwood trees; if you hadn't just driven here, you'd never guess you were only minutes from the heart of town. Blue corn pancakes, chilaquiles, a memorable breakfast cazuela of carne adovada, ranchero beans, braised farm greens and eggs, served with tortillas—you came looking for New Mexico, and you found it, at something like its finest. Not that the state’s unique nature is all that subtle—in nearly every town in the state, there’s some place good to begin your day; in Santa Fe, look in on two local favorites, The Pantry and Tecolote Café, which moved not long ago but remains a keeper. Both feature chile-soaked breakfast burritos; both are good enough to entice you away from the heart of town.
Between a bagel and a hard roll
One of the greatest luxuries in hurried New York City is time. Time to linger over scrambled eggs with sliced sturgeon at Barney Greengrass on a quiet weekday, time to wait in line at East Houston Street’s Russ & Daughters for bagels and lox, or to eat a full breakfast at their sit-down café, a short walk away; time to sit in the Fifth Avenue-facing windows on a snowy winter's morning at the echt-Vienna Café Sabarsky, nibbling on soft boiled eggs, bites of brioche and gulping down one decadent little Einspänner after another. Time to linger over the newspaper (and coffee, and salami and eggs, and buttered rye toast) at the miraculously old Eisenberg Sandwich Shop, time to binge on chilaquiles and lobster tostadas at modern Mexican Atla, to go hunting for the kaya (coconut jam) toast at Malaysia-goes-to-the-LES coffee shop Kopitiam, to jaunt over to Brooklyn and Red Hook for civilized bar breakfasts (or even better, weekend brunch) at the still-got-it Fort Defiance, to Queens for Columbian diner classics (steak, arepas, eggs with chorizo, batidos galore) at the up-all-night Cositas Ricas, or to go even further for cheeky weekday dim sum at Flushing's Asian Jewels, a modern address for a delicious and traditional lineup of small plates. For a town that too often subsists on grab-and-go, there sure is a lot worth stopping for—not that there's anything wrong with bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll at the bodegas, carts, delis, and coffee shops of the five boroughs; there's a reason everybody eats them. Out in the actual state, everything starts up all over again—there is Buffalo’s earnest, very fine Five Points Bakery, which doubles as one of the most serious toast cafés you'll find away from the West Coast, stellar pain au chocolat at the extremely good Utica Bread in you guessed it, Utica; in the Catskills, weekend mornings are for the likes of the vintage Phoenicia Diner, revamped in recent years to serve slightly elevated diner classics—choose from the array of breakfast skillet dishes. For the ultimate breakfast—more like a breakfastcation, really—book a table (in advance) at the Mohonk Mountain House, a historic resort high atop the Shawangunks, just minutes from New Paltz—panoramic views from the beautiful old dining room, and an invitation to spend the day exploring the stunning hotel grounds and surrounding forest (typically open to hotel guests only) are worth the price of admission. Happily, the food is good, too. (Did we mention, it’s AYCE, with an omelet station and a waffle bar? Because it is.)
Come for the biscuits, stay for the livermush
We’ll start at the top, at 5,000 feet above sea level, where the views are five star and the breakfast is simple and hearty—house made granola, good organic coffee, grits, pancakes, and eggs are what you get in the dining room, in front of the giant windows, at the Pisgah Inn, a family-owned lodge on a particularly remote stretch of the historic Blue Ridge Parkway. Make that deceptively remote, because really, you can get here from the fringes of Asheville in barely a half hour. So, just in case you don’t have a passion for frill-free mid-century lodges with national park vibes, there’s nothing to stop you from waking up early and enjoying a parkway sunrise, and a morning in the wilds—breakfast included. Don't try this during the winter, when the lodge goes into hibernation, but that’s fine, because Asheville is only something like the creative breakfast capital of the state, you’re never going to starve. The OWL Bakery (stands for old world levain) is a popular place to pick up cardamom buns and chocolate croissants, but it’s also a place to hang around for highly customizable tartines, quiche, and a good croque madame, that is if you’re not in a hurry, like so many people are, to get to the tiny but very famous Sunny Point Cafe, where they do pecan-crusted fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese on toast, some of the most outlandish huevos rancheros of all time, on black bean cakes, with chorizo and showers of feta cheese. Stay in the mountains forever, you say? Never mind that, you've got places to go, for instance Charlotte and surrounds, where many of the people who grew up on North Carolina's most obscure regional food relic, livermush, still eat it with eggs for their breakfast. What is livermush? Well, the clue's in the name—it’s part pig liver, part cornmeal, processed and sold by the pound in loaf form. You fry it up, nice and crispy, and frankly, it's delicious. If you're into that sort of thing. Livermush is often eaten as a sandwich, a little later on in the day, usually with healthy amounts of yellow mustard, but one well-known purveyor, Charlotte’s classic Brooks Sandwich House, opens bright and early for breakfast. Out along the Atlantic Ocean, in the land of what sometimes feels like a thousand perfectly fine pancake houses, built to service the seasonal beach house set, there are incredible gems, too, like the classic Sam & Omie’s in Nags Head, where the fishermen still gather, as they have for generations, for hearty, multigrain pancakes, salty country ham, and even crab benedicts; for the absolute opposite experience, it's Raleigh's Boulted Bread, a very modern bakery, turning out nearly delicate ham and cheese croissants, gorgeous galettes, and rustic tarts, to an in-the-know crowd. Let’s say you woke up late, which would be totally fine, because most of the state’s really good barbecue joints— the icons, like Ayden’s Skylight Inn—open right at 10 a.m, ready to serve up that legendary Carolina pork. (Just get in line, and call it brunch.) By the way—if you’re cruising the highways and you see a Biscuitville sign, stop—the homegrown breakfast chain is an institution in most communities where you find it, priding themselves on good, local ingredients, and one great chicken biscuit. North Carolina turns out to have a knack for creating breakfast (or breakfast-related) fast-food concepts that other people seem to enjoy; the relatively young, Durham-based Rise Biscuits & Donuts seems keen on competing, upping the ante with even fancier biscuit sandwiches, and North Carolina’s own Counter Culture Coffee—the company is now franchising left and right, everywhere from Maryland over to Texas. Not to be outdone is Outer Banks favorite Duck Donuts, named for the coastal town of Duck, another concept that's now going wide—their thing is simple, freshly made cake doughnuts, really good ones actually, glazed (and fancified) to your specifications. Turns out, one of those donuts, split in half, makes a pretty great breakfast sandwich.
Little surprises along the way
A Scando-influenced deli with homemade bagels, inside of a mid mod antique shop? That's just Fargo being Fargo, really—BernBaum's, named for its entrepreneurial owners, fits North Dakota’s big—and cheerfully cosmopolitan—city like a glove. Some of the better bagels on the Great Plains—with smoked salmon, of course—can be found here, right around the corner from Young Blood Coffee, where, when they’re not busy roasting North Dakota’s best coffee right now, they’re baking up a storm and preparing fancy toasts. The rest of North Dakota is a little more like the North Dakota you were expecting—in Dickinson, way out in the grasslands, everybody whose teeth can handle the workout stops for gooey caramel rolls at the Country Rose Café; in the state capital, Bismarck, the complete breakfast experience requires two stops—one for freshly-baked cinnamon logs at Bread Poets, and then the classic Little Cottage Cafe, for diner classics done right.
Better off Goetta
There are so many things Cincinnati tough-nut Tucker’s has been asked to survive, over the years—devastation by fire, a dramatic shooting, the decline of the Over The Rhine neighborhood it had worked so tirelessly to feed since the 1940’s. The sort of adversity that in small doses could spell the end of a lesser restaurant, truly, but most restaurants aren’t owned by the Tucker family, which never seemed to know the meaning of the word quit, and thank goodness for that. Lately, things have been looking up, some parts of the neighborhood are now flat-out thriving, and Tucker’s is here to welcome everyone, just like always, whether you’ve come from around the corner, or the leafy suburbs, whether your business is at street level, or high up one of the downtown towers. People come to Tucker’s for the singular atmosphere, but there is good food, too—biscuits and gravy, dressed hash browns, a six-cheese omelet, all from quality ingredients; prices are generously retro, as they often are at Cincinnati's older restaurants. You don’t get out the door without sampling the premier regional breakfast specialty, goetta, a poor man's sausage with old world roots. Pork, beef, sometimes offal, is blended with steel-cut oats and spices, then sliced and fried, and while it's much easier to find (and afford) the sausages that goetta (get-uh) once replaced, try telling Cincinnati that—the love affair remains strong. Speaking of regionally specific meats, on Saturday mornings, a couple of blocks away you’ll find the almost-ancient Findlay Market quarter in full swing, with lots more to eat—nothing quite so memorable, however, as the breakfast sandwiches at Eckerlin Meats. You want one with the funky-delicious (and high quality) house goetta, of course. In some states, all of this would add up to enough, and we could happily move on, but this is Ohio, and the possibilities are endless—you could wake up in Amish country, for example, at 5:30 in the morning, to breakfast with the locals at Berlin's Boyd & Wurthmann, where they’ve been at it since the 1930’s, so you figure you know a thing or two, and they do; on that same, old-school note, consider the terribly photogenic Clifton Mill, dating back to 1802. Located right above the Little Miami River, not far from Dayton, visitors can tuck into all-day breakfasts of giant pancakes made from house-milled flours, slabs of fried cornmeal mush, biscuits with bacon gravy, or sausage gravy, and when you’re done with all that, pie. Not very far away in fashionable Columbus, two Blue Bottle Coffee grads are bringing Bay Area bakery/cafe culture to the middle of the country with Fox in the Snow, featuring one very good breakfast sandwich—souffled egg with candied bacon, Swiss cheese, arugula and dijon cream on toasted ciabatta. That should be enough, but there’s also some of the best pastry in town, along with very good coffee, and one of the most happening crowds around, always. (Note: There are now two locations.)
Steak and eggs
For over a hundred years now, Cattlemen’s has been the you-buy-we-fry joint (so to speak) serving Oklahoma City’s stockyards, offering a selection of choice steaks at all times of the day. Seriously, you could turn up for a T-Bone, as early as six o’clock in the morning, and they’d serve you; T-Bone, Ribeye, Filet Mignon—if they’ve got one (they’re really into quality, and the sanctity of the aging process), you can have one, and why shouldn’t you—you’re in Oklahoma, get your cowboy on. Not that you have to go that big, at least not every morning; lots of people content themselves at the relatively modest Classen Grill, where they serve up healthy portions of migas—scrambled eggs with tortilla strips, and all sorts of other goodies mixed in. Of course, these days, a warming, invigorating bowl of pho is as Oklahoma City as anything, and they’re served from relatively early at Pho Lien Hoa. Chicken-fried steaks, biscuits and gravy, steak and eggs, pork chops and eggs—the breakfasts at Clanton’s Café in Vinita are an iconic part of every Route 66 road trip for a reason, not that you have to eat like it’s the 1940’s, the entire time you’re on the trail—the delicate pain perdu at Queenie’s in Tulsa? Well worth braking for. Same goes for Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies down in Davis, a near-essential stop for those driving I-35 from Dallas-Fort Worth—they do an excellent bacon egg and cheese breakfast pie in the mornings, which is exactly the Oklahoma response to the Texas breakfast taco (or perhaps the empañada?) we were looking for.
In this house, we eat breakfast
When you’re Oregon, you give rise to at least three chains specializing in breakfast, and then you keep them going, for years and years, caring very little about how they will play in the outside world, or even if the outside world ever finds out about them. There’s Elmer’s, there’s Shari’s (she’s really into pie), and, far and away best, there is The Original Pancake House, franchised around the country over time, but sparingly enough that plenty of communities, hugely loyal to the restaurant with the deep dish dutch apple pancakes, the paper-thin sourdough flapjacks, quality, thick-cut bacon, and baked omelets with the sherry mushroom cream sauce, don’t even realize that they’re patronizing a chain—an Oregon chain, going back to the early 1950’s, a chain so good that Portland native James Beard didn’t mind telling everyone he was a fan—the Beard Foundation even awarded the OPH, back in the 1990’s, for outstanding achievement in the field of breakfast excellence, or something like that, and they were quite right to do so. Oregon’s obsession with breakfast has famously led them—well, specifically Portland—in some fascinating directions, more recently; not many cities would be lucky enough to have a restaurant like Canard, where they serve you chilled oysters, and stacks of fluffy cakes topped with rich duck gravy, a fried duck egg, and if you’re feeling stupid, seared foie gras, followed up with a salted caramel cream-filled Paris Brest, from 8 o’clock in the everloving morning, all week long and many times over on Sundays. Then again, not many cities are lucky enough to have Gabriel Rucker on board—this is his doing, Rucker, of the (oh look, full circle) James Beard award, of Le Pigeon and Little Bird, two of Portland’s top restaurants. Feels like now there’s a third. Not that it’s all the shock of the new—this town is full of comforting classics, and we can start with the doughnuts, which in case you hadn’t heard are religion around here—skip past the ones you’ve heard of, at least for now, and dive into Delicious Donuts, a locally-loved, family-owned gem, where they’re frying up textbook-perfect fritters, every single day. Lots of people walk right past Fuller’s Coffee Shop right downtown, sometimes remarking on its looks—as in, out of a Hopper painting—the best people go inside and sit down, for classic coffee shop fare, except you’re still in Portland, so those omelets are going to be pretty great. The population may be a little more scattered, out in the rest of Oregon, but they’re no less passionate about the morning meal—in Medford, spectacular breakfast sandwiches and baked goods at Buttercloud Bakery will make you wish you drove through the gorgeous Rogue Valley more often, while anyone exploring the dry side of the Cascades should lock it in at McKay Cottage Restaurant in Bend, actually inhabiting a real Craftsman cottage, for mascarpone cheese-stuffed croissants, dipped in batter, fried up and served to you as French toast—you know, nothing too fancy.
All your scrapple belongs to us
The Mid-Atlantic region offers up one historic market hall after another, but there’s a reason why Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal became the most popular, and it’s not just because you’re a couple of steps from City Hall, or the convention center—the food is often really good, and while they may complain about the crowds, plenty of locals still come down here to make the rounds, and a lot of them can be found waiting in line at the Dutch Eating Place on weekday mornings. Just look for the cross-section of humanity, waiting for their chance at the horseshoe counter, where they will eat the most regional of breakfasts—cream chipped beef over toast, griddled slabs of pork scrapple, apple dumplings swimming in cream, and classic sticky buns, served up with extraordinary speed by a small and diverse army, often including Amish or Mennonite youths—let's say you didn’t know you were in Pennsylvania before, you sure do now. (Should there be a lengthy wait, send someone in your party one stall over for cruller-like glazed donuts at Beiler’s Bakery, a steal at just over a buck apiece.) Don’t get stuck in Philadelphia, because it’s a big state, there’s a lot of breakfast out there, and we’re not even talking about the Sizzli sandwiches at Wawa (or whatever people are eating at the less-good Sheetz) so many Pennsylvanians are addicted to. Start your tour by rolling up on Hank’s Place, out in the pleasant Brandywine Valley—the vibe is simple country kitchen, but most days, there’s low-key magic going on behind the counter, from cheesy frittatas made with local shiitake mushrooms, to the house corned beef hash, colorful with leeks and herbs. Next, there’s Lancaster County, perhaps the spiritual home of Mid-Atlantic breakfast, and certainly the capital of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine-based tourism; while the Shady Maple Smorgasbord really is one of the best buffets in America, if far from the most glamorous, you can also keep it much simpler with breakfast sandwiches of scrapple and regionally specific Cooper Sharp cheese, served on fresh potato rolls at S. Clyde Weaver, a century-old institution for smoked meats of all kinds. For breakfast on the cutting edge, head over the mountains and into Pittsburgh, for doughnuts at Becca Hegarty’s Bitter Ends Garden & Luncheonette, perhaps best consumed on your way over to Trevett Hooper’s entertaining, all-day Pie For Breakfast, where you can get slices of vinegar and shoofly and other delicious pies as early as you like. Don’t fill up on pie, at least not first, because the rest of the menu begs exploring—chopped lamb steak and eggs, house-cured bacon, ham, and sausage, biscuits with a rich, vegetarian mushroom gravy, and slices of salt-rising bread, a neglected Appalachian classic, toasted and served with butter.
Ask us about our johnnycakes
Centuries after they were actually a thing, America’s snack-sized state remains passionate about the humble cornmeal fry cake, called a jonnycake, unless of course they are called johnnycakes, or journey cakes, or who knows what else. These simple beauties will be made from cornmeal, or perhaps from white cornmeal, of a certain, very specific provenance, sometimes they'll be thick, sometimes thin—who knew, really, that such a relatively small group of people could have so many differing opinions over something so simple as breakfast? Let the locals talk amongst themselves, because you’ve got whatever-they’re-called to eat, swimming in melted butter and warmed syrup, if you like; get your 1700’s on at the classic Jigger’s Diner in East Greenwich, the existence of which is rather a miracle, when you consider how many times the old dining car has been sold (or shut down, each time supposedly for good) over a very long life. Out in privileged Watch Hill, the vintage, and beautifully restored Ocean House hotel is the setting for a New England-glam seaside breakfast—root vegetable hash with foraged mushrooms, egg white omelets with goat cheese and roasted tomatoes, and, oh, ho, ho, what’s this? Yes, that’s correct, jonnycakes again, this time served with black walnut syrup and whipped goat cheese, how fancy. Pardon us, however, if nothing quite tops the memory of summer morning visits to Allie’s Donuts in North Kingstown, a doughnut shop so good, people drive from all over the state, even across the bridge from Newport (gasp!) to grab a box of assorted, a box that seems to empty way too quickly, no matter how many people are sharing. Sticks, crullers, old fashioneds, straight up glazed—this is regional doughnut culture at its finest. Is it any wonder then, with ancestors like these, the new breed is no slouch around here either—Knead Doughnuts in Providence vibes like so many other built-for-Instagram shops across the country, but the pedigree is all there. Start with a sour cream old fashioned, because they’re nice.
Shrimp and grits for days
At Hannibal's Soul Kitchen in Charleston, the beauty is on the inside, and to be more specific, on your plate—sliding in to this Eastside institution for a seafood breakfast, served from early in the morning, is an essential part of the Charleston experience, whether the visiting hordes know it or not. Shrimp and grits, of course, but sautéed crab, too, or both. At Millers All Day, where co-owner Greg Johnson operates a decades-old mill supplying grits to top local restaurants like Husk, every day is for brunch—better still, brunch inspired by traditional Lowcountry ingredients. Think hearty bowls of Hoppin’ John, made with heirloom field peas and Carolina Gold rice, cornmeal pancakes with hickory syrup, and—oh, absolutely—shrimp and grits, because truly, at least around here where they really know how, there will never too much of either. Come back down to earth—in a most pleasant manner—with a trip up to Columbia (well, West Columbia) and Compton's Kitchen, where they use locally-milled flour and scour the farmer's market to cook as much as possible from scratch—a lengthy biscuit menu is the backbone of the breakfast here, and one highlight is the steak one, smothered in gravy and topped with American cheese and thick-cut bacon. Feel like a splurge? Go for the griddled onion-topped ribeye breakfast, with two eggs, grits and a biscuit. In Greenville, the unglamorous (but who cares) Tommy’s Country Ham House is the stuff of legend—you're here for sweet potato pancakes, pork chops, grits, and—of course—a lot of country ham.
Try the wojapi
Slow-cooked fruit, perhaps chokecherries, with a touch of honey, to taste—that’s about all it takes to make wojapi, a traditional Native American condiment, sometimes referred to as a berry pudding, often found in generous quantities atop big pillows of golden fry bread—this is what’s for breakfast at the Cedar Pass Lodge, which, thanks to a pretty great address inside Badlands National Park, is automatically one of the best places to start any South Dakota day. Any random corner in the southwest section of the state will do, quite honestly, it’s so beautiful—tiny Custer in the nearby Black Hills proved a powerful lure (and a big switch) for Eliza and Joseph Raney, who had restaurant careers in places with far shorter winters, but hey, people need to eat everywhere, and they’ve jumped into their new lives feet first with Skogen Kitchen, a Wednesday-Sunday restaurant (skogen is Norwegian for forest), and the place has been a hit. Breakfast is served Sundays only, and reservations are a must, but it's worth the effort, for walleye served with potato bacon hash, a Japanese-inspired French toast with matcha ice cream on top, miso butter and toasted nori, plus a whole pancake menu. Small town diner, tick. Small town diner menu—not even close. In the state capital of Pierre, pretty much everyone agrees that The Donut Shop is a very fine one indeed—hard not to feel that way, when they're selling cream filled donut holes, not to mention those German chocolate cake donuts; across the state in Sioux Falls, there's another slightly unexpected way to start your day in the form of CH Patisserie, the bakery in the state most likely to be confused with an actual patisserie—owner Chris Hanmer is a Top Chef: Just Desserts winner, so you expect good things, and you won’t be disappointed. Weekends, they open on the early side with a full range of croissants, both savory and sweet—have a nibble, then continue down the street (stopping in for South Dakota's best coffee at Coffea Roasterie) for a big, classic breakfast at Phillips Avenue Diner. Banana bread French toast, big omelets, a huevos rancheros burrito—will there be anything else? Didn’t think so.
Biscuits and country ham (don’t forget the gravy)
Let’s say you are off to ride the roller coasters at Dollywood, or that you are headed into the national park for some time on the trails—big days out in the Smokies tend to make a person hungry, probably all that fresh air, and so many of us end up (as we should) at the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, a piece of living history, at one time the town’s power supply, and today still milling the grains that go into the restaurant’s corn grits and pancakes. Biscuits with smoky bacon and country ham, seasonal preserves, cinnamon raisin pecan French toast—the menu isn’t extensive, but it’s enough to keep the crowds coming back, year after year. Also iconic, if not quite so aged, is The Arcade in Memphis, a century-old soda fountain on historic South Main Street; you take your place at the counter, or in a booth (both have merit), and you start with the biscuits and country ham, though if it’s stellar examples of both that you’re wanting, you’ll also need to stop in at Bryant's Breakfast, doing some of the best you'll find in town, since 1968. Think Nashville, and you think new and cool, and you’re not wrong, but on your way to dive into the contemporary, pay tribute (preferably on a quieter weekday) to the famed Loveless Café, for more ham, more biscuits, and plenty of sausage gravy. There are no prizes for guessing the theme at Biscuit Love, currently one of Nashville’s hottest names in breakfast (there are already multiple locations); while the just rich enough, perfectly seasoned sausage gravy is the sort of thing that makes visiting northerners ever so slightly weak in the knees with happiness, the rather sweet biscuit dough really shines at dessert, and what you’re looking for is an order of bonuts. These are donut holes, except they are fried biscuit, and each order comes with lemon mascarpone cream and blueberry compote, and it’s even better than it sounds. Finally, Knoxville is where you'll find one of the most forward-looking breakfast joints in the state; Olibea is the brainchild of Chef Jeff DeAlejandro, offering up an obsessively-sourced menu of Southern and Mexican dishes, executed with a great deal of passion. Don't be afraid to assemble your own plate from the a la carte menu— fresh duck eggs, house-cured pork belly, a biscuit, an order of bacon gravy—now that's some A+ modern Southerning.
Breakfast tacos in a parking lot
So you’ve never rolled out of bed super early, at least not on your Saturday off, driven to some small town, some out of the way neighborhood, and stood around in the heat or the cold or the rain for barbecue—say, for example, the beautiful brisket at 2M Smokehouse in a part of San Antonio you've probably never seen before, or those melt-on-the-tongue barbecued pork steaks at Snow’s in sleepy Lexington, where Tootsie Tomanetz moonlights as one of America’s best pitmasters? You’ve never paid tribute to El Paso’s nearly century-old L&J Cafe for a hangover breakfast of chilaquiles, nor the huevos rancheros at the H&H Cafe & Car Wash? Do even you know Texas? What about the craveable conchas at the forward-looking La Panaderia, speaking of San Antonio. What about Houston, where it’s the world in one city, now— India-inspired breakfasts at Pondicheri, pho first thing in the morning absolutely everywhere, but very much at Pho Dien, chicken and waffles with the power crowd at the Breakfast Klub. And Dallas, where you start at the old Kuby’s Sausage House, for crispy potato pancakes, just like Oma used to make, with applesauce and sour cream, or Waco, where the as-seen-on-television Chip and Joanna Gaines have revived, and rather beautifully, a historic restaurant, turning it into the now sought-after Magnolia Table, where they source eggs from Joanna’s very own chickens? There is so much Texas to see and experience and to eat—anyone with an explorer’s mindset will never be finished, a lifetime is not long enough, and we haven’t even talked about the capital of Texas breakfast, which is most definitely Austin, and your breakfast will often be tacos. Begin at the popular Veracruz All Natural, now serving all over town, but perhaps best experienced in East Austin, where the migas tacos, served with scrambled eggs, Jack, cilantro, onions, crushed tortilla chips—topped with avocado, of course—come from a converted school bus. Last but not least (there’s more, there’s always more), you have kolaches. Anytime is kolache time, really, and particularly in the tiny town of West, a fabled stop-off on the road between Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin—rich in Czech heritage, there are multiple bakeries serving up the classic pastry, or at least the Texas version thereof, soft, puffy bites of sweet bread, modest little above-ground pools filled with cheese or apricot jam and the like; Gerik's Ole Czech is a good one, but you don't need to keep to their more limited hours; not with the Czech Stop open 24/7, and so close to I-35, you could almost start lobbing kolaches into traffic.
Those scones, though
Fry bread is a thing that you find all over the Southwest, to which a whole bunch of Utah most definitely belongs, but if you walk into most Utah restaurants asking for fry bread, they’re going to ask if you meant to say scone, if they understand you at all—just run with it, everybody else does. What comes out on the plate at the likes of, say, Sill’s Cafe in Layton, a wallop of perfectly fried dough, topped with a generous portion of whipped honey butter, slowly melting out of its little cup and all over the place, is so perfectly good, you won’t even care what they call it, or how it all started. (Entire studies have been done, and everyone agrees that it’s definitely a Mormon thing, but we’re too busy stuffing our faces with scones to read research papers.) Speaking of Southwest-y things, down in the shadow of Zion National Park’s red rocks is where you’ll find Oscar’s Cafe, a godsend in the neighboring village of Springdale, where homemade granola pancakes and green chile-soaked burritos are the perfect fuel, before or after a run at Zion’s spectacular trails. When in Salt Lake, go classic and head into the canyon for salmon hash, migas, cinnamon roll French toast served with lemony cream cheese (what a very fine idea), and gut-busting plates of biscuits and gravy at Ruth’s Diner, an institution since the 1930’s. Very much on another plane but also just a short drive from the big city is Five5eeds, in fashionable Park City—this sleek, Australian café is everything you think you're going to find in Park City, and then some; there are toasts, there’s chia pudding, and a morning superfood grain salad, which you can top with eggs, or even bacon.
The maple syrup is local
At the first sign of fall in the Northeast, our thoughts turn collectively to the Green, soon to be multi-colored, Mountain State, and so many of us seem to end up spending at least one Saturday or Sunday a year bopping around Manchester, as close as Vermont gets to having a Vermont-themed theme park. Let Manchester be Manchester, particularly when you can tuck into generous portions of corned beef hash, or pillowy pumpkin pancakes with sides of venison sausage at Up for Breakfast, where it always feels like you're eating upstairs in someone's kitchen, with a few extra tables, but not many. There's often a wait, come as early as you can, that or pre-game down the street on cider donuts, or tear-and-share apple fritters, at Mrs. Murphy's, a local donut legend. For a slightly more modern breakfast, it's the big city (all things being relative) of Burlington you’re wanting—most people stop at Penny Cluse Café, and it's hard to argue with a place that serves mounds of crispy home fries loaded up with salsa, sour cream, chives and lots of melted cheese, or delicious gingerbread pancakes year-round, why are these not served everywhere, but you cannot leave town without the bagel and lox (with Maine salmon) at Myer’s. You're still south of the border, but the bagels here are Montreal-style, more chewy surface than puffy interior, and very good examples of the genre, at that. On your way out of town, drop by Mirabelle's, perhaps Burlington's most popular bakery, because every road trip goes better with cinnamon rolls.
You’ll have the ham
Cured ham, biscuits, Chesapeake oysters, peanut soup—what is this, lunch in the Jefferson White House? Might have been, probably was, somewhere around that time period, anyway, but it’s also still breakfast, or at least brunch, somewhere in Virginia, if not all at once. Forces may conspire against the state, they may even move in, opening other kinds of restaurants, but drill down, in some quarters not even very far, and you’ll find things just as old world as ever—take the lazy route and bring an abundance of classic flavors right to your brunch plate at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Inn, where it’s all hoecakes and peanut chestnut soup, along with shrimp and grits from ye olde Washington grist mill. After years of decline, the oyster trade has been revived and then some—wander in for a bivalve breakfast at Bay Local in Virginia Beach, where you’ve got options, but start with a dozen local, charbroiled with garlic butter and parmesan, topped with a bacon crumble. Nothing says morning in Virginia, however, quite like a simple sandwich of locally-cured country ham, often served on unremarkable bread—the 12 month-aged stuff from the Shenandoah Valley’s Turner Ham House can be found for sale, wrapped in cellophane, at a legendary old corner store in rural Fulks Run, close enough to I-81 to warrant a detour. Then again, I-81 exists mostly to serve truckers, and people with bad time management skills—everyone knows the best way to get through Virginia is to slow down and enjoy the view from the historic Blue Ridge Parkway, an American treasure—up here, buckwheat pancakes and biscuits with gravy at the oft-photographed Mabry Mill have been a staple of the experience for generations.
But first, coffee
Maybe it was the Scandinavian immigrants, maybe this is just what the average human wants and needs, when subjected to all of that winter darkness, who knows, but this state, at least the part near big water, sure is fond of a Northern European breakfast, or at least the main ingredients thereof—there's bread, very good bread, and there's coffee. (Any questions?) Then, a couple hours later, there might be more of the same. And so on, and so forth. The coffee you know already; the bread, the pastries, anything baked—here you will find one of the best selections of all of the above, anywhere in the country. Get your fill of both, along with Dutch baby pancakes, and chicken and waffles with redeye gravy, at Bellingham's Camber—not only is this Washington’s best coffee roaster right now (and what a tight category), they've also thrown their hats in the ring, restaurant-wise, attempting and succeeding in creating a very good all-day café. Down in tiny, food-mad Edison, quirky Tweets is a destination-worthy and highly original little breakfast stop, who's for lamb shakshuka, but first, carbs at Breadfarm, one of the West Coast’s most committed small town bakeries—don't be surprised if you're no longer hungry, after setting foot in here and buying up half the shop. Down in Seattle, they have 24/7 access to steak and eggs and Dungeness crab omelets at the long-running 13 Coins, but once again, this is also a coffee and bread and pastry paradise, so get to it—get to precise, sugar-dusted brioche at Fuji Bakery, or to Sea Wolf Bakery, where they serve their croissants with blood orange marmalade. Compact, crunchy-buttery kouign amann are the thing at at Capitol Hill's tiny Crumble & Flake Patisserie, some of the country’s most elegant (if most expensive) donuts can be found at Renee Erickson's General Porpoise, and there are stellar biscuits and biscuit sandwiches at Morsel. For a proper, sit-down breakfast, you can’t go much more How We Seattle Now than baskets of steamed xiao long bao from The Dough Zone, or even Taiwan’s own Din Tai Fung, both boasting enough convenient locations in the area to make visiting soup dumpling fans weep from envy. Drive over the Cascades—stopping off at Twede’s in North Bend, you Twin Peaks fan, you—and things remain a sight more traditional; inside the converted railway car that is Frank's Diner in Spokane, it’s all about those meatloaf benedicts (yes, you read that right), omelets stuffed with smoked sausage, and chicken fried steaks and eggs.
Biscuits from Tudor’s
America is truly a land of many unsolicited opinions and theories about West Virginia, typically shaped and shared without the benefit of actual time spent on the winding byways of the magnificent, if somewhat impenetrable Mountain State. There is, however, an entire quadrant—the one closest to the most people not living in West Virginia—that has always been prized within the region for its outstanding natural beauty, for its rock climbing and camping and hiking; in recent times, some of the old towns and villages dotting the mostly wild landscape have even become magnets for weekend warriors. Hiking-adjacent Davis is one of those towns, lately acquiring an outdoorsy kind of feel—is that really someone tricked out in full North Face, walking down the street on a Saturday, why yes, it is; maybe they spent the night at the Bright Morning Inn, one of the state’s better little hotels, waking up to a very good (and also served to the public) breakfast. The menu is not long, but there is potato bread, dipped in batter fragrant with cinnamon, dredged in oats, fried up and topped with bananas for one memorable array of French toast triangles—does that work for you? Of course, there are other breakfasts—Clarksburg’s Ritzy Lunch is not particularly ritzy, but they do open up early, and you ought to come here. Owned by the Selario family for nearly ninety years now, hot dogs are their thing, topped with chili, mustard, onions, and if you like, coleslaw—build up to that with more traditional morning offerings, like biscuits and gravy, omelets, or even just an egg sandwich to go. If it’s sandwiches you’re wanting, know that many a West Virginian takes their breakfast from the drive-thru at Tudor’s Biscuit World, a local institution known for oversized biscuits, stuffed with a wide range of breakfast (and breakfast-ish) foods. You’ll find Tudor’s all over the state, pretty much, but don’t let that distract you, at least not permanently—there are other places to go, for instance post-industrial New Martinsville, way up the Ohio River Valley, where Quinet’s is a rocket ship back to the past—the all you can eat buffet is complemented by omelets and French toasts.
Kringle from Racine, bacon from Nueske’s
Three important things you need to know about Benji’s Deli & Restaurant, a very popular Jewish deli in Milwaukee, hailed all around the town for corned beef. The first is that this local institution, at it for more than half a century now, is not actually in Milwaukee, but rather about ten blocks north of the city line, in a very pleasant, Lake Michigan-facing suburb called Shorewood. The second is that Benji’s is no longer technically a Jewish deli at all, it is no longer kosher, and it is has been owned by a long-time employee for more than a decade. The third is that nobody cares about technicalities, because Benji’s is a treasure that belongs to everyone—hey, they’re back there hand-slicing their own corned beef like that’s still a thing, what’s not to love, really. Also, they’ve still got that delicious regional descendant of something German, hoppel poppel, on the breakfast menu—eggs, potatoes, salty hunks of kosher salami, all thrown in together, fried up—a gut-busting Milwaukee Jewish deli classic. In a place that is neither Milwaukee, nor Jewish. (There’s a second Benji’s not much further north, in Fox Point.) Speaking of technicalities, and who cares, we ought to talk about that famous Wisconsin kringle, made famously in Racine—the locals will tell you their treasured rings of thin, filled pastry topped with icing are a Danish thing, but these feel more like a Racine thing than anyone else’s thing, and that’s completely okay—especially considering how perfectly a fresh slice (or half a ring, if nobody's looking) goes with your morning coffee. Now to figure out where to get some—you’ve got a number of options, right in Racine, but you won't go wrong with Bendtsen’s Bakery. In Madison, the now nearly-classic Old Fashioned, named (like you had to ask) for the state’s unofficial cocktail, is a riotous celebration of Wisconsin foodstuffs and drinkstuffs—as such, there are cheese curds for breakfast, there are breakfast-friendly cocktails, plus all of the meats. On the weekends at brunch, there are even meats not typically associated with breakfast, and you should try them—bratwurst, bratwurst patties, Landjäger sausages, smoky bacon, ham steaks. Finally, if you find yourself in Door County, doing the Door County getaway thing, there’s no breakfast more iconic than the cherry and cream cheese stuffed French toast at the White Gull Inn, a pleasant country hotel in charming Fish Creek. The surroundings say expensive; the breakfast menu says relax, you’re in Wisconsin.
Eat up, cowboy
On the western fringe of Cheyenne, Wyoming’s biggest city but by most measures rather a rather small one, there is a stretch of road largely reserved for budget lodgings and used car dealerships, and other things most folks aren’t typically looking for—not during the early hours of the morning, anyway. In good weather and sometimes not, however, there will be a small crowd of hungry-looking people standing around in front of the Wyoming Motel, itself a marvelously retro piece of work, waiting for their tables, or counter stools inside the diminutive Luxury Diner, partially fashioned out of a vintage Cheyenne streetcar that retired to the motel lot, back in the 1920’s. We’re on the High Plains, here, where Southwest and Midwest and Western breakfast traditions meet—look for breakfast burritos, doused in green chile, but also for fresh cinnamon rolls very nearly the size of frisbees, hibernating under drifts of white frosting. You won’t find anything this classic in Jackson, across the state and emotionally on another planet, but you will find Cowboy Coffee—grab a cup of strong brew (roasted locally), wander past the crowds and over to Sweet Cheeks Meats, a butcher shop that wakes up early to make you a fierce breakfast burger, upgraded sausage gravy, maybe even a bit of smoked brisket, or a roast beef and egg sandwich, it all depends on the day, but you’re always in good hands. Want to sit down and catch your breath? Persephone Bakery is one of Jackson’s best bets for a full meal, and as such, they are often pretty backed up, but it’s also a very good bakery, and you can order coffee and pastries via their app in advance, so you've got something to tide you over, while you wait for your shakshuka. Or your brioche French toast. Or maybe both, in that order.