In the canon of go-to diner orders, there’s only one must-have in my book: a fat stack of buttermilk pancakes. Laced with cinnamon, studded with ripe blueberries, fluffy or eggy or some custardy texture in-between, I love, and eat, them all. They are the perfect sweet complement to my salty plate order of over-easy eggs, sausage, and hash browns.
Making great pancakes is an underappreciated art. They’re a deceptively simple dish, made from a mix of flour, eggs, milk, butter, sugar, and — typically — a leavener. But pancake batter, by nature, is fallible, and it’s all too easy to make cakes that are dense or chewy. And without an evenly heated griddle, they’re tricky to cook. When I make pancakes at home, I’m prone to burning a black ring around their edges, or undercooking one side over an uneven flame.
Enter, then, the diner pancake, which is as big as a hubcap, as gold as a coin, so fluffy a fork passes through it like it would a cloud. My search for the best diner pancakes in the Twin Cities was broad — at press time, there are an untold number of half-eaten short stacks in my fridge. I ate many different kinds, from buckwheat to buttermilk and even corn, spending my afternoons with a book in one hand and a forkful of pancakes in the other. I visited diners new (relatively speaking) and old, casting off allegiances and prior expectations to arrive at these winners in taste and texture. Below are an Eater editor’s favorite diner pancakes in the Twin Cities.
The overall favorite: Pancakes Suzette at Al’s Breakfast
My usual order at Al’s is the blueberry walnut pancakes. Stuffed with hearty, sensible nuts and the Northwood’s most bountiful berries, they’re a very Minnesotan breakfast. But Al’s is the only local place I’ve found that serves pancakes Suzette, and after trying them, I may never go back. These pancakes aren’t doused in orange and grand marnier like crepes Suzette — rather, they’re topped with a dollop of sour cream and strawberries. I almost never eat pancakes without butter, but the sour cream’s added tang made me forget I was missing it. The strawberries were fresh, not syrupy, and the pancakes themselves were nearly flawless: thin but not eggy, furrowing into ribbons when I sliced through them with a butter knife. And though — hot take — I actually love fake syrup, Al’s pure maple is the best bet here.
For a classic buttermilk experience: Pancakes with lingonberry butter at Hot Plate
The first thing that struck me about Hot Plate’s buttermilk pancakes was their color: an even, burnished gold. Not even golden-brown — true golden, like a fat locket, or a coin, or an oil painting of the sun. These pancakes were a little firm on the outside, and for a second, I worried they’d be tough or spongy, but they weren’t. It was almost uncanny how evenly they were cooked — fluffy throughout, a little custardy near the center. The lingonberry butter, dolloped generously on top of the shortstack, is tart, adding a little intrigue. These are the pancakes I’d seek out to satisfy a classic buttermilk craving.
For an extra-sweet tooth: Banana chocolate chip pancakes at Keys
I don’t usually go for chocolate chip pancakes — after the first few bites, I start to feel like I’m eating a giant chocolate chip cookie, which, though an objectively dreamy meal, is a bold move for breakfast. But Keys’ banana chocolate chip pancakes are a different story. The batter is neutral with just the slightest hint of sugar, which allows the mellow sweetness of the banana slices to shine through. (Not to mention the chocolate chips, which take on delicious, toffee-like char when they hit the griddle.) These were by far the fluffiest pancakes I found, each standing nearly an inch tall. A mound of whipped butter slides across them as it melts. Keys has even more specialty pancakes on the menu, like caramel apple and raspberry white chocolate chip, to name a few.