New York is a 24-hour town, and night meets day at the breakfast table, where after-hours revelers mingle with barely awake visiting moms and dads and their ravenous children. As any kid will tell you, pancakes and waffles are among humankind's greatest inventions. But how do you pick from among so many restaurants? To ferret out the city's best breakfast places, a crew of discriminating young New Yorkers—the offspring of stockbrokers, teachers, artists, and even restaurant critics—sampled dozens of muffins and pondered the difference between merely adequate French toast and that which is truly magnifique. Here are 10 places that won their hearts: some out of the way, some tourist destinations in themselves. They're scattered across Manhattan, so there's likely to be one near where you're going, and you're likely to find a table. If you don't have any after-breakfast plans in mind, we've made a few suggestions.
With its undulating walls and cocoonish booths, Coffee Shop looks like a diner from outer space. And the staff, consisting mostly of fashion models—both would-be and has-been—lends the place an otherworldly glamour. But the menu is totally down-to-earth, featuring big-feed combos with English, Mexican, French, and American themes, as well as simpler choices like killer cinnamon-raisin French toast and a luscious fruit platter with eight kinds of fresh fruit. Unfortunately, Coffee Shop's coffee is below average, so drink the o.j. instead. The main dining room offers views of Union Square, where a world-class farmers' market is in full swing by 8 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday year-round. A skip and a jump away are the Forbes Magazine Galleries (62 Fifth Ave., at 12th St.), whose collection of 19th-century toy boats, early versions of Monopoly, and Fabergé eggs will delight everyone. 29 Union Square West, at 16th St.; 212/243-7969; breakfast for four $28.
Hankerin' for soul food? There's no better place than the Pink Teacup. This Greenwich Village mainstay may surprise you with its combinations—salmon croquettes matched with scrambled eggs, or fried chicken and delectable apple fritters. Invariably, the platters include a ladle or two of grits. Portions are huge; order one breakfast for two—the waiters are so kindly and accommodating, they won't care. The Pink Teacup is in the middle of the Greenwich Village Historic District, and a walk in any direction will take you past prim town houses, some dating to the early 1800's. In particular, Bedford Street directly west of the restaurant has several gems, including the narrowest house in the Village (No. 751/2; see if the kids can spot it) and a tenement that was renovated in the 1920's to resemble an off-kilter Swiss chalet (No. 102). 42 Grove St., just west of Bleecker St.; 212/807-6755; breakfast for four $32.
Just off the second-floor lobby of the SoHo Grand Hotel, Canal House occupies a series of rooms with ceilings so high and tables so far apart that you'll feel lilliputian. Breakfast may be pricey, but the quality matches the elegant setting: the corned-beef hash is made right here, and the buttermilk-and-buckwheat pancakes were pronounced "yucky-looking but delicious" by 12-year-old Paola. The miniature jars of preserves went straight into tiny pockets for later-in-the-day pick-me-ups. Canal House opens at 6:30 a.m. to accommodate early risers, and the location is a good jumping-off spot for touring SoHo. Be sure to wander Canal Street, one block south, where ragtag retailers sell everything from used electronics to Russian Army surplus goods—backpacks, small enameled medals, floor-length coats fit for Siberian winters. (To find the best selection of markers you've ever seen, check out the five-story art store Pearl Paint, at 308 Canal.) Also nearby is the Children's Museum of the Arts (182 Lafayette St., between Broome and Grand Sts.), where hands-on projects await. 310 West Broadway, just north of Canal St.; 212/965-3588; breakfast for four $60.
Lexington Candy Shop
For a well-executed rendition of the standard diner breakfast, there's no better place on the East Side than the Lexington Candy Shop, a luncheonette decked out in 1940's chrome and Naugahyde. But it's not a theme restaurant—the joint's for real! Youngsters can perch on swivel stools at the Formica counter while adults sink gratefully into the booths. The pancakes, eggs, toast, and oatmeal are all fine, and a bargain by Manhattan standards. But if you're feeling adventurous, sample such local oddities as a jelly omelette (much better than it sounds) or a chocolate egg cream (a fizzy version of chocolate milk). Let the effervescence propel you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, three blocks west. 1226 Lexington Ave., at 83rd St.; 212/288-0057; breakfast for four $22.