America's Best Brunches
British author Guy Beranger got it right back in 1895 when he set forth “Brunch: A Plea” in a Hunter’s Weekly article suggesting a late-morning meal instead of the traditional, post-church dinner. “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” he wrote. “It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
America’s best brunch spots deliver that kind of pick-me-up first and foremost through their food, whether it’s reinterpreting classics, highlighting regional flavors, or simply churning out the most delectable comfort dishes around. But atmosphere counts, too, as does the approval of locals. In San Francisco, that can mean satisfying cravings for fresh goat cheese on toast with lavender oil, while a New Orleans spot specializes in Cajun-inspired fare like hearty sweet potato and duck hash with a cornbread waffle. Other brunch restaurants even rethink the Pop-Tart.
“I think it’s fun to be creative with dishes other than what’s offered on our dinner menu,” says Kim Leali, a sous chef at Chicago’s Publican, which is decorated with corpulent hog portraits (its message seems clear: pig out). “At brunch, I’m not afraid to mix it up with a Korean or Moroccan-based dish.” That means adventurous diners can bypass the quiche or gingerbread for braised lamb with fried egg, golden turnips, house-made flatbread, and piri-piri.
Yet not all chefs look forward to brunch time. In his nonfiction book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain, a former line cook, called brunch “punishment” for the B-team cooks (whose supervision is at a minimum) and a “dumping ground” for the week’s leftovers. For diners, it’s the possibility of crowds or a long wait that can be the biggest brunch turnoff. But these brunch haters remain a vocal minority pushing against the tide of enthusiasm expressed by Beranger and by present-day fans on sites like iheartbrunch.com and brunchlove.com.
In their celebratory spirit, here are the coast-to-coast spots most likely to cheer up everyone in your brunch party.
Locanda Verde: New York City
This restaurant in Tribeca’s Greenwich Hotel has all the qualifications for generating buzz: a star chef (Andrew Carmellini), a celebrity backer (Robert De Niro), and an upscale-meets-casual design (exposed-brick walls, chalkboard menus, studded leather bar seats). But it’s the inspired seasonal Italian menu that keeps locals coming back for seconds. Plates teem with polenta waffles with mascarpone cheese, zucchini frittatas with roasted tomato, and pastries from renowned chef Karen DeMasco.
Standout Dish: Locanda’s signature ricotta cheese paired with truffle honey and burnt orange toast.
377 Greenwich St.; (212) 925-3797; locandaverdenyc.com; Saturdays and Sundays, accepts reservations
Ted’s Bulletin: Washington, D.C.
There’s a feeling of comforting nostalgia when you enter Ted’s Bulletin, which may even have you missing Mayberry (that fictional TV setting of The Andy Griffith Show). Reclaimed Art Deco grillwork decorates the bar, diners recline in booths, and old-fashioned televisions play black-and-white classics such as Some Like It Hot. Breakfast is served all day, but you won’t want to wait for dishes such as a steak breakfast burrito—served with scrambled eggs, cheddar, and hash browns inside—and a Texas toast egg-and-cheese sandwich with sausage and bacon. Wash it all down with boozy adult milkshakes.
Standout Dish: Traditional beer biscuits with eggs and sausage gravy.
505 8th St. SE; (202) 544-8337; tedsbulletin.com; open daily, accepts reservations
Magnolia Pancake Haus: San Antonio
This Texas crowd-pleaser claims to have the world’s best buttermilk pancakes. The secret: consistent preparation, no substitutions, and the combined efforts of husband-and-wife owners Robert and Sheila Fleming. Robert brings the restaurant know-how, and Sheila, the recipes (she grew up in Munich, hence the haus). Only a few items have roots in the Rhineland, however. The rest are a hodgepodge of the Flemings’ favorite dishes—a Greek-style omelette recipe from Chicago, for instance.
Standout Dish: Munchener Apfel Pfannekuchen, a Bavarian puffed pancake made with Granny Smith apples and topped with whipped cream, according to Sheila’s grandmother’s recipe. It’s one of 10 pancake varieties that include bacon, silver dollar, and chocolate chip.
606 Embassy Oak, Suite 100; (210) 496-0828; magnoliapancakehaus.com; open daily, no reservations
Over Easy Café: Phoenix
Cheery yellow walls, 50s-diner styling, and a belly-filling menu by father-and-son team Brad and Aaron May make waking up in Phoenix a little less painful, no matter what time you rise (doors open at 6:30 a.m.). Here, the food is down-home but the devil is in the details: local, farm-fresh eggs arrive daily, and almost everything, from the country and red-eye gravies to the biscuits and the caramel sauce (for banana French toast) is made from scratch. Brioche from down the road is the foundation for fried egg with sautéed spinach and jus, topped with bacon and scallions.
Standout Dish: Waffle Dogs—three breakfast sausages on sticks, dipped in waffle batter and fried to a golden brown.
4730 E. Indian School Rd.; (602) 468-3447; eatatovereasy.com; open daily, no reservations
Tasty N Sons: Portland, OR
Brunch is so fundamental to Tasty N Sons that it’s served daily until 2:30 p.m., when dinner starts (even then, “breakfast for dinner” is an option). The open kitchen gives the place a lively energy, and local hipsters and visitors alike are willing to wait for a long communal table. The payoff is a chance to sample the world-meets-Low country creations of chef-owner John Gorham that range from his signature chocolate potato donuts crème anglaise to fried chicken and biscuits to North African sausage with couscous.
Standout Dish: Middle Eastern Shakshuka, a red pepper and tomato stew with baked eggs.
3808 N. Williams, Suite C; (503) 621-1400; tastynsons.com; open daily, reservations for six or more
Foreign Cinema: San Francisco
This Mission District favorite works with some of the region’s freshest ingredients. Husband-and-wife chef-owners John Clark and Gayle Pirie keep the good stuff coming at brunch, which features an eclectic “weekend picnic” of Mediterranean-inspired dishes such as fresh oysters, poached eggs over a chicken and kale Persian hash, and baked goat cheese with toast, escarole, and lavender oil. There are lowbrow pleasures too, like homemade apple-pear Pop-Tarts.
Standout Dish: A champagne omelette with chanterelle mushrooms and Fontina cheese
2534 Mission St.; (415) 648-7600; foreigncinema.com; Saturday and Sunday brunch, accepts reservations
The Griddle Café: Los Angeles
A Sunset Boulevard fixture since 2000, this simple brick space has become the go-to spot for young Hollywood starlets (Audrina Patridge, Jessica Alba), starving artists, and everyone in between. The reason? Sweet treats such as strawberry Frosted Flake or Oreo pancakes or a stack of peanut butter French toast generously dusted with powdered sugar. Refuel with the Griddle’s signature J. Gursey French-press coffee, and take a lesson from the starlets: count calories elsewhere.
Standout Dish: Fluffy red velvet pancakes, topped with swirls of cream cheese frosting.
7916 Sunset Blvd.; (323) 874-0377; thegriddlecafe.com; open daily, no reservations
Soho South Café: Savannah, GA
In a city known for its sleepy antebellum mansions, Spanish moss, and quirky, southern charm, the Soho South Café is an easy fit. The kitschy restaurant-cum-art gallery within a former mechanic’s garage features indoor umbrellas, a yard sale-esque mix of tables and chairs, and local art. Chef-owner Bonnie Retsas lived in New York City for 25 years before returning to her southern roots to create the restaurant of her dreams: a casual neighborhood joint with affordable dishes, among them, shrimp and grits with andouille sausage gravy and cheddar-bacon waffles.
Standout Dish: Eggs Savannah, a jumbo lump crab cake topped with asparagus, a poached egg, and hollandaise sauce.
12 W. Liberty St.; (912) 233-1633; sohosouthcafe.com; Sundays only, no reservations
Don’t be fooled by Gigi’s slogan: “Noodles. BBQ. Beer.” This industrial, 96-seat restaurant also dishes out one of Miami’s most satisfying brunches. The Asian-inspired comfort-food menu features communal plates such as short rib and eggs—braised for six hours and served with togarashi-seasoned fried rice—and rice-crusted French toast with banana compote and honey butter. But you’ll want your own helping of fluffy steamed buns, stuffed with roasted mushrooms and hoisin sauce or smoked pork with tomato mostarda. Factor in the clatter of the open kitchen and light streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows, and it’s enough to stimulate even the most sleep-impaired.
Standout Dish: A house-smoked bacon and egg udon noodle bowl, with aged cheddar.
3470 North Miami Ave.; (305) 573-1520; giginow.com; Saturdays and Sundays, no reservations
If a Barcelona tapas restaurant in South End isn’t the first place you’d expect to find great brunch, well, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Chef-owner Ken Oringer and chef Jamie Bissonnette are masters at adding well-placed eggs to traditional small plates with results such as over-easy eggs with fried potato patatas, huevos rancheros, and scrambled eggs with zucchini and summer squash. Dry-cured Spanish ham requires no such embellishments. You can chow down at one of the long, wood tables, or head outside to the patio.
Standout Dish: Scrambled eggs with spicy chorizo, patatas, and sourdough toast.
1704 Washington St.; (617) 536-4300; toro-restaurant.com; Sundays only, reservations only for six or more
The Publican: Chicago
Let the corpulent hog portraits adorning the walls of this European beer hall-inspired restaurant be your guide, and join the folks who pack in the banquet tables to pig out. Publican, helmed by executive chef Paul Kahan and chef de cuisine Brian Huston, is most famous for its pork (locally sourced and organic, of course) with seafood a close second. The brunch spread is no exception: maple-glazed pork shoulder with kale and grits, Belgian lambic-poached mussels, and scrambled eggs with bone marrow and crème fraîche.
Standout Dish: Red wine-poached eggs over sourdough bread with béarnaise sauce and ribbons of prosciutto.
837 W. Fulton Market; (312) 733-9555; thepublicanrestaurant.com; Sundays only, reservations accepted
Garces Trading Co.: Philadelphia
GTC opened in early 2010 and fast became a local favorite. The Center City hot spot is one part restaurant, one part wine shop, and one part grocer; diners can stock up on fresh cheeses, charcuterie, and a selection of olive oils. At the brunch table, expect creative twists like Scotch eggs, pizza with a duck-fat sourdough crust, and even a light duck confit salad.
Standout Dish: The sliced hangar steak, served with a single poached egg with béarnaise, and heirloom potato salad. —Joshua Pramis
1111 Locust St.; garcestradingcompany.com; Saturdays and Sundays, reservations accepted
Elizabeth’s Restaurant: New Orleans
It’s been a Bywater classic for more than 15 years, surviving Hurricane Katrina and practically reinventing bacon (more on that later). Travelers who don’t venture far enough from the French Quarter to visit this whitewashed roadhouse are missing out on longtime chef Bryon Peck’s rich local dishes: Eggs Sardou, with creamed spinach and artichokes, and Cajun “Bubble and Squeak,” with bacon, cabbage, shrimp, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. Save room for Elizabeth’s original side dish of praline bacon topped with sugar and pecans.
Standout Dish: Sweet potato and duck hash, served atop a cornbread waffle, with pepper jelly.
601 Gallier St.; (504) 944-9272; elizabeths-restaurant.com; Saturdays and Sundays, no reservations
Michael’s Genuine: Miami
Take a break from the insanity of South Beach and head over to the Design District, where this farm-to-table bistro serves a top-notch brunch. The menu emphasizes small plates—from sweet banana fritters with house-made Nutella to a savory kimchi Benedict—that are meant to be shared. And if the yellow tomato Bloody Marys are available, well, it’s your lucky Sunday.
Standout Dishes: The Kumamoto oysters with mignonette sauce; duck confit hash with the most perfectly poached egg; and creamy deviled eggs. —Joshua Pramis
130 Northeast 40th St.; michaelsgenuine.com; Sundays only, reservations accepted
Tremont 647: Boston
This brunch spot takes its name from the address—on a major thoroughfare in Boston’s South End. Chef Andy Husband rotates the offerings to reflect what’s in season. While the menu otherwise gives off a “no method to its madness” vibe, each dish stands strong on its own. After all, these are often literally heavy dishes: consider the fried chicken Benedict (served with poached eggs, gravy, and coleslaw) and a half-pound grass-fed burger (that you can double). Note that without brunch reservations, you’ll be in for a long hunger-inducing wait.
Standout Dish: Crispy prosciutto Benedict with rosemary potato cake and a green bean and candied nut salad. —Joshua Pramis
647 Tremont St.; tremont647.com; Saturdays and Sundays, reservations accepted
Egg: Brooklyn, NY
Williamsburg night owls are among the many devotees of Egg, an affordable spot that serves brunch until 6 p.m. on weekends. While the line may be sizable, so is the payoff: delightfully simple southern dishes such as organic grits with free-range eggs and buttermilk biscuits and gravy. Chef/owner George Weld grows many of Egg’s vegetable sides at his farm in Oakville, NY, and the artisanal, homegrown vibe extends to Egg’s small dining room, arrayed with well-worn wooden tables and metal school chairs, a chalkboard menu, and a decorative exposed pantry.
Standout Dish: Eggs Rothko, a runny, farm-fresh egg served on Amy’s brioche and topped with Grafton cheddar cheese. —Nina Fedrizzi
135 N. 5th St.; (718) 302-5151; pigandegg.com; Saturdays and Sundays, no reservations
Hominy Grill: Charleston, SC
This nationally acclaimed restaurant has been redefining Lowcountry cuisine for more than 15 years. Credit goes to James Beard Award-winning chef/owner Robert Stehling and his devotion to quality ingredients: his sausage is made in-house, and his grits—sourced from the 18th-century Old Mill in Guilford, NC—are the same variety he grew up on as a child. Set in a historic former barbershop with the original white pressed-tin ceiling, Hominy takes southern flavors to new heights in dishes such as salmon potato cakes with poached eggs, fried green tomato BLTs, and cheese grits with shrimp, scallions, mushrooms, and bacon.
Standout Dish: Fried chicken on a “big, nasty” biscuit, with cheddar and sausage gravy. —Nina Fedrizzi
207 Rutledge Ave.; (843) 937-0930; hominygrill.com; Saturdays and Sundays, no reservations
Manhattan Beach Post: Manhattan Beach, CA
Brunch service is a welcome new addition to acclaimed chef David LeFevre’s restaurant. Located just .3 miles from the ocean in a former post office, M. B. Post goes with the beachfront flow, featuring sun-bleached wood, cement floors, and repurposed volleyball posts that act as shelving. The menu is also playful, while keeping to LeFevre’s small-plate philosophy—truffle-honey-laced fried chicken, ricotta-stuffed French toast with anise, and pecan sticky buns, for instance. Or drink away your brunch with the house Red Eye cocktail, which features vodka, Belgian pale ale, tomato, cilantro, bacon, and a quail egg.
Standout Dish: M. B.’s signature Benedict: an organic egg topped with prosciutto and arugula on a bacon-buttermilk biscuit, with hollandaise. —Nina Fedrizzi
1142 Manhattan Ave.; (310) 545-5405; eatmbpost.com; Saturdays and Sundays, reservations accepted
Customshop: Charlotte, NC
Customshop is, above all, a neighborhood spot, and it’s a responsibility the restaurant takes seriously. Inspired by a Roman trattoria, the menu by chef/owner Trey Wilson utilizes produce from nearby organic farms and seafood from local fishermen. The interior nods to history, maintaining the original century-old exposed brick and equipping the charcuterie bar with an antique flywheel slicer, but the rest of the menu is distinctly modern, from the slow-drip coffee to eclectic dishes such as fish tacos with jalapeño aioli or cinnamon raisin brioche French toast stuffed with mascarpone cheese.
Standout Dish: Short ribs and sweet potato hash, with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. —Nina Fedrizzi
1601 Elizabeth Ave.; (704) 333-3396; customshopfood.com; Sundays only, reservations accepted
Beatrice & Woodsley: Denver
Love is the inspiration behind this whimsical restaurant in downtown Denver, where a turn-of-the-century woodsman (Woodsley) and his French wife (Beatrice), the daughter of a winemaker, supposedly once settled in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. The design brings that fairy tale to life, surrounding diners with floor-to-ceiling birch-tree pillars, sculptural leather booths, and lantern light fixtures. There’s a lovable quirkiness to the brunch menu, too, which features grapefruit crisp with sweet-salted almond crumbs, and fried goetta sausage served on onion bread with mustard hollandaise sauce and roasted cauliflower.
Standout Dish: Pozole—pork and hominy stew with eggs, cornmeal dumplings, and pickled onion. —Nina Fedrizzi
38 S. Broadway; (303) 777-3505; beatriceandwoodsley.com; Saturdays and Sundays, reservations accepted
If you’ve ever dreamed of tucking into Carol Brady’s home cooking, look no further than Jones restaurant. Diners wait for a seat at one of the Astroturf-green booths within local restaurateur Stephen Starr’s retro dining room. The kitchen naturally sticks to its version of Honey Nut Cheerios, gooey monkey bread, and other classics; “Tater Tots” accompany all of the egg dishes, from the smoked salmon Benedict to the Black Forest ham and cheddar omelette. One thing Jones has that TV Land doesn’t: a brunch cocktail menu whose hangover-quelling drinks include the Morning Glory (grapefruit vodka, grapefruit juice, and champagne).
Standout Dish: Potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce. —Nina Fedrizzi
700 Chestnut St.; (215) 223-5663; jones-restaurant.com; Saturdays and Sundays, no reservations
Five Fifty-Five: Portland, ME
The vibe at this standout Maine bistro is simultaneously rustic and refined: exposed-brick walls and sleek mahogany wood furniture, with large picture windows lining two walls. Surprisingly for Maine, you won’t find an excess of seafood offerings on the menu, but the food is all locally sourced, so you know it’s über-fresh. Executive chef (and 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef winner) Steve Corry serves up everything from nostalgia-inducing homemade “Fig Newton” bars to the more traditional hearty steak and eggs, and even an Asian-inspired burger topped with kimchi.
Standout Dish: Do as the locals do, and order up the Traitor’s Eggs, its take on eggs Benedict. (Traitor…Benedict Arnold…Get it??) Your poached eggs will be served atop spinach and fresh lobster and, of course, served with hollandaise—but with a crisp, lemony twist to complement the lobster. —Joshua Pramis
Sundays 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m., accepts reservations
Rooster: St. Louis, MO
It’s no secret that Rooster’s got fans—and a few naysayers, which comes with the territory when a restaurant has racked up this many best brunch awards and has the wait times to prove it. But your mood should ease as you begin sampling the chalkboard’s worth of creative Bloody Marys like the Fairy, which substitutes absinthe for vodka, and Boleyn, made with champagne. This is about as guilt-free as a decadent brunch gets: meats are farm-raised and hormone-free, eggs are free-range, and you can even ask to get that crêpe with a gluten-free vegan shell. Choose among breakfast (eggs, arugula, and goat cheese), sweet (s’mores), and savory (sausage, spiced apples, and cheddar) crêpe varieties.
Standout Dish: The Rooster Slinger, which slathers thick-cut homemade toast with fried eggs, potatoes, andouille sausage, and pork sausage gravy. —Kate Appleton
1104 Locust St., (314) 241-8118; roosterstl.com; no reservations
Tilikum Place Café, Seattle
If you plan to visit the Space Needle (and even if you don’t), it’s worth seeking out this nearby, yet easy-to-miss café. Big windows open onto Cedar Street, letting in whatever sun the forecast allows. No matter the weather, the interior has a welcoming vibe, from the bookshelves displaying an eclectic mix of wine bottles, glassware, and vases to thoughtful touches like the bite-size cookies that accompany French-press coffee. Dig into other comforts like Dutch babies (baked pancakes with roasted apples, for example) and baked eggs in cast-iron pans.
Standout Dish: The Fry-Up, pairing housemade sausage, bacon, soft-yolked egg, and baked beans. —Kate Appleton
407 Cedar St.; (206) 282-4830; tilikumplacecafe.com; Saturdays and Sundays, 8 am–3pm; reservations accepted.
Locally sourced comfort food is the name of the game at this chic Atlanta hotspot, with a vibe that will simultaneously make you feel like you’re in an inviting family dining room and a hip lounge. Expect satisfying dishes like breakfast corn dogs (made with sausage and served with rich truffle honey mustard); french toast bread pudding; or the “ultimate pancake”, stuffed with sausage, smoked bacon, and scrambled egg.
Standout Dish: If you’re here, go for the glory and order up the “Big Nasty”. What can you expect? A fried chicken breast topped with eggs, bacon, and cheddar cheese, all sandwiched between brioche bread. —Joshua Pramis