The South Bay has always been a haven for surfers. Before Manhattan Beach’s burgeoning restaurant row, the culinary scene in the beach cities was all about catering to the early risers with big appetites. Although many popular places like The 2nd Street Cafe, Unky Roy’s and The Backburner Cafe are now only a memory, some of the best breakfasts are still to be found by the beach.
When I started writing about favorite breakfast spots in the South Bay, I couldn’t help but notice some of the unusual ingredients like corn, fish cakes and Frank’s Hot Sauce. There is also the ubiquitous John Wayne Special, which must be addressed. So, while my picks may not be your standard breakfast fare, every restaurant I have chosen is excellent and also offers something for the norms.
CHEZ MELANGE – Redondo Beach
Chez Mélange has always been the very definition of brunch in this town. Although Chez Mélange has moved from its prime location on PCH to a less visible space in the Riviera Village, Chef Robert Bell keeps up the quality while becoming even more adventurous with the menu. People can get confused between Chez Mélange and Bouzy, their gastropub next door. Bouzy is very comfortable, with lots of wood and brick. Only Bouzy serves the brunch menu on Saturdays, while on Sundays you have your choice between the gastropub and the more formal Chez Mélange. The food is primarily French and American fusion cuisine. As is common in Los Angeles, the menu also has a number of Mexican dishes.
What you will eat: Eggs Panchitos: Scrambled Eggs, Ground Beef, Chili Relleno, Sope, and Frank’s Hot Sauce. You would not expect a sope to be the most memorable part of a dish, but it really is. It is so fresh and light, intense with the flavor of masa. Just as your taste buds get tired of the eggs, there is a bite of masa to relieve the boredom. The pasilla chile and Frank’s Hot Sauce don’t hurt either. If you aren’t a fan of spicy egg dishes, you can’t go wrong with their brioche French toast, a longtime specialty.
COZY CAFE – Redondo Beach
Cozy Cafe is not a misnomer. There are only 1o seats around this tiny diner’s counter. The real action, though, is on the back patio. Back in the day you could laze around on the benches out there in your swimsuit and smoke cigarettes. George has run the place for over 30 years and gives the place its solid foundation.
What you will eat: The Gaucho, a dish that is somewhat similar to The John Wayne Special in its structure. It is comprised of a tortilla topped with eggs, cheese and Spanish sauce accompanied by Polish sausage. Still, the flavors are so different, I didn’t even notice the similarity until now.
EAT AT JOE’S – Redondo Beach
If any restaurant is a South Bay institution, it is Joe’s. One of my friends even has a tattoo of their logo on his arm. Joe Filkosky bought the burger shack in 1969 and has expanded it to the Joe’s we know today. Locals on their way to fish early in the morning or stumbling past after a night of partying have been comforted by the sounds of the dishes clinking and the smell of coffee wafting out at 4am. The last time I was there with my mother, someone called out to her, “See you in church!” and it took me a minute to realize they weren’t being funny.
What you will eat: “The John Wayne Special.” According to the restaurant, John Wayne himself came into Eat at Joe’s and ordered up this breakfast, consisting of two eggs over medium, with cheese on home fries and a tortilla, smothered in Spanish sauce and surrounded with sausage. I’m also a fan of the “Mad Dog,” last night’s special in an omelette. It can get weird.
EAT AT RUDY’S – Torrance
So, the story goes that Rudy was a cook at Eat at Joe’s. He got into an argument with Joe, who responded with, “Yeah? You think you can do any better?” Rudy decided he could. Thus “Eat at Rudy’s” was born. The room is a little small; most of the tables are outside. You could order the John Wayne Special, but it would just be wrong. They also serve the “Mad Dog,” last night’s special in an omelette. CASH ONLY
What you will eat: The Taco Omelette. Yes, there are some runners-up like meatloaf and eggs, but the Taco Omelette is truly memorable and really does taste like a crunchy taco. The fluffy eggs are filled with ground beef, cheese, olives, and even crushed tortilla chips. The whole mess is topped with a generous dollop of sour cream and bright toppings that almost look like confetti. If you want a more “authentic” Mexican dish, go for the Chile Verde Omelette. But the Taco Omelette is a fiesta. They also make unbelievable pancakes.
LOCAL PLACE – Torrance
There is a small Hawaiian cafe attached to the King’s Hawaiian Bread factory in Torrance. The Island Breakfast Combo — French Toast, 2 eggs, and bacon, Spam or Portuguese sausage can be made into a crazy breakfast sandwich all wrapped in sweet Hawaiian French toast.
What you will eat: The Local Place Scramble, where things get really exciting. Eggs are scrambled with char siu (the sweet pork dim sum filling), green onions, cheese, and kamaboko (the pink-tinged fishcake found in soups like Udon). If you have never tried Hawaiian food, it is an introduction all on one plate. The only thing missing is Spam. There are also delicious, but very sweet pastries if you can’t hang with the fishcake.
MARTHA’S 22nd STREET GRILL – Hermosa Beach
Martha’s is well-situated just a block from the beach. Their prime location and excellent food keep the sidewalk busy, with strollers, friendly dogs and bicycles all vying for space. If you come on a weekend, we recommend you put your name on the waiting list and take a short walk on the beach.
What you will eat: The White Corn Scramble. Weird, right? The fresh summer corn is so sweet and fresh that this dish actually works. If you aren’t feeling adventurous, their chorizo scramble or blueberry pancakes will do nicely.
OCEAN DINER – Hermosa Beach
Ocean Diner is a cute little cottage on Aviation’s last curve before it dead-ends into PCH. You can always spot it by the clutch of patient customers waiting outside. Over 20 years ago, Rick Hankus, who had a small business selling desserts to local restaurants, bought the diner to both serve his sweets and to expand into lunch and dinner. Ocean Diner is a go-to place that pleases everyone. Their bakery case is always filled with fantasy cakes and muffins made from scratch. You can also enjoy their baked goods at their sister coffee house, Java Man.
What you will order: The Country Breakfast with light as a feather biscuits, Creme Brulee Oatmeal, Stanley’s Way Waffles with chopped bacon in the waffle batter. Pretty much anything except The Pasta Scramble. “Why not?” I thought. “There are eggs in carbonara, and people make spaghetti pies with leftovers.” But no. This is where the quirkiness went over the edge into bizarre. Almost every item on their menu is fantastic, so don’t let the pasta scramble keep you away.
THE ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE – Redondo Beach
The Original Pancake House in South Redondo has been around forever. It has that cool old school vibe you just can’t get from a place like IHOP. The original Original Pancake House was founded in Portland, Oregon in 1953 by Les Highet and Erma Hueneke, who collected recipes from housewives all over the world. The business is now run by the third generation of their family. The batters and sauces are made in house, and they make their own sourdough starter for the Flap Jacks. The kitchen uses fresh whipping cream and eggs, and hard wheat unbleached flour.
What you will order: The Apple Pancake. This twist on the Dutch baby will have heads swiveling as it is carried through the dining room. The Apple Pancake is oven baked with fresh granny smith apples and Sinkiang cinnamon glaze. You will need to share it, because it is massive and very sweet. All of the portions at Original Pancake House are ridiculous. Omelettes are big enough for two, and their Dutch baby is bigger than your head. I’m partial to the Swedish pancakes myself.
PACIFIC DINER – San Pedro
The Pacific Diner is not only at the end of Pacific, but overlooks the Pacific Ocean in San Pedro. Some people will argue, and rightfully so, that San Pedro is not the South Bay. It definitely has its own distinct identity. But it is at the very least South Bay-adjacent, and the Pacific Diner also serves the John Wayne Special, so they are in the club.
What you will order: The Employees Special: eggs any style, served on a tortilla with melted cheese topped with chili beans. Or you can go for carne asada and eggs or chorizo and eggs. There is also an intriguing enchilada omelette.
TAMMIE’S CORNER HOUSE CAFE – Hermosa Beach
Tammie’s has only spent 8 years in the space previously inhabited by Le Petit Cafe, but it feels like one of those coffee shops that has been there forever. Tammie comes around and introduces herself to all of the diners, and brings your table a complimentary muffin on your first visit. Of course, as many people know, “The first one is free” is just an introduction to a lifetime addiction. The muffins are baked fresh every morning, and are enormous. They are served hot, and the pineapple coconut is impossible to resist.
What you will order: The Steak Benedict. It is fantastic and really should be a thing. Another good choice is the country breakfast, which consists of bacon and scrambled eggs over homemade biscuits and drowned in sausage gravy. Flourless pancakes made with spelt and topped with peanut butter are only for the hardiest health nuts. A wide array of coffee drinks and smoothies will keep you going. It’s only one block from the beach, so you can watch the bicycles whizz past the big picture windows.
UNCLE BILL’S PANCAKE HOUSE – Manhattan Beach
No child grows up in the South Bay without a stack of Uncle Bill’s pancakes served hot and often. The homey diner is the stuff that memories are made of. In 1961. “Uncle Bill” McElroy renovated a house and opened Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. P. Allen VanAmburgh bought the restaurant in 1973, and the restaurant is still in his family today.
What you will order: Potatoes del Riego. Hash browns are mixed with bacon, onion, and melted American cheese, then topped with avocado and sour cream. The avocado is always served when it is at its peak of ripeness and flavor. It is a very decadent dish that you should order on your tenth visit, after you have tried all of the pancakes on the menu. We are talking blueberry, macadamia nut, buckwheat, chocolate chip, pumpkin spice, banana nut…and the list goes on.