Omega pancake

Omega Pancake House. Hanna Raskin/Staff

With more than 20 pancake houses along U.S. Highway 17 from Pawleys Island to Little River, and another half-dozen off the main drag, how could someone possibly decide where to get a stack?

Eaters have always had to rely on experience or dumb luck when making a Grand Strand pancake choice. But we’ve now taken the legwork and guesswork out of the process with a definitive ranking of pancake houses, which practically guarantees you won’t get stuck with a sad, reheated disc of dry pastry.

A few notes on methodology: This survey is based on the assumption that when you hear the words “pancake house,” you start thinking about pancakes. That means no other dishes were sampled for this evaluation, so the pancake houses toward the very bottom of this list might still be superlative sources of gyros or club sandwiches. And because pancake quality is so essential to a top-notch pancake house experience, the pancake grade counted for 50 percent of each house’s final score, with the remainder equally split between service and ambiance.

Pancake houses weren’t scored on value because they’d all get an A-plus. Garden City Pancake House, for example, charges $2.99 for two pancakes, two eggs and a choice of bacon or sausage. Sounds pretty good, right? On certain days in December, the deal was upgraded to “buy one, get one free.” People used to fly to Vegas for those kinds of meal prices.

Finally, like all matters of taste, pancake preferences are personal. You might like your pancakes slightly undercooked or embellished with extra sugar. In other words, we might not agree on what constitutes the perfect flapjack. But my guess is anyone who’s been to a few Myrtle Beach-area pancake houses would agree that pancakes vary dramatically from one restaurant to the next. This list should at least give you an idea of where to start.

That said, even if you end up with a pancake that falls flat, the mistake won't cost you more than a few dollars at most. The most important thing is to experience a tradition that's largely unique to South Carolina beach vacations.

(To maximize usefulness, this list is limited to pancakes houses that are open year-round).

1. Omega Pancake House

1617 U.S. Highway 17 Business, Surfside Beach

843-238-5292

Owner: Nick Pournaras

Founded: 1977

Service: A+

Ambiance: A-

Cakes: A

2. Southern Pancake House

7100 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach

843-449-3832

Owners: Gary and Stacy Legge

Founded: 1979

Service: A-

Ambiance: A-

Cakes: A-

American pancake history aside, the “Southern” in Southern Pancake House apparently stands for an allegiance to biscuits and sweet tea, at least according to the many mottos posted around the wood-floored dining room, done up in pastels and pineapples. The pancakes, bubbly as the upbeat restaurant, are dusted with powdered sugar and served with hot syrup. Charmingly asymmetrical, the light cakes benefit from a pinch of salt and careful cooking.

3. Theo’s Pancakes

9924 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach

843-232-7761

Owner: George Cartsaklis

Founded: 2018

Service: A

Ambiance: B+

Cakes: B+

The uncommon pancake house with a pastoral view, the spacious Theo’s sits on the edge of a semi-wooded golf course. But its pancakes are just as becoming (and surely deserve better than the vegetable oil whipped spread with which they’re presented). Browned on top, the cakes are distinguished by attractive raggedy edges and a cottony texture that’s the ideal canvas for thick maple-scented syrup, kept in an old-fashioned dispenser.

4. Donald’s Pancake House

2600 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach

843-626-5941

Owner: Edmond and Merita Asllanaj

Founded: 1990s

Purchased by current owner: 2010

Service: B+

Ambiance: B+

Cakes: A-

Home to some of the strip’s most outlandish pancake varieties, including eggnog and key lime, Donald’s Pancake House’s plain cake shines with just the help of powdered sugar and pat of salted butter. The dining room’s aesthetic is cut-rate rococo, but the pancakes’ sophistication is genuine. Once settled into an upholstered chair with caster feet, you can freely contemplate the unflavored variety’s controlled puff and subtle buttermilk tang.

5. Garden City House of Pancakes

2908 U.S. Highway 17 Business, Murrells Inlet

843-651-2200

Owner: Bill Vlandis

Founded: 1970s

Purchased by current owner: 1988

Service: A-

Ambiance: B+

Cakes: B+

Garden City House of Pancakes makes a pancake that’s designed to sop up syrup, which may explain why the dispenser at our table was locked in place by sticky residue. But once pried free, it supplied the crowning touch to skillfully cooked pancakes boasting honeycomb interiors. With its pink chairs and blonde wood accents, the dining room evokes 1980s Boca Raton, Fla. Consider it a vacation thrown in with the bargain breakfast.

6. Spiro’s Pancake House

1100 South Highway 17, North Myrtle Beach

843-273-0902

Owner: Spiros Steiner

Founded: 1973

Service: A-

Ambiance: B+

Cakes: B+

The cheery, confident service at Spiro’s, which looks as though it was recently given a modernist spruce-up, provides a good start to any meal. But it’s unclear whether a server’s efficiency or kitchen’s faith in its product resulted in a pancake served without any butter, real or imitation. Turned out, the tawny cake did fine on its own, thanks to a buttery, spongy consistency that’s somehow still relatively light.

7. Applewood House of Pancakes

14361 Ocean Highway, Pawleys Island

843-979-1022

Owner: Amy Vlahos

Founded: 2003

Service: A-

Ambiance: A-

Cakes: B-

“Mainly, we’re more than a pancake house,” owner Amy Vlahos says when asked about Applewood’s success, a point made by the number of hard-working servers hustling to assemble the breakfast buffet on a recent morning. The salty pancakes suffer from a slightly oily consistency and undefined edges, but the homey restaurant is so endearingly sweet that there’s strawberry syrup in the tabletop caddies and uplifting mottos stenciled on the red walls.

8. Pan American Pancake House

1305 South Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach

843-448-3629

Owner: Constantin Leftis

Founded: 1986

Service: B

Ambiance: B

Cakes: B+

Pan American serves a pretty cake with a lacquered top and malty aroma, but it’s the rare pancake house with distant and disinterested service. In 2011, the NAACP alleged its front-of-house practices were discriminatory to boot, suing the restaurant for refusing to seat three black patrons during Atlantic Beach Bikefest. Leftis at the time told The Associated Press that his employees didn’t discriminate; the lawsuit was settled out of court.

9. Golden Egg Pancake House

415 U.S. Highway 17 Business, Surfside Beach

843-238-4923

Owner: Evan Bofilios

Founded: 1991

Service: B+

Ambiance: A-

Cakes: B-

Formerly a pizzeria popular with high schoolers, Golden Egg hasn’t lost any energy since its owners shifted from slices to scrambles. There’s so much lively chitchat in the dining room that the restaurant doesn’t have to pipe in music, which may account for our server’s weary demeanor. The pancakes are rubbery, which is a shame for eaters keen on souvenirs, since Golden Egg sells the best T-shirts on the strip.

10. Hot Stacks Pancake House

1501 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach, 843-448-4668

87 North Highway 17, North Myrtle Beach, 843-249-7710

9707 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach, 843-497-7091

Owner: Pete Sourlis

Founded: 1994

Service: B+

Ambiance: B

Cakes: B

Compared with other pancake houses, Hot Stacks feel preternaturally calm, a mood underscored by the dining room’s understated decor. This is probably the place where beachgoers who partied the previous night would want to pancake (and perhaps drink strong coffee: A diner at a table near mine claimed he’d never heard of a quesadilla, and had trouble following his server’s explanation of it). Unfortunately, the pancakes are overly eggy.

11. Harry’s Breakfast Pancakes

2306 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach

843-448-8013

Owner: Angela Soulis

Founded: 1979

Service: B+

Ambiance: B+

Cakes: B-

Too many pancake houses fill their syrup dispensers with corn syrup solutions that barely share a color with what comes from a tree, but the trouble with Harry’s is its syrup isn’t even adhesive. The sheer liquid slips right off a dry and bready pancake, which is also served with a pat of Land O Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread, another commercial product that’s currently getting overexposed in pancake houses.

12. Southern Sunrise Pancake House

3407 South Highway 17, North Myrtle Beach

843-361-4080

Owner: Doug Decosta

Founded: 2011

Service: B

Ambiance: C+

Cakes: B+

“Unpleasant” isn’t a word often used in conjunction with pancake houses, but a surly server in an unclean shirt, generic disco soundtrack and durable-looking decor led to low grades for Southern Sunrise. When I called to learn more about what I might have missed, I was hung up on four times in a row. As for the pancakes, they have the characteristic lift of lye, which usually means malt powder in the mix.

13. Carolina Pancake House

2800 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach

843-626-9949

Owner: Donika Muzha

Founded: 1980s

Purchased by current owner: 2015

Service: B+

Ambiance: B

Cakes: B-

In a departure from the dated living room look that’s a staple of pancake house culture, Carolina Pancake House is more “aging diner crossed with a church social hall.” Its pancakes are sweet, dense and served colder than most breakfasters would rate as optimal, but to be fair, the restaurant’s Facebook page is devoted to eggs, French toast and photos of customers who seem happy about both.

14. Paradise Pancake House

1201 South Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach

843-448-5600

Owner: Darryl Green

Founded: 2013

Service: B+

Ambiance: B

Cakes: B-

The restaurant's beachy art and blue-vinyl seating are consistent with one interpretation of Paradise, as are funnel cake-like pancakes showered with powdered sugar. My hunch is the restaurant would score higher with a much younger reviewer. When prompted to reveal what makes Paradise’s pancakes special, an employee told me, “Just the Fruity Pebbles.”

15. Dino’s House of Pancakes

2120 South Highway 17, North Myrtle Beach

843-272-5411

Owner: Tom Kandris

Founded: 1970

Service: B+

Ambiance: A-

Cakes: C

Visiting Dino’s is such a momentous occasion that a photographer circulates the dining room, cruise ship-style, to capture guests with their breakfasts. And it’s a fine-looking room in which to breakfast, thanks to decorative ferns and an authentically vintage vibe. Maybe order a waffle, though. Kandris says they sell more than the local Waffle House. The pancakes, made with a proprietary blend of two different mixes, are clumpy and austere.

16. Matthew’s Pancake House

1585 U.S. Highway 17, Little River

843-249-5550

Owner: Besim Tabaku

Founded: 1980s

Purchased by current owner: 2012

Service: B+

Ambiance: A-

Cakes: C-

A painted picture frame near Matthew’s front door reads, “We love our locals and tourists,” and clearly they love Matthew’s back. The bonhomie that reigns at this northernmost pancake house, along with a rec room atmosphere that feels consistent with watching a console TV and tying macrame, account for its relatively high rating. Sadly, its pancakes are cold, pallid and mistreated. Chewing them is a chore.

17. Plantation Pancake House

1501 South Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach, 843-448-6522

1003 U.S. Highway 17 Business, Surfside Beach, 843-272-5979

Owner: James Leftis

Founded: 1985

Service: B

Ambiance: B

Cakes: C

Plantation’s pancake is a handsome specimen, with gradients of bronzing and naturally ruffled edges that leave no doubt it was poured in house. But it’s severely lacking in structure, devolving to mush at the touch of a fork. Plantation also uses Land O Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread and so-called syrup that’s toothache-inducingly sweet, so the overall pancake-tasting sensation is eerily reminiscent of balled-up birthday cake.

18. Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin

2851 U.S. Highway 17 Business, Garden City

843-652-4444

Owner: Collier Restaurant Group

Founded: 2016

Service: B

Ambiance: B

Cakes: C

In the Grand Strand’s version of sending coal to Newcastle, a Sevierville, Tenn., pancake house company set up its first location outside of the Smokies in Garden City. The enormous restaurant has a retail section and all of the expected chain charm. A cutesy syrup dispenser shaped like a moonshiners’ bottle can’t save a blandly white pancake from descending deep into the well of meals not worth recollecting.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.