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
Owner: Nick Pournaras
2. Southern Pancake House
7100 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach
Owners: Gary and Stacy Legge
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
Owner: George Cartsaklis
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
Owner: Edmond and Merita Asllanaj
Purchased by current owner: 2010
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
Owner: Bill Vlandis
Purchased by current owner: 1988
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
Owner: Spiros Steiner
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
Owner: Amy Vlahos
“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
Owner: Constantin Leftis
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
Owner: Evan Bofilios
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
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
Owner: Angela Soulis
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
Owner: Doug Decosta
“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
Owner: Donika Muzha
Purchased by current owner: 2015
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
Owner: Darryl Green
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
Owner: Tom Kandris
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
Owner: Besim Tabaku
Purchased by current owner: 2012
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
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
Owner: Collier Restaurant Group
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.