Editor's Note: We have painstakingly researched breakfast across the Twin Cities one bite at a time for the past few months and have compiled our findings here for you.
Breakfast. Most days it's just cereal, a piece of fruit, or one of those sad grab-and-go muffins at the gas station. But when you get up early enough or make plans to meet friends, breakfast becomes an event. Instead of chancing your poached eggs on an amateur, wasting calories on anything less than the best baked goods, or getting fancy when you really want no-frills (or vice versa), consult this, our handy guide to the best breakfasts in the Twin Cities. (Note: We selected only places that serve daily breakfast. Weekend brunch is another list entirely.)
You'll find nothing but breakfast basics at Milda's in the Near North area of Minneapolis. But everything is done with the pancake-flipping confidence of a place that's been around for decades. Grits are creamy, French toast is lacy at the edges and custardy in the center, and Kielbasa is one of the side sausage options, which really should be available at more restaurants. You might walk in thinking you're the first to discover Milda's, but regulars keep lining up for the affordable prices, enormous, fluffy-soft caramel and iced cinnamon rolls, and general lack of pretense. If you don't fill up on eggs and hash browns at breakfast, come back at dinner for simple, well-seasoned broasted chicken and Milda's famous Iron Range-style pasties. 1720 Glenwood Ave. N.
Is Al's still worth the wait and the cramped conditions? Devotees will tell you it's all part of the charm. There are times when the environment is a hindrance, but we do tend to agree that when you're hankering for an Al's pancake (get the blueberry or blackberry ones when they're available), there is truly no substitute. To maximize your chances of having an ideal Al's experience, come early on a weekday, with an empty bladder (no bathroom), cash in hand, and know what you're going to order as soon as a seat frees up. If it sounds like a lot of work, just repeat this mantra to yourself: bacon waffle bacon waffle bacon waffle bacon waffle.... 413 14th Ave. SE
Going out for breakfast with a mixed bag of dietary needs? Make a beeline for Modern Times Cafe in Powderhorn. This grungy but great breakfast and lunch spot accommodates the needs of carnivores, omnivores, locavores, and the gluten-averse with a whole host of delicious dishes like the Mexican migas with textured vegetable protein chorizo and poblano sour cream; an earthy hash of roasted beets, goat cheese, eggs, and bacon called the Beet Up; and a couple of hearty, savory fried brown rice bowls loaded with veggies, eggs, herbs, and all kinds of satisfying textures. Lest you think this is only a place for the virtuous to dine, there is the Croque John Paul, essentially a Frankenstein's monster of eggs Benedict and a Croque Monsieur sandwich. 3200 Chicago Ave. S.
We've said it before and we'll probably say it again: God bless Victor's for making the concept of breakfast happy hour socially acceptable. If you can snag a spot outside on the lovely patio and manage to decide between the mango pancakes or the weird-sounding but totally delicious Cuban hash with olives, raisins, capers, and sweet plantains, you'll be feeling about as tropical as one can in the middle of Minneapolis. On the more Gringo side of the menu, the pressed breakfast sandwich and wild rice porridge are also top-notch. 3756 Grand Ave. S.
6. The Mill NE
Looking for more than the same old standards at breakfast? The Mill NE's daily brunch will not disappoint. Their wild rice pancakes and "biscones," a buttery, crumbly biscuit and scone hybrid that is incredible with their peppery mushroom gravy, both have a well-deserved cult following. But on a recent visit we discovered the shirred egg bake, made with cubes of perfumey caraway and mild, melty halloumi cheese on top. If you plan to hang out awhile, consider getting the BYO Bubbly — a sort of mini bottle service featuring cava and a bunch of fresh fruit purees, juices, and a glass of creme de cassis. 1851 Central Ave. NE
5. Hot Plate
Full of thrift store art, cozy charm, and a hundred cool lighting fixtures, Hot Plate has long been loved for its fluffy-yet-thin pancakes and Lingonberry-tinged compound butter. But every time we try something new here — like the smoked trout hash or Drive-Thru breakfast sandwich with sausage, fried egg, and American cheese (one of those instances where no other cheese will suffice) on a house-made biscuit — we fall for Hot Plate all over again. It's never too too crowded, too too noisy, too too expensive, or too too greasy. Mainly though, we love Hot Plate because we always get such sunny, smiling service here. 5204 Bloomington Ave. S.
4. Zumbro Cafe
One of the slightly "fancier" options on our breakfast short list (we save the really fancy stuff for weekend brunch), Zumbro Cafe in Linden Hills often gets overshadowed by its admittedly impressive culinary neighbors. But Zumbro has as much to offer kids with the gimme-gimmes (teddy bear pancakes!) as it does gourmand grown-ups. Think: chicken wild rice hash that's a play on the classic hot dish with creamy rosemary gravy; spongy, melt-on-the-tongue cornmeal pancakes; and maybe the best eggs Benedict on this list. Use a walk around nearby Lake Harriet as before-or-after breakfast motivation accordingly. 2803 W. 43rd St.
Is the original location better than the new one? That's a debate for another time, but the ironically named Colossal Cafe near the intersection of 42nd Street and Cedar Avenue is most definitely still going strong, even after expanding. The scrambled eggs they make for biscuit sandwiches and omelets are still impossibly fluffy; the red pepper and fennel breakfast sausage is still hand-pattied and super-savory; and again, the yeasty flapper pancakes are a state treasure. It's the smack-in-the-neighborhood, wrap-it-in-wax-paper, open-til-closed vibe that gives this location its enduring character, and we can't get enough. 1839 E. 42nd St.
This quick, counter-service bakery breakfast in Kingfield is home to one of the most crazy-indulgent dishes we have ever had the pleasure of starting our day with: the Southern-fried biscuit. It's a buttery biscuit sandwich with a hunk of super-solid de-boned fried chicken, chewy-crisp strips of bacon, and a side of peppery sausage gravy for dipping. Though it's hard to pass up the Southern-fried (get a side of deep-fried mashed potato balls if you're feeling ravenous), we've also been known to get the tangy sourdough flapjacks or just load up on expertly made pastries like the rhubarb turnover, raspberry scream scone, or chocolate-hazelnut bear claw. The full menu of Dogwood Coffee drinks is just the icing on the cake here. 4600 Nicollet Ave. S.
Oh savory waffle, how we missed you! It was a dicey few months there, as Birchwood closed for renovations, but now they're back and better than ever. The Seward/Longfellow-area staple has been serving an all-organic, vegetarian-friendly (and very non-vegetarian-friendly — hello lardons!) breakfast for years, but the new Birchwood 2.0 has all kinds of expansions and upgrades that make the experience of eating there all the more pleasant. There's a bigger dining room, an expanded kitchen — complete with deep fryer — and new spring menu items. The asparagus and snap pea quiche is rich but airy and bright and the unexpected sweet pea pancakes with grapefruit marmalade are a creation only the Birchwood could pull off. 3311 E. 25th St.
Yes, the Randolph Griddle uses canned fruit, fake maple syrup, and from-concentrate juice, but the place is a total institution. The exhaustive breakfast menu features more than a dozen omelets, crepes, waffles, and lacy potato pancakes that have no equal. Don't expect anything fancy (there are Lil' Smokies on the menu, people), come with cash, and think of this as the one place where both small children and aged grandparents will be free of complaints. 1333 Randolph Ave.
9. Shish Cafe
It's such a pleasant surprise to find out that a restaurant you love and frequent for lunch or dinner also does daily breakfast. At Shish on Grand Avenue, they take every imaginable combination of eggs, feta, spinach, spicy sausage, and pita bread and make unique, flavor-packed morning meals. Shish's chewy-crisp lamb bacon is worth the trip alone, but we love the affordable Benedicts and the hearty Jerusalem breakfast — a this-and-that platter with spiced ground beef, hummus, olives, falafel, and veggies. 1668 Grand Ave.
A staple of the Payne-Phalen community for decades, Magnolias is a no-frills family-friendly eatery with nary a sherry reduction or micro green in sight. Instead you'll find diner-ready dishes like corned beef hash, steak and eggs, and crispy, buttery French toast served by ladies who all look vaguely familiar, like maybe they were extras in a John Waters movie. The textbook biscuits and gravy are available by the half order as a side, which is as much as any one sane person can eat. In short, Magnolias has all the scrappy charm of an underdog baseball team. The portions are big, the food is scratch-made, and clip art is everywhere. 1081 Payne Ave.
Every neighborhood should be so lucky as to have a place like Groundswell anchoring it. It's homey yet hip. Quick enough for an early a.m. coffee and gluten-free muffin stop, but comfortable enough that you'll want to linger when you have the time. During the week the breakfast menu is limited, but every item is a winner. We particularly love the perfectly in-between texture and tang of the cornmeal buttermilk waffle and the fact that you can get the two-egg breakfast sandwich with Groundswell's south-by-Midwest version of pimento cheese. Coffee and espresso drinks are top-notch, and unlike some other establishments in St. Paul, no one scoffs if you ask for your latte with almond milk. 1342 Thomas Ave.
Ever since the original location opened in south Minneapolis, Colossal has been synonymous with breakfast, the standard to which all biscuit sandwiches should be held. But the St. Paul outpost has really hit its stride. It has twisty, winding, golden blocks of hash browns; sandwiches of egg, prosciutto, and sun-dried tomatoes on super-buttery homemade toast; and the signature doughy-bready, tender-firm yeasted pancakes, which are most heartily served with big hunks of brie cheese, tart apple slices, and walnuts. Coffee is bottomless and self-serve, so you're never waiting for someone to come by and get you a much-needed refill. 2315 Como Ave.
5. French Hen
The French Hen in Cathedral Hill echoes the casual elegance of the historic neighborhood that surrounds it. The biscuits and gravy with Andouille sausage are a picture of spicy, creamy excess, while the bacon cakes are a study in balance, with the heft and fiber of whole-wheat flour made exciting by the bits of smoky, house-cured bacon scattered throughout. The only thing your French-Creole breakfast needs to be complete is a glass of bubbly, which is happily now served here. 518 Selby Ave.
This year we voted Neighborhood Cafe's buttermilk pancakes our favorite traditional flapjacks in the Twin Cities, but that doesn't mean those are the only ones you should order at Neighborhood Cafe. The thick, sweet, slightly gritty cornbread pancakes are ridiculously good with maple syrup, and the whole-wheat cottage cheese cakes taste like a healthy blintz if eaten with a spoonful of jam. Regulars come for the massive Cajun breakfast and Tex Mex-inspired items like the migas with house-made salsa and the indulgent breakfast chimichanga filled with scrambled eggs and tender marinated pork shoulder. 1570 Selby Ave.
3. Ward 6
If Magnolias represents Payne-Phalen's breakfast foundation, Ward 6 is quite possibly its breakfast future. From 8 to 11 a.m. during the week, Ward 6 serves made-to-order New Orleans-style beignets, steel cut oats with house-made fruit compote (cross your fingers for something with rhubarb), and a delicious, cheese-covered block of sausage-studded savory bread pudding. The breakfast poutine — French fries, squeaky cheese curds, pot roast gravy, with a fried egg — is tempting as a hangover cure, but the Bloody Mary here is the true ticket to recovery. 858 Payne Ave.
2. Buttered Tin
This little cafe made us sit up and take notice of Lowertown once again last year. With the Fischer Farms pork products, ingenious huevos rancheros Benedict, and meat-n-cheese loaded hash browns, how could we not? Pastry chef and co-owner Alicia Hinze puts the actual icing on the cake at this sunny breakfast spot with her fabulous granola, mini coffee cakes, coconut cream cupcakes, and homemade real-cream-filled Twinkies. 237 E. 7th St.
1. Coffee Cup
It's fair to think of Mickey's Diner as the ultimate greasy spoon, but if you want greasy spoon food that doesn't make you feel like a greasy sack of doubled over mess an hour after you eat it, go to Coffee Cup in St. Paul's North End. They open bright and early at 5 a.m., when customers will already be hungrily awaiting the simple, scratch-made fare. Denver omelets have properly caramelized veggies, French toast is made from thick slices of Texas toast (a welcome respite from the baguette/brioche thing every once in awhile) and dipped in vanilla custard, and the bacon is crisp and plentiful. It's everything you want in a friendly neighborhood breakfast and it's cheap to boot. 1446 Rice St.
10. Ze's Diner
This 1950s-themed restaurant serves consistently good diner classics like corned beef hash and Denver omelets, along with a few more modern favorites, like a Tex Mex burrito and a Cajun breakfast that's positively doused in spicy Hollandaise sauce. Unlike most of the other entries on this list, you won't feel like getting a "real" coffee after having breakfast at Ze's. They have a full list of espresso drinks and will even do you a morning malt or milkshake should the whole soda-shoppe vibe succeed in whisking you back to your high school production of Grease. 3448 Denmark Ave.
9. R.J. Riches
We don't know who R.J. is, but if we were forced to guess based on the food served at his restaurants, we would say he's likely a large man with a larger-than-life appetite. This is all to say that the portions at R.J. Riches Family Restaurant in Mounds View are insanely big. Chocolate chip pancakes are the size of a Christmas ham serving platter. The hash brown melts — cheese, veggie, and egg-covered farmers breakfasts — feel like a Man vs. Food-style challenge that only Paul Bunyan would take on. Fluffy three-egg omelets take up the entire plate and are stuffed with at least five ingredients apiece (the Italian sausage here is quite good, but does make you crave pizza). Oh, and speaking of pizza, the Hawaiian pancakes, made with ham and pineapple, are a weird and wonderful, sweet-and-salty all-in-one meal. 2145 Highway Ave.
8. 3 Squares
The spacious patio at 3 Squares is a major draw, especially if you're in the mood for a refreshing cocktail alongside your eggs. But since it's part of the Blue Plate group, this restaurant also has a certain comfort and familiarity about it, even if you've never before ventured into Maple Grove. Breakfast is one of the things 3 Squares does best, including lighter fare like Irish oatmeal and egg white scrambles or rib-sticking meatloaf hash and Cajun-spiced chicken and waffles to please diners who can't decide between breakfast and lunch. And the hash browns are seriously crispy. 12690 Arbor Lakes Pkwy.
St. Louis Park
During the height of the cupcake craze, Yum!, with its exemplary Swiss meringue frosting and spongy layer cakes, quickly became a destination for sweets-seekers. But most visitors missed out by overlooking the fuller menu. Next time you're there picking up cupcakes for the office, treat yourself to a little breakfast. Yum! uses its own house-made English muffins and peppery sausage for tasty fried egg sandwiches; freshly baked shiny challah as a base for simple, slow-scrambled eggs with chives; and oily, herby, bouncy focaccia for the hearty summer sandwich, featuring a tangy red pepper aioli and thick-cut Neuske's bacon. No matter what dish you decide on for your main meal, be sure to take one of the caramel pull-aparts to cap it off. 4000 Minnetonka Blvd.
Lovers of country kitsch and kooky old knick-knacks take note: Peg's in Hamel, just north and a little west of Plymouth, has your number. This itty bitty place has small-town charm, below-average prices (the most expensive items top out at all of $8.50), and above-average pie, so make sure to have a slice wrapped up to take home on your way out. For breakfast we loved the sage-y, nutty, just slightly sweet blueberry wild rice sausage and the over-the-top French toast breakfast sandwich — a State Fair-worthy pile-up of scrambled eggs, cheese, and pork sausage on crusty slices of French toast. Ask about specials, which are nearly always good, but be forewarned that there's no real maple syrup in sight here. You'll have to bring your own. Like a Canadian. Or Buddy the Elf. 842 Minnesota 55.
OPH is a suburban staple, each with its own personality. The Edina location is always full and buzzing, no matter the day of the week. The Wayzata one seems to attract more families than morning meetings. And the Osseo one, well, we've never been to the Osseo one because there are three others much closer. If you've been carb-starved for a spell, we can't stress enough the importance of breaking your streak here, possibly with the cinnamon-glazed apple pancake but more likely with the signature Dutch baby — a cross between a cast iron-cooked pancake and a giant popover. It's eggy, buttery, and warm, finished subtly with just some lemon juice and powdered sugar. If you venture into more savory territory here, consider the corned beef hash, which comes with a stack of crispy potato pancakes.
4. Tavern 4 & 5
Suburban strip mall breakfast isn't usually the kind of thing that makes us want to set an early alarm, but for Tavern 4 & 5's Reuben Benedict, made with beef brisket, Gruyere cheese, and chopped pickles on caraway-studded toast, we might be persuaded to become morning people. This under-the-radar gastropub also has crispy malted waffles and a strong focus on carefully prepared proteins like the cedar plank salmon you can get on a bagel with cream cheese and capers or the truly distinctive and distractingly good pecan wood-smoked bacon. Bonus: The Tavern has a full bar and a beer list worth getting out of bed for. 16396 Wagner Way.
Lots of other places on this list offer Swedish pancakes — a silver dollar-sized, crepe-like cake that is thinner and richer than its American counterpart. But predictably, none are more delicate or dreamy than the ones they make at Taste of Scandinavia. Their French toast, made with fragrant Pulla bread that is heavy on the cardamom, is also delicious and crispy, served with apples and tart lingonberries to cut the richness of the custard. Lefse is available year-round and is done as either a sweet or savory dish for breakfast. We preferred the latter, which is kind of a Scandi take on a breakfast burrito, with scrambled eggs, cheese, and super mild salsa.
This sunny spot is a the living embodiment of practice makes perfect. Having flipped thousands of pancakes, buttered billions of pieces of toast, and cracked more eggs than a teenage hooligan on Halloween, Good Day Cafe just has breakfast down pat. One of the most popular dishes, the crab cake Benedict, has legions of loyal fans, and for good reason. The cakes are meaty — not bready — and griddled until crisp on the outside; Hollandaise is tangy, frothy, and perfectly emulsified — never gloopy or overly salty; and the pooling yolk of jiggly poached egg binds everything together. Expect a wait, especially on the weekends. But expect the wait to be worth it, too. 5410 Wayzata Blvd.
Readers, this one was all you. You wrote us articulate, impassioned emails about your love for Fat Nat's Eggs and we finally took your good advice and swung into the Brooklyn Park location. Like parents swooning over the very nice boy you finally brought home to meet, we took a real shine to Fat Nat's. Not only are the pancakes (gasp) better than Al's, Nat's green chile — the sauce that smothers the huevos with black beans and carnitas — impressed even a fellow diner who happened to be a Santa Fe native, and the portions on everything are not skimpy.