The best place to eat breakfast in America may just be in the South Bay. Walk into any of a collection of Hermosa, Redondo or Manhattan Beach cafes--all of which are so serious about breakfast that they serve it until early afternoon and then close their doors--and you’ll find fresh juice, home-fries cut from real potatoes, homemade biscuits and fresh-baked coffee cake. It’s the sort of food that actually makes you want to get up in the morning.
At first glance, Joe’s resembles hundreds of corner burger stands. But when you walk in the door, you immediately notice that far back on a table sit vats of freshly peeled potatoes waiting to be cut up for Joe’s Gargantuan portions of home-fries or mashed potatoes. The place is always packed; everyone eats at long Formica-covered communal picnic tables, and waitresses seem trained to be charmingly grumpy. If it’s on the list of specials, order the Acapulco omelet ($4.50); you’ll get a scramble of good chorizo sausage and eggs folded over cheese and topped with chunky guacamole. Two of Joe’s great classic dishes are grilled pork chops and eggs ($4.50), perfectly juicy, and the John Wayne special ($4)--two eggs over-medium on top of home fries covered with melted cheese and Spanish sauce with sausages on the side. All Joe’s egg dishes may be had with brown gravy, country gravy or no gravy and various toasts or tortillas.
Joe’s, 400 N. Pacific Coast Highway (at Carnelian Street), Redondo Beach; (213) 376-9570. Open Mon-Sat. 5:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
The Strawberry Patch Cafe is a sleek-looking place with high-tech overtones and a menu with a familiar Euro-Californian feel. There is great cappuccino, cafe au lait and breakfast drinks that could suffice as a meal. The smoothies, carrot pickups and others are all made from juices prepared on the premises. Order a dish called Patch Eggs ($4.95), and you’ll find fresh baby artichoke hearts under the poached eggs and melted cheese. The Middle Eastern owners have introduced a few ethnic touches, such as a falafel omelet or hummus and baba ghannouj appetizers.
Strawberry Patch Cafe, 1332 Hermosa Ave. No. 1, Hermosa Beach; (213) 372-2194. Open Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Everything about the Back Burner is big. Hand-cut, skin-on French fries seem sliced from potatoes the size of cantaloupes. And pancakes are so big, they almost hang over the edge of the plate. Even the customers tend to arrive in big groups; they are seated at big ranch-style tables covered in red-checked oil cloth. Giant omelets ($4.10 to $5.25) are big enough to share--one comes loaded with thickly sliced fresh mushrooms, chives and garlic in a mellow wine sauce. There are some great country-style dishes, among them El Paso eggs on a tortilla and a bed of home-fried potatoes topped with Texas-style chili.
Back Burner Cafe, 87 14th St., Hermosa Beach; (213) 372-6973. Open daily 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Retro is the name of the decor at Ocean Diner and much of the food seems to come straight out of an early edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook: Oniony potato pancakes ($4.75) are served with thick applesauce and a blanket of sour cream; chicken-fried steak and eggs comes with light drop biscuits and, if you wish, gravy. But the best reason to come here is Rich Hankus’ wonderful breakfast pastries: homey cinnamon rolls blanketed with pecans in an irresistible chewy caramel glaze; moist, buttery giant squares of coffee cake ($1.50) swirled with cinnamon and chocolate chips.
Ocean Diner, 959 Aviation Blvd. Hermosa Beach; (213) 372-3739. Open daily, 6 a.m.-2 p.m.
The best place to sit at Martha’s is at one of the sunny patio tables. From there you can get a whiff of sea breeze and watch the action on the beach. Martha’s most outstanding breakfast items attest to just how much one can pile onto an English muffin. Eggs Hermosa ($6.50) is composed of Canadian bacon under a bed of sauteed tomato and garlic, steamed fresh spinach, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. Breakfast sweets change daily but might include baked, ripe strawberry muffins almost the size of birthday cakes and huge cinnamon rolls swirled with a touch of raspberry jam.
Martha’s 22nd Street Grill, 23 22nd St., Hermosa Beach; (213) 376-7786. Open daily, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
There’s almost always a wait at Uncle Bill’s, but it must be the comfort of familiarity that makes this long-established spot so popular. While the food is certainly respectable, it doesn’t beat much of the local breakfast competition. Still, there are a few great things worth sampling. Oatmeal is the sort of wonderful old-fashioned type with thick flakes. The Hungarian omelet, enfolding a beef gulyas rich with sour cream and paprika, and Uncle Bill’s Potatoes Stroganoff (hand-grated hash browns sprinkled with bacon and cheese and topped with sour cream) are both terrific.
Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, 1305 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach; (213) 545-5177. Open Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
Good Stuff on the Strand is a beachside restaurant with health food leanings. Only real cheese and fresh vegetables fill the omelets, and Good Stuff offers juicy turkey patties as an alternative to sausage or bacon. The Island Breakfast ($3.95)--eggs with a piece of grilled white fish, rice pilaf and toast or fresh-baked muffins on the side--makes a nice light breakfast. And you can get whole-wheat English muffins and pancakes made with whole-wheat flour. The yeasty, dollar-size pancakes may be the area’s best.
Good Stuff on the Strand, 1286 The Strand, Hermosa Beach; (213) 374-2334. Open daily, for breakfast 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; lunch and dinner noon-9 p.m.
On weekends, a huge urn of free fresh coffee on a tiny table outside The Local Yolk keeps everyone placated while they wait for a seat. The Yolk offers 20 omelet varieties ($4.75 average) and customers may design their own if they choose. The strangest omelet of all is the Raiders Revenge ($5.25). Coffee here is exceptionally robust, and the juice is the freshest in the area.
The Local Yolk, 3414 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach; (213) 546-4407. Open daily, 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.