In its never ending quest for the latest trend, Japan is quickly coming to a consensus on the pancake as its choice of fashionable desserts. At many local cafes as well as chain shops (often the domains of college women and full-time house wives), having pancakes on the dessert menu has become standard fare, naturally with a variety of fruit toppings and flavored syrups. A smart phone application has even sprung up in which users can rate pancakes they've eaten and search for recommended shops in their chosen area. The developers of this app have released the top 25 highest rated shops serving pancakes for 2014, here we will introduce the top 5 entries on that list.
1.Cafe Kaila Omote Sando
Hailing from Hawaii, this shop is known for its "Yama Mori Fruits" (roughly translated to "hearty fruit") pancakes. It earned its title overseas as best breakfast and is finding equal or even greater success in Japan with appearances on several gourmet TV shows over the last year. Cafe Kaila came in second in 2013 and has now claimed the top spot, which should be no surprise given the long lines of eager diners it attracts on holidays in particular. The shop itself is located just a brief walk away from the east exit of Harajuku station, or if you're using the subway get off at Omote Sando and take the A1 exit.
GYRE B1F 5-10-1 Jingumae Shibuya Tokyo
2. Clinton St. Baking Company
American diners may have heard of Clinton St. Baking Company as it started out as a mom and pop shop in New York in 2001 and quickly became a local sensation - clearly a testament to entrepreneurship and the power of word of mouth. Tokyo is lucky enough to have one of only 2 sattelite stores in the world (the other is in Dubai), and its first appearance in the pancake ranking is at an astonishing second place. While offering a dinner menu as well, their pancakes and other breakfast dishes are central to their popularity. The blueberry pancakes are a favorite in Tokyo as well as their flagship restaurant, and monthly specials keep patrons coming back for something new. The shop is about a 10 minute walk south from Omote Sando station.
YHT MInami Aoyama Bldg 5-17-1 Minami Aoyama Minatoku Tokyo
3. Eggs 'n Things Harajuku
An established restaurant which serves breakfast all day long, Eggs 'n Things offers omelettes, waffles, and - you guessed it - pancakes topped with a tower of whipped cream. This shop also hails from Hawaii but has garnered enough popularity in Japan to have opened 9 stores nationwide. Although it has fallen from first place since the previous year, its customer base certainly hasn't dwindled. You can easily walk there from Harajuku station, or if you're on the subway line get off at Meiji Jingu Mae and just go through Tokyu Plaza to the east.
4-30-2 Jingumae Shibuya Tokyo
4. Bill's Omote Sando
Bill's started out as a stand-alone restaurant in Australia and after receiving acclaim for its breakfast dishes has become an international series of shops. They offer a full menu with savory dishes for evening meals as well, but the ricotta pancakes are their claim to fame. Omote Sando is the most recently opened of their 4 locations in Japan, and it's holding its own against other big names in the field. The shop is just around the corner from Eggs 'n Things, so either Harajuku station or Meiji Jingu Mae will take you there in no time.
Tokyu Plaza 7F 4-30-3 Jungumae Shibuya Tokyo
5. Rainbow Pancake
The only entry in the top 5 with a single store (and of completely Japanese origin), Rainbow Pancake certainly has a memorable name. The "rainbow" may refer to variety, since this shop serves not only traditional pancakes with sweet toppings but also "shokuji" or meal pancakes with toppings like salmon and avocado or taco-like ingredients. The macadamia sauce pancakes, however, are clearly the most popular item on the menu. This shop is a little off of the omote sando shopping road but is still easily accessible from Harajuku station or Meiji Jingu Mae.
You may have noticed all these restaurants are clustered in a certain area, which has given rise to the term "pancake battleground" being used in Japanese media to describe the phenomenon. Having all the shops nearby does make it easier to remember where they are and compare quality, although you'd be hard pressed to eat something from all 5 in one day. But if you're in Tokyo and are in the mood for a hearty dessert dressed up as breakfast, pick the one whose name catches your attention and give it a try.