It’s just past 10 a.m. on a Thursday, and breakfast remains busy. The sign on the wall says this restaurant’s capacity is 99, and even though there are a couple of open tables and a few seats at the counter, it feels like there are more than a hundred people eating, drinking coffee and smiling at each other.
There’s a punk-rock couple, one of them with pink hair, punching away at their phones and waiting for their plates to arrive. Another tattooed pair of young people looks fresh from the gym, one sticking to the plan with a fruit plate and turkey sausage while the other indulges in a bacon-cheese-egg croissant. In the center of the dining room, there’s a large group of women of varying ages and ethnicities, two holding well-swaddled infants. They’re done with their omelets and seasoned potatoes in skillets, but they’re not going anywhere. This table is glowing.
There’s nothing inherently Vegas about this restaurant experience. There’s a supermarket, a pet supply store and a Home Depot in the same strip mall and a huge Christian school across the street. What makes this place stand out is that it’s perpetually packed until it closes at 2 p.m. (or 3 on the weekends). It’s far more crowded than the Denny’s, International House of Pancakes or Marie Callender’s locations nearby. It’s the Cracked Egg. There are five of them scattered across the Valley. It serves a fine Monte Cristo—a battered and fried French toast sandwich with turkey, ham and Swiss cheese once found on every Vegas coffee shop menu—and it’s just one of many local breakfast restaurants that have been wildly popular for years.
It’s impossible to identify a single standout breakfast spot in this town—there are too many. If you’ve lived in Las Vegas long you’ve probably made a habit of going for scratch-made buttermilk pancakes at Blueberry Hill, which still has four locations; or Jewish deli treats at Harrie’s Bagelmania on East Twain; or chicken-fried steak at greasy spoon icon Lou’s Diner on Decatur; or table-sized omelets at the quirky, nearly 40-year-old Omelet House at Charleston and Rancho. Then you have longtime favorites like the Egg & I and Eggworks, a family of six restaurants that always seem full; the Original Sunrise Cafe on Eastern Avenue; Jamms on Rainbow; the Original Pancake House on Fort Apache; and newer, fast-growing morning hot spots like BabyStacks Cafe, Kitchen Table, Rise & Shine Steak & Eggs, Stacks & Yolks, CraftKitchen and MTO Café. That’s a lot of bacon.
Clearly, humans love going out for breakfast. If we didn’t, the all-day Egg McMuffin wouldn’t be a thing. But a whole lot of humans really love Vegas breakfast. Why? Maybe because—like a lot of Vegas stuff—you can have it whenever, wherever, however you like.
“Vegas is an anomaly for sure,” says Brannon Rees, director of marketing for Hash House A Go Go, which has five locations in Southern Nevada and other restaurants across the country. “Vegas is just so much fun. It creates a special dynamic for breakfast, and part of it is being a party town. You have your family and friends with you, you go out for breakfast and that ends up being the meal of the day.”
That definitely happens at Hash House A Go Go, known for its huge portions of “twisted farm food” like griddled meatloaf hash, red velvet pancakes (which will be a fundraising dish for the Children’s Heart Foundation on National Pancake Day, February 13) and the sage fried chicken and smoked bacon waffle tower, the most popular item on the menu. The Vegas restaurants sell more than 12,000 plates of chicken and waffles every month.
“It’s funny, the first thing our servers say to customers is that the servings are very large and you can share if you like. There’s no split-plate fee,” says Rees, whose father co-founded the restaurant chain. “And most locals who come out for breakfast, it’s a family-oriented meal, so you’d expect them to share. But they don’t. Everybody likes to get their own meal. I think it puts some fun into it.”
Since it has neighborhood restaurants and locations inside casinos on and off the Strip, Hash House A Go Go sees every kind of Vegas breakfast customer. There are families on the weekends, seniors midweek and tourists around the clock, especially at Strip sites like the one at the Linq, open 24 hours every day.
Breakfast on Las Vegas Boulevard is a bit of a different ballgame as the prices go up and the rooms get bigger, but you can still find a classic experience at the Peppermill, one of the most popular free-standing restaurants in Strip history. Open since 1972, the Peppermill is famous for its vintage décor, 24-hour environment and throwback Fireside Lounge, but mornings are its busiest times, when Vegas visitors (and locals, too) pack the joint and feast on crab cake Benedicts, Marco Pollo omelets and Fruit Fantasia waffles.
The Strip’s megaresorts have mostly evolved the traditional coffee shop into massive cafés like the 600-seater at Aria, the always-slammed Café Bellagio, the fancy and delicious Pantry at Mirage and the dual Grand Lux Cafés at Venetian and Palazzo. One successful exception is the Cosmopolitan, which changed the entire vibe of its second floor last year when it brought in Southern California’s trendy Eggslut, which has long lines stretching into the afternoon for its carefully composed breakfast sandwiches.
There are plenty of morning meals to be had at neighborhood casinos, too, like the iconic pancakes at Du-par’s at the Suncoast or smothered breakfast burritos at the popular Grand Café inside several Station Casinos. But locals tend to stay closest to home, especially when they have a place in their ’hood like Bagel Cafe.
“People are creatures of habit. Once they feel comfortable and warm in one place, that’s where they go,” says owner Savvas Andrews, who moved his family to Las Vegas from New York and opened the westside favorite almost 22 years ago. “There have been a lot of restaurants opening nearby over the years and they took some of our business away, but the impact has been minimal. We are a family business, not some corporation with five or 10 units, and our customers know how much we care.”
It helps to have simple, delicious food served in large portions with fair prices. That’s what keeps Bagel Cafe filled with happy regulars. If going out for breakfast wasn’t so easy and rewarding, we wouldn’t love it so much.
“When we first opened, we met all these people and their kids who kept coming back, and now their kids are having kids, or maybe even another generation, and it’s continuing,” Andrews says. “I have one customer who would come with his two little boys, and now both are married and bring their own kids to eat. Bagel Cafe is somehow in their DNA.”