History will only fitfully remember 2018 as the year national pancake chain IHOP changed a P to a B rebrand itself IHOB (International House of Burgers), then quickly bowed to public backlash and restored the capital P for Pancakes, in a marketing ruse reminiscent of the public trolling Coca Cola achieved with its “New Coke” campaign of the 1980s.
700 E Street, Chula Vista
I guess IHOP’s effort to provoke America into standing up to demand a return of our collective pancake heritage had a point. Flat griddle cakes may seem anachronistic in the age of acai bowls and gourmet donuts, but they still put butts in seats.
Just look at the ongoing success of local restaurant, Aunt Emma’s Pancakes. The Chula Vista restaurant been around close to 60 years, and was declared a historic site after the first 50. We must assume its long-held motto, “It’s always pancake time!” means even in 2018, because, regarding time of day, it’s only pancake time at Aunt Emma’s during opening hours, from 6 am til 2 pm daily.
Aunt Emma’s Pancakes makes strong use of those hours, as I’m sure South Bay natives are keenly aware. The original location is routinely busy through breakfast, and as is a second, National City location. Like IHOP, Aunt Emma’s does also serve burgers, along with crepes, waffles, and about any egg dish that comes to mind.
214 National City Boulevard, National City
This tried and true, family-friendly breakfast diner doesn’t seemed fazed by the changing times, and its greatest nod to the past may be affordability. As in, you can still get a hefty amount of breakfast for under ten bucks.
Though apparently still appreciated IRL, virtual appreciation is lacking. Yelp has been unfair to Aunt Emma’s, bestowing three stars, which might be a kiss of death for any new restaurant. But when you take a look at reviews, most of the one-star Yelpers dock stars for such audacious transgressions as being crowded on weekends, or offering slow service during the daily breakfast rush.
Those impatient reviewers should have taken a seat at the counter. At the Chula Vista restaurant, a large semicircular counter dominates the center of the room, with dining tables in front, kitchen behind. The hostess suggests service will be faster at the counter, and she wasn’t kidding: once I decide on my order, not three minutes go by before my pancakes arrive.
A short stack of buttermilk pancakes (a “special recipe” by the original owner’s Aunt Emma, they tell us) goes for $6.49. Should you want a full stack (five instead of three), the price bumps to a mere $7.79. I came looking for add-ons, and upgraded my short stack with blueberries for $8.19. Other options include strawberry, chocolate, and banana pecan.
They’re light and fluffy unless you choose to soak them in blueberry or maple-like syrup; satisfying if not remarkable. And pancakes don’t need to be remarkable. They don’t need to be a pretext for selling burgers. They just need to keep homey restaurants like Aunt Emma’s going.