You can't swing a champagne flute in this town without hitting a decent brunch spot. But a good breakfast joint? That's a swing and a miss.
Finding a great morning meal can feel impossible, and too often we're left settling for a $15 plate of mediocre bacon and eggs. Perhaps it's our void of New York-style bodegas and delis, or our excess of ritzy restaurants. Or maybe it's just one of those things the city will eventually improve, as it has with coffee and dessert.
Discouraged but not defeated, we resolved to find the best breakfast spots in the area, the casual kind that locals crave, not those frequented by tourists at fancy hotels. The first meal of the day can be a treat — if you know where to go.
This seven-decade-old local favorite has a counter and a handful of tables, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in comfort food. The main attraction is Miss Bertha's Breakfast Special ($11.95), a combination of fluffy hot cakes or French toast, with eggs, breakfast meat (bacon, sausage or scrapple) and a choice of home fries, grits or apples, which taste like pie filling. Be prepared: Breakfast dishes, including the bacon and French toast, are cooked in a heavenly amount of butter. — Savannah Stephens
1100 Florida Ave. NW. 202-265-1586. Breakfast served all day.
Mark Furstenberg's bakery, widely considered the best in the city, can be uncomfortably crowded on weekends, but it's a much different place on weekdays, when you can grab a snack on the way to work or linger at a sidewalk table with a cappuccino. Past the piles of glowing golden croissants and tempting pain au chocolat, grab the breakfast banh mi sandwich ($5), a weekday special consisting of a fresh baguette filled with a mushroom-and-onion frittata, pickled carrots and daikon. On weekends, don't miss the frittata or the true-to-its-name messy egg. — Fritz Hahn
4434 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-966-1300. Pastries served until they run out; breakfast specialties served until 11 a.m.
Competition for seating can be thick at the tiny market between Tenleytown and Chevy Chase. The place is heavy with the smell of bacon, a natural add-on for the breakfast burrito ($8.50), packed with scrambled eggs, black beans, potatoes and a side of house-made Thai chili hot sauce, or one of three ciabatta sandwiches ($6.50), filled with eggs and such additions as Gorgonzola spread. The black pepper maple latte ($4.25) is the perfect match for the exceptional slice of gingerbread chess pie ($4.50), which imparts a forceful spice into the dark-brown custard filling. — Gabe Hiatt
5035 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-248-6346. Breakfast served weekdays from 7:30 to 11 a.m. and on weekends from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday.
The row of waffle irons in the front window clue you to this downtown restaurant's gimmick: Every dish is served atop a freshly made Belgian-style waffle or packed between two. The premise would be worth an eye-roll if the waffles weren't so good — airy inside, firm outside and crispy around the edges. The satisfying waffle sandwich filled with eggs, bacon and cheese ($5.75) has a feeling of fast food novelty about it. The one covered in rich Nutella hazelnut spread and powdered sugar ($6.45) will bring back memories of European vacations, especially if you add bananas. — Fritz Hahn
Two locations: 1712 I St. NW. 202-944-2700; 7101 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda. 301-469-0006. Waffles with eggs served until 11 a.m. D.C. location closed Sunday.
This LeDroit Park cafe has an old-timey vibe, thanks to the beer tap made from an antique fire extinguisher and the hand-cranked metal ice shaver used to make adult snow cones. The breakfast menu includes house-made biscuits with preserves and fermented chile butter, bagels, croissants and such specialty dishes as lox tartine ($11), served on toasted sourdough with caraway crème fraîche, and arepas rancheras ($12), made with an over-easy egg, melty cheese, black beans and fresh red salsa. For something sweet, Counter Culture coffee pairs well with the ultra-buttery guava-and-cheese pastry ($5). — Gabe Hiatt
501 Florida Ave. NW. 202-332-7777. Breakfast served weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon and on weekends from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Nestled inside a tall brown farmhouse in Del Ray, Stomping Ground is a casual, cozy neighborhood favorite. Get in line for coffee from Swing's — the 101-year-old roaster down the street — and the sophisticated Southern fare. Breakfast includes an American take on chilaquiles ($10), with red and green salsas and a poached egg, and soft buttermilk biscuits served as sandwiches or with spicy sausage gravy ($7). The fried chicken biscuit ordered in the Not So Classic style ($9) benefits from the bird's crunchy crust, which holds up nicely to the za'atar, honey, hot sauce and benne seed tahini. — Gabe Hiatt
2309 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria. 703-567-6616. Breakfast served Tuesday to Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Monday.
Takoma Park is home to Mark's, a diner from owner Mark Choe that offers an encyclopedic breakfast menu influenced by neighborhood hippies, health-conscious Seventh-day Adventists and Korean flavors. Ask nicely, and the waitstaff might let you order off the lunch menu early. Go for the extra spicy kimchi combination fried rice ($11.95), which comes with seaweed, an over-easy egg and your choice of bulgogi steak, chicken teriyaki or tofu. Wash it down with a drink from the long list of juice blends ($4.25-$5.75); think strawberry-kiwi and celery-apple-carrot. The earthy mung bean pancakes packed with spinach and cabbage are available in a starter size ($3.45) or as a plate ($7.95) and come with soy sauce instead of syrup. The organic buckwheat variety are even cheaper ($6.25, and for $1 more, you can pick an atypical filling such as mangoes, chestnuts and sweet potatoes). — Gabe Hiatt
7006 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park. 301-270-1884. Breakfast served weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Come nighttime, this sleek 14th Street cafe morphs into a bar with craft cocktails and light bites. During the day, it slings coffee and the area's best — and very on-trend — rice bowl. The breakfast bowl ($7.50) looks like it just got off a plane from Los Angeles, artfully arranged with short-grain rice, greens, radish slices, a poached egg and, for a surcharge, avocado. The cafe's also home to another trendy breakfast dish: fancy toast. Get it topped with smoked salmon, harissa hummus with chickpea salad and grapefruit, or — our favorite — avocado with goat cheese mousse ($6.50). — Holley Simmons
Two locations: 1333 14th St. NW. 202-450-2216; 82 I St. SE. 202-560-5095. Breakfast served 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.
The fluffy, flaky and buttery biscuits at Mason Dixie are worth the trek to this drive-through kitchenette. Add chicken that's been marinated for 24 hours and fried to a golden brown, and you've got all the makings of a great morning. Also available: egg, cheese, sausage, bacon and ham on a biscuit, plus a sausage gravy bowl ($7.27) with white gravy, a fried egg and a biscuit. Spring for the fresh-made jam, which costs extra but can be smeared on leftover bits for a salty-sweet finish. — Holley Simmons
2301 Bladensburg Rd. NE. 202-849-3518. Breakfast served all day on weekends and from 7 to 11 a.m. on weekdays.
Filled with good vibes, cool tunes and the occasional aloof-yet-charming employee, this ivy-covered spot remains a photogenic mainstay. In the mornings, choose from a small menu of customizable and well-executed basics, such as the breakfast burrito with eggs, potatoes and cheddar ($8.50), the generous bowl of granola with Trickling Springs yogurt ($6), or the breakfast sandwich with eggs, caramelized onions and arugula on toasted house-made bread or a Bullfrog bagel ($7). The coffee, from Ceremony in Annapolis, provides an ideal buzz. — Kara Elder
1700 First St. NW. 202-643-9222. Breakfast served weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Pastrami isn't just a lunchtime affair at Smoked and Stacked, the unpretentious sandwich joint from "Top Chef" alum Marjorie Meek-Bradley. The New Yorker ($8), a breakfast sandwich with pastrami, Comte cheese, sweet-and-spicy pepper jelly and an egg, is a glorious, squishy mess that cannot be contained within its soft milk-bread bun — as soon as you pick it up, you're guaranteed to have yolk running down your fingers. Try one on a slow day, because you might need a nap to recover. (And if you want something smaller, go for the cured-salmon-and-avocado sandwich, or the basic bacon, egg and cheese.) — Maura Judkis
1239 Ninth St. NW. 202-465-4822. Breakfast served daily until 11 a.m.
The breakfast sandwiches at this cheery Shirlington staple harness the best elements of a classic grilled cheese. The Willing-No-Ham ($5.25) is the standout on an abbreviated menu of sandwiches and oatmeal that complements the fresh-baked breads, croissants, muffins, danishes and scones on display. Buttery, warm Texas toast frames a perfectly fried egg (it still runs!) topped with crispy bacon and gooey American cheese. With more than a dozen types of bread baked daily — poblano cheddar, anyone? — this is a breakfast option worth getting up early for. — Matt Brooks
4010 Campbell Ave., Arlington. 703-578-1500. Breakfast sandwiches served daily until 11 a.m.