- IHOP and Denny’s serve more or less the same menu: breakfast food.
- I went to an IHOP and a Denny’s in New York City and ordered the same meal at both: a breakfast platter, an omelette, french toast, and a breakfast specialty.
- IHOP’s food blew Denny’s offerings out of the water, with every single item tasting significantly better than its Denny’s counterpart.
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When it comes to diner-style breakfast food, there are two megachains that have been duking it out since what seems like the beginning of time.
Denny’s and IHOP have similar premises: affordable, all-American breakfast classics served with speed and reliability.
But which does it better?
To find out, I went to both Denny’s and IHOP and ordered very similar meals. I tried the pancakes, french toast, breakfast platters, omelettes, and breakfast specialties at both restaurants.
A couple of thousand calories and some mild heartburn later, I had a clear answer.
It turns out IHOP is better than Denny’s in every single way. The competition isn’t even close. Here’s why.
I went to the Denny’s in Jackson Heights, Queens. The interior was lined with flat-screen TVs. A string of national flags hung from the ceiling.
The screens were playing a mix of sports and advertisements for Denny’s itself. I’m always put off by places that advertise their products at you when you’re already buying them.
In the IHOP in Lower Manhattan, the interior was much calmer, and it was definitely going for a coffee shop vibe.
The aesthetic was a lot more street-corner Starbucks than roadside diner.
At Denny’s, I ordered a Grand Slam Slugger, an Ultimate Omelette, a Santa Fe Skillet, and a side of french toast.
At IHOP, I ordered a breakfast sampler, a Spicy Poblano Omelette, a Southwest Scramble, French toast, orange juice, and coffee.
Denny’s Grand Slam Slugger consists of hash browns, two eggs done any way, two slices of bacon, two sausages, a side of pancakes, and a choice of two drinks. I chose coffee and orange juice.
I’d ordered my eggs sunny-side-up, but they came scrambled. Oh well. The scrambled eggs tasted eggy and real but were slightly overcooked. They were better than I expected, though.
The hash browns had a nice crunchy layer on the outside but were kind of undercooked inside. They were fine, but a little too salty, and they tasted like they’d been frozen not long ago.
The bacon was tough and hard, and ultimately uninspiring. It tasted baked.
The sausage was by far the most disappointing actor in the dish. It was squishy, soft, watery, and flavourless. It tasted like the marriage between a freezer and a microwave.
Denny’s isn’t exactly known for its pancakes. But then again, what is Denny’s known for?
These came with a dollop of whipped butter and a glass bottle of what tasted a lot like supermarket bottled syrup.
They were tough to cut into, so I wasn’t surprised to find that they had a very rubbery texture that was had to swallow.
The coffee at Denny’s was honestly some of the worst I’ve had in a while. It was simultaneously burnt to oblivion yet weak and watery. I had no desire to take a second sip.
The orange juice was sour and watered down from concentrate, but inoffensive. I actually prefer orange juice to be less sweet, although I did feel like Denny’s cheaped out with this one.
If I had an urgent pancake craving, these would scratch the itch, but just barely.
IHOP’s breakfast sampler comes with hash browns, two eggs any way, two slices of bacon, two sausages, two cuts of ham, and a side of pancakes. Drinks are not included.
My sunny-side-up eggs came sunny-side-up. They were runny and dippable and had a faint ring of crisp around the edges.
IHOP’s hash browns were on another level from Denny’s. They were crispy outside and soft and moist inside. There was definitely some onion powder action going on because these were savoury and delicious by themselves.
The bacon at IHOP tasted a lot more real, although it was still pretty thin and chewy. It did have the umami burst of fatty flavour that one craves from bacon.
The sausage was juicy, spicy, and flavorful. It put Denny’s sausage to shame.
The ham was just ham. Not bad, but also not my favourite thing on the plate.
IHOP is called the “International House of Pancakes,” which means that pancakes ought to be its best dish.
Tables come stocked with four kinds of syrup: strawberry, blueberry, butter pecan, and old fashioned. I went with old fashioned.
Ihop’s old fashioned syrup has a distinct maple flavour to it, which distinguished it from Denny’s corn syrup-tasting counterpart.
Now these are pancakes. Fluffy, soft, and buttery, IHOP’s pancakes are the meaning of life, the universe, and everything on a Sunday morning. They’re not the best pancakes I’ve ever had, but they’re much better than Denny’s.
IHOP’s coffee, unfortunately, wasn’t much better than Denny’s. It was also a burnt dark roast with a sour body.
IHOP’s orange juice, on the other hand, was an order of magnitude better than Denny’s. It was comparatively sweet, fruity, and non-bitter. So: like normal orange juice from concentrate.
Next, I moved onto the Ultimate Omelette at Denny’s.
The omelette was by far the best thing that I tried at Denny’s.
The fillings worked well with the egg to create a balanced, satisfying dish with a well-rounded flavour.
Nothing on the plate was extraordinary, but together, the tomato, bacon, onion, mushroom, and red pepper joined forces for a very acceptable omelette. My only complaint was that the egg was again slightly overcooked.
Ihop’s Spicy Poblano Omelette is a lot more dressed up. It even comes topped with poblano cream, which vaguely resembles hollandaise. There’s an avocado half on top, as well as roasted red peppers and onions, shredded beef, and two-cheese blend on top and inside.
Its poblano peppers add a formidable heat that isn’t to be trifled with.
This omelette is soft, moist, and way too heavy for my taste. The beef is incredibly salty, and the cheese and cream together are a lot.
It tasted good, but I could feel my arteries solidifying with each bite.
An omelette at IHOP comes with a choice of sides. For an extra $US2.99, I upgraded my side to flavour pancakes. My server recommended the Mexican Churro Pancakes, which are cinnamon-infused pancakes covered in a cinnamon spread, cream cheese icing, mini-churros, and whipped cream.
This was lust at first sight and love at first bite. They were sugar, spice, and everything nice.
The churros on top were crispy, the pancakes and sauce were hot, and the cinnamon sauce and cream cheese icing intertwined in a duet of sweet and sour.
If IHOP’s normal pancakes were Salieri, these flavored pancakes were Mozart. After my first bite of these, I felt like I “got” IHOP. These were pancakes. They were (somewhat kind of) international. And they were good.
The Southwest Skillet at Denny’s has chorizo sausage, peppers and onions, cheddar cheese, homestyle potatoes, and eggs.
I’m generally pro-skillet because skillets typically impart an extra layer of crisp to their contents.
However, even though this skillet looked delicious, it somehow managed to be unbelievably bland. The potatoes were chewy, the chorizo salty and flavourless, and the peppers wilted.
My disappointment knew no bounds. How did something that sounded so flavorful end up being so flavourless? At least the eggs were sunny-side-up. The skillet quickly cooked those, though.
At IHOP, the closest equivalent to the Santa Fe Skillet is the Southwest Scramble, which has cheesy scrambled eggs, homestyle potatoes, salsa, and an avocado half. IHOP is really catering to a millennial audience with its liberal use of unsliced avocado halves.
This wasn’t especially impressive. The ingredients were all rather lacklustre, and the homestyle potatoes were dry, if pleasantly spicy.
The scrambled eggs were great, though — cheesy, fluffy, and creamy, they weren’t overcooked like Denny’s were.
The inclusion of salsa was also a nice touch. I like my eggs with a touch of tomato tartness and a peppery kick.
The French toast at Denny’s came with a healthy sprinkle of confectionary sugar and a dollop of whipped butter. I added some syrup too.
The toast, like the pancakes, was hard to cut. It didn’t quite have the eggy tenderness one looks for in a French toast.
In fact, it pretty much just tasted like toast. If I’d wanted toast, I’d have ordered that. But I’d wanted french toast.
IHOP’s french toast came in thick, succulent, eggy slabs. It came with scoops of airy butter and a dollop of whipped cream.
IHOP’s French toast proved to me that, just like French toast isn’t French, Denny’s French toast isn’t French toast.
These were soft, buttery golden triangles of pure eggy, bready bliss. I could see myself ordering these at a fancy Manhattan brunch place on a Sunday splurge.
When all was said and done, I was glad to be leaving Denny’s. If I’d just survived a month on a desert island, I probably wouldn’t say no to a Denny’s omelette. Otherwise, I’d rather take my money elsewhere.
But if I ever crave pancakes and something salty to go with, I know IHOP’s got what I need. IHOP really does do pancakes, and somehow also manages to do everything else pretty well too. The verdict? IHOP all the way.
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