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Grilled beef with sticky rice at Chim Thai Street Food.
Grilled beef with sticky rice at Chim Thai Street Food.
Cathy Chaplin

18 Essential Pasadena Restaurants

French bistro fare, Armenian-style cured meat, and more

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Grilled beef with sticky rice at Chim Thai Street Food.
| Cathy Chaplin

Historically, Pasadena is better known for its idyllic suburban neighborhoods and annual Rose Parade than for its culinary offerings, but scratch beneath the chain restaurants to find plenty of gustatory breadth and depth. With a slew of new openings over the past few years and always-busy standbys scattered around town, Pasadena has quietly become one of the busiest dining scenes anywhere in Southern California. Here now are 18 essential Pasadena restaurants.

Removed: Copa Vida, Garo’s Basturma, Luggage Room, Saso

Added: Chim Thai Street Food, Paper Rice, Top Restaurant

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Su-Beoreg & Monta Factory

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Come into this family-owned shop for two Armenian specialties: su beoreg and sini-monta. Think of su beoreg like a lasagna — layers of thin, house-made dough complemented with feta, mozzarella, and chopped parsley. Buy a whole pan or snag a slice. The sini-monta are open-faced beef dumplings seasoned with sumac and red pepper slathered with spicy pepper paste and a tangy yogurt-based garlic cream sauce. 

A tray of dumplings with yogurt sauce.
Sini-monta
Joshua Lurie

Old Sasoon Bakery

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Opened by Haroutioun Geragosian in 1986, Old Sasoon Bakery is named after the village in Armenia that his grandparents left after World War II. The beorags (savory hand pies) and the lahmajoun (flatbreads) make for perfect on-the-go eating, but sit down for a well-made khachapuri if time allows. This Georgian breakfast staple comes topped with a blend of cheeses, a single runny egg, and a few pats of melted butter — all in a boat-shaped flatbread. 

Khachapuri at Old Sasoon Bakery in Pasadena.
Khachapuri at Old Sasoon Bakery in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Roma Market

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The creation of Roma’s owner Rosario Mazzeo, “The Sandwich” consists of a sturdy Italian roll drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and layered with provolone, mortadella, spiced coppa, and salami. It’s renowned for its simple and satisfying prowess.

The sandwich from Roma Market in Pasadena.
The sandwich from Roma Market in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Rodney's Ribs

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Catch Rodney Jenkins and his smoker-on-wheels Wednesdays through Sundays at the CVS parking lot on North Lake. He’s open for lunch and dinner and serves outstanding pork ribs and beef brisket sandwiches that are smoked on-site.

The brisket at Rodney’s Ribs is served between plush Hawaiian buns with a drizzle of tangy-sweet sauce.
Beef brisket sandwich at Rodney’s Ribs.
Wonho Frank Lee

Namaste Spiceland

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Namaste Spiceland is a grocery store-slash-cafe with a location in Pasadena and another in Thousand Oaks. Sip on a mango lassi while perusing its shelves or better yet, sit down for a casual meal that spans both north and south Indian fare. The shop’s owner recommends the googli paratha.

Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Farley Elliott

A menu chock-full of Thai street food classics rules the roost at Chim. Whether dining in or out, an order of the roti is a must — the flat and flaky bread is served with a spicy curry for dipping. Also terrific is the herbaceous grilled beef served with sticky rice. The seasonal mangos with sticky rice are worth saving room for.

Grilled beef with sticky rice at Chim Thai Street Food.
Grilled beef with sticky rice at Chim Thai Street Food.
Cathy Chaplin

Opened in 2013, Osawa is Pasadena’s go-to for dependable Japanese cooking that spans from sushi to shabu shabu and more. The menu has been in flux in recent years, but rest assured that the ingredients are as good as it gets and the cooking is always skillful.

Bone Kettle

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At Bone Kettle, there’s more marrow and bone broth than diners can shake a stick at. Owner Erwin Tjahyadi offers up salads, fried oxtails, Singapore-style chile-fried lobster, a 36-hour prepared broth with options that include a fatty brisket, and a cold bar with oysters and steak tartare.

Bone Kettle
Bone Kettle’s 36-hour bone beef broth ramen
[Official Photo]

Perle Restaurant

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Dean Yasharian, the longtime executive chef of Chateau Marmont, serves up French bistro fare at this Old Pasadena hot spot. The menu includes standbys like steak tartare and escargot, along with fetching vegetarian spins, like the coq au vin. The tarte tatin is a must-have for dessert.

Escargot at Perle in Pasadena.
Escargot at Perle in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Union Restaurant

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Chef Christopher Keyser prepares some of the best plates of pasta in town. Twisty torchetti comes topped with a spicy Calabrese pork ragu, while the squid ink lumache plays well with Maine lobster and truffle butter.

Torchetti with Calabrese pork ragu at Union in Pasadena.
Torchetti with Calabrese pork ragu at Union in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Maestro Restaurant

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Start with the tacos ahogados, delightful taquitos stuffed with shredded chicken and served in a slurp-able broth, and share the seared scallops served on a bed of huitlacoche (corn smut) rice. A well-made cocktail to sip is an absolute must.

Paper Rice

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There’s never a bad time for Vietnamese spring rolls, salads, and sandwiches. Paper Rice serves a simple menu highlighting the trio of dishes, as well as an option to build-your-own spring rolls and noodle bowls. Nab an order of the xoi chien (fried sticky rice patties filled with ground pork, shrimp, onion, and wood ear mushroom), a Saigon street food rarely seen in these parts.

Top Restaurant

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Located a stone’s throw from Pasadena City College, Top Restaurant brings flavorful Hawaiian and Indonesian cooking to a quieter stretch of Colorado Boulevard. The crisp and golden Indonesian fried chicken is the thing to get, while the Spam musubi never fails to hit the spot.

Me + Crepe

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Vancouver-based mini-chain Me + Crepe is all about the jianbing, one of China’s most popular street foods comprised of paper-thin pancakes stuffed with things like fried eggs and Peking duck.

Wife and husband team Vanessa Tilaka and Thomas Kalb bring together fine cheeses and regional American cooking — taking inspiration from the Midwest, California, and beyond — at Agnes. Grab a seat in the lush 1,200-square-foot patio and dig into cheese and meat boards, scratch-made pastas, and hearth-roasted proteins.

A long eclair-like piece of bread with a wide spread of chicken liver on top, spotted by cherries.
Chicken liver mousse on a cornbread eclair.
Wonho Frank Lee

The Arbour

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The Arbour continues to surprise Pasadena residents who tend to opt for chain restaurants along Lake Avenue. This modern, upscale California stop is instead a delightful one-off date night destination for reliable cocktails, starters, and mains like duck two-ways and seasonal risotto.

Pie 'n Burger

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Pasadena notoriously claims to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger, and while the truth of such things is lost to history, there is no denying the enduring prominence of Pie ‘n Burger. A legend since 1963, this diner turned ode to all things burgers continues to turn out impeccable California classics, complete with special sauce and lightly melted American cheese.

Lucky Boy

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No list of places to eat in Pasadena would be complete without the inclusion of Lucky Boy, Pasadena’s after-hours greasy spoon takeout with a killer breakfast burrito. What’s really remarkable is Lucky Boy’s hours — in a city where everything closes early, it’s one of the few spots that draws out the night owls.

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Su-Beoreg & Monta Factory

Come into this family-owned shop for two Armenian specialties: su beoreg and sini-monta. Think of su beoreg like a lasagna — layers of thin, house-made dough complemented with feta, mozzarella, and chopped parsley. Buy a whole pan or snag a slice. The sini-monta are open-faced beef dumplings seasoned with sumac and red pepper slathered with spicy pepper paste and a tangy yogurt-based garlic cream sauce. 

A tray of dumplings with yogurt sauce.
Sini-monta
Joshua Lurie

Old Sasoon Bakery

Opened by Haroutioun Geragosian in 1986, Old Sasoon Bakery is named after the village in Armenia that his grandparents left after World War II. The beorags (savory hand pies) and the lahmajoun (flatbreads) make for perfect on-the-go eating, but sit down for a well-made khachapuri if time allows. This Georgian breakfast staple comes topped with a blend of cheeses, a single runny egg, and a few pats of melted butter — all in a boat-shaped flatbread. 

Khachapuri at Old Sasoon Bakery in Pasadena.
Khachapuri at Old Sasoon Bakery in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Roma Market

The creation of Roma’s owner Rosario Mazzeo, “The Sandwich” consists of a sturdy Italian roll drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and layered with provolone, mortadella, spiced coppa, and salami. It’s renowned for its simple and satisfying prowess.

The sandwich from Roma Market in Pasadena.
The sandwich from Roma Market in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Rodney's Ribs

Catch Rodney Jenkins and his smoker-on-wheels Wednesdays through Sundays at the CVS parking lot on North Lake. He’s open for lunch and dinner and serves outstanding pork ribs and beef brisket sandwiches that are smoked on-site.

The brisket at Rodney’s Ribs is served between plush Hawaiian buns with a drizzle of tangy-sweet sauce.
Beef brisket sandwich at Rodney’s Ribs.
Wonho Frank Lee

Namaste Spiceland

Namaste Spiceland is a grocery store-slash-cafe with a location in Pasadena and another in Thousand Oaks. Sip on a mango lassi while perusing its shelves or better yet, sit down for a casual meal that spans both north and south Indian fare. The shop’s owner recommends the googli paratha.

Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Daily lunch combo from Namaste Spiceland in Pasadena.
Farley Elliott

Chim!

A menu chock-full of Thai street food classics rules the roost at Chim. Whether dining in or out, an order of the roti is a must — the flat and flaky bread is served with a spicy curry for dipping. Also terrific is the herbaceous grilled beef served with sticky rice. The seasonal mangos with sticky rice are worth saving room for.

Grilled beef with sticky rice at Chim Thai Street Food.
Grilled beef with sticky rice at Chim Thai Street Food.
Cathy Chaplin

Osawa

Opened in 2013, Osawa is Pasadena’s go-to for dependable Japanese cooking that spans from sushi to shabu shabu and more. The menu has been in flux in recent years, but rest assured that the ingredients are as good as it gets and the cooking is always skillful.

Bone Kettle

At Bone Kettle, there’s more marrow and bone broth than diners can shake a stick at. Owner Erwin Tjahyadi offers up salads, fried oxtails, Singapore-style chile-fried lobster, a 36-hour prepared broth with options that include a fatty brisket, and a cold bar with oysters and steak tartare.

Bone Kettle
Bone Kettle’s 36-hour bone beef broth ramen
[Official Photo]

Perle Restaurant

Dean Yasharian, the longtime executive chef of Chateau Marmont, serves up French bistro fare at this Old Pasadena hot spot. The menu includes standbys like steak tartare and escargot, along with fetching vegetarian spins, like the coq au vin. The tarte tatin is a must-have for dessert.

Escargot at Perle in Pasadena.
Escargot at Perle in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Union Restaurant

Chef Christopher Keyser prepares some of the best plates of pasta in town. Twisty torchetti comes topped with a spicy Calabrese pork ragu, while the squid ink lumache plays well with Maine lobster and truffle butter.

Torchetti with Calabrese pork ragu at Union in Pasadena.
Torchetti with Calabrese pork ragu at Union in Pasadena.
Cathy Chaplin

Maestro Restaurant

Start with the tacos ahogados, delightful taquitos stuffed with shredded chicken and served in a slurp-able broth, and share the seared scallops served on a bed of huitlacoche (corn smut) rice. A well-made cocktail to sip is an absolute must.

Paper Rice

There’s never a bad time for Vietnamese spring rolls, salads, and sandwiches. Paper Rice serves a simple menu highlighting the trio of dishes, as well as an option to build-your-own spring rolls and noodle bowls. Nab an order of the xoi chien (fried sticky rice patties filled with ground pork, shrimp, onion, and wood ear mushroom), a Saigon street food rarely seen in these parts.

Top Restaurant

Located a stone’s throw from Pasadena City College, Top Restaurant brings flavorful Hawaiian and Indonesian cooking to a quieter stretch of Colorado Boulevard. The crisp and golden Indonesian fried chicken is the thing to get, while the Spam musubi never fails to hit the spot.

Me + Crepe

Vancouver-based mini-chain Me + Crepe is all about the jianbing, one of China’s most popular street foods comprised of paper-thin pancakes stuffed with things like fried eggs and Peking duck.

Agnes

Wife and husband team Vanessa Tilaka and Thomas Kalb bring together fine cheeses and regional American cooking — taking inspiration from the Midwest, California, and beyond — at Agnes. Grab a seat in the lush 1,200-square-foot patio and dig into cheese and meat boards, scratch-made pastas, and hearth-roasted proteins.

A long eclair-like piece of bread with a wide spread of chicken liver on top, spotted by cherries.
Chicken liver mousse on a cornbread eclair.
Wonho Frank Lee

Related Maps

The Arbour

The Arbour continues to surprise Pasadena residents who tend to opt for chain restaurants along Lake Avenue. This modern, upscale California stop is instead a delightful one-off date night destination for reliable cocktails, starters, and mains like duck two-ways and seasonal risotto.

Pie 'n Burger

Pasadena notoriously claims to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger, and while the truth of such things is lost to history, there is no denying the enduring prominence of Pie ‘n Burger. A legend since 1963, this diner turned ode to all things burgers continues to turn out impeccable California classics, complete with special sauce and lightly melted American cheese.

Lucky Boy

No list of places to eat in Pasadena would be complete without the inclusion of Lucky Boy, Pasadena’s after-hours greasy spoon takeout with a killer breakfast burrito. What’s really remarkable is Lucky Boy’s hours — in a city where everything closes early, it’s one of the few spots that draws out the night owls.

Related Maps