Pasadena, California has the unique advantage of being just a stone's throw from Los Angeles proper, with enough distance that it feels more suburban. At the heart of the city is Old Pasadena, a district of restaurants and shops that house some great dining options for those who will be attending the upcoming 2016 Copa America Centenario matches at the Rose Bowl. Here are some of the city's more notable restaurants alongside some of the best cheap eats.Read More
The Essential Pasadena Restaurants
How to dine like a local for the 2016 Copa America Centanario
Union is virtually the perfect neighborhood Italian gastropub, but Bruce Kalman's cooking bares its ambitions. From a neatly sauced spaghetti alla chitarra that packs a nice kick to those massive hunks of porchetta that seem to sell out before closing on a daily basis, Kalman plays the right standards while incorporating seasonal whimsy — pappardelle bathed in rich oxtail ragu with gremolata comes to mind — that practically sings in the sweater season.
Chef Teresa Montano puts out a lean, deftly balanced tapas (snacks) and racion (portions) program at this sleek Pasadena eatery that's gotten props from critics Jonathan Gold and Besha Rodell. Standouts include those little beef tongue panuelos finished with a little horseradish, and the magnificent beer-braised octopus with chorizo.
If Houston's could only be described in one word, that word would be "thoughtful." Service at a Hillstone restaurant is one of those things that need to be experienced to be fully appreciated. The servers are so perfectly unobtrusive, prompt and detail-oriented that it almost seems robotic — until you engage them in conversation, and then they become immediately warm and engaging. Intimate acoustics and thoughtfully designed interiors couple with comfortable furniture to create a true user-experience marvel of a restaurant space. The menu is short but still manages to have something for everyone. Ding's Crispy Chicken Sandwich is particularly notable, a perfectly crisped chicken breast between simple condiments and fixings, wrapped in that perfect, plush, sesame-seeded bun and cut into mouth-fitting thirds. And don't wrinkle your nose at the sushi on the menu; the nigiri takes generous slices of fresh fish and drapes them over properly formed sushi rice. Calling Houston's one of Pasadena's best restaurants isn't a backhanded compliment — it's a statement about a local mainstay that invokes envy by those who've had the pleasure of dining there.
Pie 'n Burger
Pie 'N Burger is the functionalist yin to The Apple Pan's traditionalist yang, which is a shame because to drive from one to the other would take about an hour without traffic (somebody's definitely done this before). But it's worth it to try it if you're in town: A proper double-helping of that inimitable, Maillard-crusted patty is still the essential component of one of, if not the best, old-fashioned hamburgers in Los Angeles, period.
Lunasia Dim Sum House
The Downtown Pasadena offshoot of the San Gabriel Valley mainstay doesn't lose anything in translation here. The shrimp har gao are just as plump and massive (and perfectly pleated), the siu mai still practically bursting at its pale golden skins with pork and shrimp. It's pricey, but the portions are generous — so choose wisely.
Euro Pane Bakery
The open-faced egg salad sandwich is still as reliable a light lunch as it's ever been, and the bakery with the great breads and quiches remains one of the better spots to grab a quick bite or spoil your sweet tooth.
Technically this is the Boiling Point Concept Store, which either makes it more hip, more accessible, more limited in scope of menu, or all three. It's hot pot done with flavor elements derived from Japanese, Korean and even Thai cuisines, replete with a hipper-than-thou pricing model and awkward communal seating. Given all this, is it a legitimate hot pot experience? You betcha. If you're hankering for an after-meal cold brew oolong tea or boba, be sure to stop by Jin Tea House next door.
Pie Life Pizza
Everyone's favorite walk-up pizza window is still killing the game, still serving up Pasadena's best crunchy-crusted, airy slices of pizza excellence next door to a coffee shop. If you don't know, now you know.
Roma Market Italian Deli
Sure there are sandwiches at Roma Market, but Rosario Mazzeo would probably prefer you just ordered The Sandwich. Yes, capitalized. The Sandwich is a nice little mix of mortadella, salami, provolone, olive oil and sea salt on your choice of bread (I favor the ciabatta) and yes, the meats are on-point and The Sandwich is amazing as-billed. By the way, it's around five bucks.
Himalayan Cafe has one of the best South Asian lunch buffets for around $10-$12, and it's also great a la carte at dinner. If the Mo Mo's are available, make sure to order some: Chicken dumplings strongly resemble Japanese potstickers in an interesting South Asian take on an East Asian favorite.
The Royce: Wood-Fired Steakhouse
El Pollo Unico
Harlowe's French Dip
Lucky Boy Drive-In Restaurant
President Thai Restaurant
Bhanu's Indian Grocery & Cuisine
Connal's Burgers, Salads & Subs
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