USA Today 10Best - Pasadena’s Top 10 Restaurants Take Diners Around the Globe
USA Today 10Best | By: Jenny Peters | August, 1, 2019
Pasadena is one of L.A.’s oldest towns, incorporated in 1886. It soon became a resort center, with vacationers flocking from across the United States to visit in the winter months, when the city’s weather is just perfect. It remains an important stop on any traveler’s SoCal visit, with the famed Rose Bowl college football clash happening annually on January 1, right after the world-renowned Tournament of Roses Parade (which began in 1890) held that morning. But no matter what time of year you visit Pasadena, there are plenty of delicious options for dining in this city nestled at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. And despite the perception that Pasadena is a bastion of upper-class white America, it is actually a reflection of the real America, a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures that is beautifully reflected in its restaurants. From longtime favorites like the Parkway Grill to more recent top-notch additions like The Arbour and Osawa, Pasadena’s dining choices are an eclectic melange of tastes that span the globe. Plus, getting there is half the fun, as Pasadena is the home to the winding Arroyo Seco Freeway (the 110), the very first freeway in the U.S
10. The Raymond 1886
The Raymond 1886 is a cool Pasadena eatery that’s tucked away in a spot you might not notice. Once the caretaker’s cottage for The Raymond, a massive grand hotel built in 1886, it is the only thing left of those halcyon days. Now it’s a hoppin’ joint, with homey inside restaurant/bar space, an outdoor dinner garden and a separate convivial outside bar. Chef Jon Hung presents a wide range of tastes with an Asian bent, from a crazy good tomato and burrata salad with a luscious balsamic drizzle to a grilled octopus al pastor served with pineapple and caramelized jicama that just melts in your mouth. You can make a meal of his “Quick Bites” like those or go full force with a pan roasted cod in a miso broth that’s studded with onions and oyster mushrooms or perhaps dig into a seared pork chop drenched in a katsu jus.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: A winning combination of atmosphere and fine food make The Raymond 1886 an excellent choice for a fun evening in Pasadena.
Jenny’s expert tip: Try some of the specialty cocktails, that hearken back to the original days of The Raymond 1886.
9. Alexander’s Steakhouse
Alexander’s Steakhouse is a high-end restaurant that specializes in beef, both classic U.S.D.A. offerings like Black Angus steak, Omaha steak and prime rib, as well as A5 Wagyu imported from Japan. The Wagyu is sold in three-ounce portion increments, sourced from Miyazaki, Hokkaido and other Japanese farms, with prices starting at $115 per portion. Like any good steakhouse, there are decadent sauces (try the béarnaise) and side dishes (which are only meant to feed one person). The real winner here actually isn’t the steak, however, it’s the hamachi shots. Those delicate layered bites combine raw yellowtail, avocado, ponzu, Fresno chili and more, melding into an explosion of distinct flavors as you throw back the shot glass. Be careful, however, as there’s a lot in each little glass. Another unexpected winner is the organic greens salad, where gushy burrata and creamy avocado all meld with a yuzu dressing.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: An excellent wine list pairs with an impressive selection of Wagyu steak choices at this beef connoisseur’s haven.
Jenny’s expert tip: Park under the building and Alexander’s will validate your ticket.
8. Bone Kettle
Bone Kettle’s claim to fame is their Indonesian noodles and bone broth, which comes in various iterations including top sirloin, ginger seared chicken, braised ox tails, fatty brisket or crispy tempeh (in a vegan broth). Chef/owner Erwin Tjahyadi makes Bone Kettle a family affair (look for his dad taking care of things front of the house) and uses family recipes as well. The beef bone broth is cooked for 36 hours, giving it a unique Asian flavor. There’s more on the menu, too, ranging from raw oysters to steak tartare, chicken satay and plump ox tail dumplings. Be sure to order the clams & donuts for a savory blend of pepper and chili juxtaposed with puffy fried dough, for while Bone Kettle may be known for its bone broth, the sauce that goes with this dish is fabulous. Dip that dough and enjoy.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: One of Pasadena’s best ethnic restaurants, this is a place that draws foodies of every cultural background that join in the love of bone broth.
Jenny’s expert tip: Make a reservation to guarantee your table, as this place is very popular and not very large.
7. Maestro Pasadena
For Mexican food with a flair, Maestro Pasadena’s the place. Start with a jalapeño martini and pair it with their guacamole served with crisp plantain chips, then move on to some spicy fried calamari presented with a roasted bell pepper puree. That’s a different take on the traditional, as are the Tacos Ahogados, which are more like a variation of a taquito than a taco, stuffed with free-range chicken and fried. You’ll also find empanadas stuffed with shrimp and octopus; delicate Branzino served over a corn puree; mole chicken; and ceviche on this south-of-the-border menu that roams around Mexico for inspiration. If a smoky mezcal is to your taste, Maestro has a special collection on hand; try the artisanal batch of Respiral made by Reina Sanchez for a smooth taste sensation.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: An upscale take on classic Mexican dishes, Maestro also has an extensive collection of unique tequilas and mezcals.
Jenny’s expert tip: Make a date for Taco Tuesday and you’ll discover Maestro’s special selection of that Mexican favorite, done with corn tortillas.
6. True Food Kitchen Pasadena
True Food Kitchen is a culinary phenomenon, an idea that began in Phoenix and quickly spread. The Pasadena outpost is a perfect example of the chain’s success, a place where really good food is offered in a comfortable, casual environment with both indoor and outdoor seating. With a conscious effort to make nutritious dishes taste fabulous, they have succeeded admirably. With a menu filled with organic and ethically sourced ingredients that ranges from dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo gluten free and just downright delicious (their chicken sausage pizza is outrageously good), True Food Kitchen really does have something for everyone. Their poke bowl is filled with wild-caught albacore, avocado, cashews and turmeric, a melange of wonderful flavors. There’s grass-fed steak tacos, a spicy Panang curry bowl and even a “T.L.T,” a smoked tempeh, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich that is just as satisfying as a BLT. With a full bar as well as “refreshers” like Kale Ade and Health Ade Kombucha, this place has it all.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: Eating healthy food that is actually delicious, too, is an easy feat at True Food Kitchen.
Jenny’s expert tip: Take a close look at the menu and you’ll actually know the calorie count of the meal you’re eating.
5. Parkway Grill
Parkway Grill has been one of Pasadena’s favorite high-end eateries since opening in 1984. With an inviting, large space anchored by piano bar on one end and the nearby open kitchen, the restaurant is a bustling culinary center. The menu boasts signature dishes that have stood the test of time, so newcomers should definitely lean toward those. Try the vegetarian black bean soup for starters, a thick, tasty puree with a slight zing created by the added tomatillos. Signature main courses include braised short ribs, pan roasted Scottish salmon or a whole ginger fried catfish; and the “grill” part of Parkway Grill features U.S.D.A. prime beef in various cuts. Seasonal specials might include duck breast with pear or lobster salad with mango, green beans and lemongrass, inventive dishes with elements often sourced from the restaurant’s organic garden. No matter what your fancy, be sure to share a plate of the heritage pork Ragu alla Boglognese, for that is not to be missed.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: A Pasadena classic that continues to serve up meals to remember.
Jenny’s expert tip: Settle in at the bar for dinner, where a convivial atmosphere (including a live piano player) adds to the fun of your meal.
4. Union Pasadena
Union Pasadena packs a mighty punch in a small space, as this 50-seat Northern Italian restaurant in Old Pasadena serves up unexpected taste pairings as well as traditional favorites. With an ever-changing menu that sources seasonal, local ingredients, Chef Chris Keyser creates delicious dishes by leading a kitchen that does its own butchering, makes its own pasta and uses the freshest vegetables. The result features choices like perfectly charred octopus drizzled in a lobster jus and sparked with Fresno chili or luscious wild mushrooms sautéed with sherry vinegar. And that’s just for starters. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the squid ink lumache, a house-made, black shell-shaped pasta enhanced with Maine lobster and truffle butter. Try main courses like pork chop peperonata or lamb al latte and be sure to ask for Italian wine-pairing suggestions, for Union has a fascinating list of choices sourced from many regions of La Bella Italia.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: Creative tastes, an easygoing casual vibe and an eclectic, rotating menu make Union a culinary adventure on every visit.
Jenny’s expert tip: Reserve the chef’s table for two, a cozy spot facing the bar that makes you feel like you’re in the kitchen’s catbird seat.
3. Mint Leaf
If you are looking for top-notch Indian cuisine, the Mint Leaf in Pasadena is the place to be. Entering the exotic space, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped right into a Mumbai eatery, with its golden lamps, dark leather banquettes, red tapestry chairs and burnished wood floors. Under the helm of Chef Jayanta Paul, the Mint Leaf offers everything from perfectly cooked Garlic Naan (be sure to try the Mozzarella and Pine Nuts Naan, too) to lusciously spiced dishes including a sensational Goan Salmon Curry and a classic Chicken Vindaloo. Start with an order of Shrimp Pakoras, dip them into accompanying the fragrant mint sauce and you’re on your way to a wonderful meal. Finish up with the unexpectedly sweet Carrot Halwa Pudding for dessert with its fragrant cardamom spice and you’re sure to be planning your next visit as you pay the very reasonably priced bill.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: Amazingly flavorful dishes served up in a lovely setting make the Mint Leaf a wonderful Indian destination.
Jenny’s expert tip: Go with a group so you can order plenty of dishes, eat family style and share all the flavors.
Osawa is Pasadena’s exemplary Japanese eatery, helmed by famed Executive Chef Shigefumi Tachibe, is a true delight. Tachibe helmed the illustrious Chaya group of restaurants in L.A. for over 30 years, finally moving on to open his family-centric Osawa in the heart of Pasadena. Working with his wife Sayuri Tachibe and their children, too, the chef has let his imagination fly in this casual neighborhood place. Standouts include the Yellowtail Carpaccio with Garlic Jalapeno Ponzu; the Ahi Tuna Tataki with avocado and popped rice; and any of the perfectly fried tempura dishes. We let Chef Tachibe and his family choose their favorites for us and every dish was truly spectacular. He even has sushi and rolls that will surprise and delight lifelong lovers of those Japanese specialties.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: This family-run Japanese restaurant makes you feel right at home, then serves up some of the best sushi, sashimi and cooked seafood dishes in town.
Jenny’s expert tip: Choose your dishes from the Osawa Daily Specials menu for the freshest, most mind-bogglingly good Japanese delicacies you have ever eaten.
1. The Arbour Pasadena
The Arbour is doing everything right, from its welcoming front room with large-screened windows sending in cool breezes in the summer and a cozy fireplace burning real wood when the slight chill of winter sets in. With Nancy Grezik overseeing the front of the house and her husband, Chef Ian Grezik, taking care of the cooking, The Arbour dining experience is sublime. Everything is beautifully plated, for starters. Begin with the melt-in-your-mouth appetizers like the Bison Steak Tartare served with a “Fresno chili stamp,” little dots of spice decorating the plate and bringing a zing to the dish. Then continue with one of Grazik’s sublime main courses. We love the Seared Yellowfin Tuna, served on a crispy garlic rice cake with a smear of avocado. Save room for the Baked California, an oozy delight of frozen almond ice cream covered in gorgeously soft meringue that they set on fire.
Recommended for Pasadena’s Best Restaurants because: The Arbour is Pasadena’s top eatery, combining a lovely setting, beautifully presented dishes and incredible culinary flavors into a complete winner.
Jenny’s expert tip: Free parking is available in the back of the restaurant on Hudson Avenue in “The Arbour Building” lot.