Greater Pasadena diners see an explosion of new and exciting eateries


When I started at the Pasadena Weekly in 1984 a friend gave me a T-shirt inscribed “So Many Restaurants; So Little Time.” Back then, the statement was largely aspirational. Restaurants in our neck of the woods were for the most part traditional, and I spent much of my first years on the job reviewing places that had been in operation much longer than the Weekly itself.

But we were on the cusp of a restaurant revolution. Thai, Australian, Japanese, Russian, regional Chinese and Mexican, dim sum, Indonesian, Indian, Greek, Ethiopian, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Argentinean, Peruvian, Burmese, Filippino, Irish, Canadian and that most inventive of cuisines “Fusion”  mushroomed up from the mid- ’80s on. And now, my (alas) somewhat tighter T-shirt speaks the truth.

The incredible proliferation of exciting dining establishments has made coverage ever more challenging. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But, almost every week there’s a tough choice of recently opened restaurants vying for attention, way more than you can shake a fork or chopstick at.

And speaking of chopsticks, the number of Asian noodle emporia has risen sharply. To mention just a few: Japanese (Tatsunoya in Pasadena, Tengoku in Arcadia, Modan in Eagle Rock and South Pasadena), Chinese (Lao Xi in San Gabriel), Vietnamese (Saigon Noodle House in Pasadena, AJ Noodles in Glendale), Indonesian (Borneo Kalimantan in Alhambra, Bone Kettle in Pasadena) — the passion for pasta seems never-ending.

A sampling of recent reviews demonstrates diversity. We’ve featured three unusual bakeries — Katie’s (specializing in gluten-free products) and Seed (grinding its own antique grains) in Pasadena and Mr. Holmes’ (sushi pastries, anyone?) in Highland Park. There’ve been several Asian fusion features, e.g. Pasadena’s Bistro Mon Cheri (meatballs filled with chocolate lava) and Bone Kettle (ube gnocchi with duck confit in coconut sauce). FYI, Sierra Fusion in Sierra Madre handily won the Weekly’s Best New Restaurant award last year. A must try!

Shared plate places are really in. Foodies can gorge on soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia or Glendale, on gourmet dim sum at Lunasia in Alhambra or Pasadena, exquisite Mexican at Maestro in Pasadena), Italian fusion cicchetti at Bacari in Glendale, split huge Southern Indian dosa of various kinds at Pasadena’s Annapurna and treat themselves to spectacular Spanish tapas at Pasadena’s Racion.

South American: Brazilian churrascarias (Porto Alegre in Pasadena and Gauchos Village in Glendale), Venezuelan sandwiches and chocolate creations at Old Town’s Amara and Peruvian at Choza 96 in Old Town and Lola’s and Mamita’s in Glendale. Korea is well represented (e.g., Chris’ Korean BBQ in Pasadena, Oo-Kook in Arcadia, Kim’s Kitchen in Glendale). Even Canadian poutine can be had at Spudds in Pasadena and Montrose. And poke is almost as ubiquitous as pizza.

There’s more to come. In Pasadena, Danny Trejo just opened a cantina next door to the Pasadena Playhouse. There’s a new Hunanese restaurant coming to Green Street; and has anyone noticed the sign over the shell of Pasadena’s La Fiesta Grande stating “Coming Soon Japenese (sic) Noodles?” 51 Tavern in Highland Park is being transformed into something Frenchy. And after a 75-year history in San Marino, Twohey’s is planning a tavern (with sundaes?) in East Pasadena.

What’s hot in haute? Union, Maestro, Lost at Sea, Alma de la Rosa, Alexander’s and Sushi Enya (specializing in omakase) in Pasadena; Bacari, Bourbon Steak, Sushi Sasabune in Glendale and Trattoria Allegria in Montrose; Little Beast and Red Herring in Eagle Rock; Crossings in South Pasadena; Café Birdie in Highland Park; Flintridge Proper and Maple in La Cañada Flintridge; and Monkey Bar in Arcadia.

Oldsters — including Pasadena’s Parkway Grill, Celestino, Racion, Bistro 45 and Green Street Tavern, South Pasadena’s Shiro, Glendale’s Raffi’s Place and Arcadia’s Derby — are also thriving.

As for culinary casual? Juicy Wingz, a new joint in East Pasadena, may attempt to challenge Slater’s (my Old Town favorite). Colette, a recently opened breakfast and lunch place adjacent to Hastings Ranch, has fabulous churro French toast. Cindy’s, the Eagle Rock diner, whips up Southern/Creole cuisine (shrimp and grits is a big seller!). Nori Sushi Wraps in South Pasadena gets raves as do Glendale’s K Ramen, Sabz & Olive and Central Grille and Spireworks (“doner American style”) in Eagle Rock.

We’ve reported on “Impossible Meat” and “Beyond Meat” burgers (at Umami and Veggie Grill) and the swell of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, but desire for beef and pork doesn’t seem to be waning. High-end steak houses, noisy burger bars and barbecue of all kinds are as popular as ever. So is fried chicken — finding its way onto more and more menus as perched on waffles, tucked into burritos, tacos, salads, sandwiches and even (not sure about this one!) pizzas.

So, here’s my advice to gourmets and gourmands of all stripes. Indeed, there are so many restaurants and so little time! Delight in the panoply but take heed, carpe diem, get out there and EAT!