By Luke Netzley
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
Beneath a rainbow of fluttering flags sits a red brick courtyard where diners can sample the rich spices and flavors of the Yucatan, or travel down the road to a lantern-lit taverna and feel the warmth of a Mediterranean night.
Mosey around the corner to an upscale rooftop bar to enjoy a glass of California wine under the stars. Home to a diverse set of vibrant restaurants and bars, the streets of Pasadena are full of culinary wonders waiting to be explored.
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing social distancing restrictions, Pasadena’s restaurants have had to adapt to radical changes in the way they operate. Though not entirely innovative, outdoor dining has become a widely popular way for these restaurants to remain open, to survive the financial devastations of the pandemic, and to give customers a memorable dining experience.
Take Café Santorini, for instance, a Mediterranean restaurant nestled in the alleys of Old Town with a cozy second-story patio and a menu so authentic guests can practically feel the cool breeze of the Aegean. From kebobs to mezze plates and pastas, guests can find a wide array of Greek comfort food classics in this quaint hideaway. The restaurant’s balcony overlooks the lively One Colorado, where locals and visitors alike frequent the eclectic collection of shops and roam across the charming courtyard.
Sharing the courtyard with Café Santorini is an eatery with a much different menu, yet still beloved by guests. Sage Plant Based Bistro & Brewery was founded by successful film producer and chef Mollie Engelhart and opened its doors to the heart of Old Town in 2011. Sage’s menu consists of handheld classics such as street tacos and burgers, along with customer favorites like its buffalo cauliflower pizza and butternut squash ravioli, all with a special twist: They’re all made with GMO-free vegan ingredients.
The restaurant sources 90% of its produce from local farmers who help sustain their mission to provide customers with sustainable, organic, plant-based food that is as delicious as it is ethical. Sage also produces artisanal beer from its women-owned and -operated breweries across the Los Angeles area from seasonal farm-to-table ingredients.
From one establishment that values authentic cuisine to another, a mile’s trip down the road from One Colorado stands Pasadena’s home for traditional Yucatecan gastronomy: El Portal. Home of the Yucatán Trio and beloved enchiladas de mole, El Portal invites guests to sample the rich and complex flavors of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula under the colorful paper garlands of its outdoor patio. For those tired of typical Latin cuisine, the regional specialties at this rustic eatery will not disappoint.
It’s often said that there are few finer pleasures in this life than a smooth glass of Malbec, especially if it’s with good company at Granville’s rooftop bar. The romanticism of a dinner beneath the night sky is unmatched. For a moment the whole world fades away until all that’s left is the rooftop, the stars, and the myriad of colorful cocktails hand-crafted before your very eyes. Despite offering indoor dining, it’s Granville’s patio fills up night after night with guests eager to dig into the sustainably sourced gourmet sharing platters and exquisite wine list with selections from Italy, France, Germany, New Zealand, and, of course, California.
Though the pandemic has forced communities around the world to put many parts of regular life on hold, the restauranteurs of Pasadena have still been able to welcome customers to their doors, if not inside them. These businesses have gone above and beyond to survive for the community they serve and have shown that even in a locked down world they can still offer guests a dining experience to remember.