A – Appetizers
Almost as important as a good meal is a stellar appetizer menu. Whether out of indecisiveness or a smaller appetite, I love skipping out on entrees and instead ordering several shareable starters. Sierra Fusion offers a great variety in starters from empanadas to chicken pot pie and crispy rice. Granville boasts some of the best flatbread options and their bacon cheeseburger, and Maestro scores on modern Mexican with a tamale and tacos ahogados — crispy taquitos with fixings.
B – Bottomless (Mimosas)
The theme was going to be Brunch for “B” and as I was writing, realized the best part about it is the bottomless mimosas anyway, so here we are. Luckily, Edwin Mills by the Equator is in the heart of Old Pasadena and has the best bottomless mimosa menu. Just $18 will get you two hours of specialty mimosas like pomegranate, peach raspberry, lychee, and a morning you might not remember drinking them.
C – Chicken
In the last year there has been a wave of new, trendy restaurants for chicken lovers of all kinds. Chicken is no longer associated with being dry and bland, served with a side of vegetables. Restaurants are now claiming it as a specialty, serving exciting, spicy and deep-fried dishes of goodness, many of which have been covered in PW. From Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, Blazin’ Hot Chicken, which excels in spice, and Daddy’s Chicken Shack, which creates a homey feel with sliders, to Crack Shack, a more rowdy experience that offers some of the best fried chicken and beer, Pasadena is clearly prepared to satisfy all tastes.
D – Date Night
Pasadena is one of the best places to go on a date night, with its endless choices of great restaurants (casual and fine dining), bars, breweries, nightlife, museums, and theaters — all within a 20-block radius. Just take a stroll down Colorado Boulevard on a Friday night and you’ll know the right place when you see it.
E – Entertainment
There is also no shortage of entertainment in Pasadena. The Pasadena Civic Auditorium hosts shows like “The Nutcracker,” the Convention Center is home to all kinds of expos, and the Rose Bowl has seen the likes of Beyonce, The Rolling Stones, and some of the biggest sports events, including FIFA World Cup Finals, Summer Olympics matches, and five Super Bowls.
F – Friends
Not all bars are created equal. Some have scant seating room, high table tops only, a sad attempt at a bar menu, or not a good enough beer selection. King’s Row Gastropub gets it. With an outdoor patio, ample seating inside, arcade games to enjoy, and some of the friendliest bartenders you’ll ever meet, you’ll want to bring your friends and never leave.
G – Grandiose
One of the best things about Pasadena’s favorite burrito at Lucky Boy is its size. Just about every review about it raves about the enormous portions before they get around to how great it tastes. Easily shareable, or split between two meals, Lucky Boy’s burritos are one of the most indulgent meals you can have — and not regret a single bite.
H – Home
Nothing beats a restaurant that is so cozy that it evokes the feeling of enjoying a meal at home. The Pan is exactly that kind of place. It reminds me of staying over a friend’s house as a kid and waking up to the smell of pancakes. You walk over to their mom’s quirky kitchen and suddenly it’s the one of the best weekends you’ve ever had.
I – Instagram-worthy
What are ornate, picture-perfect dishes without an Instagram post? An estimated 36,000 followers generate thousands of likes per photo, with videos showcasing the best looking dishes imaginable. Brick and Flour best exemplifies the importance of social media today. Word of mouth is crucial, but a picture really is worth a thousand words, and maybe a thousand bucks.
J – Juice
Remember when Oprah walked out on stage at the Oscars and attributed her weight loss to a liquid diet? Years and some controversy later, we can’t seem to get enough of our liquids — juicing, juice cleansing, and most recently the celery juice craze. By now though, we have a much better grasp of how to consume them in an even healthier ways with Pressed Juicery and Nektar Juice Bar .
K – Karaoke
The only time and place where people who are tone deaf but love to sing are safe — where those that can belt out Whitney or Aretha go to show off their talent and entertain a crowd. I was surprised to learn after years of dropping by Barney’s Beanery that they hold Karaoke nights on the weekend. It’s held on the underground level, which is more intimate, and the encouragement from those watching is as enjoyable as the singers themselves.
L – Local
Even though we have our fair share of popular chains all over the city, and more and more that appear every other month, it’s important to continue supporting locally owned businesses — a win-win for everyone.
M – Meats
Is there anything more glorious than a giant steak or stack of ribs? Alexander’s Steakhouse and Gus’s BBQ know the answer to that. Both offer a diverse menu with the best quality and serious dedication to their respective crafts. Meat lovers, unite!
N – Nightlife
While it may be tempting to make the trek to LA for a bar now and then, the nightlife scene in Pasadena is just as good, and arguably better, in my opinion. No pretentious waits to get into a bar or club that’s not worth it, plenty of nearby parking, officers patrolling up and down streets for safety, and, best of all, the amazing bars and lounges themselves.
O – Old Fashioned
America’s favorite meal meets one of Pasadena’s longest standing establishments: Pie N’ Burger . Voted one of America’s best cheeseburgers by the Food Network in 2015, it still looks like it did when it opened in 1963. The milkshakes are still made the same way, and the recipe hasn’t changed either.
P – People Pleaser
Since my first visit, I have long believed there is no restaurant that excels in catering to any person that walks in their door the way True Food Kitchen does. Steak tacos, poke, pastas, flatbreads, sandwiches, as well as gluten free, dairy free, and vegan options are all excellent and made with the best seasonal ingredients. Cocktails, beer and several juices are made in-house, and their killer patio on a summer night makes for a most satisfactory dinner.
Q – Quick
Dog Haus — the ultimate stop for fast casual. Good food, good beer, good times.
R – Reader Recommended
The best that Pasadena has to offer, places which patrons have loved for years: Mijares Mexican Restaurant, The Arbour, Lucky Boy, All India Café, The Raymond 1886. Parkway Grill, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant and Burrito Express are all must-try restaurants.
S – Service
Last year’s theme for “S” was Staff, highlighting some of the best restaurant staffs in Pasadena, and this year (and every year, really) it’s just as important. A great meal can be made exponentially better with amazing service, and last year’s Best Staff went to Tom’s Burgers 31 which is not a full service restaurant. This is a true testament to the experience they provide to their customers. Their reviews alone are enough to get people in the door — the amazing food is an added bonus.
T – Treats
One of the most well-known treats in Pasadena and beyond are Dots Cupcakes, even after 10 years in business. Their unique flavors alternate daily and they constantly introduce new flavors to the menu. From dulce de leche to hazelnut crunch and passion fruit, these delectable treats will have you salivating.
U – UberEats
Grub hub, Postmates, Doordash … Am I missing any? The food delivery apps we millennials love and cherish like nut butters and alternative milk options deliver all of the best restaurants in the city. So if you’re like me, drinking Starbucks I had delivered to my home, join in on the lazy fun.
V – Vegan
Vegan options today are as sought after on menus as much as Weight Watchers points were in the ’90s and early 2000s. Veganism, while one of the most restrictive diets, is easily great tasting whether or not you’re a meat eater. Best of all, it does infinitely more good for the environment. Real Food Daily has a menu that’d have even the most serious of carnivores considering taking the leap.
W – Wine
If there is anything Pasadena is not short of, it is alcohol. Sometimes all you need is a glass of wine and some cheese to make for a great night out. The Cellar and Bodega Wine Bar are both what dreams are made of. They boast a hefty wine list and an array of cheese and charcuterie boards with a dimly lit ambiance.
X – Xiao-Long bao
Bao, dumplings, wontons, noodles, and the best dim sum — Lunasia Dim Sum House has it all, and then some. This Pasadena staple has long held various winning and reader recommended titles in PW’s annual the Best of Pasadena editions, and it’s no secret why.
Y – YOLO
You only live once, so get AYCE (All you can eat). I have a friend who truly believes the only way to have sushi is to order all you can eat, and I can hardly argue it’s not a good outlook to have. So skip breakfast, put on stretchy pants and have as many rolls as your heart desires.
Z – Zweet Cafe
While there are a plethora of coffee shops and bakeries to choose from in Pasadena, Zweet Café is one that has come up time and time again as the perfect hang-out and working spot. With ample comfortable seating, breakfast and lunch options, strong wifi and even stronger coffee, it’s the perfectly cozy place for a study session or coffee date.