A — ASSORTMENT
Just as there are more restaurants in Pasadena than in cities many times its size, there is just about every type of food imaginable available to the average diner. Try sushi at Kabuki Japanese Restaurant one day and dim sum at Lunasia the next. Or try hot pot at Little Sheep in Old Pas, Thai food at City Thai, or Vietnamese treats at Saigon Noodle. Of course, there are plenty of places for pizza, French fries, and cheeseburgers, which were actually invented here.
B — BEER
The last time we put together this alphabetized list, Bread was the subject for “B.” But, as beer lovers well know, every loaf of bread is just another tragic story of a group of grains that could have been turned into beer but wasn’t. Yes, beer, though pretty pricy by the glass in these parts, remains the life blood, the mother’s milk of Old Pasadena and beyond. Perhaps this explains why there are so many purveyors of the ancient elixir, with Lucky Baldwins now at three different locations, and other great places like Congregation Ale House and Yard House serving up the yummy suds.
C — CHEAP EATS
As one might guess in a city filled with world-class restaurants, the cheap eats joints in town would be fabulous — and they’d be correct. At Tops On Walnut, winner of this category in last year’s Best of Pasadena contest, customers can have high-quality low-cost salads, sandwiches, Mexican food and side dishes for ridiculously agreeable prices. Other Reader Recommended places were: Blaze Pizza, with two locations in Pasadena and one in Glendale; In-N-Out Burger, located in Pasadena, Alhambra and Glendale; and Lucky Boy on Arroyo Parkway and East Walnut Street in Pasadena.
D — DIVES
The Colorado in East Pas and Freddy’s 35er bar in the heart Old Pasadena usually come in either first or second place in the dive bar category of each year’s Best of Pasadena voting. Last year, it was the Colorado’s turn, boasting a great jukebox, a pool table and a dart board. Same goes for the 35er, only it has a patio facing Colorado Boulevard, offering visitors something of a glassless window to the world going by. The Rancho in Altadena received a Reader Recommended nod in the balloting.
E — EQUATOR
From 4 p.m. to closing Tuesdays and Thursdays, well drinks, martinis, appetizers and a decent beer selection at Edwin Mills by Equator are $3, with house wines just $1 more. There’s also live music Tuesday and Friday nights. And we love Edwin Mills because the owner, Teddy Bedjakian, on top of his generous happy hours, is sure to be out chatting with customers and getting his hands dirty bussing tables.
F — FUN(NY)
Bob Fisher’s Ice House Comedy Club is not just a Best of Pasadena winner; it’s a national entertainment institution. Opened in 1960, the Ice House has become one of the top comedy dinner clubs in the country, over the years featuring shows starring such industry giants as George Carlin, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman, George Lopez, Bill Maher, Arsenio Hall, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams. Local and touring comics leave audiences laughing during the week.
G — GAMES
It was somewhat surprising to see so many video arcades in the area. Here in Pasadena there’s Bowlmor Lanes on East Foothill Boulevard and Neon Retro Arcade on South Raymond Avenue. Other popular arcades include Level Gaming Lan Center and Dreamland Gaming, both in Arcadia. And there’s Vintage Arcade Superstore on San Fernando Road in Glendale. Older gamesters can occupy themselves Tuesday nights with trivia at Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock, or they can pick up a board game inside Dog Haus and spiel ein bisschen out in the biergarten, or they can head over to T Boyle’s, behind the Ice House, for Action Trivia on Sundays and Tuesdays.
H — HUNTINGTON
Not the hospital. We’re talking about the Huntington Library, Art Galleries and Botanical Gardens, a national treasure started by railroad baron and art connoisseur Henry Huntington in his home in San Marino. Here visitors are able to view Huntington’s personal collection of 18th- and 19th-century paintings, and literature amassed in the Huntington family mansion, located on 120 acres near the Pasadena city line. This is a research library, but now includes several new structures and exhibits, as well as numerous specialized gardens.
I — INDIVIDUALITY
In today’s culture, chefs have come to be regarded as celebrities, each with unique styles and personalities. Some of the chefs who live and work here in the Pasadena area include Hideo Yamashiro (Shiro), James Graham (Ba), Bruce Kalman (Union), Claud Beltran (Claud Beltran & Co. catering, Bacchus’ Kitchen, The Eatery and Perry’s by Claud Beltran), Sean Lowenthal (Little Beast), Andre Guerrero (Maximiliano, The Oinkster, Little Bear) and Paul Ragan (Altaeats).
J — JUKEBOX
Not as ubiquitous before, jukeboxes are still popular at a handful of bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity. The Colorado in East Pasadena and Freddie’s 35er in Old Pasadena come to mind, but there are a few others. There’s one at R Place, also in East Pas, another is at the Buccaneer in Sierra Madre, and another is at the Hall of Fame bar in Arcadia, near Santa Anita Park.
K — KITCHEN
Unlike most other Los Angeles County communities, the city, not the county, issues grades to restaurants doing business in Pasadena. And these inspectors mean business. Many a promising restaurant has been closed for such things as roaches, vermin and unclean utensils. That’s why it would be rare for customers here to see anything but squeaky clean and well-managed establishments when they are out on the town in the Crown City.
L — LIVE (MUSIC)
Along with three symphony orchestras — Pasadena Symphony, California Philharmonic and MUSE/IQUE — Pasadena is also home to Kings Row Gastropub, voted Best Live Music Bar/Club in last year’s Pasadena Weekly’s Best of Pasadena readers’ poll, Edwin Mills by Equator, and the venerable and virtually underground Old Towne Pub. For the Best Live Music Venue, hands down it’s The Rose music and dinner club at The Paseo on East Green Street.
M — MOVIES
Pasadena is not only well known for movie stars and filmmakers; it’s also noted for its movie theaters, starting with Laemmle Playhouse 7 in the Playhouse District, and continuing with ArcLight Theatre in The Paseo, iPic Theatres at One Colorado in Miller Alley, and the Academy Theatre on East Colorado Boulevard.
N — NORTON SIMON
Following a delightful lunch or coffee break in Old Pasadena, drive a few blocks west on Colorado and further treat yourself to viewing one of the world’s premier art collections at the Norton Simon Museum.
O — OCCASIONS
There are times in life that truly require a unique place to celebrate. For weddings, births, anniversaries, graduations, promotions, raises and any other good fortune, host a ball, a reception or a banquet at Noor in The Paseo. Or visit Parkway Grill on South Arroyo Parkway, Alexander’s Steakhouse and The Raymond 1886, all honored in last year’s Best of Pasadena voting.
P — PASTRY
Perhaps the best known bakery in Pasadena is Euro Pane, which is famous for its macarons. Now at two locations, Euro Pane also features as its only entree an egg salad sandwich to die for, served open-face on a slice of rosemary bread. Other terrific local bakeries are 85̊ C Bakery Café, now in Glendale as well, and Seed Bakery on East Washington Boulevard, both Reader Recommended winners in last year’s Best of Pasadena polling.
Q — QUIRKY
For the most part, restaurants typically do what they do best — serve delicious, healthful food — without much glitz and hoopla. But a few break the mold. One is Old Pasadena favorite A’Float Sushi, with its food offerings sitting atop little boats floating on a mini-moat in front of the counter. Another is the Austin Powers-themed Electric Pussycat in Glendale.
R — RESTRICTIONS
It is a great time to be alive for the lactose-intolerant, the celiac-ailing, the allergy-ridden, the plant-based populous. Gone are the days of gluten-free and vegan being synonymous with “crappy version of what you wanted.” Food science has caught up with the 21st century. Banana chocolate chip ice cream sounds incredible! Oh, wait … it’s vegan. Have you found yourself thinking this? Well get with the times, pal. If it sounds good, it probably is.
S — STAFF
For an idea of just how important taking care of customers is in the restaurant world, four top-notch eateries tied for the Best Restaurant Staff award in last year’s Best of Pasadena readers’ poll: They were Gale’s on South Fair Oaks Avenue, Green Street Restaurant on Shoppers Lane, Mijares Mexican Restaurant on Palmetto Drive, and Smitty’s Grill on South Lake Avenue. At these places, you’ll agree the service is worthy of a generous tip.
T — THEATER
Just as it is rich in restaurants, Pasadena also has a wealth of live theaters, all featuring performances of stories that tackle tough issues and ask provocative questions. Of course, there’s the 100-year-old Pasadena Playhouse, the State Theatre of California, but there is also A Noise Within on East Foothill Boulevard and Boston Court Performing Arts Center on Mentor Avenue, to name but a few terrific venues in the area.
V — VALUE
It’s been said before, and we’ll say it again: Value is an integral component to the success of any business, especially those facing lots of competition. In this demanding world, a commitment is required to set the right price for what customers expect to be the perfect mix of quantity and quality. As former PW Restaurant Critic Erica once explained, “A restaurant doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. And the converse applies.”
W — WORD
Especially in a place like Pasadena, where major chefs live and work and the world occasionally visits to see what’s on the menu, word of mouth was and remains an important component to the success of any business, particularly restaurants.
X — ROMANTIX
Back in the late 1980s, when once rough-around-the edges Old Pasadena was being redeveloped into a destination dining and shopping spot, property owners complained about the Pub (the 35er, perennial PW Best Dive Bar), the Pawn (Crown City Loan & Jewelry) and the Porn (Romatix, formerly known as Le Sex Shoppe). It’s been nearly 30 years since then, and the Three Ps are still up and running.
Y — YELP!
Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Or so it seems to the millions of people who can’t wait to hit the keyboard with their opinions on a fine, or terrible, dining experience.
Z — ZANKOU
Simply delicious Zankou Chicken traces its origins to 1962, when Vartkes and Margarite Iskenderian opened a restaurant in Beirut featuring chicken in garlic sauce. Twenty years later the couple opened their first US restaurant in Hollywood, eventually expanding their locations and their menu, which now includes kebabs, falafel, shawarma and other Mediterranean dishes.n