Things are about to get wild at our shopping centers and malls. I know online shopping may be on the rise, but returns and replacements are made in person. And let’s not forget about the gift cards to fulfill following the holiday gift-giving (and receiving) season.
So whether you need to refuel while you’re hauling a family and reusable bags to pick up those last-minute gifts for coworkers and neighbors, or you’re heading into the chaos of the week after Christmas to get a smokin’ ensemble to ring in a new decade, let this be your guide to one simple choice: food. Allow me to take one thing off of your to-do list by informing you about the best eats for your level of shopping intensity.
In Old Pasadena, my choice for just about any type of eating is Edwin Mills by Equator (22 Mills Place, (626) 564-8656, edwinmills.com) It’s my universal recommendation for anyone, any time, and all occasions.
It is no surprise Kabuki Japanese Restaurant (88 W. Colorado Blvd., (626) 568-9310; 3539 E. Foothill Blvd., (626) 351-8963; kabukirestaurants.com) won Best Family Restaurant in this year’s Best of Pasadena issue. Kabuki checks off every box a family could want. For parents, they have a huge variety of Japanese options, from teriyaki chicken plates to platters of sushi and cocktails. More importantly though, parents can pretty much eat anywhere; it is the kids who really decide where to go. Kabuki has a pretty extensive kids’ menu with a variety of chicken, beef and sushi combos for less than $10 that subvert the basic hot dog and macaroni and cheese options you see everywhere.
In Glendale, the best place to really sit down and get away from the crowd is the oft-mentioned Din Tai Fung (177 Caruso Ave., (818) 551-5161, dintaifungusa.com) at the America at Brand. As my co-columnist Evelyn Garcia’s 2018 beautifully written review states, “If you’ve tried their soup dumplings, which are definitely worth the potential two-hour wait, you need not read any further. If not, you need this in your life.”
Evelyn’s words ring just as true now as they did then. You may know Din Tai Fung as the place with a perpetual line out the door, which normally may be an issue, but this holiday season will actually do you some favors. Let me explain. With their check-in and text message system you pop into the front desk when you first arrive at the Americana and then commence with your shopping using their periodic text messages to make your way back to the restaurant.
While technically just-outside of the Americana, my top choice for coffee in Glendale is Philz (252 S Brand Blvd., Suite A, (818) 844-8492, philzcoffee.com). A stone’s throw from the mall, Philz is the reprieve from everything you do not like about the holiday season. Tired of seeing disheartened seasonal retail employees? Tired of nothing fitting or not being able to find what you want? Philz is stacked with baristas who possess a nearly unreal enthusiasm for coffee. You order at the counter and wait for your name to be called at which point a genuinely concerned barista has you taste test your drink and will help you switch things up until it fits your vision. It may not seem like a lot, but in a season where sometimes nothing seems to be going right, getting the perfect cup of coffee can be the win that makes all the difference and inspires you to put in another three hours of shopping.
In Pasadena, Cafe 86 (36 W. Colorado Blvd., (626) 219-6915, cafe-86.com) is off the path just enough to step away from the madness but not get too far away. Cafe 86’s menu is a blend of boba classics and crowd-pleasing traditional coffee drinks, with their signature mixes of the two. The real treat at Cafe 86 though are their bakery items: like ube flan cupcakes, matcha brownies, ube pop tarts, and hosts of other desserts that are the furthest thing away from pecan pies and other holiday desserts you are sure to tire of sooner than later. If you are on Colorado hop into Cafe 86 grab a Nutella latte ($5.80) and leech off their wifi to pull up those coupons you know you have somewhere in the trenches of your email.
I cannot bring myself to shout-out food court choices, because honestly if you are walking around the food court, you will either go for the place with the shortest line or the place handing out the best samples. Either way, I get it.
Where I can be of assistance is helping you with the fast-casual options around. In Glendale, you have two burger heavyweights competing for your affection in an East Coast vs. West Coast burger off, Shake Shack and In-N-Out. Shake Shack (252 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 858-1612, shakeshack.com) will hit the wallet a bit harder but offers alcohol, vegetarian options and a lower profile, meaning you can probably get a decent casual meal without sacrificing hours waiting for a table. If you’re a born and raised Southern Californian though, you know there is no better way to spend $5 than on an In-N-Out (119 S. Brand Blvd. and 310 N. Harvey Drive, Glendale, (800) 786-1000, locations.in-n-out.com/174) Double Double with grilled onions. You can’t go wrong here.
In Pasadena, Poke Salad Bar (12 W. Colorado Blvd., (626) 304-3100, pokesaladpasadena.com) is the cool, quick, healthy and affordable option. With Poke, the service is always quick and the dining area is large enough that finding seating is never an issue. Not to mention with all the walking up and down Colorado, a healthy bowl of fish, rice and fixings is bound to sit better than something heavy and, if you really wanted to, you could walk around while holding a sushi burrito.