Like a Local: Pasadena’s Best Restaurants

by Jeff Rindskopf  |  Published November 14, 2016

The San Gabriel Valley just east of Los Angeles is a suburban mecca full of great shopping and authentic Asian cuisine restaurants. Pasadena is the cultural heart of it all. Beyond the plentiful boutiques and museums, Pasadena – at the base of the brushy San Gabriel Mountains – offers historic walking areas rich with world-class dining options. Some restaurants in Pasadena are run by graduates of the local Le Cordon Bleu culinary school.

Pasadena City Hall (Photo: Ewen Roberts via Flickr)

Pasadena City Hall (Photo: Ewen Roberts via Flickr)

Lunasia Dim Sum House

Lunasia offers cheap Chinese cuisine and dim sum—a Cantonese tradition of savory and sweet small bites served with tea—in the center of picturesque Old Town Pasadena. Diners order from a checklist of hand-prepared and steamed favorites like pork siu mai or shrimp hargow alongside steamy pots of chrysanthemum and jasmine tea. Specialty plates like Hong Kong roast duck provide larger servings, while their fried treats and desserts will please even the less-adventurous diners.

239 E Colorado Blvd

Marston’s Restaurant

Arrive early to this renowned brunch spot to beat the weekend rush for some of Southern California’s best breakfast food. Located in a quaint repurposed cottage, Marston’s specializes in thick-cut French toast rolled in corn flakes for extra crunch. But the macadamia nut pancakes and huevos rancheros with Texas chili are also not to be missed. They can even prepare to-go picnics for anyone hoping to enjoy a portable version of their favorite menu items.

151 E Walnut St

Marston's French toast (Photo: many tomatoes via Flickr)

Marston’s French toast (Photo: many tomatoes via Flickr)

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea prides itself on combining the plentiful produce of Southern California with the strict standards and practices of French cuisine to create unique seafood dishes that truly offer the best of both worlds. Their vast wine selection comes from independent producers all over the world. Most items on the wine list pair well with their high-quality fish dishes, all distinctly flavored with fresh spice and produce. Highlights include the king salmon with basil pesto and the octopus soaked in strawberry mole sauce.

57 E Holly St

Mijares Mexican Restaurant

Pasadena’s oldest eatery preserves Mexican culinary traditions far older than the restaurant itself, featuring recipes passed down through generations of the Mijares family that owns this local institution. Fresh ground salsas and tortillas made with volcanic stone tools are served alongside tasty favorites like the crab tostada and marinated steak fajitas. Enjoy these filling and time-tested meals while soaking in the welcoming family-style atmosphere and fruit-liqueur margaritas of Mijares.

145 Palmetto Drive

Carmela Ice Cream

Ice cream is practically an art at Carmela, unquestionably Pasadena’s best spot for this deliciously cooling dessert. The smell of fresh-made waffle cones lures customers in, while unusually complex flavors like brown sugar vanilla bean, strawberry buttermilk and lavender honey keep them there. Their artisanal focus on organic dairy and seasonal flavors over artificial extracts makes a noticeable difference in flavor; one that can be replicated at home thanks to their in-house ice cream classes.

2495 E Washington Blvd

O’seyo Shabu Shabu

The alternative dining experience at O’seyo lets diners cook their own vegetables and paper-thin cuts of meat in a personal heated metal pot at their table, filled with their choice of aromatic broth infused with rich miso and other spices. Each broth and cut of meat, whether salmon or ribeye, imparts its own rich flavor to the self-made soup. Plus, the service is attentive and the space is sleek and clean without being impersonal.

2879 E Colorado Blvd

Carmela Ice Cream (Photo: Guzzle Nosh via Flickr)

Carmela Ice Cream (Photo: Guzzle Nosh via Flickr)

La Caravana

A Salvadoran restaurant is only as good as its pupusas, and La Caravana passes that test with flying colors. The traditional dish—handmade with thick corn tortillas filled with a blend of cheese, bean and pork—makes a deliciously cheap appetizer, while the unusual rellenos—breaded squash or peppers fried and stuffed with cheese and meat—provide more decadent Central American flavors in this peaceful and intimate old-world setting.

1306 N Lake Ave

Spinfish Poke House

Creating the perfect poke bowl is as simple as four steps at Spinfish, where delicate cuts of raw local seafood come with your choice of grain and an overwhelming selection of sauces and toppings. Flavors and fresh fish culled from all corners of the Pacific Rim come together to create delicious meals like the sesame-rich Aloha 808 and creamy Shaka bowls. The restaurant emulates the easy-going culture of the Hawaiian Islands that inspire the cuisine with friendly service that goes beyond the typical fast-casual dining experience.

36 W Colorado Blvd

Caribbean poke bowl at Spinfish (Photo: hwgirl via Flickr)

Caribbean poke bowl at Spinfish (Photo: hwgirl via Flickr)

Braise & Crumble Cafe

As the name subtly suggests, Braise & Crumble does two things—meats and pies—and they do them well. The menu boasts rich meaty sandwiches like the pulled pork “pig dip” with apple beer au jus alongside lighter soups and salads. All that is prologue to the addictive desserts, including the aptly-named apple crack pie. Order any of their large seasonal fruit and nut pies to-go or enjoy a personal-sized one in the comfort of their homey pub-style interior.

40 N Mentor Ave