Baked California cake at The Arbour, served flaming — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
Located just 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the city of Pasadena offers an escape for Angelenos looking to hang out somewhere more laid-back and easygoing. Steeped in history, Old Pasadena has blocks of heritage buildings that house some fabulous restaurants, serving up everything from classic breakfasts to food from many different cultures to fine dining with experimental flair.
For those who love to eat, Pasadena has a whole lot going on. Here are 9 places that you’ll need to try when visiting the city.
The chili at The Arbour comes with a candle of beef tallow, which you stir in as it melts — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
Farm-to-table restaurant The Arbour serves up dishes that wow. Order the chili starter because it comes with a candle made of beef tallow in the middle, which you stir in as the fat melts to make it even more delicious.
My smoked duck breast main came served under a glass cloche filled with smoke, and was unveiled like something in a magic show. Dessert of baked California cake (candied almond ice cream enveloped in meringue with dark rum poured over) was served flambé. Theatrics aside, every dish I ate at the Arbour was perfect.
Lincoln Cafe and Store
Baked goods take center stage at Lincoln Cafe and Store — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
Lincoln Cafe and Store is a bright and open space owned by pastry chef Christine Moore, who trained in Paris and L.A., and also owns Pasadena’s much adored Little Flower Cafe. Lincoln is the perfect spot for breakfast, and the menu has fun items such as black sesame pancakes.
Lining up to order next to the glass cases full of baked goods enticed us to try everything, so we ordered flaky chocolate croissants, a ricotta and spinach galette topped with cherry tomatoes, buttermilk pretzel buns so good that we went back and ordered more to-go, and a huge slab of churro layer cake.
Pulled pork Benny at Marston’s, breakfast done right — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
Few things beat a classic breakfast perfectly served, and Marston’s Restaurant, which has been voted the best breakfast in California, gets everything right. I loved their pulled pork Benedict with spicy hollandaise, and their huevos rancheros were great, too. Grab a table on the sweet front porch if you can.
The Crack Shack
The Coop Deville sandwich at The Crack Shack, accompanied by a couple of decadent shakes and biscuits — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
The Crack Shack is a free-range fried chicken eatery with killer sides, such as mini biscuits served with miso-maple butter (mmm). You can order buckets of chicken or sandwiches – I went with the Coop Deville sandwich, served on brioche with pickled chiles, lime mayo and cabbage.
The accompanying spicy fries were great, and their Cookie Monster milkshake unforgettable, mint-based and full of Oreo crumbs and chocolate syrup. With a full sports bar in back, this is a fun place to plan an evening with friends.
Amara Chocolate and Coffee
Tasty chicken empanadas at Amara Chocolate and Coffee — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
Stopping at Amara Chocolate and Coffee for a few snacks turned into trying their delicious drinking chocolate and churros, and then having to sample chicken empanadas and tequeños (breaded deep-fried cheese sticks). Everything we tasted was delicious, and we only wished we had room to try more.
Seven-hour braised lamb shank with fruit and couscous at Cafe Santorini — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
Classic Pasadena spot Cafe Santorini has been operating for 25 years. Spread over three floors, you’re treated like a VIP as soon as you walk in despite how vast it is, and attentive service keeps the feeling going.
Serving a menu of classic Mediterranean dishes, Cafe Santorini is a fabulous dinner spot, and I’m still lusting after their seven-hour braised lamb shank with fruit a month after eating it.
Sage Plant Based Bistro
You won’t care that there’s no actual cheese on this vegan Buffalo cauliflower pizza at Sage Plant Based Bistro — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
When you need to feel healthy, Sage Plant Based Bistro has you covered. Sit on their massive patio in a historic brick square off the main drag in Pasadena, or in the huge dining room, and order juices and amazing vegan food. I went with the Buffalo cauliflower pizza followed by their white chocolate raw cake, and both were superb.
La Grand Orange
Short rib tacos at La Grand Orange, juicy and delicious — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
La Grand Orange is housed in the historic Del Mar railway station, and is the perfect place to head for a steak, burger or their juicy short rib tacos (delicious!). There’s also a mix of seafood and other types of dishes, and their desserts are wonderful – the red velvet layer cake with white chocolate ice cream was so very good.
Lavender and Honey Boutique Coffee Bar and Deli
Avocado toast and lavender lemonade at Lavender and Honey was simple perfection — Photo courtesy of Lola Augustine Brown
The breakfast we had at Lavender and Honey Boutique Coffee Bar and Deli was ridiculously simple. Upon paying, I found myself asking, “Did we really just pay $4.50 for one piece of toast with avocado and a couple of slices of red jalapeños on it?” but, in fact, it was so good that we went back and bought another straight after, and washed it down with lavender lemonade.
Besides having a toast bar (everything served on artisanal bread alongside artisanal spreads), they make sandwiches and serve excellent coffee. The queue to get into this place was worth it.