Pasadena's last dining evolution advanced beyond a base of Old Pasadena chains to family-run, food-focused gems that now span the entire city. In the past few years, we've seen even more restaurants dial up the community's culinary ambition. Discover our 10 best restaurant destinations, ranging from fast casual establishments to fine dining bastions.
This upscale steakhouse, born in Silicon Valley’s boom times, expanded to Pasadena in the spring of 2015. Their southernmost outpost is located near City Hall and incorporates a bull logo, open kitchen, dark wood tables, glass-fronted wine closet, square bar, and formidable patio. Executive chef Florent Courriol presides over the menu, which centers on steaks like bone-in New York that are dry-aged for 28 days and wood-grilled. Three prized ounces of Wagyu, perhaps Miyazaki Japan A5 or Shiga Ohmi Japan A5, also deserve serious consideration. The rest of the menu draws on Japanese influences in dishes like koshihikari risotto or dry-aged tataki with wasabi mustard, charred ginger ponzu sauce, and crispy yuba; You can also submit to a $160 chef’s tasting with an optional $75 wine pairing. Desserts include Featured Cheese, dark chocolate torte, Japanese cheesecake, and rose mousse. A bound, 14-page wine list will surely have a bottle to complement your experience. You can opt for a seasonal cocktail that’s either rooted in citrus in aromatic, or go big with the $210 Gold Carre - a luxurious Vieux Carre made with WhistlePig Boss Hog, Tesseron Lot 29 XO Cognac, and finished with gold leaf.
Braise & Crumble Café
A purple pig standing on a pie, surrounded by sunrays, beautifully symbolizes Braise & Crumble, a “porketarian” café and bakery from partners Shannon Hart and Tyler Wu on a Pasadena side street since 2014. On a side street next to The Ice House comedy club, you’ll find brick walls, vintage signs for brands like Ovaltine and Coca-Cola, and a display case for “ooey gooey” brownies, monkey bread, and dessert bars. Pulled pork and short rib features prominently in sandwiches or tacos. Oink & Moo combines both meats. Hunka Hunka Fried Chicken Love stars juicy pieces of boneless, skinless, Kettle-fried white or dark meat. Each basket comes with a buttermilk biscuit, and choice of macaroni salad, Gorgonzola potato salad, or finely minced dill cole slaw. Add complementary sauces like Sriracha aioli or jalapeno puree. Crusted & Dusted Mac N Cheese stars gooey squares of panko-crusted jalapeño and bacon mac n cheese dusted with Parmesan snow.
Chaaste Family Market
Since 1987, the Esteban family has steered Chaaste Family Market, a Filipino micro-market and cafeteria, in freeway-friendly Allen Center shopping plaza. Art and Susan recently ceded control to their three sons - Abraham, Christian, and Gabriel (the chef) - who are keeping their traditional concept current. CHAASTE is an acronym, and each letter corresponds to a different family member and to Susan’s maiden name, Torres. The café features just four tables and cafeteria-style service. You’ll find solid takes on increasingly mainstream Filipino dishes like chicken skewers marinated in soy sauce, garlic and sugar; and cigarette sized lumpia with pork, carrot, garlic, onion and egg. Bopis is more unusual, funky chopped beef liver stewed with daikon, bell pepper, bay leaf, onion, and vinegar. Add red vinegar to cut the richness. After 1:30 p.m., Chaaste sells caramelized banana filled egg rolls called turon. Time your visit accordingly.
Harlowe’s French Dip
Chef Tony Alcazar and his professional firefighter partners built The Bottle Room into a hit in Uptown Whittier before turning their attention to Old Pasadena. Harlowe’s French Dip is their 2016 spinoff with chef Brian Kiepler, a sandwich shop and bar with wall-to-wall wood and four flat screen TVs that’s named for Clara Harlowe Barton, founder of the American Red Cross and an the ancestor of one of the owners. The concept revolves around the French dip, a distinctly L.A. sandwich for more than a century. Meats like beef, lamb, turkey, and pork are loaded on to toasted rolls. Each sandwich comes with a different dippable jus, a choice of house-made pickles, and “La Fin du Mustard” made with Unibroue La Fin du Monde golden ale. The comforting menu also includes pickled brined fried chicken sandwiches, bison chili, and Harlowe’s Texas toast slathered with bone marrow, garlic, Parmesan, and parsley. Crispy salt-brined Kennebec fries come with house-made ketchup. To drink, Harlowe’s French Dip specializes in a rotating craft beer selection.
Little Flower Candy Co. chef Christine Moore and business partner Pam Perkins debuted this cafe and bakery in late 2014, set back from Lincoln Avenue in north Pasadena. The space features a patio with green picnic tables and interior with cream-colored brick walls, exposed white wood beams with skylights, and open kitchen. Order from the counter, passing signature candies and rotating pastries along the way. A sizable menu touts breakfast and lunch items, and white butcher paper lists specials like Prime rib hash and chicken tinga tostadas. From the printed menu, you’d be wise to order the breakfast sandwich with bacon and cheddar, and two eggs on brioche, or possibly gravlax on brown bread with gherkins, red onions, crème fraiche, tomato confit and poached egg. Lunch brings viable options like the spicy shrimp bowl with herbed rice, harissa and peanuts. Save room for treats like cookies, chocolate croissants, or sea salt caramels.
Located in Old Pasadena, Ramen Tatsunoya debuted in late 2015, building on traditions that Ryuta Kajiwara first established in 1999 in Kurume City, Fukuoka, Japan. A focused Pasadena outpost features an L-shaped bar overlooking an open kitchen, brick wall, exposed rafters, and light wood furniture, including a communal table with a tree that pokes through the center. Koku tonkotsu is the concept’s signature bowl, with creamy pork broth fortified with pork back fat, spicy miso, garlic, and burned onion oil. Jun tonkotsu is a lighter, less creamy variation. In both cases, expect crunchy wood ear mushrooms, scallions, and fat-streaked char siu slices. Be sure to add a flavored egg for a rush of yolk.
Joseph Abrakjian brought new life to a sleepy stretch of north Pasadena in November 2015, opening Seed Bakery. The brick-fronted space features yellow and purple walls, counter fully loaded with loaves and pastries, and limited seating. Seed Bakery mills organic whole grains in-house, fermenting dough simply crafted with flour, water, sea salt, and natural levain for at least 12 hours to develop flavor, break down gluten, and aid digestion. Options include 100% rye, 100% whole grain ciabatta studded with sprouted sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds; and olive bread with whole wheat, spelt and durum, studded with Kalamata olives. Breakfast incorporates bread into options like avocado toast or ham, cheddar, and leek Panini sandwiches. Lunch brings a short rib melt, salmon gravlax, and house-made meatloaf, all on house bread. Before leaving, swing by the counter for a snail-shaped maple rye Danish or chocolate chip cookie.
Ashley Yu originally hails from Shandong, a coastal Chinese province that’s sandwiched between Beijing and Shanghai. She started by opening the first Shandong Dumplings in San Gabriel’s Hilton Hotel Plaza in 2013 and later added this Old Pasadena outpost. The space features tan walls with white picket fence and outdoor imagery. People make dumplings and noodles in an exhibition window along Fair Oaks Avenue. Juicy pan-fried pork dumplings with thin, crispy skins are especially popular, though you can also find cores that pair beef with radish, mackerel with leeks, and lamb with fennel. House-special chile sirloin noodle soup is also notable. Clear soup comes slicked with chile oil and loaded with bok choy, beef, chilies, fermented soybeans, and tongue tingling Sichuan peppercorns. A broiled fresh live fish also gets neon billing on the window.
Chef Bruce Kalman and Marie Petulla first partnered at Union in Old Pasadena before opening Knead Pasta Bar in downtown’s Grand Central Market. Union lays out their vision on a well-orchestrated blackboard with features quotes about simple cooking from Alice Waters, a rundown of preferred purveyors, a farmer’s market schedule, and possible pasta shapes. Their “Slow Food, Farm Fresh, and Sustainable” menu changes nightly. The menu doesn’t feature many sure things, but there are definitely standbys. Crusty house-made bread comes with a punchy pickled vegetable medley called giardiniere, house-made cultured butter and Hepp’s sea salt. Salads shift frequently, but could include bitter lettuces balanced with roasted stone fruit, torn bread, dukkah, and tangy crème fraiche poppy seed dressing. Pasta truly stands out, whether it’s bucatini cacio e pepe with thick, chewy noodles, Pecorino-Romano, black pepper, and runny 63-degree egg; or simple spaghetti alla chitarra with zesty San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and Fresno chile. Proteins also get plenty of run. Cross your fingers and hope they have Marin Sun Farms lamb chops with cannellini beans, charred corn, dill, and goat ricotta.