Well we talked about what to do in Pasadena. But a traveler’s gotta eat, and did you know that Pasadena is one of Calfornia’s biggest culinary centers? It is the birthplace of Julia Child, home of the famous See’s Candy, and also is where you’ll find the California School of Culinary Arts, one of only 15 Le Cordon Blue cooking schools in the county.
My goal while in this fine city was to find the best restaurants in Pasadena. So my first port of call was Melting Pot Food Tours, who are 120% in the know on where you should eat in Pasadena. The 3.5hr tour is at quite a pace; you walk a mile while tasting the best of Pasadena and also getting some great commentary about Pasadena history and architecture. Kudos to our guide Summer and her breezy but factual tour – many of the restaurants featured here are part of the Melting Pot tour.
So, hungry? Let’s go.
Best Brunch in Pasadena: Marston’s, Elements
Marston’s was voted by Food Network magazine as the best breakfast in America. The food is indeed good, the decor is charming and homey, and the portions are ginormous. The downside? Huge waits. Fame comes at a price!
My brunch recommendation would be to stop in and visit Elements Kitchen, attached to the lovely Pasadena Playhouse. Elements has a great brunch menu, include the devilishly delicious chicken and waffles (pictured). Great way to start out the day.
Best Coffee in Pasadena: Intelligensia
Although it’s a chain that isn’t based in Pasadena, I have to give my hat tip to Intelligensia for their fantastic ambience (the coffee bar has a small beer/wine section in the back), GREAT coffee, and the top notch service – one only has to look at the stacks of entrepreneurs and students typing away in the background. What’s more, I hear Intelligensia has a brewing class on Wednesday nights. Check out the beautiful wooden bar – the wood was reused from the venue’s original construction.
Best chocolate in Pasadena: Mignon Chocolate
This Ukranian chocolatier is actually a royal chocolate in Tehran, but once can imagine the desire to settle in a more subtle location such as Pasadena. Mignon’s chocolates have no vegetable oils and no preservatives. My suggestion is to try one of their more famous treats, such as the ginger and sea salt chocolate, which is topped with a edible coca butter paint design. Incredible.
Best Thai in Pasadena: Cafe Linda’s
There are plenty of Thai restaurants, but the cozy ambiance and the friendly service put Cafe Linda’s on my hot list. Try their curry pouches for a starter (oh so yummy), followed by their classic pad thai. Yummy and in big portions, but don’t worry – they’ll bag up the leftovers for you.
Best Bakery in Pasadena: Euro Pane
I’d heard so much about Euro Pane before I went, and when I walked in, it was clear this bakery meant serious business – there is not just one but two enormous cases filled with baked goods. As much as I tried (I went 3 times), they never had their famous ginger scones in stock, but everything from the warm bread to their also-famous macaroons are good. My only complaint is the surly service from the staff, but perhaps they’re trying to recreate that chic Parisian “charm.”
Special Shout-out: I want to give a foodie nod to Aux Delices and their incredible Oprah cake. Aux Delices was one of the first buisnesses that came back into central Pasadena as part of the revitalization effort, so if you’re in need of cake, this is the Colorado boulevard stop for you..
Best “So Much Food I May Never Be Hungry Again” Restaurant in Pasadena: Choza Mama
Did you know that Peru has nearly 50 national dishes? It is a country that takes its foods very seriously. And Choza Mama takes the cuisine seriously too, with heaping piles of fresh bread and dipping sauces, beans and rice, spicy pork and flavored meats. The venue is locally owned and operated by a Pasadena family I actually asked a few local folks what their fave dish was, and I got as many answers as people. So I suggest you go in family style and share, so you can sample a few things.
Best Snack Food in Pasadena: Father Nature
Pictured above is possible the tastiest explosion of flavour I’ve ever had in a single bite. You see, the good folk at Father Nature’s Lavash Wraps have perfected the art of the falafel: not greasy, no fillings, light and airy, delicious and the perfect temperature. Whether in a wrap or just popping them one by one, these falafels are the perfect cure to sore feet and a long day of sightseeing.
Best Chicken in Pasadena: Zankou Chicken
Again, here’s that chicken phenomenon again – I had no idea chicken was so huge in LA! I didn’t make it Pasadena’s legendary Zankou Chicken, but reader and former interviewee Darryl Musick has. He says:
Love the smell of the garlic and all the birds sitting in the rotisseries. Among the best roasted chicken I’ve ever had and then they pair it with their incredibly tasty and addictive garlic sauce. The fresh hummus and pita on the side complete the meal and I get out with plenty of change from my ten dollar bill.
Best Cup of Tea: Bird Pick or Chaddo
Chaddo is the largest tea importer in the US. Bird Pick has a seriously excellent but exotic tea collection. Both can leave a tea lover wandering for hours amongst tea pots and massive glass bowls of fresh leave. Hit one, hit both, try some and then take some home.
Best Burger in Pasadena: Jakes or Pie & Burger
When it comes to burgers and personal favorites, Californians are seriously competitive. So I give you not one but two choices, both recommended for the ambiance as well as a damn classic burger. Pie and burger, pictured above, gets slightly better raves in my book for their burgers, and it’s got that lovely old fashioned diner feel. But Jakes is an old hat fave, still here on Colorado Boulevard decades from when it opened.
Most Unique Restaurant in Pasadena: Equator
Equator used to be the police station, but it’s been many other things before today’s very cool restaurant venue. It’s a popular breakfast place, with its excellent coffee bar. It’s a late night cocktail hangout. It’s a great restaurant – hearing about all their events and specials I began to wonder why they didn’t just call it chameleon. Supposedly it is the only dim sum place in town; my recommendation is to try the basil mignon. WOW!
Best Ice Cream in Pasadena: 21 Choices
The above picture is the following heady concoction: red velvet ice cream with smashed red velvet cake and a crushed waffle cone for good measure. Don’t let the name 21 choices fool you – you can have an exponential choice of options, as the staff here will mix any thing you want with anything else. Be sure to sample any or all of the yogurts on offer before ordering, and the staff are usually up for making recommendations.
Runner Up: I would be remiss without mentioning Tutti Gelati, a cute little shop just off the main square in Old Pasadena. Ask for a dip of chocolate gelato with a dip of orange sorbet. Yum!
Best Place for a Beer in Pasadena: Baldwin’s
As the photo implies, Baldwin’s has an incredible 63 beers on tap. It’s a British-themed pub, complete with fish and chips and all the accouterments. What more do you need?
Best Wine Tasting in Pasadena: Heritage Wine Company
With California’s fame in the wine world, I leave you with the lovely Heritage Wine Company. I love them because they have a focus on local wines; you can do tasting flights here but also have some light snacks. They’re right in Old Pasadena so a great place to finish up an afternoon of shopping, or a good start the evening.
Have you been to Pasadena? What’s your favorite place to eat?
Special thanks to the Pasadena CVB for being such kind hosts during our visit. Learn more about our editorial policy on sponsored trips here.