Ask most Angelenos if there’s a part of town analogous to the white-picket-fence suburbs of the Northeast, and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you it’s Pasadena.
Those people are not entirely wrong - there’s no doubt that the small city 10 miles northeast of LA is a suburb. But there’s a lot more going on here than youth soccer leagues, health food stores, and a very famous parade. It’s the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley, and as a result, has some killer Chinese spots. And since rent is - a little - cheaper in this part of LA County, more restaurants have the chance to flourish, and family-run spots are able to succeed without getting priced out like they might in LA. There are also a whole bunch of expensive-looking places with people in suits inside - though it’s hard to tell which of those deserve your attention, and which aren’t worth braving a crowd of lawyers talking about bankruptcy hearings.
The number of restaurants here can be overwhelming - and there are only so many meals you can eat. So we’ve done the work (and the eating) for you. Here are the 17 best spots in LA’s version of suburbia.
This Filipino spot is one of the best restaurants in Pasadena - and it doesn’t even look like a restaurant. You enter through a convenience store to get to the adjacent dining room, and order cafeteria-style at the counter, pointing out whatever looks good to you (or you can just have the person serving you recommend what’s good). The hand-rolled pork lumpia are excellent, and our favorites of the mains are the perfectly cooked eggplant with shrimp paste, and the juicy, vinegary adobo chicken. And at the end of your meal, nothing is going to prepare you for how fantastic the homemade turon is - they’re like sticky, crunchy, banana-stuffed lumpia. There’s a reason they sell them in boxes of five.
You can call it a “destination restaurant,” because Union is so good it makes people who don’t go east of the 405 drive all the way to Pasadena. This Italian spot does everything from scratch - the bread, the butter, the pasta - and the quality shows. The pasta is what shines brightest here, like the squid ink lumache with Maine lobster and butter, and the torchetti with pork ragu. You also can’t leave without getting the wild mushrooms and polenta. If you’re looking for a place to have a fantastic blowout meal right in Old Town, this is it.
Pasadena has a few great sushi spots - Sushi Kimagure is our favorite. It’s in the same plaza as the Del Mar train station, and is an essential LA omakase - especially at its comparatively affordable $95 price point. Sit at the bar, and Chef Ike-san will put piece after piece of remarkably fresh and well-prepared fish in front of you. He offers warnings before pieces he particularly wants you to eat quickly, including an absolutely fantastic, slightly charred seared salmon.
An upscale spot in Old Town Pasadena, Maestro serves interesting and excellent Mexican food. This is a great spot for any occasion, from drinks and a couple appetizers at the bar to an all-out celebratory meal. The small plates are good - we like the beets with a yoghurt-y whipped goat cheese, and calamari with super-spicy chile de arbol peppers - but the mains are fantastic. The arrachera (grilled skirt steak) comes with a unique and very good chorizo chimichurri, and the lamb shank barbacoa is so tender that it falls off the bone the second you touch it. They’ve also got some of the best cocktails in town - get the barrel-aged mezcal Manhattan, or one of the margaritas.
The second location of the popular - and truly excellent - dim sum spot from Alhambra, Lunasia has a big modern space right on Colorado Blvd. You order on a paper notepad, so you’ll absolutely get carried away and end up with a couple extra boxes of dumplings to bring home. Which is a very good thing, because this is some of the best Chinese food in LA. Our favorites are the jumbo shrimp har-gow dumplings, and the shrimp and spinach dumplings, which are light and fresh.
This cramped little Italian deli in Pasadena slices prosciutto to order, and has shelves stocked full of handmade pasta. But the reason most people are here is for Roma’s famous (and unnamed) sandwich. It’s only $5.50, and consists of cured meat (capicola, mortadella, and salami) and some provolone on a freshly-baked sub roll. It’s not only the best sandwich in Pasadena, it’s one of the best in LA County.
One of the busiest restaurants in Pasadena, Osawa does it all - shabu shabu, sushi, and sukiyaki - and all of it is pretty great. Despite the huge menu, we usually order the sushi combination special, which includes a blue crab hand roll alongside 16 pieces of extremely high-quality fish. If you’re not going all-in on the sushi, try to get a seat at the shabu shabu counter, because then you can order off both the shabu menu and the a la carte sushi one.
Located next to Osawa, this Southeast Asian spot is a great place for an upscale meal in Downtown Pasadena. The menu is mostly Indonesian, and some standouts include the char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) with sweet sausage and prawns, and nasi goreng - crab fried rice with chicharron gremolata. The food here balances spicy, sweet, and vinegary very well, and chances are, you’ll be tempted to order way more than you need. But portions are huge, so stick to one or two things per person.
This OG burger spot has been serving classic, California-style cheeseburgers since 1963. The burger itself is pretty simple - an old-school greasy patty on a fresh bun with housemade Thousand Island dressing, American cheese, pickles, and lettuce. But there’s a reason they’ve never messed with this classic, because this is one of LA’s best burgers. Next time you’ve had a terrible day at work and need to drown your sorrows in meat and cheese, this is a great place to do it.
The first time we had the crab fried rice at Dan, it went straight into that category of dishes we need to eat once a month or else we start feeling anxious. That’s how good the food is at is at this Chinese spot on Lake Ave. They’ve also got a bright dining room with a big, open window to the kitchen, so you can watch the chefs pinch close your blue crab and pork soup dumplings. If you go at night, there’s a good chance you’ll wait for a bit - but the line moves quickly.
At steakhouses, you probably know what to expect - formal service, high-quality meat, and steep prices. Arroyo Chop House definitely has all those things, but it still stands out from the STKs and Ruth’s Chrises of the world. We won’t bury the lead - the best thing here is actually the chocolate soufflé, which you order at the beginning of your meal because it takes 45 minutes to make. It’s super fluffy, and tastes like chocolate clouds. The meat and sides are both good, too - the rib eye is our favorite - along with classic, very well-done sides like creamed spinach, scalloped potatoes, and jalapeño-corn soufflé.
Shandong serves good noodle dishes and some great handmade dumplings - namely, the pork with cabbage and the shrimp and pork with leek. Their beer selection won’t blow you away, but the massive, frosted mugs of light beer are just what you want alongside the filling and flavorful dumplings. And don’t leave without getting the huge scallion pancake - with beef, egg, and fried dough wrapped up inside. Weirdly, it also feels a bit like a thrift shop in here, with an assortment of chairs, tables, and glassed-in memorabilia all around you in the dining room.
That line you’ve seen on Fair Oaks in Old Pas is for Ramen Tatsunoya, a Japanese-import ramen chain. It’s the first US location, and they only serve one thing: tonkotsu-style ramen, with very good noodles and a pork broth that’s rich and creamy, but still light enough that you’ll have room for some ice cream from Coolhaus (just around the corner and down the block) when you’re done.
Luggage Room should be your go-to for pizza in Pasadena. Their sourdough crust is chewy and flavorful, and they’ve got interesting and inventive toppings like chorizo and sun-dried tomatoes, and avocado and lemon. Our favorite, though, is the Shattuck Ave pie, topped with burrata, roasted garlic, and piquillo peppers. Luggage Room’s in a (fully functioning) train platform, and used to be the actual luggage room for people taking the train to and from Hollywood. It’s nice inside, and usually full of locals drinking wine and eating pizza - but our move is to order it to Stone Brewing, which is in the same plaza. They’ll deliver your pizzas there, so you can eat it while you make your way through one of LA’s best tap lists.
There are a couple Himalayan spots in Pasadena, but Tibet Nepal House was the first - and it’s also the best. It’s a great place for a casual weeknight dinner when you feel like eating curried meats and killer vegetable pakora (chickpea fritters). And at lunch, they do a buffet, so you can get all the garlic naan, tandoori chicken, zucchini aloo, and Nepalese curried chow mein your heart desires.
Oseyo is one of the most crowded places in Pasadena - come on a weekend, and expect to wait at least an hour for a table. But it’s worth the wait, because this isn’t just one of the best places for a rowdy dinner in this part of LA, it’s also a great place for high quality shabu shabu. Get the spicy miso broth, and pick your favorite meat (we like the choice prime rib and the seafood trio, with fresh scallops, salmon, and shrimp), to go along with your $13 pitcher of Kirin.
Lincoln is a local favorite for brunch and pastries. Their classics are what we like most, like huevos rancheros with white beans and a very good avocado cream, and croissants that we’ve ordered by the dozen. Get ready to fight a youth soccer team for a table if you come on a Saturday, but it’s much more low-key on weekdays, where you’ll find a lot of business meetings between people wearing flip-flops, and people with overall deals at Netflix working on their next pilot.