There’s a lot more going on in Pasadena than youth soccer leagues, Arts & Crafts houses, and a very famous parade. From classic delis and burger spots to restaurants serving creative takes on Spanish and Indonesian cuisine, LA's most well-known suburban city offers a huge array of dining options both old and new. Here are our 20 favorite places to eat and drink in Pasadena.
Dos Besos can be summed up in three words: Lovely. Charming. Delightful. Those words might sound a bit banal, like how you'd describe a friend's cute(ish) baby or an arthouse film you didn't understand. But in the case of Dos Besos, a Spanish tapas and paella restaurant in Pasadena, we really mean it. It's a perfectly nice restaurant in Old Town with pleasant service and very good, occasionally great, food. It's ideal for nights when you want to put on a slinky little top and be charmed out of your seat while sipping sangria and eating fantastic seafood paella. You’ll be comfortable here with coworkers, in-laws, or someone who bases their entire personality on a love of cured meats.
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.
Agnes Restaurant & Cheesery
Every time we walk through Agnes’s massive barn doors on Green St., we’re hit with a sudden wave of bucolic euphoria. There’s a full market and cheesery up front, an open hearth loaded with sizzling meats in back, and giant wooden rafters soaring above the dining room and back patio. Agnes isn’t the first place in LA to dip into Midwestern nostalgia, but it’s the only one that goes all-in. You’ll eat dishes like loaded baked potato dumplings, cornbread eclairs, and ice cream topped with puppy chow. This is definitely upscale dining, but it’s also where universal childhood comforts are intertwined into every element of the experience.
Rotisserie Chicken of California
Pasadena is no stranger to iconic, old-school establishments that lure people in from all over SoCal. Rotisserie Chicken Of California currently isn’t one of them—but it should be. This tiny, hole-in-the-wall spot in downtown has been around since the 1980s and is home to some of the best rotisserie chicken we’ve ever eaten in LA. The signature dish is the “Rotisserie Chicken Thirty Two,” a special and very secretive recipe that uses a 32 spice blend to coat the chicken. It’s tangy and salty with a sweet and sour kick that stays on your lips all afternoon. Whether you live in and around Northeast LA or not, a solo lunch at RCC is a pilgrimage worth taking.
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.
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—the calamari with super-spicy chile de arbol peppers is a stand-out—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.
U Street is a full-service pizza shop that’s run by the same crew as Union next door. Here the name of the game is crackly-crusted, New York-ish-style pizza with tons of California influences. Think red sauce made from locally-produced tomatoes and toppings that range from Fresno peppers to Petaluma mozzarella. Our favorite pies at the moment are the briney, buttery clam pizza and the vodka pepperoni that comes with cream, peppers, mozzarella and provolone, and a housemade vodka sauce we audibly professed our love to when we first tried it. Also, make sure you order some of their silky-smooth soft serve - flavors change daily, but if the chocolate and vanilla swirl is on the menu, get it.
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 $6, 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 12 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 in the thick of Union St., this quiet French spot isn’t as flashy as some of its big-name neighbors, but what Perle does well is provide a romantic atmosphere and a menu filled with well-executed French food. Our favorite dish is the frisée Lyonnaise salad, which comes topped with bacon lardons, poached egg, chicken liver mousse crouton, and dijon vinaigrette. It’s a savory salad, but still light enough to not fill you completely up. And that’s important, because you don’t want to miss the moules-frites with soft, garlicky mussels and properly crunchy fries and the tangy French onion soup.
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 gule, a yellow curry with carrots and squash, 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 it—this is one of LA’s most iconic 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.
Chamo Venezuelan Cuisine
Chamo is a family-owned restaurant that specializes in Venezuelan comfort foods like empanadas, tequeños, and, of course, soft arepas with over a dozen fillings to choose from. Here you can try Venezuela’s national dish, pabellón criollo, in the form of an arepa, which is a very tasty and far more portable alternative to the usual rice and beans plate. The freshly grilled dough gets stuffed with black beans, fried plantains, your choice of shredded chicken or beef, and a big handful of shredded white cheese that softly melts as it mingles with all the warm fillings. We also love the carne mechada arepa that comes with a big serving of shredded beef cooked in a savory tomato-based sauce that’s worth potentially ruining a white t-shirt for.
Arroyo Chop House
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.
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.
There are few things more cathartic than sitting in silence with a good sandwich and listening to jazz music, which is why it’s hard to skip Perry’s anytime we’re in Pasadena. The nearly 20-year-old sandwich shop isn’t jazz-themed per se, but as you walk in and spot portraits of famous musicians adorning the walls and hear Duke Ellington emanating from the loudspeaker, it’s clear that music is a priority here. That and delicious sandwiches, of course. The menu is pretty wide-ranging with everything from straight-forward turkey clubs to tuna melts to hot pastrami with pepperoncini, but if it’s your first time, the Hey Joe! is a must. Filled with hot roast beef, pastrami, a hotlink, cheese, onion, diced peppers, mayo, and mustard, this is by no means a light sandwich, but it’s very well-balanced. It’s spicy, savory, and salty with a perfect crunch in each bite courtesy of that hotlink.
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.
Main Chick Hot Chicken is an order-at-the-counter spot that has expanded its Nashville-style operation into multiple locations that includes Koreatown, Long Beach, and West LA. The chicken here has a flavorful dry rub that really comes through on the first bite. Their tenders always come out piping hot (both temperature and spice-wise), so we recommend giving your chicken a moment to cool before digging in. It’s understandable if you can’t resist this fluorescent red chicken, but you might end up with some full-body sweats when the heat kicks in. We also love that they offer both white and dark meat options even though we always go for their spicy leg quarters, which are big portions of hot chicken generously brined for extra flavor. Pair it with some white bread to mop up the extra sauce in your box, or maybe even pat your forehead if you can’t handle the heat.
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.