The Best Restaurants In Pasadena
photo credit: Krystal Thompson
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 16 favorite places to eat and drink in Pasadena.
Bar Chelou proves not all pre-theater dinner spots are boring. The moody, dimly lit bistro on the grounds of the Pasadena Playhouse hums all night with dates sharing hearty, artfully plated dishes like snapped peas topped with smoky crumbled Spanish sausage and carrots that taste like a crispy rice salad. And while a good chunk of the crowd inside Bar Chelou does have a performance to get to, it’s not like the place dies after showtime. People who are thankful their kids went to bed early pack the bar area well past 10pm, sipping martinis and ordering lemon-chamomile semifreddo (not exactly late night, but pretty good for Pasadena).
If you’ve ever eaten at the original Howlin Ray's in Chinatown, you know to expect chaotic parking and the occasional long line filled with people discussing podcasts. It’s why the new location in Pasadena is such a pleasant upgrade. Parking is a breeze with a huge lot around back, the upbeat staff (who can text you updated wait times) keeps the line moving quickly, and there’s a beer and wine menu that, combined with a blasting hip-hop playlist, make it a prime location for day drinking. As for the hot chicken? It’s as juicy and crispy (and spicy) as ever. Even if you end up standing in line for a bit, this place is worth planning your afternoon around.
The upscale Cantonese dishes at Colette, a strip mall dinner destination right on the Pasadena/Arcadia border, somehow manage to be familiar and novel all at once. There’s crackly chicken skin stuffed with spongy shrimp paste, saucy beef bits under a crispy vermicelli noodle pancake, and stir-fried chayote tossed in a medley of minced pork and pickled olives. After serving American brunch classics for years, the team brought on a new chef to run dinner service in 2022. Colette 2.0 is a huge upgrade—there’s solid dim sum on the daytime menu, but dinner is the real highlight. That’s when you can cover a big round table in creative Cantonese dishes as tasty as any you’ll find in the SGV. Bring friends so you try as much as possible.
SCR/TGM, as we’ll call it for short, is a collaboration by two Smorgasburg vendors: Indian-Mexican-inspired Saucy Chick and birria specialists Goat Mafia. This order-at-the-counter spot in East Pasadena boasts a huge fusion menu that actually works, including smoky goat birria tacos and papri chaat nachos doused in spicy chutney. Get the tangy pibil-marinated rotisserie chicken with creamy chorizo-infused beans and flour tortillas if you’re looking for a casual meal that’s quick, flavorful, and well-priced, too. Most people at Saucy Chick are there for takeout, but if you want to sit and eat, there’s a sunny front patio with plenty of seats.
Dos Besos can be summed up in three words: Lovely. Charming. Delightful. That 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.
At this family-run Filipino spot right off the 210, 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 (or you can just have the person serving you recommend what’s good). The hand-rolled pork lumpia are excellent, and our favorites from the entrees are the jiggly braised 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.
Every time we walk through Agnes’s massive barn doors on Green St., we're hit with the urge to escape city life and raise a few cows on a little farm in the foothills. There’s a full market and cheesery up front, an open hearth loaded with sizzling meats in the 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 a s'mores cocoa taco. This is definitely upscale dining, but they also know how to weave childhood comforts into every element of the meal.
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 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 should be on your pilgrimage list.
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 makes 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.
The second location of an all-around excellent dim sum spot from Alhambra, Lunasia Pasadena is located in a big modern space on Colorado Blvd. with ample room for large groups. You order off a paper notepad, so you’ll absolutely get carried away and end up with a couple of extra boxes of dumplings to bring home (which is a good thing). Our favorites are the jumbo shrimp har gow and the light and fresh shrimp and spinach dumplings.
This cramped little Italian deli in Pasadena slices its prosciutto to order and has endless shelves stocked full of imported 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 handroll 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 a la carte sushi menu.
Located in the thick of Union St., this quiet French spot isn’t as flashy as some of its 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 à la Normandie with soft, garlicky mussels and properly crunchy fries and the tangy French onion soup.
This OG burger counter has been serving classic, California-style cheeseburgers since 1963. The burger itself is pretty simple: an old-school, medium-thick 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, pull up a stool.
Chamo is a family-owned restaurant that specializes in Venezuelan comfort foods like empanadas, tequeños, and soft, freshly griddled arepas with over a dozen fillings to choose from. A few arepas here easily make a meal, so prioritize the one inspired by Venezuela’s national dish, pabellón criollo, stuffed with black beans, fried plantains, white cheese, and a choice of shredded chicken or beef. We also love the carne mechada arepa, filled with a big amount of shredded beef stewed in a savory tomato-based sauce that’s worth potentially ruining a white t-shirt.
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 Chris' of the world. We won’t bury the lead, though—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.
Few things are more cathartic than sitting with a good sandwich and listening to jazz music, which is why we rarely skip Perry’s anytime we’re in Pasadena. The two-decades-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 on from the speakers, it’s clear that music is a priority. That and delicious sandwiches, of course. The menu is wide-ranging, with everything from 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 roast beef, pastrami, a hot link, cheese, onion, diced peppers, mayo, and mustard, this isn't a light sandwich, but it’s somehow well-balanced—spicy, savory, and salty, with a nice snap courtesy of that hotlink.