The best restaurants in Pasadena

Take a break from the shops of Old Town to dine at these fantastic Pasadena restaurants
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman Squid ink garganelli at Union
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There are a million reasons to visit Pasadena—bargain shopping at the Rose Bowl flea market, perusing fine art at the Norton Simon Museum, getting lost in Craftsman architecture at the Gamble House—but the city is quickly becoming a veritable dining destination, too. Among the quaint coffee shops and tourist-driven chains that populate Old Town and beyond lie fantastic eateries worth discovering. From a former train station turned restaurant to a cafe serving some of the best falafel in L.A., these Pasadena restaurants are your best bets for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Pasadena restaurants to visit

Restaurants, Hamburgers

Dog Haus Biergarten

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Though the Dog Haus menu reads like a drunken cookbook of street dogs and Denny’s breakfasts, the plump, flavorful hot dogs show more tact and restraint than their sloppy inspirations, thanks in part to the sweet, soft Hawaiian bread buns. Among the long list of dependably delectable dogs, burgers and brats, the Sooo Cali ($6) is the hot dog of choice, with its thick slices of avocado, crispy onions and spicy basil aioli. Out front, the picnic bench patio offers a charming alternative to the sports bar-like interior. In both areas, the delightfully cheesy ’80s touches are inescapable, from the loud soundtrack (think Toto) to the menu (The Abe Froman, Scott Baioli).

Float
Photograph: Courtesy Float
Restaurants, Sandwich shops

Float

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Float presents a relaxed alternative to the power lunches and fast casual chains in Pasadena’s South Lake Avenue district. You’ll find the cafe and its few outdoor seats at the end of an oddly charming facsimile of London’s Burlington Arcade. The sandwich menu is small but varied—from the tangy Chipotle Bacon Club ($9.50) to the Harvest Vegetarian’s appetite-satisfying combo of veggies, hummus and honey goat cheese spread ($8.50)—and each one comes prepared on your choice of ciabatta, whole wheat or baguette. The other side of the menu sources local favorites for coffee (Coffee Manufactory) and ice cream (Fosselman’s). Bottled soda pop selections and floats served in mason jars with candy-stripe straws contrast with exposed light bulbs and Taschen books in the interior. You can also expect fresh pastries from the Larder, in addition to breakfast bagels and sandwiches. It manages to avoid feeling insufferably twee and instead offers a simply delightful atmosphere for breakfast or lunch.

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Pasta at Gale's
Photograph: Courtesy Gale's Restaurant
Restaurants, Italian

Gale’s

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Gale’s Restaurant is the definition of a neighborhood spot. Regulars are greeted at the door by name, often by owner Gale Kohl, who opened the restaurant as a tribute to her late brother. The bistro is decorated with reminders of the Old World; a bust of Michelangelo’s David looks out over the kitchen as chefs twirl strands of fettucini and sautée broccoli rabe. Northern Italian food is the highlight here, and you’ll find classic favorites on the menu that appeal to everyone: chicken piccata, caprese salad and clams linguini. An extensive wine list features both California and Italian varietals, and if you’re going to stay a while—which you most likely will—a bottle is the way to go.

Lincoln bakery and cafe in Pasadena
Photograph: Courtesy Lincoln
Restaurants, Bakeries

Lincoln

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Like a west coast version of Dean & DeLuca, it’s highly likely that you’ll pick up one of the prepared goods while waiting in line at Lincoln. Bags of candy, homemade jam, pickled veggies and well-spicked crackers line the shelves around the high-ceilinged space. Stay focused: You have some serious decisions to make for breakfast or lunch. Parmesan eggs with crème fraîche and grilled bread, a savory breakfast bowl with white beans and fennel sausage, and plenty of sandwiches fill the menu, along with daily specials like blueberry pancakes and yogurt with granola. Lincoln is a champion of bowls, more recently offering farro and spicy shrimp options—all of your necessary grains, veggies and protein in one place. Then again, if you’re just here for a coffee and a freshly baked pastry, you can find that here, too, enjoyed on one of the sunny picnic benches outside.

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Falafel at Mediterranean Cafe
Photograph: Michael Juliano
Restaurants, Mediterranean

Mediterranean Cafe

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No matter what your feelings are about waiting in line, there’s a methodical beauty to the near-constant queue at Mediterranean Cafe. Step up to the counter, place your order, fork over a few dollars, and before you even have your change back, there’s a blue tray with your lunch waiting on the counter. As consistent as the service is, the food is that much better. Though the shawarma plate ($9) mainly keeps the lunch break crowds coming, the falafel ($1.75) is an essential add-on: two pieces the size of a large macaron, crisp on the outside and like a light cake on the inside. The spiced sides are good enough to devour as is, but you’ll find yourself scraping every last drop out of the small cup of tahini.

Restaurants, Italian

Union

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Chef Bruce Kalman delivers phenomental Northern Italian cuisine at Union, a farmers’ market-driven place decked out in Alice Waters quotes. Fresh ingredients are the constant focus here: a roasted beets salad features thinly sliced radishes mixed in with meaty beets and chunks of cara cara oranges, while sweet olives and walnuts are scattered about as garnish. The mussels and guanciale is stellar, too, with huge mussels swimming in the most delicious broth, which you can take advantage of with the toasted bread to scoop up bits of salty guanciale and garlic. Don’t even think about skipping the polenta here—it’s one of Union’s best dishes, and something that will have you talking about the restaurant days later.

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Photograph: Courtesy The Luggage Room
Restaurants, Pizza

The Luggage Room

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What used to be Del Mar Train Station’s holding room for luggage is now The Luggage Room, a pizzeria serving organic and gluten free varieties that will make you forget the space was ever the scene of jumbled suitcases. Fresh produce is key here, and can be found in options like the Avocado Festival, Mushroom Party and Mother Earth (featuring artichokes, roasted peppers and broccolini). Or make your own, and enjoy alongside one of the Luggage Room’s select wines.

Photograph: John Peden
Restaurants, Contemporary American

The Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse

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For a slab of top-notch meat, the Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse at the Langham hotel features the finest selection of seasonal aged USDA Prime Cuts, Australian Wagyu and Japanese Kobe-Style Beef, expertly prepared on a wood-fired grill by Chef Perry Pollaci. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s a trip worth making for a celebratory dinner or anniversary date. Not big on steak? Their Sunday brunch is the stuff of legend, when mimosas and Bloody Marys flow and breakfast delicacies like eggs Benedict are doled out to well-dressed brunch goers.

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