The 10 Best Restaurants in Pasadena
Momo at Himalayan Cafe
The popular and worthy All India Café is right across the street, but our preferences for subcontinental eating in Pasadena run a little northeast of India. Himalayan Café is a humble restaurant on the southern edge of Old Town, close enough to make parking a drag but far enough that you’re unlikely to be swarmed by shoppers. The restaurant itself is generally pretty quiet. The food, however, is anything but ordinary, from the thick-skinned and perfectly plump Himalayan dumplings called momo to the fabulous curries to the spiced meats that come sizzling out of the tandoori oven. Many of the dishes take the shape of more well-known Indian counterparts, but the flavors are distinctly different, earthy and warm and unusual in the best way. 36 S. Fair Oaks Ave.; (626) 564-1560, himalayancafe.net.
Squid ink garganelli at Union
Old Town has rarely been the destination for the best cooking in Pasadena, and it isn’t hard to see why — rent is crazy high, and most of the traffic in the area is from casual shoppers looking for an easy stopover that won’t challenge the palate or the wallet. But over the last couple of years the scene has greatly improved, thanks in no small part to Union, Bruce Kalman’s home of pasta and pickles. The space is small and decorated with folksy, vegetable-focused sayings from Alice Waters and friends, the menu is interesting and hyper-seasonal, and it’s still one of the toughest reservations in the neighborhood. Pasadena needed a place like this, with staggeringly good cacio e pepe and a thunderous porchetta, where the bread comes with delicious giardiniera and the star dessert is olive oil cake. 37 E. Union St.; (626) 795-5841, unionpasadena.com.
Loretta Peng and Teresa Montaño’s ode to the Basque is as personal as a restaurant gets: It’s a passion project, radiating the warmth that only comes from a business powered by heart and soul. Ración’s modest but elegant dining room, tucked into a leafy block in Pasadena, is as unassuming as it is comfortable, but it’s the cooking that truly sets this place apart. Brilliant orange, citrus-cured salmon is draped across your plate, nestled against a creamy, thick sauce based on ajo blanco, the white Spanish soup made with crushed almonds and garlic. House-made squid-ink pasta, served with mussels and piquillo peppers and giving off the soft perfume of saffron, is impossibly light — a trick made all the more magical when it’s done with black pasta. This is food more influenced by the best of international fine dining than it is by the jumble of small plates seen everywhere these days. Unlike so many of the kale salads and bowls of blackened Brussels sprouts, which taste good but could be made by any of a thousand cooks, the food at Ración could only be here, in this place, from these people. —Besha Rodell
119 W. Green St.; (626) 396-3090, racionrestaurant.com.
Tuna nicoise salad at the Raymond
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a high-society lady (and let’s be real, who hasn’t?), then we’ve got one very simple answer for you — go have brunch at the Raymond. The restaurant is peak Pasadena, built into an old and beautiful Craftsman cottage rich with history, hidden down a long driveway just off Fair Oaks Avenue. As you walk up the brick-lined path and open the mostly unmarked front door, it’s easy to pretend you’re on your way to a boozy, book club brunch, or a sophisticated dinner party with some land barons. The food lives up to its environment, too, whether you're having an indulgent benedict at brunch, a fried chicken sandwich for lunch or a big, classic entree for dinner. Everything is prepared perfectly and presented beautifully, and perhaps best of all, the cocktails from the attached bar 1886 are truly phenomenal. 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave.; (626) 441-3136, theraymond.com.
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