Over the past couple years, Pasadena has slowly been growing into a culinary destination. Hotspots like Union and Alexander's Steakhouse have been cozying up nicely in the neighborhood, attracting a whole slew of other food destinations. Here are five eateries and cafes that have recently launched in the area and are worth checking out, from a gastropub making some killer French dip sandwiches, to a seafood restaurant that's putting a modern spin on French technique.
Lost at Sea
Pasadena has no shortage of steakhouses, wine bars and burger joints, but surprisingly, there haven't been as many seafood-centric restaurants — except for the occasional sushi bar — which explains why Lost at Sea makes so much sense in this neighborhood. It's a casual and inviting eatery with walls painted in steel blue, with a long communal table serving as the space's centerpiece. Lost at Sea is helmed by Santos Uy (owner of Mignon, Papilles), who meticulously curates the divine wine menu, and Tim Carey (former executive chef of Papilles), who uses his background in French cooking and love for fishing as inspiration behind his dishes. As the seasons change, so do the menu items. On a good day, you might find freshly shucked oysters paired with a melon habanero mignonette; a velvety smooth sweet-corn velouté that marries the flavors of lobster broth, charred corn and briny sea grapes; and charred octopus sitting in a shallow pool of house-made molé. As for the meat eaters, there's a simple carnivorous item on the menu — steak and fries — to keep them sated. But whatever you do, don't feel shy asking about wine pairings.
57 Holly St., Pasadena; (626) 385-7644, lostatseapas.com.
Harlowe's French Dip
A newcomer to the French dip scene is quickly joining the ranks of Phillipe's and Cole's with another possessive restaurant name, Harlowe's. The gastropub, which has a low-key “Cheers” vibe, comes from four childhood friends; Brian Kiepler and Tony Alcazar were chefs who worked at fine-dining establishments like Nick & Stef's and at the Ritz Carlton, and Brandon Ibrahim and Patrick Best are L.A. County firefighters. The quartet got together to open restaurants like The Bottle Room in Whittier and now Harlowe's French Dip. It has an extensive menu that goes beyond the sandwich, from BBQ short ribs to shrimp po'boys, but it would be remiss not to sample the L.A. classic that you dunk in savory au jus. It's a labor of love for these guys. The meat is spiced and braised for five hours and served alongside a house-made labneh and a sidecar of lamb au jus. The turkey is brined overnight and slow-roasted, and accompanied by a garlic-parmesan butter and bacon-turkey gravy. Make sure you wash that all down with a pint of craft beer from their extensive drink menu, and pair that all with either a side of their ridiculously good salt-brined Kennebec fries, or garnet yam fries that come with a soy-caramel dipping sauce.
43 E Union St., Pasadena; (626) 535-0985, harlowesfrenchdip.com.
Two Kids Coffee
Nestled inside a Pasadena art gallery is Two Kids Coffee, a new shop run by couple and architects Ryan Ramirez and Danah Mangahis. Ramirez says the pair considers themselves as “two kids by heart,” hence the name of the cafe. The seed for coffee shop grew when Ramirez realized he was feeling unfulfilled working in architecture, and wanted to put his efforts towards his love for coffee. A pop-up coffee cart and successfully funded Kickstarter later, Ramirez and Mangahis were able to open a place of their own. At the sleek Two Kids Coffee that the couple designed, you'll find elegant wooden countertops with a painted mural of cascading seashells and striking wallpaper of birds and fowl. They serve beans from Brooklyn-based Gotham Roasting Company, something that you won't find anywhere else on the West Coast, Ramirez says. It's a simple menu of pour-over, cold brew and espresso, but once you get a sip of the complex flavor notes of the coffee, you'll understand why you'll want to keep coming back.
1504 Mission St., South Pasadena; (626) 250-9218, twokidscoffee.com.
True Food Kitchen
Health food often gets a bum rap, but True Food Kitchen makes gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options actually taste good. Picture edamame dumplings swimming in an umami-laden pool of dashi and white truffle oil, or an autumnal butternut squash pizza accompanied by a creamy vegan almond ricotta. Carnivores aren't forgotten here; you'll find burgers with a juicy grass-fed beef patty, or grilled fish tacos done Baja style. The man behind the national casual restaurant chain, Dr. Andrew Weil, is all about holistic health and anti-inflammatory life, so the ingredients lean towards the nutritious, local and seasonal. There is a full bar menu here with cocktails, beer and wine, or you can come in to cure a hangover with the non-alcoholic, black tea-based Medicine Man drink. As for the Pasadena outpost, it's a gorgeous one. True Food Kitchen is situated inside a historic Texaco service station. It's a massive space with a courtyard patio popping with yellow and lime green, shaded by umbrellas and surrounded by trees. Inside you'll find sleek and elegant dining rooms and a comfy bar with hanging green plants, making everything look fresh. This could easily be a place for a family meal or date.
168 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 639-6818, truefoodkitchen.com.
TLT Food is the casual brick-and-mortar outpost of food truck vets The Lime Truck. The name might ring a bell because these guys just so happened to be the champions of season two of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race. It's been five years since the truck's victory, and since the business has opened a few restaurants, including one in Westwood. Its newest location is right across the street from the Pasadena Playhouse and accented with the same vibrant lime green color that's part of TLT's signature look. The menu is an amalgam of Latin-inspired dishes with some Asian influences. There definitely isn't a shortage of tacos here (we suggest their braised beef short rib and pork belly), but some of our favorite dishes that you shouldn't miss are the caramelized roasted Brussels sprouts smothered in cotija cheese and bits of prosciutto; and the decadent blue crab grilled cheese that is spicy enough to make you sweat. You can cool down with their fresh-squeezed lemonades and craft beer and wine.
36 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena; (626) 714-7117, tltfood.com.