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Cheap Dinner on Saturday night in Pasadena

Some friends are coming from OC to have dinner with me in Pasadena this Saturday night. I would like to get recs for a cheap but nice restaurant, that is also vegetarian friendly, in Pasadena. We will be a six-person group, and a rate of $20-$30 per person total (including food, drinks, tax, tip) should be okay. Suggestions in Old Town are especially appreciated.

I am thinking about going to Cafe Santorini. I like the idea of dining on the roof, and the menu and prices look good. Plus, I have heard good things about Cafe Santorini here on Chowhound (www.cafesantorini.com).

I also thought about the Vertical Wine Bar (www.verticalwinebistro.com), but I think this group prefers beer to wine, plus it might get expensive. So I looked at Lucky Baldwins, but it seemed a little too informal for the occasion (www.luckybaldwins.com). I also thought about Red, White and Bluezz (www.redwhitebluezz.com), but there are no prices listed on the online menu.

Anyway, please post suggestions. This will be a belated bday dinner, and I would like it to be nice, without being too expensive. Thanks. :)

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  1. Firefly Bistro maybe? I've only been there once, and it was pretty good food in a cool and funky atmosphere. Which is more than I can say for my one visit to Santorini.

    Also if you're in the mood for drinks afterward head to Magnolia (East side of Lake, between California and Del Mar) - delicious pomegranate mojitos, tasty bar food, and the best crowd and atmosphere in Pasadena IMO.

    Hope you have fun!

    3 Replies
    1. re: trojanhorse

      Firefly in South Pasadena? Not one of my favorites at all...plus you would have to drive to get anywhere super entertaining for out-of-towners on a Saturday night.

      Lucky Baldwins is very casual.

      Magnolia is good, and closer to more nightlife...

      Good luck!

      1. re: Spiff

        Hmm, nightlife around Magnolia? Do tell?

        You don't mean Madre's do you?

        Aside from Madre's, Magnolia is on a pretty desolate stretch of Lake ...

        1. re: ipsedixit

          I just meant more bar-type areas...like Smitty's, Magnolia, not nightlife per se...

    2. Magnolia's a good choice. Or, La Maschera Ristorante for Italian -- service is great, and you can probably take up its lounge area.

      If you really want to stay in Old Town, Cafe Santorini should be good -- the patio factor gives a relatively different take. You might also consider Villa Sorriso for a more upbeat place, with a bar/music and cabanas at night. CrepeVine might also be a contender; they have vegetarian crepes and entrees, plus a bar.

      A little bit south of Old Town is La Luna Negra, for tapas.

      Happy Belated Bday!

      4 Replies
      1. re: chica

        All good recs, but I think those places are out of range for the OP's budget, e.g. 20-30/person with tax, tip, drinks, etc. included.

        Or am I missing something?

        1. re: ipsedixit

          La Maschera is more expensive, but pizzas and pastas at Villa are $12-16 at most, and CrepeVine crepes are within that range, too. I guess it really depends on how much the person wants to drink, too, because that can add up really quickly, especially when celebrating a special occasion.

          1. re: chica

            Yeah, it's hard to do all inclusive for 20-30/person, even in Pasadena.

        2. re: chica

          Thank you for the bday wishes, chica. :)

        3. Thank you to everyone for the replies. I walked around Old Town tonight, and really nothing stood out to me. Somewhere off Lake might do, and also may be less crowded, which is okay. I really appreciate all the recs. I know the budget is low, but I think it would be rude to have friends splurge for a very expensive place.

          I actually have wanted to go to Madre's-- forgot about that one. The drinks at Magnolia sound really good. I also have thought about La Luna Negra and Villa Sorriso, but I was worried about crowds at Villa Sorriso.

          Firefly Bistro I had not thought of. That might be good.

          Thank you, again. I will post here later about wherever we go. :)

          5 Replies
          1. re: katkoupai

            don't boo me off the board, but Buca di Beppo could work. (please hold your groans). Pricewise it's cool, you can have lots of shared salads, pastas, veggies...and a fun atmosphere....

            1. re: TastELA

              I've been to the Buca di Beppo in Pas with my sister. I thought the food was decent, and I would go back. For this occasion, I'm hoping to go somewhere that is unique to Pasadena. Thanks for the rec. It definitely fits the specifications above. If I don't find something, I may go with a chain. I am hoping to try something new. :)

              1. re: katkoupai

                Unfortunately, you will not be able to go to Madre's, Villa Sorriso, La Luna Negra, Vertical Wine Bistro or Red, White and Bluezz or Magnolia and stay within your budget unless you stick to tap water and an appetizer. All of those places are more like $50-75 per person, including tax, and maybe including tip. I had three glasses of wine and two appetizers at Vertical last week and it cost $50 with tip.

                I would recommend Cafe Santorini as well, as you can get one entree and maybe two glasses of wine for $30. And Lucky Baldwin's is casual and cheap and you'll have no problem staying within your budget there.

                There is the Kitchen Italian,http://www.thekitchenitalian.com/, which is on Union Street (across from Forever 21) that has the checkered tablecloths and affordable, basic Italian food. Cute and cozy atmosphere too. I also suggest Buca, as it's one of the few places that meet your requirements in that area. Or try Cafe Bizou, http://www.cafebizou.com/pasadena.htm, as they have a $2.50 corkage (check with them first, in case it's changed) and affordable food in a nice atmosphere, though it's nothing unique.

                If you really want something different, try the Tibet Nepal House, http://www.tibetnepalhouse.com/. It's cheap, vegetarian but offers a wide variety of flavors. You don't have to be a veggie to love it. La Fiesta Grande on Colorado might be a fun option as well - you can see their menu here: http://www.sangabrielvalleymenus.com/...

                Good luck, and give us an update afterward!

                Clare K.

                1. re: Clare K

                  Actually, Tibet Nepal House has meat and vegetarian options : http://tibetnepalhouse.com/menu_print... - good food and interesting atmosphere.

            2. re: katkoupai

              Madre's will not be cheap -- FYI. I've never eaten there, but I recall the drinks being very expensive.

              If you are willing to get away from Old Town - Briganti in South Pas is good Italian, in a refined setting - however, if they are adventurous eaters, go to Bistro K (it's BOYB) - so perhaps you can supply the drinks (and not feel so guilty about them treating you for food!) If you want more casual Italian - I like Gale's in Pasadena (between Del Mar and California on Fair Oaks -- so closer to Old Town if you want to go up there afterwards).

              Your price point is really difficult - unless you'd go on an ethnic route. Would the group be into that? Mezzaban Indian in Old Town (Fair Oaks) is quite good.

              Other Old Town spots - Cafe Bizou usually appeases my budget minded friends for special occassions - I think it might be a good option... and I probably would have suggested Cafe Santorini as well.

              Keep in mind that your friends want to celebrate you! It's very nice you are being sensitive to budget, but don't worry about it so much that it dampens the experience -- they are expecting to celebrate... plus, they are paying a small fortune in gas costs to do it! Enjoy and Happy Belated!

            3. How about Crepevine Bistro? I had a pretty good meal there.

              1. Vegetarian? Like "only eats salads?" Or will eat Indian food?

                It's tough to do "cheap" in Old Town. At $30 total you have to be under $23 for food and drink since the tax and tip will fill out the rest. You will be very limited in what you can order at Santorini. Vertical is NOT cheap. Nor is Red, White and Bluez.

                For Indian vegetarian, I would recommend All India Cafe on Fair Oaks/Green.
                For nice dinner salads, I'd recommend Twin Palms (Green/DeLacey).
                Almost every other restaurant in this area is very meat heavy. Your poor vegetarian friend will be limited to a pasta with a tomato/basil sauce or a salad almost everywhere.

                FYI, Santorini is very crowded on Saturday nights. It's loud inside and out. The balcony is enclosed in plastic this time of year (it's too cold at night). Better wait until summer if you like the balcony.

                1. It really depends on how much your group eats and drinks. Are you splitting apps/salads, or each getting one, etc. I used to frequent La Luna Negra a lot and never spent $50-$75 pp, including sangria. Been to Madre and Villa Sorriso a couple of times and also did not spend that price range. Last time I was at Cafe Santorini, we came out at less than $30pp, but no apps bc we weren't that hungry, and only one glass of wine. So really depends.
                  I was just at Red White Bluezz, and a number of the small plates were in the $8-9 range, and they were pretty good portions, but wine bars are probably harder to stay within budget.
                  I think Briganti would be a good bet, the food is really good and prices are good too.

                  1. Hi, everyone. Thank you for the continuing suggestions. I made a reservation for Cafe Santorini on Saturday, but I am fairly certain that I will cancel those and that we will just head to Magnolia for drinks and appetizers. I like the idea that Magnolia is a little away from the weekend crowds in Old Pasadena, but still close enough. Re. the vegetarian friend: he used to be a full-fledge vegetarian (non-vegan), but I know he eats fish now and Indian food. I will definitely be keeping a copy of these suggestions for future dining experiences in Pasadena, so thank you to each person who posted here. I really appreciate your help. I will definitely report back on wherever we end up going. I am looking forward to it. Thanks, again. :-)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: katkoupai

                      Sounds like a good plan to me. I know others disagree, but I really think Santorini is very mediocre. Magnolia, though, is a GREAT spot! I go there with the work crew almost every Friday, so if I may recommend from the menu:

                      edamame, you can get it with ponzu sauce or spicy, or half & half like we get

                      crispy coconut shrimp

                      french fry trio (includes herbed wedges, and sweet potato fries - it's very good)

                      turkey chili (with a cornbread crust/topping)

                      cheeseburger - it's actually pretty darn good, and i'm kind of a burger snob. they use good beef and put sauteed onions on top

                      fruit/cheese plate - solid. good triple-cream, a cheddary thing, and parmigiano.

                      cornflake chicken - always popular, we get it every Friday. Personally I don't think it's all that special, but everyone in my crew likes it a lot. Served with a sweet/sour Asian saucy stuff that's pretty good

                      My wife had a "lemon bundt cake" drink which she enjoyed (although of course my pride would never let me order such a thing :) )

                      Have fun Kat, and let us know what you think!

                      1. re: katkoupai

                        Call Magnolia and see if they can reserve a table for your group. There is sometimes a line at the door... it's a small space and can get VERY crowded and uncomfortable if you are standing - especially with a group of 6. I've tried all their specialty drinks (at least what was on the menu about 6 months ago) and didn't find one I was particularly fond of.... however, I adore the space, love the food- and they have nice wines and a full bar - which should keep everyone happy (...get the mac n cheese and chili!).

                        1. re: The Oracle

                          Thank you for the suggestion (I will call them), and thanks for the bday wishes above too. :)

                      2. dunno if it quite has the ambience you're going for, but the newly remodeled heidar baba on colorado across from pcc has delicious persian food. it's a little more expensive than it used to be (since the remodel, it's less takeouty), but it's still a great value.

                        1. You seem to have made your choice by now, but I would suggest the new(ish) Central Park, a few blocks south of Colorado on Fair Oaks - definitely within the Old Town area, which South Lake very much isn't. Also definitely within your budget, at least the high end of it. Flatiron steak and a glass of decent wine would be roughly $25, as would the fine sand dabs. Their good burger would be cheaper.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Will Owen

                            Thank you. I will keep this and the recs above in mind. Even if we go elsewhere this weekend, this will be a great reference for future nights out. I appreciate your help. :)

                          2. Hi. Just reporting back on the evening at Magnolia's. Overall, it was a nice evening, so thanks to everyone who suggested this place. It was on South Lake, next to Madres. Parking was a bit of a challenge. Basically, the best bet is to pay $5 for valet on Saturday. That way you don't have to worry about a) moving your car after two hours or b) getting a parking ticket. I used the valet to avoid getting a ticket from the city.

                            Drinks: very interesting concoctions, such as the Lemon Bundt Cake, Key Lime Pie and Pomegranate Mojito. I thought the Lemon Bundt Cake tasted best. The guys in the group were ragging on each other about the drinks, because one liked the Key Lime Pie. Average price per drink: $10.

                            Appetizers: we had the trio of fries (twice), the fruit and cheese plate, the pizza, and the coconut shrimp. All were good. The cheese plate had some adventurous cheese options, one which was a bit funky, but the rest good.

                            The space: nice colors on the interior walls and interesting light fixtures, plus a big tree in the middle of the bar area. They had neat chairs and sofas, but it was a bit cramped, especially after 9:30PM. One late arrival had to wait in line to get in, which was funny to the group. I guess that's to be expected on a weekend.

                            The bill: total for six people was about $255, after tax, tip, and so on. We had a few drinks each and shared the appetizers, so that's a little over $40 a person.

                            Overall, I thought it was really nice and a good recommendation. The one downside was the mix of music (e.g., Britney Spears, Shakira, Michael Jackson, etc.) This became less important, and even a bit funny, as the night went on.

                            I thought the food and the space itself were the strengths of the place. Definitely a step up from bad bar food, and the average location.

                            So thanks, again, all. :-)

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: katkoupai

                              for future reference - Magnolia does a happy hour til 7pm (1/2 price appetizers - which is a great deal!) - and a rotating drink special....

                              1. re: The Oracle

                                Yes, this does seem like a good deal, and a good idea for a mid-week spot. Thanks for the info. :)

                                1. re: The Oracle

                                  Reporting back (again) on the happy hour tonight at Magnolia. This time I went with someone else, and wow, it makes a difference on the bill when you go during happy hour! Monday nights they have specials on all food, desserts and beers, until later than 7PM. The rest of the week, I think the happy hour ends at 7PM. That said, my sister and I got all of the following for about $30: three Hefeweisen beers, a Coke, the mac and cheese, the Magnolia salad, the warm edamame with ponzu sauce, *and* the coconut shrimp. My sis really liked the place, and it was far less crowded than on Saturday night. The music was also much better tonight. They were playing Spanish gypsy music and none of the stuff they played on Saturday. There was plenty of space (not cramped at all this time), and the service was great (very friendly and attentive). I gave a $10 tip on the $30 bill-- they deserved it. I really like this place, and I think happy hour is the time to go, for sure. Oracle, you inspired me to go again, so thanks for the tip about the specials. I think trojanhorse also mentioned going to happy hour with his work buddies, and there were multiple posters here who suggested the place, in general. Definitely a thumbs up, especially on less crowded days, with the food and drink specials. Thanks. :-)

                                  1. re: katkoupai

                                    I don't know why they've been cranking up the music... when they first opened, it was a lot more subdued -but for some reason at about 7:30/8pm, they crank it up and it's almost impossible to carry on a conversation if you are sitting inside. I've left before because the music was too loud/annoying (I was feeling your pain as I read your b'day report!). Glad to hear they change it up during the week. My favorite spot is the the 4 seats at the bar against the wall... fun people watching perch! :)

                                    1. re: The Oracle

                                      Magnolia is definitely a beautiful spot. I was happy that the music was different, too. I have a feeling that the music changes depending on who is working that day. The volume also seemed lower on Monday, which was a good thing. :)

                              2. Reporting back on an early Sunday dinner at Cafe Santorini. Definitely reasonably priced, good food. We were a party of three, and had the kubbe appetizer, ahi salad, tenderloin steak, and santorini pizza, plus three non-alcoholic beverages. We sat on the patio. It reminded me of New York up there (lots of brick walls and views of tops of buildings). Everyone enjoyed the food. Total came to a little less than 100 bucks for a party of three, after tax and tip, so it was definitely in the $30 range. Thanks for the rec. :) Also, just as a note, the plastic drapes were open on the balcony this evening, and the heat lamps were on. It was a little cold, due to a breeze, but not uncomfortably cold there.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: katkoupai

                                  thanks for reporting back! :) If you go back to Santorini and like hummus, it's one of my favorites! I don't like how cramped some of the 2-tops are on the patio, but it's a wonderful place to enjoy dinner on a warm night!

                                  1. re: The Oracle

                                    Thanks. I do like hummus. We were pleasantly surprised by the food at Cafe Santorini, and my mom even liked the food. She is the hardest to please of anyone I know. :)

                                    1. re: katkoupai

                                      That's a funny comment to me - because my mom is also a VERY picky eater and she really enjoys Santorini as well!!! Go figure!

                                      1. re: The Oracle

                                        Yes, my mom liked Santorini, but she did not love it. The fact that she liked it was good enough for me, though. If I ever hear her say she loves a place (setting, food, service, etc.), I will probably fall over. :-)