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Mexican in Pasadena?

  • t

a friend vsiitng from NYC has requested Mexican food on Tuesday for dinner in Pasadena. Any and and all recommendations gleefully accepted.


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  1. For an out of town guest dining in Pasadena I'd recommend El Cholo

    12 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Sorry, Thelonius, but, except for the Margaritas, El Cholo gestinken IMHO. On the other hand, Tonny's (Orange Grove, just west of Lake) be very humbly nice -- especially the costillas and the carnitas, both tender and the latter tender/crisp. I'm sure that everyone knows that Tonny's aguas frescas are luscious! Call for the cantaloupe on your deathbed.

      1. re: sbritchky

        I second. I had the costillas at Tonny's not long ago and wow, is was sure good. Not part of a low-fat diet, however! El Cholo is a nice place but if you want food over atmosphere, I'd go with Tonny's by a mile.

      2. re: monku

        You know, even though El Cholo isn't my cup of tea, I'd recommend it for an East Coaster visiting too. When the folks from my company's East Coast offices are out visiting, it's the first place they want to go - even the ones who don't drink! Go figure. Seems to be a crowd-pleaser for out of towners.

        1. re: garvanza girl

          I recently took an out of town guest to El Cholo, and it was very good. I thought the food had improved since the last time I had been there, and the fresh guacamole was great.

          I still like the Paseo Cantina and El Portal better, though. I would definitely take an out of town guest to El Cholo over Tonny's. Tonny's may have good food, but I do not consider it a place for a nice dinner for a guest.

          1. re: katkoupai

            Tonny's, while very good (LOVE their Posole!), does not have the atmosphere where you can sit and linger (or maybe it is me). El Cholo, I could see why out-of-towners would like it, but I hate it, personally. I completely agree with katkoupai on the Paseo Cantina rec. I think they would love that. On El Portal, they have been a disappointment to me lately, so I have not been going as often.
            Bottom line, I would say Paseo Cantina #1, Mijares #2 or La Fiesta Grande #3.

            1. re: WildSwede

              If based stricly on "out-of-town" criteria, then Wahoo's should be in the conversation.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                ...and so would Baja Fresh and Rubio's, in my opinion.

                My votes are:

                1) Paseo Cantina, for a nice, sit-down dinner.
                2) Rosarito #2 for a quick, cheap, Mexican lunch.

              2. re: WildSwede

                Unless Mijares #2 has had surgery done to their drinks license lately, those "margaritas" they serve are a bottled wine-based beverage. We discovered that just before - thank God! - we'd ordered a thumpin' big dinner. So we bailed out and headed down to Amigo's. Okay, the food's not so hot, but the margs are for real. I guess you have to establish your priorities...

                The bar at Mijares #1 makes good real ones, too.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Where are these locations for Mijares 1 and 2?

                  1. re: omakase

                    I just searched them. Hopefully, these are current:

                    Mijares Mexican Restaurant
                    145 Palmetto Dr, Pasadena, CA 91105

                    Mijares Mexican Restaurant
                    1806 E Washington Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104

        2. Might want to consider El Portal. http://www.elportalrestaurant.com/

          You should also check out Paseo Cantina, which has received some positive reports by chowhounds. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/473293

          6 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            El Cholo is pretty but it is NOT representative of good Mexican food IMO. Yahaira's Cafe which is owned by the same family that owns El Portal has an interesting menu. La Nueva Posada is not bad. They have a full bar, just like El Cholo, and El Portal. What ever you do, don't go to Mijares!!! If you want the best carnitas, you'll find them at Mi Casa on Fair Oaks north of Orange Grove but it is very casual. You order at the counter. Dona Rosa is GOOD but again, it is pretty casual as you do order at the counter.

            1. re: Fru

              Dona Rosa is owned by the El Cholo people. Why no Mijares? I think it is very passable.

              1. re: WildSwede

                With regards to Dona Rosa and El Cholo, I know and note the incongruity that the two restaurants are owned by one and the same.I was trying to be diplomatic when I naysayed Mijares. It is AWFUL. I have a viceral reaction to the mention of both El Cholo and Mijares. I think part of it is because I think they represent some of the most mediocre examples of Mexican food yet people flock to them both! But, WidlSwede, I'm glad you mentioned La Fiesta Grande because I do like it and couldn't remember the name to give as a recommendation. To Theo, La Fiesta Grande does have a party atmosphere like El Cholo and Mijares but the food is much better and the price is what it should be.

                1. re: Fru

                  I had a horrible experience at Mijares once. It had more to do with the service and the wait for a table than for the food; but really, there is no reason to wait more than 5 mins. for what you're getting at Mijares. I'd much rather to go Margarita's on Rosemead, about a block south of Colorado. They even have handmade tortillas.

                  I'll have to try Fiesta Grande one of these days.

                  El Cholo...yuck.

                2. re: WildSwede

                  Dona Rosa may be progeny of El Cholo, but it is to El Cholo what Arnold and Willis were to the Drummonds.
                  The food is just so much better than the stuff they serve at El Cholo.

            2. There is a nice, new restaurant in the Paseo Colorado called the Paseo Cantina. I just ate there this weekend, and I thought the food was very good. They have mariachi music most nights after 7PM. Parking is free in the garage for 90 minutes with validation. http://paseocantina.com/index.html

              I also like El Portal. La Fiesta Grande is another option, just one block away. www.elportalrestaurant.com

              If you just want really cheap, fast Mexican food, my favs in Pas are King Taco and Rosarito #2. Rosarito #2 has a nice salsa bar. www.kingtaco.com


              Rosarito #2
              720 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, CA 91104

              King Taco
              45 N Arroyo Pkwy, Pasadena, CA 91103

              El Portal
              695 E Green St, Pasadena, CA 91101

              2 Replies
              1. re: katkoupai

                King Taco= Yum! Do you know if the Rosarito #2 you speak of has any relation to the Rosarito #2 that used to be in Arcadia around where Sinbala is now (on Duarte)?

                1. re: crystaw

                  I don't know, but I think it is related to Rosarito (#1), which is also in Pasadena. If you click on the link to the menu that I posted above, you will see both Pasadena addresses (for Rosarito and Rosarito #2). :)

              2. By far, our favorite Mexican place in Pasadena is La Nueva Posada, on Foothill, close to where the 210 crosses over (next to McDonald's and across from the Avon Building), say hi to Peter!

                2 Replies
                1. re: Michelle

                  My friend likes this place a lot too, but when I went I was not impressed. But then again, I have only been once.

                  1. re: WildSwede

                    Oh how I wish Merida was still around.

                2. I'll just chime in, having grown up there and eaten at most places mentioned.

                  I'd say most places still in business there aren't awful in the way that a Mexican place in the Northeast can be awful, so you're probably ok with anything. The OP mentioned dinner, so quick lunch places (King Taco, which I'd avoid at all costs anyway) don't seem to apply.

                  For bland, mediocre/unmemorable meals, I'd say Mijares, Margaritas, Nueva Posada, Fiesta Grande, Ranchero all sort of run together in my brain. I've been to all of them and wouldn't go more than a couple minutes out of my way for any. They remind me of Thai places in L.A. - predictable, not bad. No one's got homemade torillas, things like posole are rare, and most sauces will taste canned. But if you just want combination plates and margaritas, all are fine. I've heard bad things about El Cholo's outpost in Pasadena, and see no reason to go in.

                  My two favorites are actually like Lupitas in east Pas. (NE corner Colorado/Sierra Madre) and El Toreo in Old Town (Fair Oaks just south of Colorado), but both lack the giant booth/costumed waitress atmosphere you may be trying to find, and no one's going to make guacamole at your table! Still, they have table service and are a notch up from the Rosarito #2 type lunch places others have suggested (which I wouldn't bring out-of-towners to for dinner!).

                  El Portal has been my top pick but it was closed for remodeling or something the last time I went by it and I haven't been in about a year so don't want to vouch for it.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: cant talk...eating

                    El Toreo is great.

                    Everytime I'm there, I want to scream at all the people waiting in line to get into Cheesecake Factory and tell them that they can get much better food right next door.

                    No ambiance, but they've got the cool TV ...

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      and the even cooler jukebox!

                      Feel the EXACT same way about the CF. Totally bizarre. Let 'em wait.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        What do you get at El Toreo? I have never been but can see it in my mind. What is good there?

                        1. re: WildSwede

                          I usually get one 2 things there -- either the enchilada (beef or chicken) or the carne asada burrito.

                      2. re: cant talk...eating

                        Hate to nitpick, but Margarita's does serve homemade corn tortillas, which is one of the things I like about it.

                      3. What about Villa Sombrero just down the road in Highland Park? It's as authentic as most of those places, plus you can tell your guest Joseph Wambaugh used to hang out there.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Selter Head

                          Ok, since we're stepping outside Pasadena proper, head over to Montrose/Glendale @ 3447 N Verdugo Road, which is about 8 miles or so to La Cabanita. It has a full bar, and has some of the best Mexican food around. Their salsas and chips are reason enough. Their tortillas are home made. They have specialties that you won't find in most gentrified sit down places that serve this kind of food.

                          1. re: Fru

                            Yes, La Cabanita is really good. If you go, don't pass up their port chops. Yummmmmy!

                            1. re: Fru

                              I checked out La Cabanita in Glendale today. Really liked it. Good chips and salsa, very fresh food, decent prices...thanks for the rec. :)

                          2. What about Ranchero on Foothill?

                            1. Please, I beg. Friends don't let friends eat bad Mexican food.

                              I'd have to agree best with "cant talk...eating ". If you want less than mediocre food, unhappy waitresses with tequila induced smiles clad with folklore garment then sure, head on to El Cholo and the semblance of other restaurants that seem to capitalize on the very same efforts that thrive on the poor taste of pasadenites who have no clue and feel good Mexican is best accompanied with tequila shots, sombreros and mariachi. Good Mexican is hard to find but it exists. Follow the Mexicans and go where the Mexicans go. Rosarito is, was good. For decent quick tacos head over to the Nishikawa Auto Repair shop on Fair Oaks where the taco truck cranks the out after 7 p.m. Decent tacos with succulent Cabeza and Lengua, don't order Asada tacos, wait, do people still eat Asada? La Estrella on Fair Oaks as well , just north of the 210, has a fun Fish Taco, crisp, spicy, filling. But now, if you want an authentic experiecne then head over to the city of Bell where you find, La Casita Mexicana, their mole is a tad sweet but satisfying, the enchiladas to die for, and not to mention the Cecina Enchipotlada.... now that’s the stuff. Loteria Grill at the Farmers market has excellent assortment of quick style favorites and classic stews native to many regions of Mexico. The location is informal but fun depending on your attitude. You also have La Serenata de Garibaldi in east L.A., a mixture of classic regional dishes with a nouveau spin that works. I used to be a fan of Mexico City in Los Feliz for their mole and margaritas made without those terrible mixes, this was my fun, chips & guacamole/margarita place. But I abhor their service and the hosts seem to have burritos stuck in their tortas. El Vaquero in El Sereno and Alhambra has great Flautas and Caldos. Check out their Daily Specials. The Caldo de Res is not to be missed. Chichen Itza, great appetizers and the Cochinita should be part of your daily paryers. Both locations, the fancy one on 6th street in L.A. near the Mexican Consulate and the swap-meet sort’a spot near USC on Grand and Flower St. Only but a few, I’m thinking Chichen Itza, Mexican Restaurants have tapped into the idea of creating a great, full service fine dining experience that doesn’t sacrifice quality or authenticity in L.A., I presume because of the idea that good Mexican should be in-expensive. But you get what you pay for.. when in doubt just try it out. You can’t generalize Mexican food, the food is as diverse, spicy and not, like it’s people. And the best way to find what you like is to try as many as you can. A list of a few things that are not really Mexican and a food-loving, authentic purists will and should not order: Fajitas, anything slapped with Cheddar, Nachos, Chimichangas, Burritos, El Torito Franchise, El Cholo, Doña Rosa, and all those other places filled with güeros qué no saben mejor. Not to dismiss a few of the goodies on the list.. cheddar, nachos and burritos, but most certainly not authentic Mexican.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: fuerteyduro

                                That's all fine and dandy, but if you read the OP's request, he wanted in Pasadena and most likely not a taco truck. That is what we were replying to.

                                1. re: fuerteyduro

                                  Not far from Pasadena is Babita in San Gabriel. This would be a very good choice.

                                  1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd.
                                  San Gabriel, CA 91776
                                  (626) 288-7265

                                  1. re: fuerteyduro

                                    This is something I would write if I wasn't so ADHD. It's like great Chinese. I would drive out of my way for a good noodle soup or beef roll or rice cake or shiu mai rather than eat a "watered-down" rendition somewhere closer to me. I still haven't tried Babita but it's on my list. La Casita's potato soup, btw, is out of this world.... I'm not sure if it's on their regular menu though. I had it when it was listed as a special.

                                  2. I just had an excellent shrimp tostada at El Pescador in Highland Park, which is only a few freeway exits away from Pas, via the 110 freeway. The tostada was really good, piled high with big shrimp, onions, tomatos and cucumbers, and only about $6. They also have a nice selection of Mexican beers. This place is not fancy at all, but I really liked the food. The chips and salsa were very good, too.

                                    El Pescador
                                    5230 N Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90042

                                    1. Another "crowd pleaser" type of place might be the new "Fred's" in Old Town. Not authentic mex. food, but $4.50 margaritas during happy hour and decent food. (Where the old Moose McGillicuddy's used to be on Colorado at the edge of Old Town).

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Gusto

                                        They also have Taco Tuesdays, with cheap tacos for 2 to 3 bucks, during happy hour. This is definitely not authentic Mex, but the food was pretty good, and the tacos were huge. The space also appears to be totally renovated, with a unique mix of diner booths that are purposely mismatched. I think the interior is cute.


                                      2. Guests from NYC won't be as discriminating about Mexican as we LA folk, so don't be discouraged. My parents from the Midwest (who are CA natives) always love El Cholo. The trick there is to get the right food: the off-menu Santa Barbara enchiladas, the guac, the chimichangas, the green corn tamales. Avoid the mainstream stuff that will be better at a small family-run place (a smaller family than the El Cholo fam, I mean). And really the margaritas are great.

                                        I have to disagree with the posts about the Paseo Cantina - I actually joined Chowhound today just to complain about the awful dinner we had there last night. The place was empty and sad and made me so long for the Border Grill to be back. Besides the chips, nothing they gave us was edible (they even gave us soup to sample, and it was cold. Not the smartest move). I ate one bite of my enchiladas, which were some kind of sweetened chicken - the waiter noticed my lack of enthusiasm but still charged me $14.50 for uneaten food. I thought that was tacky. The place is overpriced and everything we tried was simply awful. Maybe we ordered the wrong thing or they were having an off night, but I don't predict it will last long (especially with these pasadena chowhounds!).

                                        If your friend is a cheapo, it's kind of embarrassing, but my go-to happy hour place is Cabrera's on Lake (around the corner from Tonny's, where I've always found the food too salty, sadly - I've tried!). Cabrera's has $2 margaritas and $1 tacos at happy hour. The rest of the food is plate-of-cheese kind of stuff, but I like that now & then. And some people think that IS mexican and would be disappointed with authentico. Just a few other thoughts.

                                        16 Replies
                                        1. re: Stasigrace

                                          Yup. I felt that the vibe at Paseo Cantina was depressing.

                                          1. re: Stasigrace

                                            I really want to try Cabrera's. I always get coupons for this restaurant in the mail.

                                            Also, I really appreciate your honest input. The Paseo Cantina wasn't very full of people when we went and the service was also a bit slow, but we all liked the food.

                                            I recently had an out of town guest, and we both really enjoyed El Cholo and La Fiesta Grande. Now, I'm confusing myself though because I think I like everything. I will say that not all of these places have fresh aqua de frutas, made from scratch, which Paseo Cantina did. I'm a sucker for fresh fruit drinks. I bet you could have them spike one with alcohol, too. :)

                                            Anyway, I appreciate your review.

                                            1. re: katkoupai

                                              Don't expect greatness from Cabrera's, but it's comforting, and there's a waitress who's the friendliest ever. Avoid the buffet (well usually "avoid buffets" goes without saying).

                                                1. re: katkoupai

                                                  Definitely not a fan of Cabreras. A friend and I used one of those buy one get one free lunch buffet coupons once and the food was horrible both of us thought, and he is not a CH! Have never been inclined to even consider it again.

                                            2. re: Stasigrace

                                              Sorry, but if chimichangas are you're rec, then I have to throw your cred out the window. Now, I'm not sure if their enchiladas were mole, or asado based (in which case they would be sweet since they have chocolate and nuts blended in the sauce, which is more authentic than other restaurants.)
                                              As far as I'm concerned with Mexican, a taco truck is good for lunch, but just because it's a taco truck does not make it the best mexican you've ever had. In fact the best places I would recommend are the ones where there is a regular Mariachi playing and sit down type of place like El Siete Mares(Mexican seafood dishes, like 7 seas cocktail which includes octopus, shrimp, etc) as these type of restaurants are ususally owned or run by Mexican families that know what they are doing and don't go for the everyday taco fare out there (like fuerteyduro suggests on the above post in places like Bell; in fact the westside serves pretty much mediocre mexican or everyday mexican or tex mex). The places that serve the best Mexican I would say are sit down restaurants where the food is made fresh and run by a Mexican owner. If all you want is a good taco then yes try a taco truck (or for medicocre mex El Cholo) but if you want an authentic Mexican sit down dinner that pulls all the stops then head for an authentic sit down restaurant with Mariachi (Not Rubio's, Baja though, for fish tacos try Taco Nazo, a small chain that specializes in Ensenada style fish tacos with fresh crema, etc.)
                                              For the more mole type restaurants there are some in the South Bay and a few on west side (many southern mexican restaurants abound: Oaxacan, Puebla). Nopales (cactus) dishes are more typical of central and northern Mexican cooking and therefore you'll also find these in authentic Mexican restaurants especially in the SGV, IE, SFV, and a few places in South Bay, although westside does not especifically have too many of these type of restaurants that are good.
                                              As far as soups go, albondiga(meatball) soups are standard fare in many sit down restaurants (althugh not cold), and you might also get fideo (noodle soup), or (yikes), tex-mex tortilla soup, or pozole(hominy), or menudo(tripe). A soup I would like to try in a restaurant although it really is more of a stew, would be caldo de res, or beef stew, which is watery, but good, especially on cold days (ingredients: beef, corn on the cob, cabbage, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, cilantro, and more or less depending on what's in season, mostly garden vegetables).

                                              1. re: b0ardkn0t

                                                Interesting point. From Pasadena, Highland Park is closer, though. Whenever I'm in Highland Park, I notice the small Mexican and Salvadoran restaurants, that seem to be family run. Do you have any recs in Highland Park?

                                                1. re: katkoupai

                                                  unfortunately I am only minimally familiar with the Highland Park area (which I understand is concentrated with more central american-Salvadorean/Guatemalan and southern Mexican restaurants.) So I really cannot give a specific rec in that area.

                                                    1. re: b0ardkn0t

                                                      Highland Park has no Guatemalan or southern Mexican that I'm aware of. [Guate food is really dispersed here and there along the Pico/Venice corridor west of downtown, and Oaxacan has been talked to death on this board]. HP is sort of divided between "old school L.A." (Villa Sombrero, maybe a couple others?), sort of rough-around-edges, northern/pan-Mexican places (El Pescador, Arco Iris, La Abeja all good), counter-service taquerias (My Taco reigning supreme!) incl. fish taco stands, then a proliferation of low-end Salvadoranean lunch stands along Figueroa which are all - in my experience - not worth a drive from anywhere. At least that's my impression.

                                                      1. re: cant talk...eating

                                                        Hey, thanks so much for these details. I'm glad that you also like El Pescador. I just tried it yesterday-- enjoyed it a lot!

                                                        I know no one asked, but Las Casuelas, in Highland Park, has delicious pupusas, and they are very cheap, at around 2-3 dollars each. I love that place. The coffee shop next door, called Antigua, is also supposed to be very good.

                                                        1. re: katkoupai

                                                          Antigua is really just ok. They have quite a full menu, so not just a coffee shop. I am still happy that they are there, though. Plus they serve breakfast all day.
                                                          Thanks for the report on Las Casuelas, now I will give it a try.

                                                          1. re: slacker

                                                            Hey, Slacker, I definitely want to give Antigua a try. Thanks for the info on Antigua. :)

                                                        2. re: cant talk...eating

                                                          can't talk, my point exactly. For the most part from what I have heard there is a large central American population concentrated around the immediate east and west of downtown, and Highland Park is notorious for it's Salvadorean population. I wasn't saying there were not any "northern/pan" Mexican restaurants in the area (I mean this is LA) but in general they are not concentrated in Highland Park as opposed to other areas.

                                                    2. re: b0ardkn0t

                                                      Aw, ouch! OK, the chimis are actually what my husband likes. I hate them (but some people love that fried stuff). There, can I have cred again please? The enchilada was a basic green sauce-and-sour-cream chicken which is usually tangy, not sugary. I know what mole is, duh. The sauce wasn't sweet, the chicken itself was. That's what was weird.

                                                      1. re: b0ardkn0t

                                                        La Fiesta Grande has a very decent Caldo de Res (but they do not serve it every day).