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Best "sit-down" Mexican restaurants - Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Pasadena

Coming to Pasadena for Thanksgiving and would love recommendations on great "sit-down" Mexican restaurants in Eagle Rock, Highland Park and/or Pasadena.

Food quality is paramount - full bar and that unique "Southern CA" Mexican restaurant magic are an added bonus.

San Francisco famously lacks these kinds of places.


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  1. Surprised there have been no responses so I'll throw in my two cents and take the flak.

    You said looking for unique Southern California and El Cholo (since 1927 on Western Ave near downtown) is the oldest Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Well known for their green corn tamales. Decent margaritas. You could do worse.

    El Cholo Cafe
    958 S Fair Oaks Ave
    Pasadena, CA 91105
    (626) 441-4353

    3 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Eh, El Cholo Cafe?

      The OP did mention that "food quality is paramount" ...

      1. re: monku

        Also, I wouldn't call it Mexican. Its more California (but you have to say it like Montero from the Antonio Bandera's Zorro movie). The original family was Anglo & Creole (people of Spanish ancestry... who never fully integrated into Mexican culture)... even the name El Cholo Spanish Cafe (which btw, did not mean a Mexican gangster at the time).... is indicative of its original non Mexicaness (the term is derived from Xolosquintle which was a breed of hairless dogs developed by the Aztecs... and became widespread in South America as a deragatory term for Indians... and then imported to California by Creole settlers who left South America for opportunities in the Mexican Wild North... where it came to be used most notably against the gold rush era Chilean & Peruvian miners... whose descendants probably identify themselves as Mexican).

        In any case... the original menu was more pan-Latin America creole than Mexican (featuring Paellas, Arroz con Pollo, Biztec Encebollado etc.,).... at some point it starting trying to badly imitate the cuisine of Tijuana land mark restaurants... and is partly responsible for the horrific bastardization of that noble cuisine you find in the heart of Mexico.

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Forgive me but, oh my god...
          I've eaten in parts of "the heart of' Mexico where, after watching whatever I'd ordered fried up on the stove next to a woman changing her baby's diapers, El Cholo would have sounded like a dream come true.
          Of course the problem then was finding the food on the plate through the mass of flies buzzing over that plate of food.
          Interestingly enough....the same food at El Cholo, enchilada rice and beans, was no different than what I found 'in the heart' of Mexico....the same goes for tamales, shrimp and tortillas. Having lived several months in Mexico, and enjoyed some of the most breathtaking geological adventures in my life, the food in some very remote 'in the heart' areas in Mexico is not all that wonderful (or safe).

      2. Some suggestions:

        843 E Orange Grove Blvd
        (626) 797-0866

        El Toreo Cafe
        21 S Fair Oaks Ave
        (626) 793-2577

        187 N Craig Ave
        (626) 440-1640

        Huarache Azteca
        5225 York Blvd
        Highland Park
        (323) 478-9572

        4 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Just a note for the OP: I don't think any of those places have a full bar, though some might serve beer.

          Tonny's (the only one on your list I have visited) is a sit-down place in that there are tables & chairs, and table service, but it's a fairly bare-bones place, not the kind of joint where you want to spend much time hanging around if you're not eating. But the food's real good.

          If the full bar is important to the OP, I'd suggest Margarita's in Pasadena or El Arco Iris in Highland Park. I've been meaning to try a place called Ranchero, also in Pasadena.

          One of my favorite Pasadena places is Lupita's. It's slightly more comfortable than Tonny's (e.g., there are booths), but it's similar in that it's a small, family-run joint. The food is tasty and made to order. Their shrimp cocktail is a real winner. They have MexiCokes, horchata & beer, but no full bar.

          1. re: Jack Flash

            I'd have to second El Arco Iris if the bar is important. Also, I think La Fuente on Fig in Highland Park has a full bar and good food - at least they did many years ago.

            1. re: Jack Flash

              Yeah, Jack Flash is right.

              If what you mean by "sit-down" is white table cloth and fine silverware, disregard my post.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Dunno, more like flatware vs. plastic ware. Absolutely nothing against Rosarito or Tonny's. ...the food is good, but ambiance is not a priority...think formica table tops, plastic baskets, paper napkins, etc. if they have any alcohol, it's likely beer and wine only. I'll add Puebla Taco's No.2 on Villa as having a certain, shall we say, "neighborhood" charm and a little bit more of a "sit down" place, it's got maybe a dozen booths and a few tables, handpainted murals on the walls,...great fish tacos, carne asada, carnitas tacos, chile rellenos, and siete mares soup...wine and beer (bottled) only.

                For "sit down" as defined in this thread, I'd got to El Portal, and even Mijares before El Cholo. Maybe even La Fiesta Grande (tho' not a personal fave by any means...some on the board like it). All in Pasadena.

                El Portal has all the Mexican combo standards, that are okay, and they have a full bar with myriad tequilas, etc. - their Imperial Margarita is excellent.. Food- well, mixed emotions...and no wows. They focus on Yucatan specialties, some which are excellent (seafood), some incredibly overworked...the chef also works at the Langham and tends to try too hard- also many are overpriced for the portions. Used to really like El P. but as of the past year, I've been disappointed. Mijares- meh, but good salsa and margaritas.

                Gee, not really helping w/ positive recommendations, just adding to the list of places to avoid. In that regard, avoid La Nueva Posada, and Ranchero...bland, pedestrian...and the margaritas are like lemonade.

          2. Margaritas isn't even really Margaritas any more; it's been expanded and changed a lot. That said, it has a full bar and still is, as it has been for a generation, where San Marino meets San Bernardino - and it may still be a few years way from the complete homogeniization that is El Cholo.

            1. Mexico City -- in Los Feliz just off of Los Feliz Blvd on Hillhurst -- great chips and salsa, unique menu items and full bar. Fills up by 8:30!

              1. How about La Cabinita? It's in the Montrose/Glendale area, above Pasadena.

                1. Try Ernie Jr's Taco House, right off the 2 Freeway on the corner of Colorado and Broadway. From what I remember, the service was quick, the food was tasty, and prices very reasonable. Try the enchiladas, fajitas, and chicken/beef guacamole tacos.

                  If possible, try to get a seat against the window. From there, you have great views of Eagle Rock and the surrounding area.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: psw

                    Ernie Jr's is pure unadulterated GringoMex, a genuine holdover from when El Cholo was considered authentic. It's the kind of "Mexican" place your parents were taken to when they were kids. I do like it, oddly enough, but then I'm not above eating canned tamales...

                    I've seen La Fiesta Grande, about a block from El Portal on Colorado, highly extolled by WildSwede among others. Mrs. O has never warmed to it; I liked the food OK, and the margaritas are supposed to be excellent, but we are both mariachi-averse and avoid it for that.

                  2. Am I right in feeling that this area faces the same problems once identified in the "no good Mexican restaurants around Silver Lake" thread, only possibly even worse? It seems like the real good stuff is mainly found at taco trucks and in little mom 'n pop places around Boyle Heights. In fact the presence of margaritas seems to almost be antithetical to edible food. So, in fact, San Francisco isn't the only place that lacks these kind of places! I'd say there's only a few places with good margaritas/drinks and better to average food in all of L.A.
                    That's one reason Malo in Silver Lake is so popular -- the food isn't incredible, but it's certainly better than the alternatives, and the cocktails are excellent.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Chowpatty

                      I'm thinking La Cabanita is your place, and it's as close to the area we're talking about, at least in freeway-minutes terms (this is still Southern California) after all) as much of Pasadena. They've got reasonably good, and reasonably interesting food, reasonably decent bar, pleasant and competent service (Mexico City's MAJOR MAJOR weak point).

                      On the other hand, if you're not looking for "mainstream Mexican", you can roll down the 2 into downtown, go West a mile, and end up at Chichen Itza for Yucutan food. NO "full bar", but a wine and beer list, and superior food...

                      1. re: silverlakebodhisattva

                        YES, La Cabanita is the best mex i have had in ages. Authentic, Wonderful!

                    2. These are great recommendations - thanks to everyone!

                      1. There is a Great Place Called The Aguila it's a great small sit down and have really good authentic Mexican Food the are on York Blvd. I don't know the exact address but they are in HIGHLAND PARK about 5-6 blocks from Figueroa and York. Check them out .... I go everytime I'm in town ....AWESOME... It's OK Do it

                        1. Just East of the target area and on the high end side is Babita.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JAB

                            Babita is indeed good, very good food, but serves beer & wine. Their margaritas are wine-based, however.

                            1823 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                          2. San Francisco has plenty of places like this- I used to live around the corner from Tommy's
                            5929 Geary Boulevard (at 23rd)
                            San Francisco, CA 94121
                            (415) 387-4747
                            Eat there, then try to tell us that SF lacks that kind of place.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: StuckInARut

                              You are right... Tommy's & San Fransisco Mexico suck as bad as L.A.'s bastardized Mexican eateries.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                Agree that Tommy's equals El Coyote et al. here in LA. and that these are examples of bad cal-mex food and NOT good mexican food...
                                You will find good Mexican food elswhere in both LA and Bay Area...

                            2. try el arco iris on york and ave 42? not exactly sure.

                              1. I have to also recommend Huarache Azteca. The huaraches are good, as are the gorditas, sopes, etc. The chilaquiles in red sauce with 2 fried eggs, rice and beans is an awesome breakfast dish.