Old Town Pasadena has the worst
I grew up in Pasadena when old town was place where drug dealers and prostitutes hung out. Basically roll up your windows, lock the doors, and stop for nothing. The evolution has been amazing and great for the community but not for dinning.
Atmosphere, community, and shopping are fantastic yet I cannot say the same for food. Yes there is selection but sometimes less is more. The small impacted strip that covers five square blocks of "Old Town" pasadena does not offer anything spectacular in cuisine.
I have a good friend that owns two of the busiest restaurants and he's confidentially stated that his food is decent, but "the night life and drinks is where I shine." I can attest that it's a great place to mingle, have a few drinks, and go home via cab but to have dinner before that would be a no.
Someone posted on CHOW about Pasadena and how it's dining destinations have become a elegant truck stop for tourists. Short of having a roller coaster and clowns giving free balloons on ever corner the true heart of food is lost in a facade of high end retailer stores and faux 4 star menus with white linen tables.
Mi Piace, Wokano, Sorriso, Twin Palms, etc non-chains. Barney's Beanery, Hooters, Gordon Biersh, Il Fornio, Mortons, Cheesecake Factory, etc are chains. All fare that you can find anywhere
When visiting Pasadena if you want to get a great dinning experience get away from the tourist trap of Old Town Pasadena.
Finally had a chance to check out Daisy Mint -- great spot indeed... love the creamy-cilantro sauce that goes on their Daisy Salmon and their selection of fusion-flavor teas. Also love that Euro Pane and their delectable macarons are a short walk away.
Other Pasadena gems I like include Marston's, Tea Rose Garden, the two Saladangs and Crepevine (though it's been a while since I been to the last two, hate having to fight traffic/parking at Fair Oaks with the throngs of Cheesecake goers).
Oh, but not too far from Old Town is Gale's on Fair Oaks. A bistro-like Italian restaurant which is both casual and elegant. She knows good food but is not stuck up about it. Either she or her husband (or both) are usually there - I prefer restaurants where you can find the actual owner on premises. I've never been disappointed. I especially like the lasagna which tastes amazing and is not heavy or starchy. Gale is an art lover too - her wall space is given to local artists for monthly shows. It's amazing that for the same prices you pay at places like Bucko di Gyppo and Sleazecake Factory, you can get a great meal cooked by chef/owners with pride.
Unlike dotcomprof I'm a complete newbie to Pasadena and just moved smack dab into Old Town a little over a year ago. On most things I can completely agree like the feeding troughs of Bucca di Crappo and pretty much everything on the outdoor mall called Colorado Blvd . However, since I live here, I've slowly been working my way through restaurants and I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised by some of the spots.
Now that I'm an Old Town resident I feel obligated to come to the defense of my new town. Some favorites ...
Elements Kitchen (moving soon to Pasadena Playhouse, bummer, but they need a new spot)
Green St Tavern - Some good meals
Trattoria Tre Venezie - Wow, a Michelin rated restaurant in Old Town?
Marston's - A bit on the outskirts of OT, but a nice brekkie/brunch spot
Cafe Santorini - Love the seafood salad
Tede's Cafe is a nice, basic lunch spot
Next on the list to try ...
Spitfire Saloon - Smith's Bros new spot
Red White & Bluezz
The Raymond (not OT, but down the street)
Scarlet Tea Room
Really the problem with OT is the lack of strong Asian food. Alhambra is a bit of a drive so Daisy Mint has become a regular go to spot.
BTW, Hooters & Gordon Biersch - Closed
Scarlet Tea Room is not bad -- expensive and unnecessarily chintz-and-roses, but not bad. They're kind and they're generous with refills on tea.
My major beef with eating in Old Town is that you end up waiting hours to get into anywhere, only to get... mediocrity.
Arcadia is ten minutes from Old Town and has lots of great Chinese places. Even Monrovia is a better deal, Chow-wise, than Pasadena. And, of course, there are a few really great places in South Pasadena, just be careful not to speed, and curb your wheels when you park even if it looks flat.
My reaction to your list of "favorites" for Old Town Pasadena.
Elements -- good, but no longer in Old Town.
Green St. Tavern -- nice room, awful food
Trattoria Tre Venezie -- total rip-off
Marston's -- overrated and overcrowded
Cafe Santorini -- used to be quite good and quaint; now it's a just a place with a nice patio
Ted's Cafe -- not in Old Town.
Re: Green Street Tavern, evidently the chef has changed since ipse wrote this in Jan 09. The food is very good. The room is still very nice.
Also very good interior & food at Vertical Wine Bistro. I also recommend the food at Red White+Bluezz + live music. Dish on Union gets an honorable mention on the list of Chow worthy restaurants in Old Town.
Vertical Wine Bistro
70 N. Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103
Green Street Tavern
69 W. Green Street, Pasadena, CA 91105
Agree that RWB might be the best place in Old Town at this moment. Which may be a case of damning with faint praise.
I have to respectfully disagree with Parkway. We have gone there ever since it opened (remember Emily's prior?). The food was originally fresh and imaginitave but now seems overly complicated, frequently unfocused, and unsatisfying expecially for the price.
If you want pretty good food go a few blocks to Bistro 45 or Madeleine's. If you want great food go 12 miles to the west.
I don't think Parkway has changed much but the times have. For a while in the 90s Parkway out Spago'ed Spago which seems to have started the designer pizzas and multi-surprising ingredient pastas, along with the more-tastes-per-dish-the -merrier era. Spago has matured into a more elegant and refined cuisine while Parkway has not changed at all.
12 miles to the west brings you to Hatfield's, Mozza, AOC, Grace, and almost to Melisse and, yes, Spago.
I love Grace, Melisse and Spago...but for my money, you could shove Mozza (both of them) 12 miles further west and put them under the Pacific. Although if indeed as you say the Parkway hasn't slipped in the past 10 years, then call me "old-hat", but I'll take their "tried and true" cuisine which has been excellently executed, over the newer trendy spots any day of the week! That's why I still love Valentino, and indeed really hate the overall experiences I've had at either of the two Mozza's.
Well, I can certainly agree with the Dining Room at the Langham, which is in the heart of Old Rich Town. The food there is better than at the great majority of top LA restaurants -- I love the variety and quality of the tasting menu -- and the service, the ambience, and fellow diners all conspire to your enjoyment.
I think the best way to understand OT is to drive through late some night, after you have already dined well elsewhere and just observe the scene. Be sure to wave.