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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.

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  1. i agree that the emperor is naked.

    1. No argument from us. Vertical is in Old Town and it's ok, likewise Bar Celona.
      But instead of telling us what you don't like, why not tell us what you do like? Where do you go to get away from Old Town?
      So far I've liked Daisy Mint, Tonny's, Aun Deli, Pie 'n Burger...

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chowpatty

        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).


        1. re: AquaW

          Crepevine's been shuttered for a month or so.

      2. 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.

        1. 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

          11 Replies
          1. re: mrm949

            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.

            1. re: mrm949

              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.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                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

              2. re: mrm949

                I gotta back up Red White & Bluezz. The exterior/decor don't exactly scream "classy joint" but the wine list and food are both great. Get the fried Mac & Cheese.

                1. re: squareboy

                  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.

                  1. re: Griller141

                    To what are you referring when you say "12 miles to the west"? Also it's admittedly a few years since we have been to the Parkway. Has it really slipped that much recently?

                    1. re: josephnl

                      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.

                      1. re: Griller141

                        If it doesn't change soon, Parkway Grill runs the risk of falling in to the Taylor's, Dan Tana's, Mastro's crowd.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Nothin' wrong with Mastro's except the retarded 500-degree platter they use to bring your steak AND onto which you're supposed to put your side dishes.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I have to say that Taylor's, unlike the other places, has kept with the retro image by having retro prices. Nothing wrong with that place. Try the rack of lamb (when they have it). The best $28 deal in the country.

                          2. re: Griller141

                            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.

                  2. Not terribly far from Old Town is, in our opinion, one of southern CA's very best restaurants, The Parkway Grill. The Parkway has been there for many years, and has rarely failed to provide us with an outstanding dining experience.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: josephnl

                      Agree. While Pasadena as a whole may be underwhelming, Parkway Grill and the Dining Room at the Langham are among the best restaurants in the L.A. area.

                      1. re: thenextguy

                        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.

                    2. I tried a new Italian place in OT called Siena Ristorante that was very good. The decor and lighting leave a little to be desired though. My foodie friends and I thought that the food was very tasty (and reasonably priced).

                      Personally, I think Daisy Mint is a little overrated. I like the food at DM, but Saladang (the original one) is much better in my opinion.

                      1. My wife and I have had several good meals at Vertical, but in Old Town, I agree there's not much good going on. Green Street Tavern was petty good the one time we've been there. Gale's a bit South of Old Town did not wow us as much as we had expected based on the many high recommendations we have been given. I'll have to give it another try, but the Bacalao I had there was far too salty IMHO.

                        1. I'm a longtime Pasadenan and agree that Colorado Boulevard is boring. But there are worthy places on the side streets. I've had a few very good meals at Siena. Tibet-Nepal House is a sweet place with tasty, inexpensive food. Vertical does a very nice job. Yujean Kang's remains consistent. Word is that BarCelona's a lot better with the new chef, but I haven't been yet. I've always liked Crepe Vine but haven't been in a while.
                          There's nothing mind-blowing in Old Town, but there are plenty of worthwhile places to eat if you get off of Colorado. And if you're willing to get out of Old Town and try Daisy Mint, Celestino, Mike & Anne's, Tonny's, Little Flower and Euro Pane (breakfast and lunch), the Arroyo Chop House (too expensive but still very good), you'll find plenty more.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: dunnbates

                            I can't resist two cents on the Arroyo Chop House. It was for years my fav in the area. Nothing short of incredible service, great food, and a nice room, at least the Arroyo room. S. Irene's zero star (or was it one?) review should have been a warning, but I persisted, loving the big city vibe.
                            Reality dawned as the service got looser, the prices continued to rise, but most importantly, the food began to agree with Irene's review. A slab of roast beef that was LITERALLY 60% great chunks of white fat ("but prime rib is a naturally fatty cut of meat, sir"), too tough to chew sirloins ("you trade tenderness for flavor, sir") a bone in filet that was twice the price of the bone out filet (prices of specials are never spontaneously mentioned), never an apology, no attempt at satisfaction.

                            1. re: Griller141

                              Exactly. Arroyo Chop House has gone the way of great, to pretty good, to not so good at any price especially their prices, the exorbitant ones.
                              Tonight we were set to go to Arroyo but the last two visits (one of which was so bad it was comped) led us to try their new sister restaurant, Spitfire Saloon right here in Old Town, Pas. Wow was it awful. Cheap sourdough bread heated until it was too hot to handle, a pedestrian crust on the outside and gobs of gooey dough on the inside. I know that there is a recession going on but if they are going to serve butter with their bread they might want to put more than a wafer of it on a plate so that you do not have to keep searching for more from their staff of invisible waiters (nice people who are way under trained and as I said unavailable for most of the evening).
                              We ordered steaks after being told they were prime and was served something bovine but hardly divine. We were told after the steaks were taken back that they were indeed not prime. They were just dry and tasteless.
                              So, we went for the ribs. They were drowned in sauce, usually a bad sign. In this case it was necessary as the ribs were cooked to dust so they would not have made it down the gullet without lubrication. The baked potato (the super sized version was hot, flaky, and fresh as it should be, but the opener of Caesar salad was on the minus side; tiny pieces of romaine comprising a tiny salad with a not too bad dressing that it was unevenly tossed in.

                              I asked to speak to the owner (he was there that night) but he was too busy hob nobbing with friends and staff.

                              These guys are in need of some serious help. They should start by taking a field trip to Phillips BBQ so they can see what real BBQ is. Then they should start all over.

                            2. re: dunnbates

                              Good places are PresidenTwo, Smitty's, Daisy Mint, Vertical, RWB, Tarantino's, Europane, PieNBurger.

                              1. re: mc michael

                                I've tried Smitty's 3 times and have always been disappointed. This afternoon I spent $30 on a fatty stroganoff, greasy onion rings ("they're always that way, m'am. Everyone complains.") and a glass of decent Merlot. The room and the service is nice, and that's what you're paying for. The food is all smoke and mirrors.

                              2. re: dunnbates

                                This out-of-towner met some old friends at Tibet-Nepal House last week and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We chose it partly to have some nice vegetarian offerings for my daughter. Everything was very tasty- I particularly liked the spiced spinach dish I got and the naan. The appetizer sampler was also a standout, with everything on the platter very good.

                              3. I agree. The bulk of Old Town restaurants are a joke. It's hilarious to see the wrap-around lines at the Cheesecake Factory, day in and day out.

                                There are some good restaurants around the vicinity. Vertical Wine Bistro is very good for California/French small plates; Mojitos has some good offerings, like their sirloin steak dish and calamari salad; La Pain Quitiden (sp?) is great for breakfast and lunch. A bit further down the road is Daisy Mint, which has fantastic Vietnamese-fusion cuisine, and Mike & Anne's bistro and Briganti for Italian, both in South Pas.

                                Green Street Tavern and Siena are another two favorites for me. Parkway, which used to be a true gem, has gone totally downhill in the last couple of years. I'm hoping they'll step back up to the plate...

                                Clare K.

                                1. I was horrified to read this. I used to hang out there when Goldstein's was a pioneer and the scene was just setting up. Is there really a Buca de Bepo, Gordon Biersh, Hooter's, and a Cheesecake Factory? You knew it was all to go hell when the Gap opened.

                                  It's enough to make you cry.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: The Old Man

                                    Interestingly, a lot of the chains seem to be closing. I think Gordon Biersch is gone, and a couple others. So, have heart, Old Man :)

                                    1. re: Vaya Con Carne

                                      Actually I was just having a conversation about this with my wife. I think we're going to see many chains closing, then Old Town will turn again into an abandoned blighted area. Than 20 years from now brave pioneers will move back in and the cycle will repeat itself.

                                      1. re: The Old Man

                                        My husband and I will eat just about anything...as long as it's good quality. So OT usually disappoints. Reading other posts, seems like I'm way off in left field here, but about the only places in OT we go to anymore are Sushi Roku and, occasionally, Mojito's.

                                        Yes, we like Sushi Roku. We also spend a s**tload of money there to get the food we like--mostly sushi and sashimi. But I have to say we haven't been disappointed by the quality. And we are real sushi geeks. So it may surprise readers that we actually sit at a table (outside when we can, though people-watching isn't the same since Gordon Biersch and the theater closed), rather than at the sushi bar. What can I say? We really enjoy it...And at the holidays, we went to Mojito's with some family members, and the food was really good! I don't normally order (cooked) fish in restaurants, but the escolar I ordered was divine. Nice service, too.

                                  2. I agree that Cheesecake Factory and the like are boring packaged-style food products that tourists seem to really dig. I do not. I will say that there are some really great dining locations in Old Town Pasadena, but you might have to know about them. One of my favorites is Santorini on Union Ave 1/2 a block east of Fair Oaks ave. It has a really cool patio where I always eat, even in the winter (they put out heating lamps) They have amazing crispy, seasoned pita-esc breads... totally delicious and addicting. They also have excellent salads and pizzas. If you get to Old Pasadena... you must try Santorini!