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Recs in Pasadena for a birthday dinner?

Heading to Pasadena and am wondering if anyone has some good recs for a special place to celebrate my birthday? I am not necessarily looking for the fanciest, most expensive restaurant, but a place that we will remember! I'd say we're looking to spend around $100 or less if possible. Love all kinds of ethnic foods and prefer more vegetarian options. Am considering Babita, but feel like I've seen mixed reviews on this board. Any thoughts or recs? Thanks in advance!!

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  1. just fyi, babita is about a 20-30 minute drive from pasadena depending on which part you are in.

    1. How many people do you wish to feed for that $100?

      1 Reply
      1. We have enjoyed Babita, and your post reminds me that we haven't been there in a couple of years. The food is certainly memorable, though I don't know if the nondescript atmosphere (not unpleasant at all; sort of homey) is birthday-worthy, if that makes sense - that is to say, there's nothing inherent about the place itself that makes you think, "this is where I want to celebrate a birthday."

        I always recommend Cafe Verde as a solid choice for Pasadena dining. It's a very pleasant space, good food, and it should fit within your budget. Malbec just down the street is another solid choice.

        Daisy Mint (Thai food) is another place to consider.

        La Grande Orange, set in the old train depot building, is also worth considering, as is Central Park.

        I believe all of these places fit your budget, depending on what (and how much) you drink.

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        Central Park Cafe
        219 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

        Cafe Verde
        961 E Green St, Pasadena, CA 91106

        Daisy Mint
        1218 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA

        La Grande Orange
        260 South Raymond Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91105

        1. There's nothing to eat in pasadena besides Tender Greens and Settebello, both of which I love. Don't know about The Royce since I haven't been there, bc looking at pics of their food just bores me.

          How about Maximiliano in highland park, great new italian food, hip setting (not as in hipster).

          Or Fatty's in eagle rock. They just re-opened. Vegan and delicious.

          Or Cacao Mexicatessen in eagle rock. Great Mexican food.
          Why pay $100 for great food when you don't have to.

          These are all very casual everyday places.

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          Tender Greens
          9523 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

          Cacao Mexicatessen
          1576 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041

          16 Replies
          1. re: pley

            Weird I just posted and couldn't edit. Anyway, of my picks, I'd go to Maximiliano if it were my bday. Just my additional 2cents.

            1. re: pley

              "Nothing" to eat? Seriously?

              That's just...wow.

              1. re: Jack Flash

                When I think about places where I WANT to go eat, they are not in Pasadena (except the two I mentioned). Which is most unfortunate. Sad that the lovely city of Pasadena does not have better dining options.

                1. re: pley

                  Have you ever eaten at any of the places mentioned in this thread? Parkway Grill? Roy's? Pie 'n' Burger? Smitty's, Arroyo Chophouse, Houston's? Saladang/Song? Noir? There are literally only two places in town where you're willing to eat? Now THAT is sad. There aren't a lot of GREAT, fine dining establishments, but there are plenty of places to have a nice meal.

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                  Parkway Grill
                  510 S Arroyo Pkwy, Pasadena, CA 91105

                  1. re: Jack Flash

                    I have eaten at all of those places except Noir and Arroyo. Parkway Grill used to be great, but hasn't been in a long time. Roy's is good/fine. Pie n Burger, yeah maybe I'd go back for the pancakes. Smitty's is horrible, I hate it. Arroyo Chophouse, I don't do beef, so not someplace I'd want to go to. Houston's is fine. Saladang/Song, really, why? Cafe Verde, yeah it's fine, I get tired of being so cramped though. Central Park Cafe, no no, boring food. La Grande Orange, overpriced for what it is, I hate feeling ripped off. Daisy Mint, it's just ok, I don't want to go back anymore.
                    Like I said, when I think of places where I WANT to eat, it's not these places. They're boring.

                    -----
                    Central Park Cafe
                    219 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                    Cafe Verde
                    961 E Green St, Pasadena, CA 91106

                    Daisy Mint
                    1218 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA

                    Parkway Grill
                    510 S Arroyo Pkwy, Pasadena, CA 91105

                    La Grande Orange Cafe
                    260 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                    1. re: pley

                      Where do you WANT to eat, then?

                      1. re: Jack Flash

                        Suffice it to say that places like Central Park Cafe bore me to tears. And Pasadena is full of boring food places. Forgot Elements, I like them, but a little overpriced.

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                        Central Park Cafe
                        219 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                        1. re: pley

                          Since you are "bored" by just about everything, it seems, is there ANYTHING you actually like, anywhere? I hate to think what the rest of your life is like. Do you have ANY positive suggestions - forget specifically Pasadena, is there anyplace you're willing to eat that will cost only $50/person, anywhere in L.A. County/

                          1. re: Jack Flash

                            Why, NO, I don't eat ANYTHING. My life must be HORRIBLE.

                          2. re: pley

                            Elements is ok. the food is way too uneven. started with some totally forgettable fried app and it was beyond bland. the moved on to the burger and it was like eating a salt lick. tasted the kimchi taco and it was tasty. but honestly, everyone is doing that korean taco thing and once you get bulgogi and kimchi together it's hard to mess things up. maybe i got the wrong things. but felt underwhelmed. i still think Pasadena can be slightly 'yawn' and not a destination for food but there are decent places to eat. i do enjoy Roy's, Vertical, and Bistro 45. the Royce menu interests me very much. We always go to the Luggage Room and La Grande L'orange but neither are places that cant be replaced by a better place in another location...

                            -----
                            Bistro 45
                            45 S Mentor Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106

                        2. re: pley

                          I had to chime in (as a Pas-area native). Yes, Pasadena will always be lame in very predictable ways. It doesn't have near the turnover that say, West 3rd St. has, and there's no where near the eating-out culture here - lots of families eating in I guess.
                          Pley -you sound seriously burned out on the Pas food scene. I agree w/ a lot of your assessments, but seriously, take a few months off, then only go to some new spots you've never been. Smitty's, Parkway Grill, Central Park, Santorini - no way to spend a birthday.

                          So given that this post was for a mid-range b-day at an ethnic, veg-friendly place, maybe Babita, I'll give it a shot.

                          You won't forget Saladang Song. Say what you will about it, they can put together a lot of tasty inventive dishes in a visually interesting space, inside or on the patio. Yeah, there will be some college kids in flipflops, and there's too much sugar in a lot of the sauces, but I still kinda love the place.

                          (btw, I like how Soup Plantation is now bookmarked at right. Happy birthday, honey. Do you want baco-bits with that?)

                          El Portal has decent Mexican food and you can get multiple margaritas, your date can get a nice grilled New York steak for like twelve bucks, and you can be serenaded by mariachis (who were seriously good our last visit).

                          I think you can get out of Vertical WB for under $100 if you order carefully, don't go overboard on wine, etc. I wish I could say the same for The Raymond, since it would be my top b-day pic, but it's not ethnic either, so another night maybe.

                          It's funny - a lot of good ethnic places in Pasadena are really cheap (Med. Cafe comes to mind, Tortas Mexico), really chain-y (Il Fornaio, Carmine's), or a handful that are really pricey. I just thought of Briganti, but that's in South Pas. People like Celestino on Lake. Gale's gets decent reviews but my god is it mediocre.

                          Don't go to Babita. I just don't get it. Or go, maybe you'll love it.

                          See how helpful we are? : )

                          -----
                          Briganti
                          1423 Mission St, South Pasadena, CA 91030

                          El Portal
                          695 E Green St, Pasadena, CA 91101

                          Celestino Restaurant
                          141 S Lake Ave Ste 102, Pasadena, CA 91101

                          Saladang Song
                          383 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                  2. re: pley

                    Tender Greens? Seriously? A chain of slightly upscale Soup Plantations.

                    The Royce, Saladang for Thai, Cafe Santorini for a great ambiance, Arroyo Chop House, Malbec, Celestino Restaurant is nice and the Raymond.

                    For fun places to eat, not necessarily celebration places I'd throw in Russell's for burgers, redwhite + bluezz for wine and jazz, Lucky Baldwin's for beer and pub food, Jake's of Pasadena, Marston's for a good breakfast if you get in early. Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles and Beckham Grill.

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                    Cafe Santorini
                    70 W Union St, Pasadena, CA 91103

                    Arroyo Chop House
                    536 S Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, CA 91105

                    Saladang
                    363 S Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                    Lucky Baldwins
                    17 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                    Beckham Grill Restaurant
                    77 W Walnut St, Pasadena, CA 91103

                    Celestino Restaurant
                    141 S Lake Ave Ste 102, Pasadena, CA 91101

                    1. re: scottca075

                      How disturbing that anyone should compare the farm fresh and organic ingredients and good execution at Tender Greens to Soup Plantation.

                      The food at Cafe Santorini is embarrassing.
                      Oh yes, Red White & Bluezz is good.
                      If anyone took me to Lucky Baldwin's or Russell's for my bday, I'd kill 'em.

                      -----
                      Cafe Santorini
                      70 W Union St, Pasadena, CA 91103

                      Tender Greens
                      9523 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

                      Red White & Bluezz
                      70 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                      Lucky Baldwins
                      17 S Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105

                      Soup Plantation
                      375 W Ventura Blvd, Camarillo, CA 93010

                      1. re: pley

                        Didn't say Lucky Baldwin's for the bday, in fact I was pretty specific it wasn't, but Tender Greens is just embarrassing as rec for a special occasion. Tender Greens is an upscale CHAIN with locations from the Bay Area to San Diego, not exactly "farm to table" in the far flung out posts. I'd take Cafe Santorini for a special occasion any day of the week over Tender Greens.

                        And to say Tender Greens and Settebello are the only two places to eat in Pasadena is downright absurd. I've known Brad since his freshman year at USC and not even he, in fact especially not him, would make such a claim.

                        1. re: scottca075

                          Wasn't recommending it for a bday, was saying that those are the places that are good in Pas, the rest being dull. So what if Tender Greens is now a chain. It's very good.

                          Cafe Santorini is just bad food served by people pretending that it's good. And people getting suckered by the nice building. And I honestly don't care what Brad the co-owner of Settebello thinks of other food in Pasadena.

                          -----
                          Cafe Santorini
                          70 W Union St, Pasadena, CA 91103

                          Tender Greens
                          9523 Culver Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

                      2. re: scottca075

                        I was going to recommend the Royce. I've heard very good things. I just went to the Langham for afternoon tea, and it was lovely.

                    2. I had previously left Vertical Wine Bistro off my list of suggestions because I believe it exceeds your price point; however, they have a Sunday night special which would definitely work for you. The current deal is a fried chicken dinner.

                      1st Course Poached hen egg, bacon grits

                      2nd Course: Buttermilk herb de Provence Fried Chicken "served family style"; served with collard greens with ham hocks, loaded mashed potatoes & Jalapeno Corn Bread

                      3rd Course: Apple tart with vanilla gelato or Blood Orange & Pear Sorbet

                      $29.00 per person; add $9 with wine carafe

                      E-mail I received today says: "all-you-can-eat fried chicken"

                      Ambiance is very nice at Vertical, particularly if you get one of the big booths. They also have an extensive wine list, so you could even splurge a bit on the wine (or add a cocktail) if you did the fried chicken deal.

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                      Vertical Wine Bistro
                      70 N. Raymond Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Jack Flash

                        Vertical is very good.

                        And don't forget burger nights on Thursdays.