Off the Beaten Track in Old Town

Apr 7, 2009

Everyone loves to bash Old Town Pasadena, especially those of us who have lived here a long time and seen Colorado Boulevard turn into the Santa Anita mall with more charming architecture. On Chowhounds, it seems like a new thread appears weekly with dozens and dozens of complaints about how the restaurants in Old Town stink. 

But Old Town most certainly does not stink as a good-eating destination. You just have to have the wherewithal to walk a mere block off of Colorado — and to be a little adventurous. There’s no need for the crowds and generic food at Cheesecake Factory when you can have the charm and curry at Café Linda’s.

Herewith some of our favorite off-the-Colorado-path spots in Old Town, including newcomer Café Linda’s. (We’ll pause for a moment of silence for the departed Siena and Crepe Vine.)

Café Linda's

Café Linda's

Café Linda’s
34 E. Holly St., 626.584.0712,
Thai. L & D Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. MC, V. $-$$
This new sibling to Los Feliz’s Simply Thai is no bigger than a closet, but fortunately it’s an inviting closet with good Thai cooking that’s a little more creative than most neighborhood joints. Try the eggplant with mozzarella (!), Thai basil, lemongrass, red bell pepper and chile vinaigrette, as well as such standards as prik king and panang curries. Excellent tofu dishes and a good happy hour from 5 to 7 every night, with two-for-one beer and wine and $5 appetizers.

36 S. Fair Oaks Ave., 626.564.1560
Japanese. L & D Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. $
The nice people at this cheerful, open café serve a variety of Japanese dishes (tempura, sushi, gyoza), but the noodles are the thing to get: homemade udon and soba served in a variety of styles and temperatures. (Vegetarians, take note of the hard-to-find vegetarian broth for the noodles.) 

Chef Karma Tenzing

Chef Karma

 Tibet Nepal House
36 E. Holly St., 626.585.0955,
Himalayan. L & D Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. $-$$
One of Old Town’s great delights and best-kept secrets, this friendly spot next to Café Linda’s is your only source for yak meat in the greater Pasadena area. Owner/chef Karma Tenzing Bhotia is a man of many talents, including as a mountaineer and photographer, but it’s his food that we love. Reminscent of both Chinese and Indian food, but with more subtle flavors, the menu spans the Himalayas, from lowland curries and dals to highland yak, noodles and momos (dumplings). The award-winning buffet lunch is inexpensive and wonderful.

Vertical Wine Bistro
70 N. Raymond Ave., 2nd Floor, 626.795.3999,
Modern American/wine bar. D Tues.-Sun. Full bar. $$$
Our favorite spot for a higher-end Old Town dinner, this wine bar and restaurant is sleek and sophisticated but not at all stuffy. Some 100 wines are poured by the glass or flight, and dishes are small and designed to share. People often complain about the prices, but we find the $7 and $8 wines by the glass always delicious, and if you order food carefully (mini grilled cheeses, spinach salad with fourme d’ambert and bacon, seared red snapper), it’s quite fair given the setting and quality. Chef Sara Levine’s three-course farmers’ market dinner is a great deal for $30.

Yujean Kang’s
67 N. Raymond Ave., 626.585.0855,
Chinese. L & D daily. Beer & wine. $$-$$$
Chef Kang’s sophisticated dishes, prepared with a French chef’s elegance and a Chinese gourmand’s sense of robust flavor, attract food lovers from far away — although the recession seems to have hit this place hard, and we want to encourage locals to remember it. Don’t miss the soups, duck salad with black-bean sauce, crispy beef, stir-fried Blue Lake green beans and Chinese “polenta” with shrimp, mushrooms and scallions. Kang is an oenophile, and the wine list complements the menu, but it ain’t cheap. But though the food is expensive by Monterey Park standards, it’s quite reasonable for the quality of the cooking, the serene setting and the Old  Town address.

11 Responses for “Off the Beaten Track in Old Town”

  1. Janet Swartz says:

    Great post! These are some of my favorites… all just around the corner from our Old Pasadena office. Cafe Bizou continues to serve quality food. Mi PIace has some great lunch options as does Il Fornaio’s lunch counter for fresh salad, sandwiches and soup!

  2. Janet’s new Old Pasadena blog has a great post people should ck into.

    Cafe Linda’s I’m always passing, now I gotta go bcuz of you, CDB. Kansai Japanese I love for the Mochi and how the waitresses always would make my girl jealous. Tibet Nepal – I organized a foodie/blogger gathering there in December. Vertical is next to Seattle’s Books/Coffee. Isn’t it owned by a film producer? Yujean is across both Vertical & Seattle’s.

    I wish Crepe Vine & Siena’s were still open instead of some other Old Pas joints.
    Ok, suddently getting hungry, so gotta sniff out my next meal….

  3. colleen says:

    Yes, Cafe Bizou is a good place, too! I also like Green Street Tavern and, if I inherit money, Tre Venezia. I’ve been disappointed with the tapas bars, and there have been grumblings about All India Cafe. But Azeen’s Afghani is worthwhile, as are some other international spots.

    And yes, Cafe Pasadena, Vertical is owned by Gale Anne Hurd, a very successful movie producer and Pasadena resident.

  4. Skylar says:

    I’m interested in checking out that champagne and dessert bar – does anyone know if that has opened yet? It sounds epic.

  5. Sky, if u mean “Pop” on Union St, then Yes, it is open and I hope to visit it myself one day.

  6. I love Pasadena and that is where we review the majority of restaurants. Cafe Linda’s is great and so is Vertical Wine Bistro, I’d also recommend Oba, Central Park, and Akbar

    I’d stay away from Pop here is our review on it….

  7. Pat says:

    Thanks, this is helpful as I have a friend who lives right in Old Town and we like to walk to dinner. We’ll try Cafe Linda, Kansai and Tibet Nepal.

  8. POPchampagne says:

    Hi Sky and Cafe Pasadena,
    We are open and would love to have you!

  9. […] and Fair Oaks – are home to great stores (including a couple of brand-new ones), interesting restaurants, a fine chocolate shop, a cupcake bakery and a dessert and Champagne bar. It’s a great place to […]

  10. […] of our personal favorites on the list this year include Yujean Kang’s, Green Street Tavern, Vertical Wine Bistro, Tibet Nepal House and La Grande Orange; newcomers […]

  11. Lynn says:

    “Everyone loves to bash Old Town Pasadena, especially those of us who have lived here a long time and seen Colorado Boulevard turn into the Santa Anita mall with more charming architecture.” Really? You mean residents liked how it was 20+ years ago when it was more like the ‘red light’ decaying urban district. Hard for me to believe that; and I grew up in that town! In any case, what I like about Old Town is the variety of restaurants and shops, from small mom-and-pop businesses to big name retaliers; it has something for just about everyone. As for restaurants, here’s a few of my personal favorites: Cafe Bizou, Mi Piace, Louise’s, Cafe Santorini, Gyu Kaku, POP Champagne, Scarlet Tea Room and Chado.



Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena