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.)
34 E. Holly St., 626.584.0712, cafelindas.com
Thai. L & D Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. MC, V. $-$$
This new sibling to Los Feliz’s Simply Thai is no bigger than a closet, but fortunately it’s an inviting closet with good Thai cooking that’s a little more creative than most neighborhood joints. Try the eggplant with mozzarella (!), Thai basil, lemongrass, red bell pepper and chile vinaigrette, as well as such standards as prik king and panang curries. Excellent tofu dishes and a good happy hour from 5 to 7 every night, with two-for-one beer and wine and $5 appetizers.
36 S. Fair Oaks Ave., 626.564.1560
Japanese. L & D Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. $
The nice people at this cheerful, open café serve a variety of Japanese dishes (tempura, sushi, gyoza), but the noodles are the thing to get: homemade udon and soba served in a variety of styles and temperatures. (Vegetarians, take note of the hard-to-find vegetarian broth for the noodles.)
Tibet Nepal House
36 E. Holly St., 626.585.0955, tibetnepalhouse.com
Himalayan. L & D Tues.-Sun. Beer & wine. $-$$
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, verticalwinebistro.com
Modern American/wine bar. D Tues.-Sun. Full bar. $$$
Our favorite spot for a higher-end Old Town dinner, this wine bar and restaurant is sleek and sophisticated but not at all stuffy. Some 100 wines are poured by the glass or flight, and dishes are small and designed to share. People often complain about the prices, but we find the $7 and $8 wines by the glass always delicious, and if you order food carefully (mini grilled cheeses, spinach salad with fourme d’ambert and bacon, seared red snapper), it’s quite fair given the setting and quality. Chef Sara Levine’s three-course farmers’ market dinner is a great deal for $30.
67 N. Raymond Ave., 626.585.0855, yujeankangs.com
Chinese. L & D daily. Beer & wine. $$-$$$
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.