Of Hearths and HeroesDinning

Greater Pasadena has the best places to treat your favorite superheroes 

By Dan O'Heron 











The Pasadena Way | Dining | Nitelife | Services | Shopping

 As a restaurant critic, it would seem fitting and timely in this themed issue for me to take a cast of point-click retro action figures to eat at the best places in Pasadena. But vanity prevents me from being seen in restaurants with characters like Spore, Wolverine, Ironman, Red Faction Guerilla and the Incredible Hulk.

However, I will take you with me to dine out with my personal pantheon of superheroes. They represent legend, myth, old comic books, old comic strips and one real-life modern-day hero, Capt. Charles B. Sullenburger III. He’s the US Airlines pilot who brought what appeared to be a doomed aircraft to a picture-perfect landing in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 persons aboard. 

To commemorate that special occasion, leaving the marching band outside, I’d take Sully into The Dining Room at the Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa. We’d feast on a four-course dinner from a selection of the fabulous small plates by Chef Michael Voltaggio.

We’d begin with sashimi-style Pacific yellowtail, sided with a flower-petalled sea sponge (looks like a marshmallow but tastes like salt water) which contrasts sharply with a chunk of soy-infused watermelon. 

We’d follow with small octopus, tentacles clinging to a red-pepper confetti paste. Then, short ribs, prepared sous vide (vacuum-compressed in a bag), with a colorful garnish of “Styrofoamed” horseradish and textured broccoli. For dessert: miso/strawberry shortcake.

I picture Sully, a modest man with a humble estimate of his own merits, beginning his after-dinner speech something like this: “As a former F-4 fighter pilot and commercial jet aviator, I have diced with death each time I’ve taken to the sky ... from airline food.”

To end a Q&A, I see a young reporter, swigging down house wine to the last freeloaded drop, before asking: “Captain, you’re a hero, but could you do it again?” 

“That’s what heroes do. We rescue people.”

It got me to thinking about Perseus, who rescued his wife, Andromeda, from the sea monster. Where would we go for dinner? It had to be Cameron’s Seafood, where diners are never shocked by any super-size in the amount they pay for choice fish dishes. 

But how do we get Superman ready to go out? With the absence of phone booths in the cell-phone era, where would Clark Kent undress? I figure the man from the Planet Crouton would gravitate to a place like Souplantation. Here, he could grab a load of croutons at every soup and salad buffet station, and his alter ego, Clark Kent, would appreciate how neatly everything is arrayed. 

There would be a problem picking a place for another newspaperman who carried affectation to splendor, the cross-dressed Green Hornet. For Britt Reid — debonair young publisher by day, crime-fighting masked hero by night — there are no nice drive-ins to park his Black Beauty.

And what would his faithful valet Kato like to eat? In old radio, Kato was cast as Japanese. After Pearl Harbor, in radio and pulp comics, he became Filipino. In a later film, he appeared as Chinese actor Bruce Lee, who liked to eat Korean kimchee. To strike a pan-Asian balance, the curries, satays and noodles at the Thai restaurant Saladang should do pretty well.

With an unrestrained imagination, I often picture myself at the Magnolia Lounge, sitting between both Catwomen, Halle Berry and rival Sharon Stone, shivering with delight, anticipating they might fight over me.

You’d think I’d be taking my sports hero, Joe DiMaggio, to Gale’s Restaurant, a special Italian place where they serve osso bucco with the bone cut in a way that allows marrow to be scooped out. But since Joltin’ Joe might be in the company of Marilyn Monroe and the folks who wrote and sang “Mrs. Robinson,” I’d choose redwhite+bluezz for its live jazz entertainment and sommelier-driven wine list.

For an anti-hero, Genghis Khan is the likely villain. In the 12th century, to fuel the march for pillaging privileges from Peking to the Black Sea, his warriors barbecued big game on their shields over brush fires in stone pits, all seasoned with salt from deer licks. I’ll be taking Khan to Gus’s Barbecue for meats that are seasoned with assertive new blends of herbs and spices and slowly smoked in apple wood and hickory. Watch out, South Pasadena!

For a fallen hero, President Richard Nixon works. Once treated like a king in elite restaurants with meals like whooping crane under glass, in bad days that followed he would be served black bird in a pie. Still, for his courageous visit to China, I’d honor him with honey-walnut shrimp at Panda Inn.

But, alas, before dinner, I visualize a scene at the bar: “Oh, Mr. Nixon, Mr. Nixon, put the flute glass back,” a bartender would plead. “What glass? I am not a crook,” Nixon would reply.

To put a welcome end to all this hero worship, I’d connect with Dante Alighieri. In the “Divine Comedy,” he took us with him through Hell and Purgatory. To make him feel at home again, I’d take him for dinner in Arcadia.

Editors' Picks

Tortas Mexico
 90 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 432-4887 | www.tortaspasadena.com
Take well-seasoned meat, sliced avocado, tomato, mayonnaise, jalapenos, shredded lettuce, grill it all on a freshly baked telera roll, and what do you get? The torta, quite possibly the greatest thing to enter this country legally from Mexico in the past century. And Tortas Mexico does a bang-up job serving these authentic mouthwatering delicacies.

Best Chili-Cheeseburger
Clearman's Galley
 7215 N. Rosemead Blvd., San Gabriel | (626) 286-1484 | www.clearmansgalley.com
Let's face it: Clearman's Galley had the best chili-cheeseburgers when it opened in a former mail-service ship 41 years ago, and it's still the best today. Now nestled into new digs - you can't stand in the way of progress, or a Kohl's, for that matter - "The Boat" continues to please with its gooey cheese bread and zesty red-cabbage salad.

Best Mexican Food
El Toreo
 21 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 793-2577
The burritos at El Toreo, one of Old Pasadena's oldest restaurants, are not as big as your forearm, but they're close. But not only are the burritos so filling that many people probably couldn't eat a whole one in a sitting, most of their other dishes are equally authentic, delicious and cheap.

Best Armenian Cuisine
Zankou Chicken
1296 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 405-1502 | www.zankouchicken.com
You don't go to Zankou Chicken for the ambience - you go there for just a taste of what patrons call "Shawarma Heaven." Served daily are hot and saucy chicken dishes, falafel and Eastern-inspired platters of hummus and pickled vegetables, all served with garlic sauce.

Sahara Restaurant
2226 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 795-6900 | www.saharapasadena.com
Anyone who lives or works within wafting distance of this Middle Eastern gem can identify the precise moment when lamb is thrown on the mesquite grill for the day's kebabs. It's only upon entering that faint aromas of house-made tahini and garlicky tsatziki yogurt sauce join in and beckon you to sit.

Best BBQ
Gus's Barbecue
808 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena | (626) 799-3251 | www.gussbbq.com
The folks at Gus's are so dedicated to the craft of barbecuing, the menu reads like the travelogue of a meat-themed road trip. Come sink your teeth into beer-braised Texas brisket, St. Louis-style rubbed spare ribs, Carolina pulled pork and Memphis-style baby backs and walk away with the smokehouse smell still in your clothes.

Robin's Woodfire BBQ & Grill
395 N. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 351-2089 | www.robinsbbq.com
Come for the meat, stay for the sauce. At Robin's Woodfire BBQ & Grill, "sauce is boss" and patrons can choose between Carolina sweet mustard sauce, Memphis red vinegar, or Robin's tangy original served over quality smoked meats inside a dining room that is, itself, a slice of Americana.

Best Breakfast
Julienne fine foods & celebrations
2649 Mission St., San Marino | (626) 441-2299 | www.juliennetogo.com
Try the Parmesan-crusted potato cake with poached eggs, guacamole and tomato-basil salsa or, if last night was a rough one, go all out and get a breakfast sandwich made with scrambled eggs, Applewood-smoked bacon, Gruyére cheese, avocado and jalapeno aioli.

151 E. Walnut St., Pasadena | (626) 796-2459 | www.marstonsrestaurant.com
Marston's boasts a world-class omelet list that includes time-honored classics, like the Denver or ham-and-cheese, as well as unique flavor combinations like Andouille sausage and black beans, or spinach, bacon and hollandaise sauce. For sweet palates, the macadamia nut pancakes or French toast are a must.

Best Buffet
201 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 577-4797 | www.souplantation.com
Even if all-you-can-eat isn't really your thing, Souplantation should still be a staple, for vegetarians and carnamours alike. If you tried to recreate your optimal salad using purchased store produce, you'd have to shell out at least $20, and that's not including all the focaccia bread pizza, muffins and soup you'll likely scarf on your next visit. 

Burger Continental
535 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 792-6634
Start the day right with a mile-high plate of breakfast staples served up fresh daily at this burger barn, which ironically is better known for its Middle Eastern food and beautiful belly dancers, who are sure to put some sizzle in your sausage.

Best Burger
2114 Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | 119 Brand Blvd., Glendale | 310 N. Harvey Drive, Glendale
10601 E. Lower Azusa Road, Temple City | 420 N. Santa Anita Ave., Arcadia
(800) 786-1000 | www.in-n-out.com
There's something quintessentially Californian about this palm-decorated, short-order paradise, where grilled burgers and super-fresh toppings and sides need two free hands and lots of extra napkins.

Pie 'n Burger
913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 795-1123 | www.pienburger.com
Here, burgers come with homemade Thousand Island dressing and all the trimmings - with beef, turkey or vegetarian patties. Owner Michael Osborn became a Pie ‘n Burger enthusiast at age 9, worked there as a college student and now brings new items onboard while preserving local favorites.

Best Bakery
Violet's Cakes
21 E. Holly St., Pasadena | (626) 395-9821 | www.violetscakes.com
If you prefer your baked goods better than good, check out Violet's, which boasts brownies that are "can't-stop-eating" good and an array of homemade butter creams.

Euro Pane Bakery
950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 577-1828 | www.europane.com
If you've ever experienced the joy of tasting fresh-baked pastries in shops throughout Europe, you've probably been to Euro Pane Bakery, where le croissant est roi. Sumi Chang, formerly of La Brea Café, knows her dough.

Best Burrito
King Taco
45 N. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena | (626) 792-0405 | www.kingtaco.com
Maybe you've met someone who can eat burritos for breakfast, lunch and dinner - or  maybe you are that person. If so, you will be dutifully accommodated by King Taco, which serves up nearly 20 styles of burrito, including breakfast burritos and carne asada.

Chipotle Mexican Grill
246 S. Lake Ave, Pasadena | (626) 229-9173
3409 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena  | (626) 351-6017 | www.chipotle.com
A fast and thorough crowd-pleaser, Chipotle is the place to go when you're stuck in Suburbialand but find yourself craving a solid fresh-Mex burrito.

Best Business Lunch 
320 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena | (626) 577-6001 | www.hillstone.com
When partaking of the classic American "business lunch," you're looking for three
things - decent food, fast service and the freedom to gab. Maybe that's why Houston's, with chicken and steak standards as well as an assortment of tasty appetizers, seems to consistently please.

Smitty's Grill
110 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 792-9999 | www.smittysgrill.com
There's something about good, hearty food that tends to lure even the biggest wheelers and dealers, which may explain the success of Smitty's, where diners choose from a wide variety of dishes for every taste and a seriously mouth-watering list of power cocktails.

Best Cajun Restaurant
Big Mama's Rib Shack
1453 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 797-1792 | www.bigmamas-ribshack.com
"Honey, if Col. Sanders could have fried chicken like Big Mama, he would have been a general," is the motto of this Southern-style gem. Founder Sue "Big Mama" McWhorter has crafted a menu of low-country favorites, like black-eyed peas, Po' Boy sandwiches and spicy filé gumbo, that send you straight to the bayou in one bite.

Hutch's BBQ
390 E. Walnut St., Pasadena | (626) 449-8095 | www.hutchbbq.com
They say New Orleans gets in a man. Well, our readers say there is a little bit of the Big Easy right here at Hutch's BBQ, where flavors from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean's culinary outposts mingle in harmony on the same menu.

Best California Cuisine
Smitty's Grill
110 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 792-9999 | www.smittysgrill.com
With a menu that has a Smokehouse Burger featuring Applewood-smoked bacon, grilled onions, white Vermont cheddar and rattlesnake sauce, short ribs Osso Buco-style, and a signature Smitty's Salad with white shrimp, smoked bacon, English peas and blue cheese crumbles, this is the place to be for delicious and refreshing fare.

Parkway Grill
510 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena | (626) 795-1001 | www.theparkwaygrill.com
Visit Parkway Grill, where an eclectic and innovative menu features the best of Southern California cuisine. Here, catfish is fried with whole ginger in a ponzu sauce and served with caraway rice and cucumber-mint relish, while chicken breast is cooked with wild mushrooms and baby carrots in a porcini-butter glaze.

Best Caribbean Dining
Kingston Café
333 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 844-6477
Started by a Jamaican family 15 years ago, Kingston Café is a real charmer and a must-hit for fans of jerk chicken, curry tofu or goat meat, as well as folks who believe in the power of coconut to make nearly any meal better.

Hutch's BBQ Restaurant
390 E. Walnut St., Pasadena | (626) 449-8095 | www.hutchbbq.com
Come to Hutch's for fall-off-the-bone ribs and brisket, ample portions of barbecue and what some patrons call the best jerk chicken you'll find in town. If you walk in not knowing what to pick, let your nose be your guide, as heavenly aromas abound.

Best Cheap Eats
2114 Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | 119 Brand Blvd., Glendale | 310 N. Harvey Drive, Glendale
10601 E. Lower Azusa Road, Temple City | 420 N. Santa Anita Ave., Arcadia
(800) 786-1000 | www.in-n-out.com
These days, you're lucky if you get what you paid for, and that's especially true of fast food establishments. Luckily, there's always In-N-Out, which boasts healthy, fresh ingredients for a song.

King Taco
45 N. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena | (626) 792-0405 | www.kingtaco.com
A dollar and some change will get you access to the taco and tamale menus, where you have your pick of nearly 10 varieties. For about $5, take your pick from 19 burrito meal combinations, which come with rice and beans - not too shabby for this side of Tijuana.

Best Chinese Food
Panda Inn Restaurant
3488 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 793-7300 | www.pandainn.com
Andrew Cherng and his father, Master Chef Ming-Tsai Cherng, came to the area from the Yangzhou region of China more than 30 years ago and since then have built a sizable fan base. Now they dare you to order off the largely Mandarin and Szechwan menu and not walk away satisfied. 

Fortune Chinese Cuisine
60 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 577-1888
For tasty, fresh vegetables and lean meat dishes try Fortune, which is one of the only area Chinese restaurants, if not the only one, that offers free delivery service.

Best Cocktails
Magnolia lounge
492 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 584-1126 | www.magnoliaonlake.com
Styling itself after a post-Prohibition speakeasy steeped in decadence and intrigue, Magnolia provides the perfect atmosphere for sipping one (or more) of 28 signature drinks, including delightfully named martinis and cocktails, such as "I'm Effen Sexy," "Sour Bitch" and the perplexing "Oompa Loompa." Which best describes you?

70 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 792-4441 | www.redwhitebluezz.com
A perfect cocktail is not so much nailing just the right combination of booze and mixers as it is about highlighting the liquid chemistry formed by magical pairings, The mood of the drinker and the atmosphere play a role, too, which is why redwhite+bluezz deserves a hearty nod for its jazz-inspired twists of favorites like Long Island Iced Tea and Black Russian.

Best Deli/Sandwiches
Pasadena Sandwich Co.
259 Sierra Madre Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 578-1616 | www.pasadenasandwichcompany.com
This old-fashioned sandwich shop is a favorite among cops, city workers and people who reserve their patronage for Pasadena's very best food. If you venture out to Pasadena Sandwich Co., know that you're likely to walk away with a sandwich as big as your head.

Subway Sandwiches & Salads
950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (and other locations) | (626) 449-8887 | www.subway.com
Five ... five dollar ... five-dollar foot-long! You can chide it, but odds are, you've tried it. That's the beauty of this ubiquitous chain.

Best Dessert
Cheesecake Factory
2 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 584-6000 | www.cheesecakefactory.com
Despite its name, Cheesecake Factory has a line-up of desserts sure to please any variety of sweet tooth. Try a warm apple crisp, Limoncello cream torte or a fresh goblet of strawberries with cream. Or just go ahead and get the cheesecake, of which you can get more than 15 versions, including dulce de leche, peanut butter cup, fudge ripple or vanilla bean.

Mi Piace
25 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 795-3131  | www.mipiace.com
Sweet lovers will rejoice at Mi Piace's impressive dessert list, which goes so far beyond the traditional cheesecake, chocolate cake and fruit ice cream offered at most locations. Here you'll find yogurt cakes, custard creams and tarts whose presence on the plate is maximized by an array of flavored mousses, sweet spices, nuts and fruits. 

Best French Cuisine
Bistro 45
45 S. Mentor Ave., Pasadena | (626) 795-2478 | www.bistro45.com
Upscale without being too pretentious, Bistro 45 blends classic tastes with unique flavors to create exquisite dishes. Peruse the wine and cheese lists and contemplate the baked brie with organic mache salad or the duck breast, served with roasted butternut squash and baby carrots in a port reduction. A new vegetarian entrée du jour is a treat for herbivores.

Madeleine's Restaurant & Wine Bistro
1030 E. Green St., Pasadena | (626) 440-7087 | www.madeleinesrestaurant.com
Madeleine's specializes in California cuisine prepared in the French tradition with a touch of Creole flavor. The charming, old-world European setting will make you swoon.

Best Health Food
Whole Foods Market Arroyo
465 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena | (626) 204-2266 | www.wholefoodsmarket.com
The foods are the same delicious kind that would be chosen by great chefs in tall white hats in very fine restaurants. For its dazzling array of locally grown produce, the eco-friendly crowd applauds the place like they would a magic beanstalk.

Grassroots Natural Market
1119 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena | (626) 799-0156 | www.grassrootsnaturalmarket.net
Women here remain as slim and silky as a sash even after eating a super burger - likely the organic tempeh (TEHM- pay), made of beef-like soybean cake.

Best Independent Coffee House
Buster's Coffee & Ice Cream Shop
1006 Mission St., South Pasadena | (626) 441-0744
By bringing varietal imported coffees home to roast, building sandwich specials like turkey, cranberry and avocado, griddle-baking savory and sweet scones, plus a variety of entertainment, this lively coffee house leaves no grounds for discontent.

Zona Rosa Caffe
15 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena | (626) 793-2334 | www.zonarosacaffe.com
Not one of those ubiquitous coffee houses where you get wired to plug in your laptop, but one that intoxicates with robust Latin American coffees and colorful art that decorates an upstairs loft, where Latin music fills the rafters.

Best Italian Cuisine
Gale's Restaurant
452 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 432-6705 | www.galesrestaurant.com
Always abuzz with small talk and glad-hand embraces, it has the look and feel of a family reunion in which each generation adds something special. Younger guests favor the famous salads; their elders maybe the osso bucco with the bone cut in a way that allows marrow to be scooped out.

Mi Piace
25 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 795-3131 | www.mipiace.com
It's often hard to get a luxury box seat in this New York City-like "lifestyle" scene, which is simultaneously elegant and casual.

Best Independent Ice Cream/
21 Choices
85 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 304-9521 | www.21choices.com
While Baskin-Robbins may have 10 more flavors of ice cream, 21 Choices has yogurts and smoothies that regularly draw crowds. Notable additions to their array of flavors include fresh-picked organic fruits, Reese's golden peanut butter cups, and toffee and almonds.

Fosselman's Ice Cream Co.
1824 W. Main St., Alhambra | (626) 282-6533 | www.fosselmans.com
LA County Fair-bemedalled ice creams like mint chip, mango, and chocolate-dipped strawberry couldn't taste fresher or better if you salted the ice around a bucket and turned the crank yourself. Plus, all Fosselman's ice cream is made on the premises.

Best Indian Cuisine
Akbar Cuisine of India
44 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 577-9916 | www.akbarcuisineofindia.com
Like the Greek Epicurus before him, Akbar the Great, the Mogul ruler of 17th century India preached that pleasure was the strongest motive force of all men - that the good life meant eating and drinking well. You'll see that this restaurant is a true believer with the finesse and fire of Northern Indian lamb and chicken specialties and a fine wine list that surpasses those of most Indian restaurants.

All India Café
39 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 440-0309 | www.allindiacafe.com
India's gastronomical regional variations stretch over vast mountains, plains, deserts and rivers, so using a name that proclaims the transfer of a whole subcontinent's cookery is saying a mouthful about a very large order. But they manage it here with a flourish.

Best Juice Bar
Jamba Juice
64 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 666-1500
204 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena | 626) 744-5200
3595 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 351-4333
3751 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 351-5994
(and other locations) | www.jambajuice.com
Without using any high-fructose corn syrup, they serve a confluence of fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, tea infusions and energy boosters. In addition, they offer an array of crispy-crusted flatbreads with various toppings, and steel-cut oatmeal, made with soy milk, fruit and brown sugar.

Juice It Up
165 N. Hill Ave., Pasadena | (626) 793-3344
390 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 395-0145
With power shakes and energy bowls, including acai made from the Brazilian palmberry, these are places you can get juiced up without inviting the police.

Best Japanese Food
Ichima Japanese Cuisine
325 N. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 351-0560 | www.ichima-sushi.com
Watching nimble-fingered sushi chef Jimmy Park in the artful rhythms of cutting and pinching a shapeless mound of rice, seafood and seaweed into a visual sensation at a moderate price, you can be assured he is using the best ingredients.

Kabuki Japanese Restaurant
3589 Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 351-8963
88 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 568-9310
One explanation for Kabuki's growing popularity is the idea that when select sakes and fine foods are brought together, the two synergize for a gastronomical treat more delicious than either alone could provide.

Best Late-Night Snack (TIE)
Conrad's Restaurant
861 E. Walnut St., Pasadena | (626) 577-7603
Until 1 a.m. five nights a week, and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, wee-hour Pasadenans now have a choice: go to bed and toss and turn or get up and go out for food and fun. There's always time for "Conrad's Special," a grilled, bacon-wrapped sliced turkey sandwich, plus the highly acclaimed hot-fudge cake for dessert.

Lucky Boy
640 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena | (626) 793-0120 | www.luckyboyburgers.com
Nothing says bedtime like a gargantuan double-cheeseburger from Lucky Boy, and our readers apparently agree. But why wait till sunset? The savory scents wafting from the grill here are almost enough to convert a vegan at any time of the day. This perennial favorite also starts serving up hearty breakfasts at 6 a.m. for those who regularly pull the all-nighter and consider 10 a.m. an early bedtime.
Finalists (TIE)
2114 Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | 119 Brand Blvd., Glendale | 310 N. Harvey Drive, Glendale
To quiet the growl in our stomach late at night, there's nothing quite as good as a juicy double-double burger with hand-cut fries and a thick, creamy shake.
King Taco
45 N. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena | (626) 792-0405 | www.kingtaco.com
Anyone leaving the bar at night with their wits about them knows they're up against the clock if they're going to pay a visit to the King - the Taco King, that is. And it looks like a number of our readers regularly hold court at this palace of the plate, despite the gastronomical amount of competition in the category this year.

Best Local Family Restaurant
88 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 586-9573
3539 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 351-8963
Showcasing both traditional and contemporary Japanese food at an affordable price and maintaining a lively sushi bar where good-natured quips fly like Frisbees, Kabuki has something for everyone in the family. That goes for the kids, too, because Restaurant Hospitality magazine just named Kabuki's kids' menu the best in America.

Twohey's Restaurant
1224 N. Atlantic Blvd., Alhambra | (626) 284-7387 | www.twoheys.com
Although in its seventh decade, its updated menu with steaks and chicken pesto
still features burgers, crinkle-cut fries and the raved-over ravels of onion rings.

Best Local Pizza
Nonna Pizzeria
818 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena | (626) 403-4100 | www.nonna-pizzeria.com
Run by a family born and raised in Naples, Italy, Nonna offers pizza not just authentic, but genuine. Almost everything is imported from the mother country - and you can taste it.

Avanti Café
111 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena  | (626) 577-4688 | www.avanticafe.com
After Avanti won this category for 14 consecutive years, you'd think the trophy would be retired in perpetuity. Yet finishing second proves only that there are many gourmet wood-fired pizza lovers who still think of it first.

Best Mediterranean Cuisine
Café Santorini
64 W. Union St., Pasadena | (626) 564-4200 | www.cafesantorini.com
In encompassing the many different countries and cultures of lands lapped by the Mediterranean Sea - moorings defined by cuisine and enhanced by traditions of hospitality and generosity to visitors - a dining experience here is much like sailing on a great white yacht, jubilant with flags of these many ports of call. Owners Panos and Vasken Haitayan were born and raised in Beirut and trained to cook on the island of Cyprus, so they know the waters.

Mediterranean Café
273 Shoppers Lane, Pasadena | (626) 793-8844 | www.kokosmediterraneancafe.com
Pita wraps here are deep pockets of goodness, including one with two skewers of lamb, plus lettuce, tomato and minty Greek tzatziki sauce for only $5.50.

Best Mexican Restaurant
El Cholo Café
958 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 441-4353 | www.elcholopasadena.com
Enthusiasm for classically prepared Mexican foods and drink is enhanced by a setting where strength of colors, size of decor pieces and charm of the staff work together in the most hospitable ways, as they must have in the elegant Mexican haciendas in Old California.

145 Palmetto Drive, Pasadena | (626) 792-2763
1806 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 794-6674 | www.mijaresrestaurant.com

In its ninth decade of preserving Old California values for Pasadena, but full of margarita-driven youthful enthusiasms, Mijares earns this accolade burnishing a golden past and auguring for a platinum future.

Best Middle Eastern Eats
Pita! Pita!
927 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 356-3099 | www.pitapitarestaurant.com
With generous portions of moderately priced classics, it's a Middle Eastern dream of unearned pleasures. Even the simple fava bean salad is something to muse on - why is the flavorful bean largely ignored in American restaurants?

Pasha Grill
124 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 356-0670 | www.pashagrillusa.com
With salads and sauces made from scratch daily, economically priced menu items crackle with freshness. You can get a quarter garlic chicken with hummus, pickles and pita bread for only $5.99.

Best New Restaurant
POP Champagne and Dessert Bar
33 E. Union St., Pasadena | (626) 795-1295 | www.popchampagnebar.com
What Dom Perignon is to Diet Pepsi, POP is to most other wine bars of its kind - but even with a galaxy of spangled chandeliers, there's no snobbery. It makes scores of champagnes and sparkling wines - even the good stuff - available by the glass at decent prices, and offers a refined array of soups, salads, cheeses and charcuterie.

Malbec New Argentinian Cuisine
1001 E. Green St., Pasadena | (626) 683-0550 | www.malbeccuisine.com
Classy enough in taste and presentation to win over polo snooties with dishes like beet salad with roasted pears, but fair enough in price for dog-tired Pampas cowhands to pile in for big steak dinners.

Best Outdoor Dining
Villa SORRISO Ristorante & Bar
168 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 793-8008 | www.sorrisopasadena.com
By day, this shaded patio is as comfortable and reassuring as a lullaby. By night, its romantic ambiance clinks in air like two flutes of fine champagne.

Finalists (TIE)
La Grande Orange
260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 356-4444 | www.lgohospitality.com
Offering seating under the stars amid the patio adjoining the Gold Line's Del Mar station with trains whizzing by, and candlelit tables beside a roaring fireplace, La Grande Orange has brought a European allure to the heart of the Crown City.

The Terrace at the Langham
1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena | (626) 568-3900  | www.langhamhotels.com
Set amid the palatial surroundings of the Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa, this restaurant seems enclosed in its own perfect world. Overlooking the glistening pool and lush landscaping of the world-renowned resort hotel, diners enjoy a mix of California bistro-style food with French-inspired comfort food. 

Best Restaurant
70 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 792-4441 | www.redwhitebluezz.com
With a lineup of fine jazz performers, a bar that pours comically complex drink arrangements like the "Ella Fizz-gerald" but also a sommelier-driven wine list and martinis poured from Austrian crystal, plus a dinner menu chock full of reinvented American fare, could you ask for anything more from a restaurant?

La Grande Orange
260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 356-4444 | www.lgohospitality.com
With a menu that takes comfort food on a whirlwind tour through the world's kitchens, La Grande Orange has deservedly taken its place among the Crown City's finest restaurants. But it clearly has its eyes on the hearts and minds of its customers, with large, exquisitely prepared portions made without cutting corners on ingredients. Add in its Gold Line-adjacent location, and it is definitely a restaurant on the move.

Best Restaurant Staff
70 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 792-4441  | www.redwhitebluezz.com
With a staff of waiters who make no unnecessary moves while anticipating every need, bartenders who know the right things to say and sommeliers who know what to pour - it's time for you to think "big tip."

La Grande Orange
260 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 356-4444 | www.lgohospitality.com
To burnish an already glowing reputation for award-winning fare like a brussels sprouts salad with mustard vinaigrette, Manager Ashley Valenzona said she only hires people with "personalities that shine."

Best Seafood
Cameron's Seafood
1978 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena  | (626) 793-3474  | www.camerons4fish.com
Long story short: Cameron's takes the best catches of the day and grills them over mesquite coals better than any other place in town. End of the story we've read so many times before.

McCormick & Schmick's
111 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena | (626) 405-0064 | www.mccormickandschmicks.com
With its classic, comfortable Greene and Greene design, and a huge variety of seafood streaming in daily, it always offers a warm embrace for seafood lovers.

Best Soda Fountain
Fair Oaks Pharmacy
1526 Mission St., South Pasadena | (626) 799-1414 | www.fairoakspharmacy.net
A soda fountain and ice cream shop, Fair Oaks Pharmacy is also a gift shop packed with great gifts, holiday stocking stuffers, a huge bath and body selection, and stationery - making this a one-stop shop filled with old-time charm.

Best Spanish/South American Dining
Bar Celona Modern Spanish Tapas Bar
46 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 304-1000 www.barcelonapasadena.com
In the city of Barcelona, it's a way of life for celebrating groups to hop from one bar to another, sampling appetizers and slugging sangrias. At the Old Pasadena Bar Celona, guests stay put, pulsating in place with the many offerings - a tantalizing mosaic of small-bite tapas, sensual musical events and a variety of paellas in rooms Velasquez might have designed.

La Luna Negra
44 W. Green St., Pasadena
(626) 844-4331

Napoleon was right: Europe ends with the Pyrenees. Cookery in Spain - swirling paellas, convenient tapas and precious pork in many forms - is vastly different than that of France and Italy. Our voters were right: the best of it is made here.

Best Soul Food
Roscoe's Chicken 'n Waffles
830 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 791-4890  | www.roscoeschickenandwaffles.com
Smiles as big as a waffle break out each time someone orders Roscoe's four-piece fried chicken special. The plate comes with two secret-battered waffles, whipped butter and splashes of house-made syrup. It's a picture of the "Big Easy" framed and glazed. And the biscuits are always fluffy.

Big Mama's Rib Shack
1453 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena  | (626) 797-1792 | www.bigmamas-ribshack.com
Heirloom recipes like molasses pork spare ribs from "Big Mama" Emma Sue's family album will make you hang around the kitchen like an unapologetic mama's boy.

Best Special Occasion Dining
The Dining Room at the Langham
1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena | (626) 568-3900  | www.langhamhotels.com
Take a step back in time to when dining patrons were made to feel like royalty from the moment they walked in to the last bite. Chef de Cuisine Michael Voltaggio brings his new American cuisine craft to the kitchen, where an intriguing variety of dishes - like pastrami pigeon with rye-infused jus, kraut and puffed Gruyére cheeses - will add to a magical evening.

The Raymond Restaurant
1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 441-3136 | www.theraymond.com
Here chefs offer the highest form of comfort food, prepared with an eclectic bent. Sample tasty treats like heirloom-tomato salad in California olive oil or crispy pork belly with an apple and celery salad as you walk up to entrees like maple leaf duck and Korubuta pork shank with fingerling potatoes in a natural jus.

Best Steakhouse
Arroyo Chophouse
536 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena  | (626) 577-7463  | www.arroyochophouse.com
A warm, cozy and richly decorated dining room, coupled with an attentive wait staff, may be the perfect pairing with a succulent steak of your choice. Arroyo Chophouse is no stranger to the Best-of list - one bite and you'll understand why.

Ruth's Chris Steak House
369 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 583-8122 | www.ruthschris.com
This crowd-pleasing chain serves up a mouthwatering laundry list of USDA-Prime steaks and filets carefully selected and aged for tenderness. Cuts are seared at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and glazed with butter, just to make them as sinfully good as possible.

Best Sunday Brunch
The Dining Room at Langham
1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena | (626) 568-3900  | www.pasadena.langhamhotels.com
This award-winning champagne brunch features a live jazz band from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and decadent upscale items. Nibble on made-to-order pasta dishes and omelets, or head East with dim sum, sashimi and fresh seafood, served alongside traditional breakfast favorites that are worth every penny.

70 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena  | (626) 792-4441  | www.redwhitebluezz.com
Offering delightful dining with smoking jazz, redwhite+bluezz is a treat any time of the week. But from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, they kick it up a notch with such selections as Surf and Turf Benedict (yep, that's Angus filet mignon and Maine lobster mixed together), signature cocktails like the Ella "Fizz" Gerald and a champagne cart filled with quality choices. Take a seat, you'll be staying awhile.

Best Take Out
2114 Foothill Blvd., Pasadena | 119 Brand Blvd., Glendale | 310 N. Harvey Drive, Glendale (800) 786-1000 | www.in-n-out.com
What makes for the perfect take-out dining food? It has to be something that is affordable, tastes better when it's been soaking a good 10 minutes or more and makes you glad you left cooking for another day. On all these fronts, In-N-Out aims to please with burgers and fries that somehow seem to get better on the drive home.

The Hat
491 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 449-1844 | www.thehat.com
The Hat may be known for its super-decadent pastrami sandwiches, but fans vouch just as avidly for the reputation of its chili fries, turkey sandwiches and burgers, served in a cheery, counter-style restaurant.

Best Vietnamese Cuisine
950 E. Colorado Blvd., Ste. 204, Pasadena | (626) 584-7118
Hungry for the taste of Hanoi? If so, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this well-decorated eatery, where you can select from a variety of soups, pho and other Vietnamese favorites. Try the lemongrass-marinated beef and bangh xeo (sizzling cakes) with shrimp, pork, mung beans and sprouts.

Pho 79
29 S. Garfield Ave., Alhambra | (626) 289-0239 | www.pho79.com
The next time you need a "pho fix," try this local eatery, which boasts rich beef soups and exotic dishes seasoned with anise, ginger and cinnamon.

Best Tea House
Scarlet Tea Room
18 W. Green St., Pasadena | (626) 577-0051 | www.scarlettearoom.com

Whatever your tea or dining tastes, the Scarlet Tea Room is sure to please. Sip a variety of oolong, green and black teas or upgrade to sangria, mimosas and mojitos as you listen to live jazz and ponder the tantalizing dinner menu.

Tea Rose Garden
28 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena | (626) 578-1144 | www.tearosegarden.com
You'd have to be sitting in the middle of this verdant secret garden to believe peace and relaxation were just a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of Raymond Avenue. Creeping ivy, lots of shady spots and the trickle of a fountain conspire to create a hideaway feeling, highlighted by a spot of tea.

Best Thai Food
363 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena | (626) 793-8123 | www.losangeles.citysearch.com
Believers swear this may be the best Thai food available in the Los Angeles area. All we know is that Saladang has something for the experienced palate as well as the first-time Thai diner, including a green curry that brings Bangkok to you.

President Thai Restaurant
498 S. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena | (626) 578-9814 |
From the floor to the rafters, President Thai Restaurant aims to bring you authentic Thai dishes, art and architecture that create an otherworldly dining experience.

Best Vegetarian Food
Orean's The Health Express
817 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena | (626) 794-0861 | www.oreanshealthexpress.com
The fact that vegetarians and vegans don't typically frequent fast-food establishments is no secret. But in Pasadena, veg-friendly types have an ace up their sleeves - Orean's The Health Express, which dishes up the finest in meat-free fast foods, from air-baked fries and veggie burgers to guiltless chili dogs that do not disappoint.

My Vegan
633 S. Arroyo Parkway, Ste. 3, Pasadena | (626) 578-9017
With so much to choose from - from Thai food to tacos to fries - even the most diehard carnivores have a reason to come back to this vegan paradise.