Dining a go-go
Food tours shine a light on Old Pasadena’s best haunts and hangouts
By Sara Cardine 07/21/2011
Living and dining in Pasadena can be both a blessing and a curse. The sheer number of restaurant options means any meal you can dream up is often just a short drive — or walk — away at any given moment. But the high number of restaurant options also means you could spend your whole life eating your way through the city’s culinary finest and still miss out on at least half of what’s out there.
If true knowledge exists in knowing that one knows nothing, truly knowledgeable Pasadena residents should have no problem casting off what they think they know about city eats and hitting the streets to see if there’s something they may have been missing.
In recent years, food tours have become a relatively simple means of getting to know a local environ through food and a fun way to get out with a group of friends or entertain out-of-town guests. In Pasadena, two companies offer regular walking food tours through Old Town eateries that successfully combine good food and sensible cardio with a little bit of local history served up on the side.
Melting Pot Food Tours is the brain-child of Lisa Scalia and her sister, Diane, a pair who grew up in Alhambra and frequented Los Angeles-area restaurants for decades before creating a business that would share the beauty of the Pasadena’s ever-changing food landscape with others.
In 2008, the duo was invited by the Pasadena Management Bureau to lead tours of Old Town eating establishments, according to Scalia, which really helped the tours take off.
“They really wanted to have that, because that’s what people were seeking,” she added. “Culinary tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in the [food] industry.”
Today, Melting Pot currently offers three different tours, including a Latin Spice tour and a walk through the Los Angeles Farmers Market. Scalia admits being especially enchanted by the Old Pasadena walking tour.
“Pasadena has everything to offer that you’d find in any premier dining location, from great hole-in-the-wall places to fine dining restaurants and chefs on the local level who are noteworthy. There are a lot of different neighborhoods and a lot of really exceptional restaurants — Pasadena has that in spades,” Scalia says.
Today, the sisters have hired guides to lead the tours, which last around three and a half hours and meander through alleys and plazas that give walkers a taste of Old Pasadena’s rich history and architecture. As groups walk, they hear stories and tales of Pasadena back in the day.
At each destination, tourists are treated to appetizers, mini-meals and multiple tastings at as many as 10 locations. In addition to the Peruvian-inspired Chozo Mama, fusion restaurant Equator and the authentic fare of Tortas Mexico, visitors can grab a scoop of gelato at Tutti Gelati in One Colorado Plaza. Tours are led on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
Foody Field Trips, an Alhambra-based company that offers walking food tours of Old Pasadena and Culver City, is run by Ricky Choi and his longtime friend Mei Tan. The team came up with the idea and opened in September 2010 as a way to share their love of food with others. Pasadena is their flagship tour.
“We wanted to bring awareness to LA’s rich cultural history through food,” Choi said. “And there are so many great restaurants in Pasadena and such diverse menu options.”
Together, Choi and Tan searched for restaurants to feature on the tour. They wanted to highlight family-run businesses, mom and pop places that were off the beaten path and hidden gems known to be local haunts.
Foody Field Trip’s Historic Old Pasadena Tour includes five full stops intended to give tour-goers a wide variety of dining options — you can enjoy the decadent buttery flakes of a Korean-style bun at the bakery Pappa Rich, spring rolls and a secret signature dish at Green Earth Vegan Cuisine and South American wines and appetizers at 1810 Argentinean Restaurant. The tour, which runs from 9:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, boasts more than 20 tastings in three and a half hours.
Choi said among those who take the tour, a surprising number are local residents of Pasadena and the surrounding area who want to more fully explore trends taking place in the local food scene.
“We want to introduce people to places that locals want to go to,” Choi added. “Once they leave a place, they’re amazed they’ve never been there before.”
Scalia said people who take Melting Pot’s tour of Old Pasadena tend to rave about what they’ve experienced and sometimes return soon after with another friend or relative they want to sample the offerings at each destination. She attributes the enthusiasm to the format of the excursions, which give participants what amounts to one tasty and diverse meal, while encouraging groups of friends to converse with one another and their fellow tourists.
And for locals, Choi said, a food tour may be the perfect way to become better acquainted with all that Pasadena has to offer and perhaps find a place where they could be regulars.
“They come away with a number of places they may not have ever been exposed to, and sometimes a new favorite place.”
For more information on Melting Pot Food Tours, visit meltingpottours.com or call (424) 247-9666. Information on Foody Field Trips can be found at foodyfieldtrips.com or by calling (818) 863-6639.