Breakfast and brunch have been off the trend-meter charts lately, with far too many restaurants throwing bottomless mimosas and French toast plates on their morning menus.
It’s this oversaturation that leads me on a perpetual search for restaurants that can do something surprising and exceptional with the concept. Last week, I found it: Yahaira’s Cafe, offering Nuevo Latino cuisine that puts a unique spin on all things breakfast and lunch.
With almost 20 years in business on Colorado Boulevard, but fewer than 500 Yelp reviews, Yahaira’s apparently hasn’t hooked the Instagram/Yelp brunch crowd. Likely, in their maturity as a Pasadena restaurant, they have seen many a food trend come and go, and have resisted conforming to the fleeting culinary fad of the moment. The menu isn’t full of gluten-free options, and vegetarian dishes aren’t specifically listed, but they are suggested by the wait staff upon request. Rather than labeling their cuisine as “fusion,” as they so easily could, or adding bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys with bacon garnishes, Yahaira’s remains consistent. This seeming indifference to dining trends is not due to a failure to innovate, but a confidence that comes from doing something well. Two decades in an area known for its frequent turnover is nothing to scoff at.
Those Instagram foodies are really missing out on something. Not only is the food at Yahairas incredible and well worth a trip, the aesthetic and design of the restaurant and food presentation is stellar. Based on its tenure, this is something Yahaira’s regulars know well.
Location truly is everything, and Yahaira’s occupies prime real estate. At the Colorado Boulevard end of Arcade Lane, surrounded by its sister restaurants Vanessa’s and El Portal, Yahaira’s sits neatly on the corner. The sidewalk patio area gives diners a view of Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 and Vroman’s Bookstore directly across the street.
Nuevo Latino, the concept behind Yahaira’s menu offerings, brings together culinary traditions from across Latin American communities. They have traditionally Cuban items like Vane’s Torta Cubana ($10.50), Argentinian inspired dishes like Empanadas de la Noche ($6), and traditional Mexican dishes such as chorizo and eggs ($11).
Thanks to Yahaira’s close proximity to its sister eateries Vanessa’s and El Portal, you’ll regularly see wait staff shuttling trays of food and drinks between the trio of restaurants. If you sit on the patio at Yahaira’s and order one of the juices, for instance the El Vampiro ($4.50), a fresh beet, carrot, celery and orange juice concoction, your server will emerge from the brick walkway of the arcade with a glass of the freshest, most beautiful crimson elixir you’ve ever seen.
The desserts and specialty coffees on Yahaira’s menu are all from Vanessa’s cafe. I ordered the warm espresso bread pudding with ice cream ($6.25), and as someone with an unhealthy obsession with bread pudding I was thoroughly impressed. For $6 I could not have asked for more. On my next visit I’ll close out my tab at Yahaira’s, walk down to Vanessa’s for dessert, then follow it with a cocktail from El Portal for the full trilogy of dining experiences.
All it takes is one dish to sell me on whether I’ll make a return visit to a place I’ve covered. Even when the experience is lackluster, if I can find that one dish that is done better than anywhere else, I’ll be back. Fortunately at Yahaira’s I didn’t have to struggle to find things to enjoy. I sampled four plates and any one of them would easily sell me on a return visit.
The Mexican Panini ($9.25) with chorizo and eggs topped with tomatoes, onions, provolone and black bean mash on a toasted telera roll served with fruit was the best and most interesting take on a breakfast sandwich I have ever had the pleasure of trying. For those like me who have a hard time handling anything spicier than Cholula hot sauce, rest assured the chorizo at Yahaira’s has just enough spice for a subtle kick.
The Quesadilla Especial ($11), a spinach tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo, Ortega chiles and melted jack cheese with guacamole and salsa, wins this columnist’s award for the most aesthetically appealing quesadilla I’ve seen with the flavor to match.
The Lomitos Scramble ($10.50), tender pork stewed in tomato and garlic scrambled with eggs and served with home fried potatoes, corn tortillas, chunky guacamole and a roasted salsa, is fantastic; a hearty brunch entree with satisfying flavor and substance.
Being that I don’t have children I don’t typically notice or pay attention to how family friendly a restaurant is, but on this trip I was accompanied by my family, including my infant niece and 4-year-old nephew. I was fortunate enough to see a variety of menu options for kids. My nephew loved his pancakes and bacon for ($6.50), and when he wasn’t paying attention I snuck a few bites. I must say for a place that doesn’t specialize in griddle options the pancakes were fluffy and well-made.
Yahaira’s breakfast options weren’t just a refreshing take on Mexican breakfast, but on breakfast and brunch in general, combining cultures and cuisines in new and adventurous ways.