Before starting this column last year, I was infamously cheap — champagne tastes on a beer budget with a Clark Griswold level of frugality. Before entering a restaurant I would scroll through Yelp reviews and then hound servers with questions in order to find the single best item on the menu. That was mainly because I was far too cheap to ever try more than one thing. So when my editor granted me this opportunity he had no idea that he had created a monster. For the past year I have been like an Amish teen on Rumspringa. Every other week I get to cover different restaurants and order way more food than I would ever need to eat. All without guilt, and all because it is my job and I now have a journalistic responsibility to experience as much as possible in the restaurants that I cover. Think of me as Augustus Gloop in the chocolate factory — except no one is telling me to get out of the chocolate river, yet.
While balling hard and ordering varieties of everything is unabashedly great, minus the very confused glances from patrons and staff as I hover over my three entrees like Gollum protecting his precious, it does still leave my pants tighter and wallet lighter.
So this week I decided to slow things down a bit and look at restaurants that were more “fiscally conservative” and still served good food. Both of the places I visited this week are winners in our 2018 Best of Pasadena readers’ poll.
Lucky Boy took home awards for being voted Best Cheap Eats and Best Burrito, while Tom’s Famous Family Restaurant won the most votes for Best Restaurant Staff and Best Breakfast awards. Both places offer simple, stripped down yet comfortable dining styles, with their food as the main focus.
Lucky Boy, a mainstay and a celebrity in its own right for their breakfast burritos, has something of a cult following of residents and their out-of-town friends and relatives who are brought in under the promise of experiencing “The best breakfast burrito you’ve ever had!” There is no exaggeration here. A quick look at online reviews reveals people from across the country regaling readers with tales of their Lucky Boy experiences and vowing to return on their next visit to California.
Both of Lucky Boy’s awards are well-deserved. They have four different breakfast burrito choices, all with a base of hash browns, scrambled eggs and cheddar jack cheese available all day, and coming in at $8 to $10. The Famous comes with a choice of bacon or ham. The Veggie comes with avocado in place of a meat option, and the Spicy uses a hot-link as the protein. The last breakfast burrito on the menu — the Supreme — comes with carne asada.
That beautiful, decadent, 10-buck burrito was my initiation into the unofficial cult of Lucky Boy. I will sing its praises from the mountain tops and unnaturally segue the Supreme into casual conversations for as long as it is on the menu. The craziest part of the Supreme is how simple it is. There is honestly nothing new or innovative about a carne asada breakfast burrito. Lucky Boy just took the pieces to the puzzle, made them with care, and then put them all together. The carne asada is plentiful and well-seasoned without being too peppery. The tortilla is grilled slightly, like a blanket to keep everything inside nice and toasty. The jack cheese is at the right threshold of melty, with breakfast potatoes packing in even more flavor. And it is huge!
The staff at Lucky Boy knows there are some incredible combinations to be created with the different protein options, so do not be afraid to Frankenstein the parts you like for some nominal upcharge. For instance, add avocado to the Supreme, or get both bacon and ham in the Famous. But I feel I must encourage you to experience the classics as they are if this is your first visit. Some Lucky Boy diehards say a trip is not complete without a side of Lucky Boy’s supposedly addictive ranch dressing, which works on everything from breakfast burritos to their fried zucchini.
Tom’s is technically a family-owned restaurant but breaks the carbon-copy mold by modifying their menu slightly at each location. It left enough impact on our area to win the most votes in both Best Breakfast and Best Restaurant Staff categories.
Every part of the experience at Tom’s made the time there more enjoyable. It also made me understand why it won in those two sections. They have their own parking lot, adorned with well-manicured gardens of Spanish and French lavender. You order at the counter and take one of the classic numbered red pyramids to your table. Tom’s is an old school family style restaurant with a small twist, where you can order at the countertop, take a numbered pyramid back to your table, and then get the traditional diner customer service. Or you can forgo that and get what you need at the drive-thru. With an award-winning staff and a comfortable interior, my suggestion is to go for the full experience.
Tom’s leaves you feeling like royalty, with massive portion sizes and disproportionately low prices. As I previously confessed, I order ungodly amounts of food, and Tom’s was no different from other places in that regard. Here I ordered Tom’s breakfast burrito ($6.59) strawberry pancakes ($7.89) a chili dog ($4.99), chili cheese pastrami fries ($8.58) and a slightly off menu peanut butter and Oreo shake ($3.59).
The experience got better and better as my more than generously portioned entrees came flooding out, carried by smiling and helpful staff filling my table with bright red whipped cream pancakes and a plate of pastrami fries so big that it drew the eye of a group of retirees who followed the plate with their eyes and excitedly asked, “What’s that?” The pastrami fries could not be beaten for the very reasonable price.
You need not worry that you’ll blow your budget or that you didn’t order the best item on the menu at either Lucky Boy or Tom’s. The menus are flush with great food, so release your inner glutton, or visit like a regular.