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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Pasadena

Pasadena is proud to maintain its all-American image. Just have a look at the festivities surrounding the Tournament of Roses Parade followed by the Rose Bowl football game on New Year's Day. During the rest of the year, it's difficult not to drive down Orange Grove Boulevard without gaping in awe -- this is "Millionaires Row" afterall. (America's first celebrity chef Julia Child, a well-to-do Pasadena native, lived just a few blocks away.) These parts were home to a number of rich 20th-century industrialists seeking refuge from the bustle of L.A. proper, including Norton Simon, who bought and renovated the former Pasadena Art Museum on Colorado Boulevard to house his art collection.

Yet beneath the gleaming image it projects, the city of roses has some dark and peculiar history. Robert F. Kennedy's assassin Sirhan Sirhan, attended both high school and city college here. And before the creation of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard spent his formative years living in a Pasadena mansion with Jack Parsons, an occultist and rocket scientist who happened to be one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In some ways, it's the weird stuff that makes Pasadena intriguing, but you get the sense that people here would rather scrub those stories clean.

 

Pie 'N Burger: Pasadena, as home to JPL and Caltech, is known for a lot of discoveries and scientific breakthroughs. Among those inventions often attributed to the city -- though not created in any research facility -- is the humble cheeseburger. Pie 'N Burger, around since 1963, is one of the oldest burger joints in town that has benefited from this. There is a definite Caltech connection though: college students, who go on to win Nobel Prizes or design space shuttles, walk the two blocks from campus for the burgers and pies.
913 E California Blvd, (626) 795-1123

 

Mi Piace: If Pasadena had a scene-y restaurant, this would be it. This is one of the only original restaurants still operating since Old Town went through its initial revitalization in the 90s. (This story talks about the genius city plan that plugged parking meter revenue back into the restoration of the Old Town's buildings.) The restaurant website says it's going for a New York vibe, but everything from the food to the decor is Pasadena through and through.
25 E. Colorado Blvd., (626) 795-3131

 

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The Raymond and Bar 1886: The year is a bit deceiving, as 1886 refers to the establishment of the Raymond Hotel, which was a sprawling, grand hotel, perched from above and overlooking the border between Pasadena and its southern counterpart. Fire and then the Depression ultimately destroyed the hotel, which forced the developer and his wife to move into the caretaker's cottage down below on Fair Oaks Boulevard. The story ends happily enough, as this Craftsman cottage still remains, albeit as a restaurant and bar with a great cocktail program.
1250 S Fair Oaks Ave, (626) 441-3136

 

Europane : Sumi Chang is a living legend in Pasadena. There's always the mention that she worked with Nancy Silverton at Campanile. Her croissants and baguettes are as good as anything you'll find in Paris, and her egg salad sandwich is one of the best lunches you'll have in town.
Bakery, 345 E Colorado Blvd., Ste 101, (626) 844-8804; Bakery & Cafe, 345 E Colorado Blvd., (626) 844-8804

 

Lucky Boy: Lucky Boy is sometimes called Lucky Boy Drive-In, another nod to burger and Southern California car culture. During New Year's leading up to the Rose Bowl activities, this place is packed with out of towners in their college colors, getting their fix on pastrami burgers, chili fries, and the greasy spoon's self-proclaimed Famous Breakfast Burritos.
640 S Arroyo Pkwy, (626) 793-0120; 531 E Walnut St, (626) 793-7079

Honorable mention goes to the Smith Brothers' Parkway Grill and the rest of their Pasadena restaurants.

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