Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: South Pasadena

Located just 10 miles from downtown LA, South Pasadena is a quiet suburb known for its small-town atmosphere and iconic architecture. The area has a rich history, beginning with its original inhabitants, the Native American Hahamog-na tribe, whose dwellings once lined what is now known as the Arroyo Seco.

Many years later, after Mexican Colonial rule had ended, the city of Pasadena was founded. While those in the southern portion of Pasadena always considered themselves to be separate, South Pasadena didn’t officially establish itself as an incorporated city of Los Angeles County until 1888. Throughout the 1900s, the city thrived. The Pacific Electric Red Car line made the town easily accessible to those across Los Angeles, making it one of the county’s first official suburbs. Additionally, the Mission West area was once a thriving stop on the US Route 66, bringing throngs of tourists to South Pasadena throughout the first half of the century.

Today, South Pasadena is the same sweet suburb it has always been. Known for its charming streets and abundance of “Mom and Pop” shops, it is often used as a stand-in for small American towns in Hollywood films. The history of the area is evidenced by the plethora of stores and restaurants that have continued to thrive throughout the years.

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Gus’s BBQ 

Back in 1946, Gus, Jack and Mike Tripodes left Cleveland, Ohio and hopped on Route 66, headed for California. They landed in the small town of South Pasadena, which at the time was a stop on the infamous old highway. Fulfilling their dream of bringing Midwestern barbecue to Southern California, they bought a little diner called Hamburger Mac’s and opened Gus’s, named after the eldest of their crew. The restaurant, which serves up BBQ dishes from all across the country, including Memphis Baby Back Ribs, Texas Beef Brisket and Carolina Style Pulled Pork, was an instant hit in this LA suburb.

Today, Gus’s is run by Chris and John Bicos, brothers and owners of another classic joint, The Original Tops. Keeping the tradition alive, the Bicos brothers travel across the country each year, tasting the best of what BBQ has to offer and bringing those big flavors back to LA.

Gus’s BBQ808 Fair Oaks Avenue, (626) 799-3251

Gus's BBQ

Photo courtesy of @eyedaily via Instagram

The Barkley 

First opened in 1951 under the name ‘The Crossbow,’ The Barkley has been a South Pasadena institution since its inception. To dine at this restaurant is to step back in time to the age of poodle skirts and cat eye sunglasses, of Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.

The dining room is lined in old-fashioned black and red booths and dinners of Filet Mignon and Shrimp Scampi are served under dim lighting. As if it couldn’t get any more fabulous, every Sunday night meals are served with a side of live jazz.

The Barkley: 1400 Huntington Drive, (626) 799-0758


Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain

Before it became the iconic old-school soda fountain it is today, the Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain was simply a neighborhood pharmacy. Opened in 1915 under the name South Pasadena Pharmacy, the shop that now dishes out some of the best ice cream sundaes in LA County was instead serving up prescriptions and over the counter medicine. Once Route 66 started to kick into high gear in the 1920s and 1930s, the owners decided to open a soda fountain. Pretty quickly the shop became a popular rest stop for travelers from across the country. While the restaurant fell into a bit of disrepair after the decline of Route 66 in the late 50s, the current owners restored it to its former glory in 1990. In fact, the soda fountain that now stands was an original working soda fountain, restored and shipped to South Pasadena from Joplin, Missouri.

In keeping with tradition, the restaurant today serves up sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and other classic dishes. However, what the Soda Fountain is known for, of course, is their ice cream sundaes. A local favorite is the Raymond, named after the old South Pasadena hotel and topped with hot fudge, chocolate ice cream and hot caramel. The perfect treat for a hot, California summer day.

Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain1526 Mission Street, (626) 799-1414

Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain

Photo courtesy of @fatboynotsoslim via Instagram

Bar 1886 at The Raymond

The Raymond hotel was once a staple in South Pasadena. First built in 1886 by Walter Raymond, it was unfortunately burnt to the ground on Easter Sunday of 1895. Thankfully no one was hurt in the fire and as the story goes, guests were well cared for in a nearby cottage by bartenders from the hotel’s secret poolroom (a common feature of hotels during Prohibition). After his hotel was destroyed, Raymond refused to give in. Instead, he built a new, even more magnificent hotel on the same spot. Soon, the hotel was booming with business from America’s elite, including movie stars Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Raymond would often stay in the small caretaker’s cottage that he built next to the hotel so he could schmooze with his famous guests.

Unfortunately, like many businesses at the time, the hotel went under in 1931 due to the Great Depression. However, Raymond’s beloved caretaker’s cottage still stood throughout the rest of the century and in 2010, it was turned into The Raymond restaurant and Bar 1886. Today, the bar is serving up classic cocktails that harken back to the days of Prohibition and secret poolrooms. Every season, the bar releases a catalogue of their featured drinks, with names like the “Drop The Beet” or “La Vie En Rose.” But don’t be fooled by the short list, this historical bar has over 600 off-menu, house cocktails to choose from.

Bar 1886 at The Raymond1250 S Fair Oaks Avenue, (626) 441-3136

Drink from Bar 1886 at the Raymond

Photo courtesy of @hi11arys via Instagram


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