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Where to Pig Out in Pasadena

Pie n Burger

Pie n Burger, photo via Yelp user Jeff B.

I’m sure Pasadena has its share of gourmet restaurants, given its wide leafy lanes, pristine old town, and upscale school district. But for some reason, whenever I pass through—which is often—I end up eating at a taco stand or a pizza place that proves so satisfying, I return again and again. Here then, are my non-fancy favorites in a fancy little enclave.

The first time I visited Pasadena a decade ago, my friend picked up fish tacos at La Estrella taco stand for dinner, and I haven't stopped talking about them since. They’re cheap, super-fresh, and so spicy hot your lips will burn after two of them. But trust me, it will be worth it.

Locals rave about Pie and Burger for good reason. The fixins are what you’d expect to find in a divey diner that’s been around half a century: Chicken pot pie, chili, basic sandwiches. The pie may not be the best you’ve ever tasted, but the sheer variety of it—20 fruit and meringue flavors including rhubarb, coconut, peanut butter, even mincemeat in season—make P&B a standout. And the burgers consistently get voted as some of the best in LA.

I’m a sucker for a neon sign, which is what first drew me to Russell’s in Old Town. But once inside, the brunch won me over. Any brunch menu that begins with a list of cocktails is for real. Order a bellini and settle in, because you’ve got whole areas of the menu devoted to scrambles, pancakes, omelets, and meat-and-eggs, with a few burritos and Croques thrown in for good measure. Bring the Sunday paper; you’re going to be here a while.

I stumbled into Congregation Ale House on a whim but ended up returning once a week for the next month. The self-service brewpub, fashioned to resemble an abandoned church, offers more than 150 craft brews, 26 of them on tap. The sausage sandwiches come wrapped in house-baked flatbread and there are eight dipping sauces to choose from for your sweet potato or crispy Belgian fries.

Just a stone’s throw from Congregation, The Luggage Room has the best thin-crust pizza in town in a chic bar setting. Start with a grapefruit basil gimlet, then order a Rocket Man (Fresno chiles, broccolini, and roasted garlic) and a chopped salad with salumi. In warm weather, the best seats are on the bustling patio.