I’m a big fan of not cooking on the weekends, so I’ve compiled a list of places for breakfast and brunch in the Pasadena and San Gabriel area. Please chime in and add what’s missing.
The gold standard of breakfast. This classic craftsman houses the best in regional breakfast. From the cornflake-encrusted french toast to the pulled-pork benedict, it’s all above par. They have a large range of omelets, and a pretty good gringo huevos rancheros. They also do catering and offer picnic baskets. Breakfast is available all day on the weekend (but they close at 2:30PM). They are closed on Mondays. Pricing is low to average considering the quality. Parking can be a nightmare as can be wait time. http://www.marstonsrestaurant.com
Oldest of old school Pasadena Restaurants, The Raymond has been in business since 1886. Pricier than Marstons and with a much larger menu selection, this is an always busy Take-Mom-to-Brunch kind of place. The food is good, the portions large, the experience fairly forgettable, but not unpleasant. This is an old standby and the food has been pretty much the same since Crown City became Rose City (sorry, local humor). It’s good. The salads are huge and the muffins were great as I remember. The Raymond is a full restaurant that serves Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, and Dinner, which is less common than you might think in Pasadena. The Dinner is the real star here, but the breakfast is definitely good, too.
A french breakfast and brunch paradise in San Marino. Nearby lot and ample street parking make this my regular go-to spot when I don’t mind spending a little bit more ($15 pre-tax/tip average per person without drinks). They are inexplicably closed on Sundays. The interior is gorgeous and the service is generally top-tier. They have a take-out shop that sells prepared pastas, cheeses, meats, and desserts, that you can take home and cook yourself, too. They have one of the greatest menu items in Los Angeles (which will likely hit Jonathan Gold’s 99 things to eat before you die list as soon as he becomes aware of it): Baked Crème Brulee French Toast with Fresh Strawberry Sauce and Crème Anglaise. It is a revelation. This is higher brow fare and it’s worth it. They also have an excellent wine selection. Located on a wide, but not-too-busy side street, their patio dining is somewhat enclosed, mostly shaded and unbothered by car pollution or environmental noise. http://juliennetogo.com/
Terrace at the Langham
The Huntington Langham Hotel is stunning. It’s a very old-school hotel with lots of old-world charm. This means that you have to valet unless you feel like walking about 1/4 mile from the street (assuming there is any street parking). The restaurant validates most of the parking, so there’s that. Terrace is the breakfast / brunch restaurant by the swimming pool on the lowest floor in back of the function halls past the main entrance. Most weekends there are weddings, and most week days there are conferences, so it’s never hard to get a seat. Terrace is pricey. The food is upscale Beverly Hills hotel level. In other words, not very imaginative, but prepared perfectly. Probably home to the best steak and eggs on this side of town, so expect to pay a lot. Think Ivy prices. Service is usually very good, but I’ve noticed that some guests have a tendency to let their kids run wild, and this can go unchecked by hotel staff. I don’t know if the sticker price of a stay emboldens guests to uncourteous entitlement, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. This is only if you choose to dine outside by the pool. If you eat indoors in the glorious air conditioning, you are way less likely to encounter the wild offspring of visiting plebs. The Sunday Brunch buffet is the only buffet in town worth having, and that alone is worthy of recommendation, but the grounds of the hotel are truly breathtaking, and if plein air painting is your thing, this is definitely your jam. Pasadena is the epicenter of the California Impressionism art movement and the walls of this luxury hotel are adorned with fine examples of the craft.
This is an almost out-of-the-way spot on Green Street, East of Lake. Green is one-way, so you need to approach from the west. Cafe Verde is a charming little spot that recently expanded into the building next door to the original location, but they haven’t adjusted any of the seating, so it’s all still crammed tight–like a Tokyo bistro. They also haven’t expanded the kitchen yet, so more seating means longer wait time until they do. The food is continental with a South American flair, though the photos on the wall are of Italy and France. This is above par food at low to average prices, and they have a full bar, so bloody marys are available as well as other signature cocktails. The rib eye and eggs have been inconsistent (sometimes perfect, sometimes chewy), but the other menu items have been excellent overall. Unexpectedly great wine list, too, if you choose to return for dinner (which is comparable to Malbec on the next corner).
This small and colorful, Mexican cafe from the owners of El Portal and Vanessa’s Cafe, specializes in dishes from the Yucatan. Located on Colorado near the edge of Old Town (around the corner from the Pasadena Playhouse, across from the Laemmle Theater), parking can get a bit difficult on Colorado, though I’ve always managed to find a close spot on the street, so you may be better off parking on Green Street behind the arcade in their private lot. I believe it is free parking. At Yahaira, you want to skip the omelets and go directly to their specialties. If you aren’t well versed in Yucatan cuisine, it will not be the Mexican food to which you are accustomed–and that’s a good thing (even if you love Mexican food like I do), but you really can’t go wrong. The flavorful steak and eggs is a miracle for $11.50, but any of the specialties will pleasantly surprise. The ingredients are fairly unfussy, and the flavors memorable. Win-win.
What is a Japanese French breakfast buffet? In the hands of chef Akira it is a high ticket combo of champagne, prime rib, and toro. It is unique. It is expensive. It is not what I picture when I think of breakfast. Assorted sushi, Tuna & Tofu, Soba, cold-poached salmon, roasted leg of lamb, crab chawanmushi, beef short rib, and eggs to order. It’s like the buffet at the Langham shot through the twilight zone. It’s something you have to try once in your life (if you like sushi).
This Italian restaurant on Colorado is opened early and serves a damn good breakfast and lunch with an Italian palette. The bread is going to be fresh and delicious and anything with a tomato is going to excel (the salmon fritatta is their signature breakfast dish), and the coffee is fabulous. “Breakfast with the Mayor” is their take on the Denver omelet, but more Italian and a really nice surprise.
Pasadena also has a Real Food Daily (the most ironic restaurant name–it’s vegan), and an Urth Cafe. These are chains and the food is consistent for better or worse. There are also a high concentration of great coffee roasters in Pasadena (Jones being my favorite, but also Home, Copa Vida, Intelligentsia, and the amazing chocolatier Amara). There is a good, inexpensive Crepe Studio on Union run by two sisters from Montreal (gluten free available). And on the weekend you can get some German Bar food for your hangover at Der Wolfskopf. Typical diner fare is available at Andy’s and Colonial Kitchen (both as seen on Mad Men).