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Best late-night eats: El Taquito Mexicano truck
Since 1979, El Taquito Mexicano has been serving up tacos well past when all the other kitchens in this part of the city have shut down for the night. Spritz some citrus on an order of chicharrón and al pastor (some of the best anywhere) and you’ll find yourself on a new level of late-night taco eating nirvana.
Best wine bar: Everson Royce
Lead by two-thirds of the Silverlake Wine team, this laid-back wine store/bar hybrid has more than 500 labels for purchase and eight bottles on tap at all times. For $12 you can make your own flight of three wines from whatever is currently on offer, or drop just a couple more dollars and take part in one of its three weekly tastings.
Best coffee shop: Copa Vida
Copa Vida sits among a mess of coffee shops, so what really puts it over the top is the state-of-the-art equipment used to brew the espresso and, in particular, the tea (yes, seriously). While a multi-thousand dollar, perfect-tea-brewing machine may seem totally absurd, you still get to reap the benefits with some really killer brews.
Best pizza: The Luggage Room
As the name suggests, this pizzeria is housed in what was once the Del Mar Train Station’s luggage room, and still maintains a vintage feel with wood-paneled walls and crystal chandeliers, but the real winner’s the chewy-crusted pizza -- especially the daily farmers market specials.
Best secret underground bar: Rathskeller
We gave you the full lowdown on this bar-within-a-bar when it first opened, and it’s still by far the coolest speakeasy around. You can find the entrance right next to the door to the ground floor Der Wolfskopf (both are German-inspired), and there’s no password necessary. Downstairs you’ll find killer cocktails and a wide range of mostly German brews.
Best brunch: Lincoln
Lincoln’s brunch menu ranges from the trendy/health-conscious Breakfast Bowl (featuring beans, greens, and a soft-boiled egg) to the the breakfast muffin (there’s a whole egg baked into the center) to a classic stack of fruit-topped pancakes; it's also got a slew of daily Instagram-worthy baked goods like peanut butter & jelly scones and blackberry & lavender danishes.
Hands down best ice cream ever: Carmela
Not only is Carmela the best ice cream in Pasadena, it’s some of the best ice cream anywhere ever (for realzies!). Flavors like cucumber sorbet, lavender, and salted caramel rotate with wacky seasonal flavors like cantaloupe and heirloom tomato, making the line (there’s definitely gonna be a line) totally worth the wait.
Best cocktails: The Blind Donkey
The Blind Donkey’s the Surly Goat guys’ whiskey-centric bar, which should give you an idea of the quality here: drinks are made not just from the brown stuff but with homespun ingredients like plum vanilla jam and honey-thyme syrup.
Best date spot: Little Beast
Small plates at this renovated, twinkle-lit Craftsman range from crispy barbecued octopus to a nutso Brussels sprouts & sweet potato dish, covered in maple vinaigrette and loaded with cashews and nori; if nothing else, the date conversation can start with “OMG that tastes amazing!”
Best breakfast burrito: Lucky Boy
This is not the first time we have told you about Lucky Boy burritos, nor will it be the last. They are roughly the size of a kitten (and probably weigh as much as a brick), and come stuffed with potatoes, cheese, fluffy scrambled eggs, and fantastically greasy bacon. Just don’t expect them to be nice to you. They won’t be. At all.
Best baked goods: Euro Pane Bakery
Chewy caramel macaroons? Buttery, balanced croissants? Yeah, both are superlative, as is the house-made bread, which sops up whatever they put in their absurdly addictive egg salad sandwich.
Best dive bar: Freddie’s 35er
Right in the center of Old Pasadena, Freddie’s 35er has been serving beer in a can since 1963, which means there are cheap drinks, pool tables, a jukebox, and the game -- whatever game -- on TV. And free popcorn. Win.
Best classic-Pasadena institution: Pie ‘n Burger
You want pumpkin pie in July? Sure. Lemon meringue’s more your deal? Go for it. Pecan? Butterscotch?? Olallieberry??? It's got those too. There is nothing as old school as sitting at the counter of this diner and grabbing a bite -- and seriously, when do you not feel like some pie and a burger? Never. The answer is never.
Best happy hour: Edwin Mills
What was once home to Equator is now happy hour (and brunch) powerhouse Edwin Mills. While it’s still run by cool cat/owner Teddy Bedjakian, the space has graduated from casual cafe to full-blown (and slightly more sophisticated) restaurant & bar with a different happy hour every single night, which means whether it’s a Thirsty Thursday or a Tasty Tuesday, you’re gonna want whatever it's offering.
Best hot dog: Dog Haus
At Dog Haus, everything is served on toasted King’s Hawaiian rolls (you know, those sweet rolls that glisten as if touched by the butter gods) with endless genius topping combinations like the Sooo Cali (wild arugula, spicy basil aioli, crispy onions, avocado, and tomato) and the Tae Kwon Dog (bulgogi glaze, kimchi, a fried egg, and Korean chili powder). Bonus: at the Old Town location, you can also choose from the rotating selection of 20+ beers on offer and grab a seat outside at the biergarten.
Best brewpub: Lucky Baldwins
With the kitchen serving a full three meals a day (including fish & chips), Lucky Baldwins is a family-friendly British pub with 63 beers on tap that run the gamut from California-based (including a couple Pasadena-based) to ones imported from that place with the dentally challenged folks across the pond (God Save the Queen).
Best sushi: Sushi Ichi
OK, Thrillist editor Jeff Miller’s a die-hard fan of nearby Sushi Kimagure Ike, but if you’re not into omakase, Sushi Ichi offers a much more casual experience -- there’s no pre-set menu, just whatever is fresh and written on the specials board. The amberjack is a house favorite, and the tako sashimi is out of this world.