Quaint South Pasadena has done its utmost to preserve its leafy, small-town flavor, and the arrival of the Metro Gold Line cemented its pedestrian-friendly status. Just a few blocks long, the charming Mission Street area is rich with food-centric places, as well as boutiques and antiques shops; shady El Centro Street, one block south, is also part of this district.
Starting at the Gold Line’s Mission station, walk north across Mission to find HEIRLOOM BAKERY, the neighborhood’s best breakfast place, with sturdy coffee, homey baked goods, generous egg dishes and a large patio. If you just want coffee, stop at quirky BUSTER’S, which also has Fosselman’s ice cream.
At the corner of Mission and Meridian you’ll spot RADHIKA , an Indian restaurant with lightened-up dishes as well as beer and wine. A few doors down, MY SWEET CUPCAKE has won cupcake competitions with flavors like key lime and peanut butter.
Across Mission, MIX N’ MUNCH draws tots to college students with build-your-own cereal bowls and a dozen kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches. Cyclists and schmoozers hang out at GREAT HARVEST BREAD CO., with Peet’s coffee and pastries and bread made with whole-grain flour milled on the premises.
Next, walk south a block to El Centro, a pretty little street that parallels Mission. It’s even more French here—the first place you’ll see, right next to the tracks, is NICOLE’S GOURMET FOODS, run by the charmant Nicole Grandjean. A wholesaler of French cheeses and goodies, she also has a retail store and café complete with a flowerlined patio. The store opens early for cafés et croissants and makes lunchtime sandwiches (try the prosciutto, pecorino and arugula). Nicole’s also stocks hard-to-find baking items, kitchenware and frozen croissant dough and tarte shells. BISTRO DE LA GARE completes the block’s French theme, with indoor and outdoor dining on such traditional French fare as steak frites, onion soup and roast chicken.
A few steps east on El Centro is KALDI , the antithesis of chain coffeehouses, with funky couches and chairs, free WiFi and good cappuccino. Also on El Centro is FIREFLY BISTRO, a quintessentially Californian spot whose dining “room” is a tented, twinkle-lit patio. The eclectic menu draws from the South (shrimp and grits), the Mediterranean (grilled calamari with olives, pine nuts and arugula) and the modern American playbook (a great BLT for lunch, crab hash for brunch). Note that if you plan your visit for a Thursday afternoon, you’ll find El Centro taken over by the small but very good weekly FARMERS’ MARKET, a fine fate for a food lover!
Head north a block back to Mission and stop in at friendly MISSION WINE, which pours tasting flights every day and also has beer on tap. Its selection of small-production wines includes some good values. If it’s time for dinner, choose from MIKE & ANNE’S, which has a lively bar, delicious upscale comfort food (get the sweet potato fries) and yet another lovely patio, or BRIGANTI, a convivial Tuscan trattoria with an excellent burrata caprese salad and grilled fresh fish. The old-timer of the neighborhood is SHIRO, a modern space with imaginative French-Japanese cooking; its sizzling whole catfish with ponzu is legendary.
Just make sure to fit in an old-fashioned sundae or milkshake at the historic corner FAIR OAKS PHARMACY, complete with an antique soda fountain and counter.
— Pat Saperstein
Bistro de la Gare
921 Meridian Ave., 626.799.8828
1423 Mission St., 626.441.4663
Buster’s Ice Cream & Coffee Shop
1006 Mission St., 626.441.0744
Fair Oaks Pharmacy
1526 Mission St., 626.799.1414
1009 El Centro St., 626.441.2443
Great Harvest Bread Co.
1019 Mission St., 626.441.4786
Heirloom Bakery & Café
807 Meridian Ave., 626.441.0042
1019 El Centro St., 626.403.5951
Mike & Anne’s
1040 Mission St., 626.799.7199
1114 Mission St., 626.403.9463
1005 Mission St., 626.441.8808
My Sweet Cupcake
954 Mission St., 626.441.4010
Nicole’s Gourmet Foods
921 Meridian Ave., 626.403.5751
966 Mission St., 626.744.0994
1505 Mission St., 626.799.4774
South Pas Farmers’ Market
El Centro St. & Diamond Ave., Thurs. 4-8 p.m.