It's another beautiful Saturday in Southern California. The sun is shining, the air is clear, and we've got nothing to do so let's go out to dinner. Except, traffic is clogged throughout the region as usual.
Luckily, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority...better known as Metro, these days...has been busy building a network of light rail lines and subways throughout the region where we can simply hop on board one of their trains and light out to our destination. We're also lucky that one of those stations is less than a mile from our house.
Today, we hop on the Gold Line for a short hop to the Memorial Park Station in the heart of Old Pasadena. From here, it's a quick walk through Big Bang Theory Alley (yes, really) to Union Street, then one short block west to Harlowe's French Dip.
This is a new restaurant in Pasadena that pays homage to the sandwich created a few stops farther south on the Gold Line at Philippe's.
It's a small place but lined with warm woods on the brick walls, it's homey and comfortable. A table near the entrance is accommodating to Tim's wheelchair.
We arrive during happy hour so we get some cheap beers and a glass of wine for Letty. Tim and I are big French dip fans so we get their signature beef sandwich.
My wife gets a fig marmalade burger.
It all goes good with the Texas toast appetizer ($2 during happy hour)...
...and the donut holes with caramel dipping sauce for dessert.
Yes, it's all very nice, delicious, and stress-free since we didn't have to drive. We are loving this new train style, even when we have to deal with some of the 'public' in public transit. It still beats hassling with all the bad drivers and traffic on the roads.
And, since I'm not driving, I don't have to worry about that food and beer making me fall asleep from all that gentle rocking.
Here are our favorite places to eat along the Gold Line, which runs from East Los Angeles to the Glendora city limits in the San Gabriel Valley:
INDIANA STATION - EAST L.A.
If you've watched our Gold Line Pub Crawl, you'll see this spot near the Indiana Station where we fortify ourselves for all the drinking that is to come. It's Tamales Lilianas.
From a plate of chicharones and eggs to their namesake tamales, it's all good and very authentic here in the heart of East L.A. Just a short, one block walk from the station at 3448 E. 1st Street.
UNION STATION - DOWNTOWN L.A.
While there's a food court, a nice sit down restaurant, and and even nicer restaurant coming soon to the station's former Harvey House, we like to cross Alameda Street to go for taquitos at Olvera Street.
This touristy little alley, supposedly evoking Los Angeles' Mexican past, has many places you can go for overpriced, bland food but there is still a jewel here and there. Cielito Lindo, at the north entrance is known as the originator of the taquito...little rolled tacos, filled with meat, deep fried, and covered with a guacamole sauce.
It's a great cheap eat for only $3 for two. An even better deal is located near the other end of Olvera Street. Cielito Lindo may have invented the taquito but La Noche Buena perfected it.
Here, the taquitos are several notches above the original in taste and you'll get them even cheaper...$2.50 for two.
Afterward, you can get some of the best churros in L.A. in the hallway behind El Paseo restaurant at Mr. Churro.
Speaking of French dip sandwiches, Philippe's...a block south of the Chinatown station...invented them. Sure, there's a counterclaim by another downtown restaurant (Cole's) but we'll go with the Philippe's story. Not to mention, they're better here.
Any good Angeleno will know Philippe's...we've been coming here as long as we can remember for those delicious sandwiches made on the spot by the carver at the counter right in front of you. The restaurant has been here well over a century and it shows, too, with the sawdust on the floor, long communal tables, old wooden phone booths, and a newsstand in the corner.
The sandwiches, though, are the star. Although there is a very extensive menu, 99% of the customers order a sandwich. Beef, lamb, turkey, ham, pork, and the recent addition of pastrami are your choices of meat. The efficient ladies at the counter will slice the meat, dip the bread in the au jus, and plate the sandwich in less time than it took me to type that sentence.
My favorite? A beef dip (as the carver to double dip it), with jack cheese. A vast array of side dishes are available from pig's feet to pickled eggs. Me, I just like to get a slice of their delicious cheesecake. Don't forget to dab a little of their own hot mustard from the jar on the table. It'll clear your sinuses along with bringing out the flavor of that delicious sandwich.
From the station, you can also walk through the adjacent Blossom apartment complex to Broadway. Across the street, we'll sometimes stop for the delicious desserts at the Phoenix Bakery. It's just a kid compared to Philippe's...only around 80 years old, not the 100+ that Philippe's is.
HIGHLAND PARK STATION
If you come here on Tuesday afternoon, there's a spiffy little farmer's market at the station but we come here for something else. Walk east about a block to Figueroa Street, look south for the old Highland Theater. Just beyond that is the Greyhound Bar and Grill.
While there's a lot of good drinking and snacking going on here, we come mainly for one thing...shrimp and grits.
Southern themed restaurants come and go in this town...Frank and Joe's, Cajun Way, Spoonful...but the cuisine hasn't really reached critical mass yet. My wife particularly laments the lack of a good place for shrimp and grits.
I was very pleased to find this place that not only serves them but serves a version that she claims is "fantastic." I'm not such a shrimp and grits fan so I can't really describe it for you but can tell you that you want to come after 4pm...that's when they start serving it.
SOUTH PASADENA STATION
This station is smack dab in the middle of downtown South Pasadena where there more than a few good places to eat and drink. We like to go right behind the station to Nicole's Market, a small market and cafe that specializes in French food.
While browsing for some great soft cheese to take home with a couple of baguettes, we'll also have a nice light lunch here from one of their sandwiches, pastas, soups and more...along with a cold craft beer or a great glass of French wine.
It's on the quiet side of the station at 921 Meridian Avenue.
FILLMORE STATION - PASADENA
This is one of our favorites, despite the few addicts and homeless you have to wade through when exiting the station. Letty and Tim will leave from their end of the line, I'll leave my office at the other end in downtown Los Angeles, and we'll meet in the middle here. From the platform, it's only about 100 yards to Pitfire Pizza where we can nosh on $5 pizzas and cheap beer during their happy hour which starts at 3pm on weekdays.
This isn't just any pizza, either. Pitfire was doing artisanal pizzas long before it was popular. Hand stretched dough, housemade sauce using fresh ingredients, and delicious buffalo mozzarella baked in a hot, wood-fired oven, make for some very tasty pies.
Since it's only setting us back some pocket change, we can even have another one or opt for their soft-serve topped cookies for dessert.
A very delicious way to commute home.
DEL MAR STATION - PASADENA
The station here cuts through a slice of apartment buildings built so that residents could have easy access to the train. On the west platform, you can see the restored station that served the city back in the glory days of passenger train travel.
Inside that station is an upscale restaurant called Le Grande Orange that we have yet to try. At the end of the build is another one we need to try called the Luggage Room, which is basically a pizzeria.
Where we have gone are the two restaurants across the street, Houstons and Congregation Ale House.
Houstons is a moderately expensive steakhouse and chop chain. It is very nice and the food has always done well by us. There's also a sushi bar here and no corkage fee if you bring your own wine.
Congregation Ale House is part of a small chain owned by our friend Travis Ensling. It was his dream to create this sort of 'Catholic High School Girls in Trouble' themed restaurant and bar (you'll understand when you go...Travis is a pretty creative thinker).
Specializing in craft beer and extremely well made pub grub, you'll find their burgers, gourmet sausage sandwiches, flatbreads, and more to be very delicious. They've also expanded to brew some of their own beers. The theme and atmosphere make this a very fun place to stop along the way.
Houstons is on the corner of Del Mar and Arroyo Parkway just east of the station and Congregation Ale House is on the corner of Del Mar and Raymond Avenue on the west side.
MEMORIAL PARK - PASADENA
This is the station for Old Pasadena, a very popular place for people to visit with dozens of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, theaters...you name it. It's a horrible place to drive to and try to find a cheap place to park. The Gold Line is the perfect way to visit this very entertaining neighborhood.
We'll skip ahead...while there are many restaurants along the corridor at the Lake, Allen, and Sierra Madre Villa stations, nothing is really a standout among them. At least we haven't found them yet.
We usually come here to drink and buy tacos on the Taco Tuesday all day happy hour at Mt. Lowe Brewery but you can read and see more about that in our pub crawl posts.
Otherwise, you're on the edge of the Asian dining empire of the San Gabriel Valley here, which is justifiably world famous. A walk south of the station will take you to a favorite of ours here, Hot 'n Sweet Chicken. It's a standout serving authentic KFC...no, not that. In this case it stand for Korean Fried Chicken and, wow, is it good.
You can get wings or drumsticks fried to an incredible degree so that the skin is super-crispy, yet the inside is tender and moist. Glazed with a sweet sauce that comes in a variety of spiciness from mild to melt your tongue, it's an outstanding meal.
There's also a selection of Italian style pastas and Korean dishes but I'm here for the chicken.
AZUSA DOWNTOWN STATION
Our dining tour ends here. I know there's one more stop on the line...plus we've skipped over Monrovia, Duarte and Irwindale...but there's really not much there outside of college cafeterias and snack bars.
In the line's penultimate stop, there's plenty, though. Another Congregation Ale House is here (this one is also the chain's brewery), City Cafe is a bit of sophisticated dining that runs its air conditioning a bit too high, Bambino's Pizza is good for take out but California Grill Express has let us down.
Where we end up here is the delicious Mexican food and margaritas offered by our friend Max Arteaga at his eponymously named Max's Mexican Cuisine. Why not? (you might get that reference if you've ever been there)
Along with the menudo (available every day here), albondigas, enchilladas, tacos, burritos, and more, Max's has a variety of some of the more spicy salsas you'll get in a sit-down, mainstream Mexican restaurant like this...starting with the hot pico de gallo with your chips and moving on to the other red and green salsas that you'll have to ask them to bring from the kitchen.
While Max has another location in Monrovia and another on the way in San Dimas, we like the ambiance, attitude, and food of this original spot in Azusa the best.
OK, that's making me hungry so I better stop for a bite. Be sure to jump on the train next time you're in downtown L.A. or the eastside to get some of this great food.
And if you want to catch up on our Gold Line pub crawls, use the links below:
Gold Line Pub Crawl 1.0
Gold Line Pub Crawl 2.0