The Five Best Hidden Restaurant Gems in Pasadena
Here is what I knew about Pasadena before exploring it recently and chatting with the locals about food:
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg A brand spankin' new snow cone joint to remind you of your childhood.
1. It exists.
2. It is located southeast of Houston.
3. It has a reputation as a culinary wasteland filled with chain restaurants and mediocre hole-in-the wall Mexican joints.
After a few sojourns down to the "Strawberry Capital" (something else I learned about Pasadena--it hosts a large strawberry festival every year), I discovered that the city isn't so culinarily deprived. Yes, there are a number of chain restaurants, and yes, I believe there might be a pupuseria or taqueria for every five or so citizens.
But the local establishments in Pasadena aren't bad at all. In fact, they're somewhat nostalgic. I found a burger place that makes classic roadside burgers and a snowcone joint with the same wonderfully wistful fake fruit flavors I remember from my childhood. There's Cajun soul food, doughy pizzas and, yes, a fabulous Mexican restaurant or two.
5. Tostada Regia
Photo courtesy Tostada Regia Order the enchiladas norteños and thank me later.
La Tostada Regia is actually a local chain with outposts on Airline, Long Point, Park Place and I-10 East, as well as a hopping location in Pasadena. It's not so hole-in-the-wall as places like El Rey on Preston Road or Pupuseria y Restaurante Martinez (both worth a try), but what it lacks in mom-and-pop charm it makes up for in great, dependable food. Open for breakfast and lunch, La Tostada Regia is known for its tostadas and giant tortas, but I prefer the trompo tacos and the enchiladas norteñas, with their ruddy red seasoned corn tortillas and creamy queso blanco.
4. Dollar Daze Snow Cones
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Oh, the joys of a syrupy snow cone.
This place isn't exactly a hidden gem. In fact, the brightly painted snow cone shack is hard to miss, and that's how I found it a mere week after it opened in front of a car wash that's been there "forever," according to a Dollar Daze employee. The small shaved ice shack is getting in more syrup flavors every day, but for now, cool off with a bright green lemon lime or cherry cup (or mix them, as I did). The flavors might not be what you expect from the gourmet sno-ball shops in Houston offering strawberry and Thai basil or grapefruit and cardamom treats, but there's something wonderfully nostalgic about cherry syrup made with red dye that'll turn your tongue a shocking shade of crimson.
Note: Dollar Daze does not appear to have an address, but it's on Red Bluff Road a few blocks north of Spencer Highway.
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