Author Viet Thanh Nguyen moved to Pasadena in 2018 after initially favoring Silver Lake, “where a police helicopter once came, hovered over me, and spoke to me on its bullhorn as I weeded my hillside.” When not teaching English at USC, he writes in a room with a view of his garden. “Why would I write anywhere else?” says the father of Ellison, 8 (named for Ralph Ellison) and Simone, 2 (named for Simone de Beauvoir, Nina Simone, Simone Weil, and Simone Signoret). On the wall hangs a framed certificate recognizing his 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, awarded for his best-selling debut novel, The Sympathizer, which is now being adapted into an HBO series starring Robert Downey Jr.
For a good bookstore, I’ve only been to Vroman’s. My son loves it there and always walks out with a stack of books. There’s a great children’s section on the second floor. Pasadena’s lucky to have a bookshop the size and scale of Vroman’s. When Ellison and I published our children’s book together—Chicken of the Sea, about bored chickens who become pirates—we did our book launch at Vroman’s. I regret that I haven’t yet made use of the wine bar.
For good pizza, Ellison’s No. 1 is Blaze Pizza. He loves the pepperoni; I love the spicy special. We used to go to Mi Piace with him because its booths are family friendly, but since we added Simone, our options are a little more limited. She can’t sit still for too long, so Stoney Point, a very homey, family Italian restaurant next to Little Flower, is our go-to family dining option. We can sit outside, the kids can run around as needed, and the parents can steadily consume cocktails.
For adult guests, I like to take them to Bone Kettle, where the bone broth and nasi goreng are delicious. The bone broth soups recall the greatest soup ever invented, phở, which I grew up eating every Sunday after church.
If you’re a comics lover, as Ellison is, go to the Comics Factory, and follow that with a visit to the nearby Milkcow Cafe for ice cream or boba tea.