The geographical diversity of the regions located around the Mediterranean Sea contributes to an array of versatile foods and flavors. While many Mediterranean dishes share common elements, there are different culinary variations that come from each culture. From Greek to Lebanese, Pasadena is home to a wide variety of eateries that each offers a distinct take on Mediterranean cuisine.
Founded in 2010 by three childhood friends that are first-generation Greek Americans, CAVA has since expanded to over 100 locations nationwide. Their food is inspired by the hospitality and flavors of the Levant region of the Mediterranean, emphasizing nutrition-forward, well-sourced, and boldly flavored meals. Their fully customizable menu offers a variety of greens and grains, mezze dips and spreads like their signature Crazy Feta and creamy hummus, and homemade falafel and fire-grilled Harissa Honey Chicken served with unlimited toppings like olives, pickled onions, and freshly made dressings and vinaigrettes.
For those who prefer a more curated experience, they recently launched chef-curated bowls and salads, such as fan-favorite Harissa Avocado and Greek Salad, as well as Roasted White Sweet Potato + Super Greens for those who prefer a vegetarian-forward option. “CAVA means ‘wine cellar’ in Greek, but to us, CAVA is celebrating family and friends,” says Ted Xenohristos, co-founder and chief concept officer. “It’s about good food and generosity.” 345 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena
Inspired by his mother’s recipes, owner Joseph Badaro fuses traditional Lebanese dishes with New Age flavors to create innovative cuisine that is fresh and modern. Fresh batches of hummus are made daily in a variety of unique flavors including cilantro jalapeno, garlic, and roasted tomato habanero. The Shawarma Nachos regularly sell out and combine hand-carved beef, marinated shawarma spices, pan-seared tomatoes, and onions on a bed of house-made pita chips. Popular signature platters include chicken kabob, filet mignon, Mediterranean salmon, and falafel—all of which are served on a bed of rice or lettuce with pita bread and an array of 10 different side options such as tzatziki, feta cheese dip, and Baba Ghanoush. “Guests can tailor their platters to their exact liking,” shares Badaro. “We’re a combination of quality and innovation. We’ve made Mediterranean food exciting again.” 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Ste. 104, Pasadena
Father Nature Lavash Bistro
Voted one of Pasadena’s Heart Healthy Restaurants, the second generation-owned establishment has been serving authentic and healthy Mediterranean cuisine since 1984. Focusing on quality and consistency, one of their house specialties is the Double Pleasure Wrap, which combines two favorites into one: chicken shawarma and falafel mixed with romaine lettuce, tomato, white onion, parsley, and homemade tahini. Other favorites are the Grilled Chicken Wrap made with all-natural white meat chicken, garlic aioli, and homemade tahini; and the Old Town Salad, which includes tomato, cucumber, red and green bell pepper, pickled turnips, green onion, and crispy Lavash chips. The mouthwatering homemade Vegan Baklava is the perfect ending to any meal. 17 N. De Lacey Ave., Pasadena
Family-owned and operated Zankou Chicken opened their first restaurant in Beirut in 1962, and now has 11 additional locations in Southern California. Their popular Chicken Tarna dish features hand-sliced, boneless chicken marinated in an herb and spice bath using traditional herbs and spices, then spit-roasted to perfection. They’re also known for their Rotisserie Chicken, which can be enjoyed in freshly baked pita bread topped with hand-diced tomatoes and coupled with their creamy garlic sauce: a rich blend of garlic and a handful of other secret ingredients. The Baklava is an indulgently sweet dessert that has been in the family for years and is a must-try with chopped walnuts and orange blossom nestled between flaky and buttery filo dough.
When it comes to preparation, Zankou Chicken has a “no canned goods” policy and makes all of their dishes from scratch. “We use only the finest ingredients in all of our dishes and we are committed to ensuring freshness in everything,” says Vartkes Iskenderian, co-owner of Zankou Chicken. “The Iskenderian family wanted to share authentic experiences with their community and knew the best way to do so was with delicious food using tried-and-true family recipes.” 1296 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
CAVA Images by Alex Lau
Photos: Courtesy of Father Nature Lavash Bistro, Hummus Labs, and Zankou Chicken