North East Pasadena may not be the type of flashy moniker that immediately suggests a sense of place, but rest assured, this special corner of Pasadena has a delicious and inviting vibe all its own.
By Cuyler Gibbons
When you want to take the measure of a place, its sights and sounds, tastes, and tone, who do you go to for this insider’s perspective? For the real low-down on location, you go of course to the local realtor. And when it comes to North East Pasadena, perhaps no realtor knows it better, than Diana “Speedy” Rafeedie. It’s certainly doubtful anyone loves the area more than this long-time local resident. Rafeedie cheerfully admits to her bias. “It’s a quiet friendly place to live,” she says. “We have the beautiful Eaton Canyon…terrific shopping in Hastings Ranch with [a number of national brands] and specialty shops like Calico Corners. We have all the markets you could want…and of course so many terrific restaurants. Put that all together, with our beautiful eclectic homes on nice sized lots, and you have my favorite area of Pasadena!”
Recently, we asked Rafeedie for a few of her local suggestions. An American of Lebanese and Palestinian descent she has a particular affinity for the Middle Eastern markets and bakeries found throughout the area, but she appreciates the comfortably eclectic nature of her neighborhood.
Here are a few of her favorites…
Victory Park next to Pasadena High, between Sierra Madre and Altadena Boulevard, provides 26 acres of clean, green, inviting outdoor space including a large children’s playground, picnic spaces, community soccer, baseball, and softball fields, and an indoor gymnasium and recreation center. Located at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains the park is the perfect spot for quiet stroll, but for the more focused a plethora of amateur leagues and fitness classes of all types take advantage of the park’s rec center and sports fields. For neighborhood denizen’s and visitors alike however, the weekly open air farmers market at Victory Park held each Saturday from 8:30 to 12:30 is a particular highlight. As Diana Rafeedie says, “ Here you can enjoy an array of fresh produce, specialty foods and items, all while running into friends and neighbors at the same time. It’s a locally sourced foodies delight!”
ASIAN MIX, BOBA FIX
Man cannot live by bundt cake alone, (though in the case of Nothing Bundt Cakes, it’s tempting), so recently Ingrid Kuo owner of Pasadena’s Nothing Bundt Cakes, opened Asian Mix, Boba Fix. With a diverse menu encompassing Japanese, Korean, and Chinese influences, in a warm and invitingly homey atmosphere, if it’s casual Asian food you’re craving Asian Mix, Boba Fix, has what you are looking for. Enjoy delicious finger foods like popcorn chicken, goyza dumplings, and crab Rangoon; A Rafeedie favorite. Entrees like stir fried udon, katsu curry and the not to be missed famous Joe’s Kalbi, provide a bit more heft at equally light price points. Rafeedie is particularly appreciative to have such a healthy and convenient option so close to home. “Asian Mix, Boba Fix achieves both in a relaxing place to hang out, along with the friendliest service. Don’t forget the crab Rangoons, they may be the best I’ve ever had, for a whopping $2.50…I know, right?” says Rafeedie.
When it comes to satisfying a palate with a deep appreciation for middle eastern cuisine, Diana Rafeedie, the proud owner of just such a palate, says that in this part of the South Land you can’t do much better than N.E. Pasadena. In this case we were looking for something specific and so set a particular challenge for Rafeedie – what, we wondered, was her favorite baklava?
Baklava has been with us since before Christ, and while the recipe at Vrej’s Pastries on Allen Ave. might not be over 2,000 years old, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear the perfection that results took that long to achieve. When I visited Vrej’s at Rafeedie’s suggestion – “Other than taking your own tray of baklava out of the oven, the next best thing is Vrej on Allen.” – I knew I was in for a treat the minute I got out of the car. The smell of baking pastries wafting from the shop was olfactory heaven. The pastries are abundant, beautiful and varied, but I was there for the baklava. “They use just the right amount of simple syrup, not honey, and its flaky and crispy all at once, heaven in your mouth,” says Rafeedie, describing this delicious treat like a true aficionado.
BAJA CALI FISH TACOS
Just opened on E. Washington Blvd., Baja Cali Fish Tacos, with everything on the menu under $10, serves fish and shrimp tacos so delicious you’d gladly pay more. Maybe even a lot more. But here you don’t have to. Especially on Taco Tuesday when these perfectly breaded tacos, garnished expertly with salsa, creme and cabbage, are a mere $.99. Baja Cali, familiar to Altadena residents, is new to NE Pasadena, but Diana Rafeedie is already a regular. “Baja Cali, the newest arrival to our neighborhood is really good. I’s small, so consider ordering to go, and enjoy delicious, healthy, Mexican food close to home…for an amazingly reasonable price.”