Restaurant Review #214: Mijares Mexican Restaurant, Pasadena


It may not always seem like it from my reviews, but I genuinely want to like every restaurant I try. I think there's a common misconception that food critics like to, well, criticize. Maybe some life-hating critics go out in pursuit of a bad meal so they can rip a chef to shreds, but I think most of us are foodies trying to have as many fantastic culinary experiences as possible and share them with others.

So I really wanted to like Mijares. I went on a Sunday night and there was live mariachi music. The guitars and trumpets brought me back to the restaurant I always had Mexican food at with my family as a child. Back then, I was terrified of all strangers (actually, that hasn't changed a whole lot) and would hide under the table if the mariachi men got anywhere near us. This despite one of the main things I remember about them being what warm smiles they had. But as an adult, I think there are few better surprises than good, live music when I go out to eat.

In addition to live music some nights, Mijares has the chaotic, plate-clanking, tequila-fueled hustle and bustle and din generally found in American Mexican restaurants (or Chili's) along with plenty of screaming children. At least the music and the Cuervo drown them out somewhat.

The albondigas, a simple soup of meatballs in a yellowy-clear broth, was quite good. If I went back to Mijares, I would order this again. I love the richly flavored soup and the loose texture of the meatballs--they look sort of like the Vietnamese meatballs you'd find in a bowl of pho, but instead of being packed so tightly I think they would bounce off if I threw them against a wall, the Mexican equivalent crumbles gently in your mouth as you chew it. I think I might have liked the albondigas at Tia Juana's better, but that restaurant is gone now.


The beef in the burrito had a slimy, wet texture and little flavor. The other ingredients didn't make up for the savory shortfall.

Beef fajitas

The beef fajitas tasted mysteriously like Chinese food. Maybe I just like more lime juice in my fajita marinade than Mijares uses, but if I wanted Chinese food, that's what I would have gone out for. Not Mexican. Apparently lots of people like the restaurant's totally ordinary, overly sweet margaritas, too, enough to vote them "best margarita in Pasadena." They do serve the thick tortilla chips I like, but the salsa has barely a hint of spice and the guacamole is nothing special. The refried beans, to appease the ever-health-conscious southern Californian, are made without lard, which in this case makes them exceptionally bland.

The thing that makes me sad is that this restaurant, according to its website, is apparently somewhat of a Pasadena institution. It has been family owned for three generations. I guess Pasadena isn't known for its Mexican population, and of course, fajitas are downright Tex-Mex (I should know better than to order Tex-Mex in the wrong state). I want to tell you that this restaurant that has been around for 85 years is terribly charming and that the food tastes like it came straight out of the kitchen of the Mexican grandmother everyone wishes they had. Did I order poorly? Did I visit on an off-night? It's possible. I want to tell you to try this restaurant, but you could get better Mexican food in my kitchen. I'm not Mexican, but I do know how to cook.

Mijares Mexican Restaurant
145 Palmetto Dr., Pasadena
(626) 792-2763
Monday - Thursday: 11am to 9pm
Friday, Saturday: 11am to 10pm
Sunday: 9:30 to 10pm
Sunday Brunch: 9:30 to 2pm


Restaurant Review #213: Cha Chaa Thai, North Hollywood

Cha Chaa Thai is proof that just because a Thai restaurant is located on Sherman Way in North Hollywood doesn't mean it will be good. Though this strip of street is home to gems like Bua Siam and Krua Thai, it's apparently not infallible. Cha Chaa serves what is probably the worst Thai food I've ever had.

I had a bad feeling the moment I walked into the place, and experience has shown me that this feeling is almost always dead on. But with the place so empty and the lone server so friendly and so aware of my presence, it felt wrong to leave, so I decided to order anyway and hope for the best.

The food tasted about as good as I expected given the looks of the place: very few customers (it was a little past lunchtime, though), very outdated decor, and a steam table of impossibly cheap lunch specials ($4.95 for rice, one eggroll, soup, and a small portion of an entree).

One of the problems is probably that Cha Chaa is a Thai-Chinese restaurant, not a Thai restaurant. Swan Thai has a few Chinese dishes on its menu, but is primarily a Thai restaurant (a tasty one, at that), so I was expecting the same from Cha Chaa. In reality, it is a Chinese-Thai restaurant, with very few Thai dishes. For example, none of the nine lunch special entree options are Thai. I probably should have ordered a Chinese dish to get a more accurate picture of the kitchen's capabilities, but I was really craving Thai and my funds are limited. Plus, I wanted to order something that would be cooked fresh, not something that had been sitting out under heat lamps for hours.

Pad Thai

The pad Thai was sort of a cross between the ketchupy version and the peanuty version, but it didn't taste like much. I normally don't squeeze fresh lime on my pad Thai, but I used an entire lime to make this dish actually have some flavor (good thing I had a bag of limes in my fridge, since it only came with one wedge). The dish was edible, but I can name about 15 places off the top of my head that do better. Also, there was no option for tofu (with this or any other dish on the menu), which is how I like my pad Thai. This one came with chicken (and shrimp, which I went without). The chicken was somewhat dry and didn't have any flavor beyond its inherent birdiness. The noodles were properly cooked, though not quite as pleasantly chewy as Krua Thai's or Bua Siam's.

Pad see ew

I also tried the pad see ew with beef. Unfortunately, this dish was overcooked, giving it a slightly burnt smell and taste. The beef was no better than the chicken, and the dish, like the pad Thai, was fairly flavorless overall.

One thing the restaurant does have going for it is that the portion sizes are generous and the food is cheap. Unfortunately, it is not unique in that regard. One thing it does do differently, though, is try to cater to a Spanish-speaking clientele. The entire menu is translated into Spanish, and they even serve aguas frescas. Also, the service is friendly and the food was prepared quickly (but not too quickly--it was obviously made to order).

Cha Chaa Thai
12936 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 503-8884