Lately I've been trying a few places for dinner around South Pasadena and Pasadena when I pick up my kids at school. Last week we had a hearty, traditional Italian meal at Carmine's, where my daughter likes the (gag) plain spaghetti on the kid's menu. My son's Hawaiian pizza seemed undistinguished, but my eggplant parmesan was a massive, tasty calorie bomb that anyone who grew up in the Northeast would probably love. They have a nice patio, a busy bar and delivery too, so it's easy to see why so many local families like Carmine's, although the food is pretty standard old-fashioned Italian.
This week we tried Gerlach's Grill, which you would never notice unless you comb Chowhound obsessively or happen to be buying wine at Gerlach's liquor next door. The take-out stand's menu is a wondrous combo of Middle Eastern food, Mexican food and healthy grilled fish dishes, which sounds like it could be a disaster but they pull it off competently, if leisurely. Lamb burritos and calamari tacos are some of the popular dishes here, but there's also a good selection of fish including salmon, swordfish and mahi mahi. I tried a grilled salmon plate (10.95) which came with a soup or salad and sauteed cabbage. Sam had a steak sandwich which was made on a pita; he devoured it like the insatiable carnivore he has become. A humongous side of hummus was creamy and a bit spicy.
A friendly supervisor from the electric company across the street who was picking up a salmon salad gave me several tips 1) call ahead to avoid a wait, since everything is cooked to order 2) order the fish medium rare so they won't overcook it 3) try the excellent fish soup when they have it and 4) pick up a good bottle of wine from the adjacent store.
If you live in the area, this is a great place to stop by and pick up dinner when you don't have time to cook -- and even satisfy some people who want fish tacos and others who want lamb kebabs.
1075 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena