To uncover Pasadena's restaurant charms, it's essential to venture out of Old Town and onto more eastern stretches of Colorado (Daisy Mint) or less-travelled streets (Tonny's). Hidden away on Mentor Ave., Aun Deli Cafe is the kind of place I would give anything to have near my office on Wilshire: super-healthy, reasonably-priced Japanese home cooking, bento boxes and takeout in a cozy cafe with a selection of organic teas. Aun calls itself "zen cuisine," which means using organic ingredients when possible and concentrating on healthy preparations. Like at M Cafe de Chaya, the cold salads all look tempting, including spinach with sesame, root vegetable salad, avocado fruit salad and tuna potato salad. Hot dishes include rice bowls with chicken, yellowtail or vegetables, spicy chicken fried soba noodles, sukiyaki and pork ginger saute as well as specials like chicken curry. I tried Ocha-zuke with salmon ($6.95), which is a bowl of nutty brown rice topped with tender grilled salmon. A beaker of warm green tea-flavored broth is poured over the rice to make a comforting and savory soup. Each main dish comes with one salad choice, and the spinach, with a healthy dose of sesame flavor, is both virtuous and utterly delicious. Iced jasmine tea is the way to go on a warm day, and there's also wine and beer.The only problem with eating such clean, healthy food is that you may be tempted to do as I did and walk around the corner to Europane for some ethereally perfect salted caramel and lavender macarons, just to make sure lunch isn't too virtuous.
This little stretch of Mentor is heating up, with popular Mexican restaurant El Metate, Aun Deli Cafe and soon Noir Cafe & Wine Bar, specializing in boutique pinot noirs, opening next year from Mike Farwell, formerly of Red Carpet Wines and Vertical Wine Bistro.