For more than twenty years, my husband and I have both been avid diners at Houston’s restaurants. Spanning the country, we’ve dined in the restaurant’s many locations including New Orleans, Atlanta, Orange County and Pasadena repetitive times. As one of our favorite establishments to order ribs and baked potatoes overflowing with toppings (when we’re being bad), we figured it was about time to review it. We recently visited the Pasadena Houston’s on South Arroyo Parkway to our extreme delight.
The approach to the restaurant’s front door delivered us to a peaceful harmonious state as Asianesque lanterns hanging overhead guided us toward the front door. Climbing, vibrant green ivy covered one wall while the sound of water from nearby fountains created a restful and serene atmosphere even before we entered the restaurant. We had the distinct feeling we were going to really like this Houston’s.
There’s nothing like making a statement with zen surroundings, the tranquil voice of flowing water and KOI! Yes, the outdoor foyer water feature is actually a modern indoor/outdoor koi pond with colorful koi swimming back and forth greeting patrons as brilliant flashes of orange and white and black move freely among their liquified world. My husband gave me that “there-she-goes-again” look he customarily throws my way when I am in the presence of creatures of the water and land, and laughed in the dashing way he always does. As for me, I was sold. In fact, my husband had to pull me away from the fish to go inside for dinner! I could have stayed there all evening just talking to and admiring the koi. (It’s the animal lover in me, I guess)!
Once we left the friendly koi outside, we were reunited with them inside. The indoor/outdoor water feature continues when you walk through the front door. I sat for a few brief minutes while we waited for our table and reunited myself with my scaly new friends. As we waited, we had a clear view of the open kitchen, where one of the chefs diligently cooked their famous ribs, a few steaks, a Filet Mignon, a hamburger, and a couple of other beef cuts. They not only looked delicious, but they smelled incredible. The restaurant and attached lounge area are set under a romantic dim lighting. The intricate attention to detail in the decor, seating arrangements, and continuous Asian attributes throughout add to its uniqueness.
The entire staff at Houston’s respectfully shows off their professionalism, attention to customers’ needs and adheres to a strict code of politeness and courteousness. On more than one occasion, we’ve noticed the waitstaff deliberately stopping to allow diners walking past them through the walkways of the restaurant’s interior the right of way. Their backs to the wall, a smile and welcoming greeting on their lips and in their eyes tells everyone just how important they are. It’s really amazing to witness, and even more so to experience that level of personal customer service.
Houston’s offers various seating options for your comfort and dining pleasure. You can select a spot at the bar in the lounge, or dine in the main restaurant at a booth or table. We have dined at both before, and both are equally accommodating to the feasting experience. Candles on the tables design a romantic mood, a subtle flowing Asian theme is conveyed throughout the institution, and once seated all you really have to do is relax and enjoy yourself.
Though simple and one-paged, the menu is sure to delight and satisfy. Houston’s has a posted weekly “Soup Calendar” on their menu. For $7 each, you can entertain your taste buds with such compositions as the Mexico City, the New Orleans Red Bean, the Tortilla or Baked Potato soups, the Tomato soup, the Newport Beach Clam Chowder or the Firehouse Chili. If you’re looking for more to start off with before you dive into your main course for the evening, try any one of their selections from the Starters & Sides list. Such morsels include the Grilled Artichokes, the Chicago Spinach Dip, Cheese Toast, Whole Grain Barley Salad, Coleslaw, Hand-Cut French Fries, Seasonal Vegetables and Black Beans and Rice. We are huge fans of Houston’s Chicago Spinach Dip. We’ve certainly had more than our share of it throughout the years. Its savory creaminess is evenly distributed and perfectly-blended with fresh chopped spinach, artichoke hearts, sour cream, heavy cream, shredded Monterey jack cheese, Parmesan Reggiano cheese and garlic salt then served with corn tortilla chips. A sure winner with anyone! However, a few years ago when Houston’s restaurants started serving their Grilled Artichoke starter on their menu, it too has become one of our favorites.
The bar is fully-stocked, so anything you can think up, the dexterous bartenders can skillfully craft for your sipping pleasure. We do, of course, have to tell you that Houston’s HAS NO CORKAGE FEE!!! (Yes, I was yelling that out loud)! You all know how much I love that. But despite that little tidbit of information, we should tell you that Houston’s cocktail menu and wine list is terrific as well. Your server will have excellent knowledge of suggestions for wine pairings based on what you order, so don’t forget to ask them if you require a recommendation. Now, back to the menu…
The salads at Houston’s are to die for. The several choices include the Spicy Tuna Roll Salad. It’s an inside-out #1 tuna roll with mixed greens, avocado, mango and ponzu. Then there’s the Grilled Chicken Salad (one of my favorites) with mixed greens, tortilla chips, tender shaved slices of juicy chicken breast, honey-lime vinaigrette and peanut sauce. I’ve literally been eating this salad at Houston’s other locations for twenty years, and it still tastes as flavorful and perfect as the first day I experienced it! Other salad choices include the Caesar Salad with crisp romaine lettuce, Reggiano cheese, crunchy croutons and eggless Caesar dressing…or try the Traditional Salad, presented with mixed greens, house-made croutons, chopped egg and smokehouse bacon. You can also indulge in the Thai Steak & Noodle Salad that’s expertly prepared with marinated filet or rotisserie chicken, avocado, mango and herbs in a Thai dressing. All scrumptious tastes, all unique in their preparation.
Most visits to Houston’s, I’ll order the Grilled Chicken Salad. Mixed greens and tortilla strips give this immense dish of Asian-essenced veggies and thinly sliced tender chicken breast a gratifying crunch, while the peanut sauce and honey-lime vinaigrette dressing add to its delectable attributes. DELICIOUSNESS!!! (Was I just yelling again)?
Houston’s entree choices are endless. There’s the Oak Grilled Trout with a Cajun seasoning, the Scottish Salmon grilled and simple, Pan Fried Fish served with coleslaw and a dill tartar sauce, the Rotisserie Chicken on a bed of barley salad with almonds, fresh mint, tomatoes, cranberries and radishes, the slow-cooked Barbeque Ribs, the marinated Hawaiian Rib-Eye, the aged Roasted Prime Rib and the Center Cut Filet carefully grilled over hardwood in the open kitchen.
The ribs are by far my favorite item to order from Houston’s. I request a stuffed baked potato in place of the fries it normally comes with, and ask for an additional serving of the potato toppings. The potatoes are so huge, you’ll need more. Trust me! With the fall-off-the-bone ribs, the baked potato with all the trimmings is just divine!
Though the Pasadena Houston’s does not have a Happy Hour, you can still amply feed two adults from their varied selections on the menu. Throw in a bottle of wine from home with no corkage charge and you’ve got another fine meal out for under $50 (including tax)!
DECOR / ESTABLISHMENT: The Pasadena Houston’s enhances it’s already-popular atmosphere with Asian decor inside and out. The water feature with the flowing fountains and friendly koi is a lovely welcome, while the intimate setting of the restaurant is very inviting.
FOOD / DRINK: We’ve never had a bad or distasteful meal in the fifteen years we’ve been patrons at Houston’s restaurants. The Pasadena location is no different. Excellent presentation of both beverages and meals, colorful displays accompanying each dish, water glasses continuously refilled without asking, and world-class flavor, flavor, flavor!
LOCATION: 320 South Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena CA 91105. The restaurant parallels a busy thoroughfare in the heart of Pasadena, however the relaxing ambiance of both the inside and outdoor areas and lounge patio with double-faced fireplace create a refuge from busy city boisterousness.
SERVICE / STAFF : Continual coverage of our needs, refilled water glasses without asking, great attitudes and unparalleled consistent customer service throughout our meal was greatly appreciated. Our server, Beverly, was knowledgeable, courteous, happily answered questions and addressed our comments, and was an exceptional staff member. We’ll request to be seated in her section on our next visit!
PRICE / VALUE: Houston’s service, attention to detail, flavorsome dishes, consistent quality and intimate unique environment all add up to one thing…great value for what you’re paying! You can enjoy the food and sips from 11AM – 10PM Monday through Sunday.
CORKAGE FEE: NO CORKAGE FEE!
CONTACT INFO: Phone: (626) 577-6001, Website: www.hillstone.com
PARKING: Free parking is available in the attached lot adjacent to the restaurant.
TOTAL BILL: $46.75 for a bottle of wine with no corkage charge, the Pan Fried Fish and the Grilled Chicken Salad. Coming in a a penny more on another visit, the total bill was $46.76 for a bottle of wine with no corkage fee, a Coca-Cola, the Grilled Chicken Salad and the Rotisserie Chicken. One could easily bring in a bottle of wine and have several appetizers for $50 (including tax) or under here as well either at the bar or in the restaurant itself. We’ll do that next time and write up a “follow-up” review on our SavorHour.com food and wine blog just on appetizers at the bar when we visit again!