Due north of Pasadena and pushed up against the San Gabriels, Altadena always seems farther away from Los Angeles than it actually is — maybe because of the looming mountains, or maybe because its unincorporated status gives it an outlier feel. In recent years, it's become home to a DIY crowd, which has brought a lovely farmers market and a tiny but burgeoning food scene, inspired in no small part by the Institute of Domestic Technology, which until recently ran out of Altadena's Zane Grey Estate. Between new bakeries and old alehouses, it's a great neighborhood for a ristretto and a croissant, a shopping trip and a cup of stellar gelato. Here are six of our favorite haunts.
Bulgarini Gelato — Leo Bulgarini's gelataria is like the end of an L.A. treasure hunt. Way up at the top edge of Altadena, at the back of a dilapidated parking lot, behind some construction next to a Rite Aid, and at the end of a courtyard, you'll finally find the gelato store. Since 2007, the Rome-born ex-sommelier has made the best gelato in town here, serving flavors such as goat's milk-cacao nib, blood orange, chocolate and salt, yogurt and olive oil. During World Cup season, he shows the Italian games; during the summer he shows obscure Italian movies outside against the building wall. And a few years ago, he installed a marble altar to his copper Elektra espresso maker. 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena (626) 791-6174 bulgarinigelato.com.
Altadena Farmers Market — Operating on Wednesday afternoons and evenings in Loma Alta park, the market has a good mixture of farmers and prepared food vendors. Founded by Joseph Shuldiner (who also runs the Institute of Domestic Technology), it's a small, cozy market where everybody seems to know each other. With the adjacent park, it's a great place to have a picnic after buying fresh produce, and the many musicians that set up in the market give the place the feel of a tiny fair. Among the vendors who usually come: Carmela ice cream, Community Seafood, Mama Musubi, Drake Family Farms, Etheridge Organics, Shucks Oyster Bar. 600 W. Palm Ave., Altadena altadenafarmersmarket.com.
Lincoln — For years, Christine Moore's Little Flower Candy Co. in Pasadena has been a mecca for locals. This November, she opened her long-awaited second restaurant, on the Pasadena-Altadena border on Lincoln Avenue (hence the name; and yes, we're counting it as Altadena here). There are pastry chef Cecilia Leung's wonderful pastries, breakfast salads and lunch sandwiches — and of course, more sea salt caramels — all in a lofty, huge, once-abandoned brick building. Across the parking lot, there's also a private dining room, a gift and candy shop, and (as soon as Moore gets her beer and wine license) a wine and cheese shop. 1992 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena (626) 765-6746 lincolnpasadena.com.
Pizza of Venice — Located in the back of a strip mall off Fair Oaks Avenue, this place is kind of a meta pizza shop, advertising itself as making "pizza with a point of view," whatever that means. The owners, Sean St. John and Jamie Woolner, friends since high school, opened in Altadena after selling pizzas out of St. John's Venice apartment. The ingredients are farmers market-y, and the pair put things like braised lamb leg and tzaziki; uni; chicken curry; and cheddar and broccoli on their pies. They make their pancetta, ham and pepperoni in-house — and you can bring in beer and wine from the liquor store next door to drink with your pizza. 2545 Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena (626) 765-9636 pizzaofvenice.com.
Altadena Ale & Wine House — This family-owned, little neighborhood bar feels like it's been around a lot longer than 4-1/2 years — which is a serious compliment. It is not among the new generation of hipsteropolis bars, with resident mixologists and growlers; instead the place is dimly lit, filled with regulars who, on an afternoon, get calls from their wives while the woman behind the bar makes them little pizzas. That said, there's a lot of great stuff to drink here: Arrogant Bastard and Drakonic Imperial Stout, Old Speckled Hen and Delirium Tremens and Houblon Chouffe. And they have limerick parties. 2329 Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena (626) 794-4577 altadenaalehouse.com.
Super King — There are six iterations of this giant grocery store, which the Fermanian family first opened in Anaheim in 1993, and thankfully they thought to put one of them in Altadena, north of the Rose Bowl on Lincoln. There are many of the usual things one finds in supermarkets, but also a marvelous produce department (green almonds! soujouk! a dozen kinds of feta!), an aisle filled with different grades of bulghur, sometimes whole islands of stacked Nutella jars, and lots of Mexican and Middle Eastern items, including a bakery section with giant flatbreads and fresh tzaziki. (Warning: the place can be jammed.) 2260 N. Lincoln Ave., Altadena (626) 296-9311 superkingmarkets.com.
Altadena has a lot more than these to offer — let us know which of your favorite places we overlooked and we'll add them to the list.