Nothing fancy, but good fusion

When a menu ranges from Mediterranean to Mexican to seafood to burgers, you can usually expect at best mediocre food. It’s like going to a movie starring Jim Belushi, Eric Roberts and Carmen Electra. Gerlach’s Grille in Pasadena is the exception.

Across Fair Oaks Avenue from an old Pasadena power plant and a 1938 fountain that once cooled a steam turbine, Gerlach’s is an institution that just doesn’t look like much of one. The take-out kitchen juts off to the side of a wine and liquor shop, a tiny spot on an easily overlooked corner. Nothing fancy. Until you take a bite.

Customers stream through the chaotically small parking lot for fish tacos and burritos.

Allied Waste drivers in their highlighter-yellow safety vests pick up their orders from the walkup window. A well-dressed matron offers encouragement to a young mother with a baby on her hip and a toddler at her side. A guy with a Dodger logo tattooed behind his ear waits at a plastic table and chairs in front of the wine shop. They’re not there for the ambience.

Gerlach’s fuses fast-food efficiency (you can call in your order and it’s ready in 15) with sit-down quality meals. Fish and chips come tender and only lightly breaded, not the crunchy, air-pocketed coating you may be used to from British-styled joints. So you taste the fish, not just breading. Big fat fries are perfectly crisp, not greasy. Salads can be ordered with a variety of fish or chicken. The salmon salad is romaine leaves with olives, cubes of feta, tomatoes and a generous grilled fillet served with a dilly herb dressing.

The grill offers plates with salmon, swordfish, tuna, mahi mahi or bassa, with vegetables, rice and salad. The grilled bassa is a favorite, a full fillet dusted with seasoning and cooked until just done — flaky, fresh and flavorful.

The grilled mahi-mahi sandwich is fresh fish, lettuce and tomato wrapped in fluffy pita bread, a filling but healthful meal, served with a side of sinus-clearing chile sauce. The grilled salmon burrito must contain an entire fillet.

The kebab options are chicken, lamb or beef. We ordered a combination of beef and lamb. The beef was wonderful, flavorful, savory, cooked until almost medium. The tender, herbed lamb was even better.

The falafel taco sounded intriguing, but was too odd a blending of styles for me. I liberated the falafel from the tortilla and salsa and united it with pita and hummus. But still it was slightly gritty and far too salty. The teenager we call the Locust, however, shoveled one of the remaining tacos into his mouth. “Good,” he said, walking out of the room. At least that’s what it sounded like through a mouthful of falafel.

Many dishes are served with salad and basmati rice with just enough saffron rice mixed in. Some come with tzatziki and a watery hummus that could use a good shot of garlic.

The grille also offers hamburgers, turkey burgers, chicken and steak sandwiches, shrimp burritos and any variety of tacos. You can order calamari as a plate with fries or as an appetizer. The starter size is enough for at least four people, crisply fried and served with a sweet chile dip.

You can eat standing at one of two shelves jutting off the side of the building, cart your meals home, or sit at a plastic table, drinking a homemade horchata, watching the blur of cars and wondering when that 1930s fountain is going to start up again.


What: Gerlach’s Grille

Where: 1075 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena

When: 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Starters, $2.25 to $6.45; salads, 6.55 to $7.55; burgers, sandwiches, burritos and taco plates, $5.35 to $7.95; lunch plates, $6.45 to $7.75; dinner plates, $9.95 to $11.45

Contact: (626) 799-7575

REBECCA BRYANT is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared in Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, Caribbean Travel & Life and other publications.

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