We’ve all heard that the stomach is the fastest way to someone’s heart^. I never fully understood this until I got to college. While Caltech Dining Services (CDS) does its best to diversify the lunch and dinner menus, sometimes nothing can quite fulfill the craving for your mom’s home cooking. Having grown up in between Venezuela and Texas, home cooking for me looks like arepas, tacos, and brisket (among other things). Thankfully, Caltech’s location, just outside vibrant LA, makes attempts to find close seconds (to my mom’s cooking) easy and exciting. Often, I don’t even have to venture more than a mile or two from campus to find reliable favorites. Here are just a few within walking distance:
Just a quick 15-minute walk north of campus, Chamos is the closest Venezuelan restaurant from Caltech. If you’ve never had Venezuelan food before, you can never go wrong with the tequeños and passion fruit juice. Fried to perfection, tequeños are similar to mozzarella sticks but with a cheese that has a slightly tougher texture. This classic snack pairs perfectly with the sweet and tangy passion fruit juice. If you have a sweet tooth (like me) you might like chicha, a rice milk drink that almost feels like home and helps me reset for the next problem set, tennis match or challenge that might come my way.
If you have little more time in your hands and are willing to walk to Old Pas, here are my suggestions:
I gotta say, Tacos 1986 holds a special place in my heart (or stomach!?). “When I was a frosh”* I lived off-campus with a couple of friends, and we’d walk to get food from here as often as possible. I think what got us in the door was the promise of tacos but what kept us coming back were the vampiros. Kind of like cheesier tostadas, vampiros with either Mexican Coke or some Agua Fresca are definitely worth the 35ish minute walk from campus (or 8-minute drive).
Ok, so I gotta be honest here, I don’t have much history with King Taco, but it was love at first bite. I made the trek to Old Pas two weekends in a row (just this past month) to eat tamales here. There are two main things about King Taco that kept me coming back: their price point and the variety of antojitos offered. We all like affordable food and experiences and King Taco delivers. I got two tacos and a tamal for just seven dollars. You heard that right folks!! (or I guess read) SEVEN dollars for a great meal in LA is almost unheard of. To my second point, I have been to my fair share of taquerias in the area and there are usually just a few fillings and other dishes offered. But here I was pleasantly surprised by the variety. Not only were there tamales, but also quesadillas and even sopes offered.
If you end up attending Caltech, hopefully you too can find your reliable favorites. But don’t be afraid to venture out of Pasadena and out of your comfort zone! Culinary experiences can be a great way to explore not only LA but also the diversity of cultures that it fosters.
^Don’t worry, thanks to Bi1(Biology class that is part of core) I know this is not actually the case.
Old Pas == Old Town Pasadena
*Most Caltech students live on campus for all 4 years, but I was a frosh during the 2020-2021 school year. Caltech had virtual instruction for all three terms.
“When I was a frosh”. If you come to Caltech this is a phrase, you’ll hear quite often from seniors ;))