As Southern California area codes go, the 626 has never had the most glamorous or edgy reputation. But it is, in my humble opinion, the most underappreciated. And its flying-under-the-radar, oh-sorry-were-you-stuck-in-traffic-cause-of-the-Laker game/presidential motorcade/405 construction, I-was-busy-eating-pho unaffectedness makes it even more appealing.
Herewith, in no particular order, 10 reasons we love the 626:
10. Fearlessness. In the 626, they’re not used to holding back when it comes to eating things. In other words, if it moves, there’s a good chance someone here figured out a way to make it tasty. I recently had kangaroo at a Vietnamese restaurant (and I liked it). #justanothernightintheSGV
9. No pretense. Look, I love getting cleaned up and checking out the newest gastropub downtown. But sometimes you just want to roll out of bed and order Guilin rice noodles in your pajamas. And pay like $6 for it. Isn’t that the basic right of any human being? By the way, the rice noodles will also be served to you by some woman in her pajamas.
8. 99 Ranch/Shun Fat/the scary grocery store in that one strip mall. Sometimes I have this dream that I want to make gan bian si ji dou but I live like 20 miles from the nearest 99 Ranch. And all I can do is wander around this huge Ralphs asking everyone if they know where to find the preserved mustard stems. God, it’s a terrible dream. Then I wake up and remember that I got 99 problems but preserved mustard stems ain’t one.
7. Old Town Pasadena. Cuter than Beverly Center, less drunk people than Third Street Promenade. Shopping, upscale restaurants, easily accessible by freeway, major surface streets or Metro.
6. The Huntington Library. On top of the library and art collections, there are 120 acres of botanical gardens to walk around and explore, including the Japanese Garden, the Desert Garden and the Chinese Garden. Great place to mentally get away without really having to physically get away.
5. Fighting spirit. For decades, 626 residents have fended off plans to expand the 710 freeway to run through South Pasadena, bridging the “gap” between Alhambra and Pasadena. No matter what you think of the 710 expansion, you can’t deny the gumption of these residents, some of whom have been fighting off this freeway for most of their adult lives.
4. Food coma. After a good fight, there’s nothing better than a big meal and the ensuing food coma. And no one does food coma as exquisitely as the 626. There might actually be a dish at Sea Harbour that means “food coma” in Chinese. The beautiful part is that there are so many ways to do it. Which leads us to:
3. Valley Blvd. This is the main artery flowing through the San Gabriel Valley, running just north and parallel to the 10 freeway. It’s awesome because if traffic is really bad on one, you can often hop on the other going in the exact same direction. And it almost goes without saying that Valley Blvd. is a culinary mecca. If there’s another place in L.A. that has a higher concentration of cheap, amazing, authentic food choices on one street, I don’t know what it is.
2. Small business friendly. Helen Hua, Executive Director of the Rosemead Chamber of Commerce, says that Rosemead is “invested in building a thriving business community,” citing low business license fees, a streamlined process to obtain permits and support of home-based businesses. And Ben Zhu, who has owned and operated Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra since 2004, says low rent and a diverse demographic has kept him local through the years. Which is great news, because as Ben points out, “The San Gabriel Valley deserves good art, too.”
1. The 626 Night Market. Over 150 food and merchandise vendors, local businesses and non-profits, as well as screened and live performances and other entertainment. The night market has gotten bigger, better and more diverse each year, from its first event in Pasadena to its most recent digs in Arcadia. It’s a perfect example of the kind of awesome community event only possible here in the 626.
And there you have it. What are some of the reasons YOU love the 626?