There are a lot of different ways to order at a restaurant. Some people will scour the internet for photos of the menu, so they can decide ahead of time exactly what they’re going to order. Others prefer to wait until the moment the server hands them the menu, then go with their gut.
We’re not social psychologists, but we’ve learned that no matter the technique, there’s one aspect of ordering that’s universal - the feeling of excitement when you’re overwhelmed by how good everything looks. We’re sure there’s a German word for it (if there isn’t, Übermenufreude would be our choice), and though it doesn’t happen all the time, it does happen whenever we pick up the menu at Maestro in Pasadena. And fortunately, the food lives up to the feeling.
Walking into Maestro, it’s easy to assume that it’s just a place for suburban parents to cut loose. It looks an awful lot like most restaurants in Old Town Pas, which means that inside it’s rustic-yet-refined (so refined you can almost smell the paint drying on the walls), low-lit, and full of people that drove here in an SUV with a carseat in the back. Despite that, the crowd gets surprisingly rowdy - there is always a birthday dinner or big date night happening, and we suspect Maestro has definitely helped the babysitters of Pasadena earn their fair share of overtime. And unlike a lot of other places in the area, Maestro is absolutely worth a visit - no matter where you’re driving from.
The menu features everything from Oaxacan staples like braised lamb to a boatload of fresh seafood. The good news is that both are excellent - especially the seafood. Our first order of business here, every time, are the oysters, served with a spicy, vinegar-y shrimp aguachile on top. We also love the calamari, which is fried but still very light, and comes with a roasted red pepper puree we’d take over a tomato-based sauce any day. If you’re looking for something bigger, the scallops are excellent - buttery, massive, and served over huitlacoche rice that’s dank and complex, almost like a funky risotto.
It’s also impossible not to talk about the lamb barbacoa. This braised shank is absolutely massive, and our favorite thing on the menu. The lamb isn’t too gamey, and it’s smothered in a chili sauce we’d snort if it were socially acceptable. It comes with a few handmade tortillas, which are good, but it’s hard not to eat the meat straight off the bone.
The cocktails are highly worth your time, too - there’s a reason people are getting rowdy, after all. The barrel-aged Agave Old Fashioned has a mix of tequila and mezcal, and the Mezcal Campfire with chartreuse and maraschino strikes a perfect balance between sweet and potent.
Whatever you’re looking for, there’s something to get excited about on the menu at Maestro - maybe it’s the oysters, or the lamb, or the huitlacoche rice. But from the top of the starters to the bottom of the dessert section, this menu is filled with consistently excellent food. You’ll be fine even if your ordering strategy is just to trust your sense of Übermenufreude, close your eyes, and point. That’s the most fun way to do it, anyway.
Oysters are usually just kind of... oystery. Not these - the spicy shrimp aguachile on top cuts the briny oysters nicely.
This little pocket of blue corn masa stuffed with huitlacoche and cheese is our favorite non-seafood starter here - it’s earthy, perfect, and could probably fit inside your pocket if you want to save it for later.
We’ve had a lot of burrata a lot of ways - but never with tomatillo salsa. The acid cuts the creamy cheese perfectly, and takes this dish to a new level.
It’s hard for rice to stand up to something as buttery and flavorful as scallops - but this funky huitlacoche (corn fungus) rice does, and we’re very happy about that.
Another seafood dish that could easily be run-of-the-mill, at Maestro it’s light, spicy, and served with a roasted red pepper sauce that should be available at every Whole Foods.
Turn it into a taco with the tortillas they provide, scoop it onto your plate with some rice, or pick it up and gnaw it off the bone - there’s no wrong way to eat this massive lamb shank.
This combines two things that we never thought would go so well together - like Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. But unlike those two, we don’t suspect tres leches and carrot cake have a secret love affair.