By Ea Nicole Madrigal
Are you taking that special person out on a first date? Is your anniversary coming up? Does your family need a night out without the stresses of preparing a meal at home? Whatever the circumstance, ARO is the next restaurant that you want to check out!
Nestled in the bustling downtown area of South Pasadena on Mission Street, ARO is one of the more recent additions to an area filled with family-friendly restaurants and fare. Don’t live in South Pasadena? No problem. Take the Metro. ARO is just a few short steps away from the Mission-South Pasadena station, making it one of the most convenient options for a night out with friends or family.
ARO was created by Karan Raina, who also brought the South Pasadena area the Indian restaurant Radhika and the wine lounge the Radha Room. ARO is owned and operated by Karan’s family, including his son, Kiran, who was working on the restaurant floor the evening that I visited. Both Kiran and his father filled me in on the details that inspired the restaurant and its menu.
As Kiran pointed out, ARO has barely been open for one year. Yet, as I discovered on Saturday night around 7 p.m., both the South Pasadena locals as well as San Gabriel Valley crowd have already made this restaurant a popular dining spot!
The dining room floor was packed with couples young and old as well as parents sitting around the table with their children. ARO also has a full service bar complete with a mounted television just in case you want to simply stick to one of their delectable appetizers or order one of their signature cocktails.
Karan informed me that the inspiration for ARO’s food is a mixture of Latin cuisine that ranges from Oaxacan-influenced to Peruvian-style dishes. All of the flavors and plates are developed by the brilliant mind of Chef Rocio Camacho. Camacho, an Oaxacan native, clearly stays away from the “typical” Mexican cuisine expected in most establishments. And Karan, a self-proclaimed “foodie,” believes that Peruvian food is one of the most delicious styles in the world today.
This unique combination makes for a distinctive dining experience, unlike one you would find most anywhere else in the San Gabriel Valley. Moreover, what you try at the restaurant one season may be totally different than the next, because ARO boasts a seasonal menu based on the freshest foods available at that particular time.
On Saturday night, I had the pleasure to try one of ARO’s signature sides, entrées, and desserts. The side was their Coliflor, or the basil-mint-pesto cauliflower. Light green in its hue because of the pesto sauce, this presentation of cauliflower provides a unique take on an ordinary vegetable side.
For an entrée, I tried one of the dishes that Chef Camacho is best noted for, her mole. The Mole Poblano Con Pollo is simply a chicken breast with mole poblano. Expecting a spicy sauce lathered over the chicken, I was pleasantly surprised when the plate was rather mild. Best of all, the large portion of chicken fell right off the bone, tender to the touch. Plated with a side of white rice, asparagus, and flour tortillas, (needless to say) I had plenty a food to fill a to-go bag.
However, the best part was the postre, or dessert, which the waiter referred to as “flan-tastico.” It was a modern, yet simple transformation of a traditional flan that included a layer of chocolate cake that served as a base with a mint leaf delicately added to the top. This exquisite dessert would be perfectly combined with a coffee or hot chocolate as it melts cool in your mouth in a sweet, harmonious blend.
ARO is a family venture and it is geared to accommodate anyone willing to open their palate outside the bounds of traditional Mexican food. The restaurant markets a happy hour, brunch, and an impressive collection of tequilas. Perhaps a hidden gem along Mission Street, it would bequeath you to try out their Latin flavor for at least one evening out.
More information on ARO can be found on their website: www.arolatin.com