Location: Pasadena. 320 South Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, CA 91105, but 5 locations in Greater L.A.
Eatery Type: Upscale casual restaurant.
Vibe/Atmosphere: Classy yet unpretentious, West Coast cool, dark, lots of wood and black industrial stage-type lighting. Good looking upwardly mobile Californians everywhere.
Ease of Seating: A well-oiled machine. Expect a significant wait at peak times on weekends, but you'll never be overlooked or forgotten about.
Service: You won't find better service anywhere in the city. I've been dozens of times, and never one misstep or server obviously having a bad day. These guys know what the hell they're doing.
Food: There are 3 burgers on the menu to choose from but I didn't see the exact combination I was craving, so I asked them to make me one special, and bless their hearts, they did (beef burger, lettuce, tomato, avocado). As with all proteins on their menu, they will ask how you like it prepared. I went for medium, which was perfect. I also like my bun a little crispy on the outside and never soggy, which they obliged. Comes with one side, of which you can even get baked potato with all the fixings! All in all, an extremely good burger. Can't quite get myself to give it a 10/10, as I think perhaps it needs just a tiny bit of secret sauce or something. And anyway, then my search would be over.
By the way, their menu is not easy to find on their website, so here it is. Small and perhaps limited, but they do every item with care and to perfection. http://www.hillstone.com/pdf_menus/houstons/Houstons_Santa_Monica.pdf
Value: $16. Yikes. This is not an eat-and-run place or price. Go on a weekend, soak up the atmosphere, and have a cocktail or two as well. You are paying for the experience, and it is worth it.
Parking: Excellent. Free. Private lot, no valet, always seems to have just enough spots somehow.
Conclusion: I could go on and on about this place (the Hillstone brand also has several other restaurants, and Bandera on Wilshire on the West Side is even better, if that's possible) but needless to say the burger's delicious, and it's a great place for a date (every party gets its own monster sized booth) and it inspires great conversation. What more can you ask for.