You pretty young things are all getting ready for Coachella, the multi-weekend music festival held annually in Indio, California. We know Vanessa Hudgens is pumped! This year’s festival goes down over two weekends, April 12-14 and April 19-21. Now I’ll contend that the best time to visit the area — located 110 miles east of Los Angeles — is not during Coachella, when the streets remain calm and the nice hotels rooms available (I like the Ace Hotel, Korakia Pensione and Parker).
To some, Palm Springs is a blue-haired retirement oasis known for quirky antique shops and, well, the Coachella music festival. But let me tell you straight up that it’s one of the most relaxing places to visit, and so close to L.A. Cloudless blue skies and predictably mild weather from October–May make this a great spot for outdoor sports like riding bikes (perhaps after drinking morning margaritas) and hiking in nearby Joshua Tree (perhaps after consuming very special brownies). And after you are done posing by the pool, you will need something to eat (and more to drink). This is why I’ve compiled this list.
Now the line on Palm Springs has always been that the food is pretty much bullshit. The critique is correct. It’s not as diverse as major cities and there are some real tourist traps. But after a couple recent visits, I’ve found some really good places — and a couple that are simply outstanding.
1. India Oven
Greg Bresnitz, who runs events programming at all the Ace Hotel locations and spends a bit of time in the desert each year, was emphatic that India Oven was the best Indian cooking he’s ever tried. I smartly took his advice and headed to a strip mall in Cathedral City for highly fragrant Punjabi dishes like paneer pakora (cheese fritters made with lentils) and lamb pasanda newabi (slices of lamb cooked with cream sauce, yogurt and ground nuts). 35875 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City, CA 92234
2. King’s Highway and Amigo Room
The Ace Hotel is sort of the spot to be during Coachella, mostly for their epic pool parties. But I’m here to say that the restaurant King’s Highway, housed in a former Denny’s, is worth checking out too. Brian Kiepler serves as the executive chef and blends adventure (pineapple glazed pork cheeks; halibut cheeks, housemade charcuterie) with textbook hotel comfort dishes like carbonara and a Cubano. The adjacent Amigo Room serves stellar craft beers from Stone Brewing, Lagunitas and Hangar 24 as well as a smart cocktail list. 701 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264
3. Lyons English Grill
Located down the street from the Ace, Lyons is pretty much its exact opposite. It’s styled like a Borscht Belt version of a 19th Century English Pub, which sounds complicated because it most certainly is. Lyons serves prime rib, which is a love-it-or-leave-it food. The roast is served massive and bloody, sided with garlic mashed potatoes and a bowl of regret if you finish the entire thing. For a lighter option, there is Great Lakes white fish and sole. Whatever you do, do not order the chicken wings, and make sure to order crisp Manhattans all night long. It should be noted that a trip to Lyons is not really for the food, but the live cabaret. Old school standards all night long. You will want to tip the entertainment on the way out, which you are reminded to do throughout the night. 233 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264
4. Asadero Los Corrales
The game at Asadero Los Corrales , located in a nondescript strip mall in Coachella, is Sinaloa-style Mexican fare. So think exceptional tamales and roasted meat. The tongue burrito is really a standout, if you can handle that much tongue (heyo!). And like most super-authentic Mexican restaurants, go with the horchata. Because when it’s good, it’s GOOD. 49975 Harrison St., Coachella, CA 92236 760-398-1871
5. Shields Date Farm
Indio is unofficially the date capital of the world, with Shields serving as a sort of Wailing Wall for fans of the stone fruit. First things first, take the tour. It’s weird, in a good way. Dates apparently are good for the libido. Ok. Next, order a date shake, which consists of a purée of sweet Medjools blended with vanilla ice cream. It’s super thick at first, but melts into magic by the end. You will want to order one the next day and the next one after that. King’s Highway also serves their own version, which is pretty great. 80-225 U.S. Highway 111, Indio, CA 92201
6. Taqueria Guerrero
I spotted a Taco Bell employee waiting in line at this popular stop in Indio. This proves that even when making tacos day and night for a paycheck, this individual felt the need (urge, craving) to visit Taqueria Guerrero for the good stuff. The salsa bar here is a thing of beauty. Yes, I know badass salsa bars are very common in Southern California, but fresh and deeply flavorful pico de gallo, salsa roja and salsa verde gets me excited. It can be spread all over the freshly made corn tortillas stuffed with carne asada and stewed cabrito. On the weekends, bowls of menudo, pozole and birria are spooned out. If you’re hungover, there is nothing better to get you back in business. 81576 US Hwy 111 Indio, CA 92201
This is one of the go-to breakfast spots along the main drag in Palm Springs and perpetually crowded on weekends. The lines are merited. The kitchen uses exceptionally fresh produce pulled from the farms around the San Jacinto mountains. The room is sunny, as is the staff who are happy to refill your coffee and explain the freshly baked pastries. Whether you want to go light (maybe there is a game of tennis in your future?) or heavy (maybe a 30km Joshua Tree hike is in your future?), there is something for you on the menu that changes weekly. Recent spring dishes have included asparagus and pork belly toast with poached eggs, hollandaise and truffle salt and custard scrambled eggs served with maple sage sausage and a freshly baked scone. 622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Koffi is a pair of coffee bars serving Palm Springs and styled like a cross between Coffee Bean and Ikea. There’s always a nice selection of pastries (croissants, cookies, cinnamon rolls). But the coffee is why you are there, and it is locally roasted and made with an expert hand. 515 N Palm Canyon Dr Palm Springs, CA 760-416-2244, 1700 S Camino Real Palm Springs, CA 760-322-7776