Where to Eat and Drink in Palm Springs

Palm Springs has it all: the perfect climate (if you like hot and dry), perfect golf courses (if you like golf), titilating history (if you like Hollywood glamour and naughty pool parties), the perfect architecture (if you like Mid Century Modern), and the perfect location (if you, like me, live four hours away by plane).  But, where does Palm Springs rate on the subject of food and drink?

Food: There are some very fine food purveyors in Palm Springs and the surrounding area, but for the most part, Palm Springs food is…average. There are a few standouts, to be sure, and I feel that Palm Springs is just on the verge of proving its culinary chops. I know what that’s like. I come from a city that has worked hard for a long time to become a destination that other people acknowledge as having good grub. It doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t come fast.

I’ll tell you where I went, and I’ll tell you if I’d recommend it. Here we go:

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JW Marriott, Palm Desert

JW Marriott, Palm Desert – stayed here in February for a conference. The resort is stunning; the food? Not so much. There are five places to grab meals: The Rockwood Grill,  Mikado Japanese Steak House, Fisherman’s Landing, The Lobby Bar/Sushi Bar, and the Oasis Poolside Bar & Grille. We ate at three out of five, passing on the Poolside Bar & Grille and Fisherman’s Landing. What’s consistent is servers’ lack of food knowledge, everywhere. Not surprising for a corporate entity, but frustrating nonetheless. Don’t expect anyone to know where anything comes from, and don’t expect outstanding service.  The Lobby Bar had the worst service with snarky servers audibly gossiping about customers; The Rockwood Grill was the best experience overall — not for knowledge, but for being attentive and trying hard, and the food was decent.  The food at Mikado was horrible; the concept staid and tacky, and the prices outrageous.  The sushi at The Lobby Bar/Sushi Bar  was very good but the wait time was atrocious. We witnessed a hungry customer, literally, rushing the bar and stealing the plate of sushi intended for another customer because she was just fed up with having to wait almost an hour for one dish—and I don’t blame her. Fisherman’s Landing: we walked out after looking at the multi-page, laminated menu that consisted of a lot of deep-fried food. All in all, the Marriott in Palm Desert needs to up their food and food service game in every aspect imaginable.

La Spiga, Palm Desert – We had no idea this restaurant was run and owned by Canadians who owned La Spiga and the Italian Pasta Kitchen in Edmonton. Vince and Connie Cultraro moved to the Palm Springs area years ago forsaking the harsh Alberta weather for the warm climate of California. The Italian food and professional service here are outstanding. Nathan, our server, was top-notch.

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Cheeky’s, Palm Springs – the lineups are constant. We waited 45 minutes for a table and the wait was worth it. The moment I saw chilaquiles, I knew I’d be ordering that. Cheeky’s serves all-day breakfast and fantastic Bloody Marys. They also have bacon flights. So, ‘Hell to the Yeah!’ just for that.

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Chilaquiles with eggs, chorizo, tomatillo, queso fresco, cilantro and onion
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Bacon flight

The GRIND BRGR BaR, Palm Springs. “BRGR”. We get it. That’s ‘modern language speak’ for BURGER. Why do places do this? It’s a trend, that’s why. But burgers aren’t trendy, they’ve been around for over a hundred years…anyways, I have a beef with restaurants that do this, but that’s my issue, not yours. The issue here is, are the ‘brgrs’ any good?  Yes. They use grass-fed Tasmanian beef (didn’t know Tasmania even had a beef industry, and if they’re getting it from Tasmania, what does that say about American beef?) and the meat is a blend of sirloin and chuck that is ground on site daily and cooked to order. I love having a good American burger that you can have done medium or medium rare when you know the meat is quality meat, and ground daily. Canada refuses to allow that due to food regulations. In the end, though, the Grind didn’t blow my hair back; the meat was overcooked and was lost amidst the toppings. The location is fantastic; perfect for people watching on Palm Canyon Drive and their beer selection is commendable.

The Grind BRGR
The Grind BRGR

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, Desert Hills Premium Outlets – this is a chain restaurant that offers fast-fire’d, build your own pizzas. The dough is fresh, the toppings bountiful, the service efficient and the end result? Fantastic. One of the best pizzas I’ve had in the USA.

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Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, Palm Desert and Palm Springs – a Kosher-style family restaurant reminiscent of New York delis. They serve bacon, so how Kosher is that?  Sherman’s is a culinary institution having opened its first location in 1963.  All bread and desserts are baked fresh, daily. If you want big sandwiches, you go here. An 8 egg omelet? No problem.  We tried the smoked meat sandwich and were left somewhat wanting: hefty, yes, but flavourless. That being said, I’d be willing to give Sherman’s another try.

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Date Shakes, various locations – try them wherever they’re offered but the best one I had was a ways out of town at the Oasis Date Gardens. Going to Palm Springs and not having a date shake is like going to Pisa and not seeing the Leaning Tower.

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The King’s Highway at the Ace Hotel – hello, lovely. This place has it going on! Think “Modern Truck Stop” with a heavy dose of retro coolness.

IMG_1194Service? Spot on. Food? They know they’re stuff. Try the buttermilk honey-fried chicken and any one of the tequila cocktails.

IMG_1191The ricotta pancakes are sublime and the bacon-wrapped dates, divine.

IMG_1425The Amigo Room, a few steps down the hallway, is a lively, dark little hole that was jam-packed with hipsters the night we checked it out. It’s loud and filled with trendsetting young things and the actual lounge spills out to the pool area; great for the selfie generation so take note, if bedtime for you is usually 10 pm, you probably won’t fare well at the Amigo Room, but the booze is pretty good.

Copley’s, Palm Springs – located on part of the Cary Grant estate, it’s fun to think you’re sitting where the rich and famous partied the nights away back in the day. The courtyard is a wonderful setting complete with heating lamps, soft lights, gurgling fountains and flora galore. Apparently the restaurant is of the “award winning” type, but the night we dined, all sorts of things went wrong. In short, Copley’s fell short of expectations, most notably in the food which ended up being completely lacklustre.

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Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn, Palm Springs – a maître d’ dressed in black tuxedo escorts you to a table. The setting is elegant and the patrons have been coming here for years. Some people, like us, just want an old school Rat Pack-ish setting where we know we’ll get a solid martini and a no-nonsense Old Fashioned. Both hit the spot. We had drinks only, no food, but Frank Sinatra ate here, so did Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and President Ford. If you want Steak Diane and Crepes Suzette, Melvyn’s is the place. It is not anything like the Amigo Room. People who dine at Melvyn’s will most certainly be in bed by 10.

Photo Credit: The Ingleside Inn
Photo Credit: The Ingleside Inn

Drink: The Tiki Culture is making a comeback! Check out the Tonga Hut and Bootlegger Tiki for some fantastic ambience and cocktails. Both places are small and intimate and heavy on rum and kitsch.

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Pupu platters and rum drinks at the Tonga Hut
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Rum, rum, and flaming rum at Bootlegger Tiki

JW Marriott, Palm Desert – what the Marriott lacked in food, they made up for in cocktails. The margaritas and the mojitos (ok, lets face it, the whole cocktail list) was balm for this weary traveler’s soul. I’d go back to this Marriott just to enjoy the view and the cocktails.

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If there are two things that Palm Springs knows how to work, its tequila and rum.

Eat, drink and enjoy Palm Springs!