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5 Days in Palm Springs: Qs and comments

Hi all--

I'm going to Palm Springs for five days week after next (late March) and have read all the posts about the area, so instead of just asking for suggestions let me summarize my current thoughts and questions, and if the local experts have anything to add or answers to the questions, that would be great. I'm looking for a range of places, maybe do a couple upscale dinners, but also would like to try Mexican food (mid- and low-range) and anything else that's good (diners, bbq, etc.). Here's what I've distilled from the boards so far:

The clear Chowhound consensus appears to be that Zin is the best high-end eatery in the area. I'm going to make sure I go here (though perhaps not on a weekend night in order to avoid hectic crowds). As a second choice, people seem to say great things about Johannes so I want to try that place as well. I've also heard mention that the Chop House on Palm Cyn Drive is good, though I'm not sure it's particularly special (I live in Chicago and am surrounded by such places). Aji Cuisine sounds intriguing, as does Citron, but people haven't said as much about these places, so I have less of an impression of them.

I loooove sushi and have done searches on Chowhound and elsewhere for PS sushi, but the only thing I've come up with is a few oblique references to Kyosaku (sp?) on E. Palm Cyn. Any thoughts about this joint? Alternatively, if sushi is simply not something one should spend a meal on in PS, that would be good to know--there is plenty of good sushi in the Windy City.

I'm also very excited about the Mexican options. People seem to love El Mirasol for slightly more upscale Mexican, so I'm going to put that on the list. Reviews of Las Casuelitas have been mixed to poor, so that one's out. As for cheaper taco joints, I'm considering Crazy Coyote Taco (in Cabazon) and El Gallito (in Cathedral City--though is that very far away?). Or are there any comparably good places right in PS?

Although I'm not wild about Thai food, Thai House on S. Palm Cyn seems to be the best of the several Thai places in PS.

Other eateries that appear promising for a mid-range but tasty meal that I'd love to hear more about are: Wally's Desert Turtle; Dale's Lost Hwy; and Matchbox (pizza?).

I've also heard that Palm Canyon shuts down on Thursday nights to become a ped mall with street food--how is this, and does it warrant reserving a night to eat there?

Finally, I haven't seen much about places to go out. The bar in the Falls seems to be popular, but that's the only suggestion I've seen.

I'd much appreciate any thoughts about the above. Your posts have already been very helpful, but if anything's changed or if I'm on the wrong track, please let me know. Thanks in advance, and I promise to write up a full report when I get back.

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  1. I don't know if this helps much, but I just wanted to say that a trip to P.S. always means going to the Matchbox for Stromboli and a nice Belgian beer.

    Im not a big fan of the dining options in P.S., but I love this place.

    2 Replies
    1. re: naven

      Thanks, Naven. There's a place in DC called Matchbox with good pizza and drinks that sounds quite similar--I wonder if they're related?

    2. We just returned from a week in P.S. The sheer number of restaurants we knew nothing about were a bit overwhelming. I already posted about Manhattan in the Desert, which worked well for my family for a number of reasons: we go to Zin-style restaurants in San Francisco often and were expecting to be dissapointed because we're spoiled. AND Zin is likely a great place for folks with fewer children and more money than we have. :-)

      (we sell to SF restaurants so we have a business reason to go a pay $$ to eat out....)

      We also live in a VERY Mexican-centric farm town on the central coast where over 80% of the restaurants are Mexican, a few of them are quite good! So going south and eating Mexican food in restaurants, even if it's great, didn't appeal to us. We had a hotel room with a kitchenette and made great sandwiches and went desert hiking.

      The two meals we had were at Manhattan in the Desert (authentic Jewish deli with an extensive menu and good service. and a great pickle plate with half sours, sauerkraut and regular dill pickles as soon as you sit down. a nice touch!) and also at California Pizza Kitchen: a chain that works well for our middle sized children.

      BUT I can comment on some food/chow things about Thursday Nights downtown!

      Yes, it's called Village Fest: Yes: it's a festival of the village of Palm Springs and it's a great place to people watch, eat fresh kettle corn, eat other street foods that looked good but I didn't buy any, including wood baked pizza by the slice right on the street. It's a good place to either be delighted by/horrified by LOTS of tchotchkes and trinkets and crafts and art. OOPS, let's stay chow centered here.

      It's NOT a farmers market in any sense of the word: and they no longer claim to be a certified farmers market. There are a few fruit and maybe even one vegetable vendor on the north end of the strip that sell Ecuadoran bananas and pineapples, chilean avos, etc. It's no different than going to a small fruteria or grocery store. There's also fudge and other chocolates to be purchased, hookah hits (yes, really.). And dates! And from 4-8pm the Palm Springs Art Museum is free for anyone to enter and wander, instead of their usual $12.50 entrance fee: another reason to head down to Village Fest and grab a Polish Sausage, a date shake, a hookah hit if you're a tobacco type (I'm not at all, I hate it, but I'm trying to be equal opportunity here and I did like that the hookah lounge/coffee house offered free wifi....) and then wander over to the museum (just behind the street off Museum way I think, near where the donkey and mule rides are.) There's a great David Hockney (sp?) exhibit right now, and a good architectural one too.

      -cg

      1. What about St. James on the Vineyard? It's been awhile since I've been, but sounds like something you'd like.

        The bar at the Viceroy can be fun, or Melvyn's for real throw-back atmosphere. Most of the good/lively bars are gay in PSP, so whether or not that's good or bad news is up to you :)

        1. Crazy Coyote in Cabazon is about 10 miles northwest of downtown Palm Springs. El Gallito in Cathedral City is about 5 miles east. I assume you will have a car since you can't get around Palm Springs easily without one.

          Another good place no one has mentioned is Wang's. It is very good upscale Chinese food.

          1. I searched very hard for sushi in the desert and found only two noteworthy: Okura Robata Grill & Sushi bar in La Quinta, and Mikado, the sushi bar in the Mariott Desert Springs resort.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Cecilbee

              Thanks. Did you try Kyosaku and find it subpar, or just not go (or does the place even exist? I'm beginning to doubt it!).

            2. Kiyosaku Sushi does indeed exist and is my favorite place in PS for sushi. It is located in the shopping center on South Palm Canyon Drive where the Cedar Creek Inn is (1555 S. Palm Canyon Dr) It is a small husband/wife team and closed on Wed I think.
              Johanne's is my favorite restaurant for upscale dining, closed Mon. Johannes is usually there on Sundays so that is when I go.
              Zin my favorite Bistro, personally I find it a more casual atmosphere but the food is defiantly more than casual and they have a GREAT wine list open 7 nights.
              Matchbox is the same as DC, same owners but still good-esp. for a late night happy hour.
              El Mirasol is very good Mexican. I like Eduardo’s as well but have only had lunch there once since he moved. El Gallito is small, beer and wine only and good food only about 10 min drive.
              Chop House is a steak house and you defiantly have better in Chicago.
              Wally's, old stuffy $$$$$ dining. Good if that is what you want.
              Aji, not so good. I thought the food was awful, and it took 10 minutes to get a glass of wine much less food. If you want tapas drive to Palm Desert and go to Fusion One11. MUCH better. Azul is also better than Aji.
              My taquitos at Dale's tasted like cat food and I will just leave that one alone.
              Citron has a nice atmosphere but I have not been impressed by the food.
              I like Thai House on Palm Canyon, it is very small and family run but the food is good. Thai Smile is good also, a little more upscale than Thai House.
              Philippe’s is very good French Bistro food for lunch but don’t be in a hurry.
              I had a very nice dinner at St James recently and they have a bar/lounge with live music at night.
              The Falls has a nice happy hour and a busy bar at night but no live music.
              The Blue Guitar is open again and although there isn't much of a crowd there the staff was very nice and the music good. Open Thurs, Fri, Sat & Sun I think.
              Don't eat at Las Casueles but the band at night is good as well as Sat/Sun afternoons.
              The best places to really dance to good music are Tucans and Hunters (both gay clubs) and the Spa Casino Lounge-depending on the music that night. The Village Pub also has live music every night.
              Personally I wouldn’t reserve Thursday night to eat outside on the strip but the pizza at Lotza Mozza is good and it can be fun to walk down.
              Have fun, eat well and enjoy our town!!

              1 Reply
              1. re: psfoodgirl

                PSFG, you're truly a font of great info. This is all very helpful, thanks.

              2. Also Las Casuelas did get a C in November and the Manhattan Deli a B in October. Thai House appears to have cleaned up since their B in September (hopefully).

                1. I think the main impression advice I'd give overall (without, admittedly not a lot of extensive eating) is to lower your expectations. In my short survey, I felt that it did not compare well to places in SF or LA, for instance.

                  1. coconutz, not so sure I agree with your advice to lower expectations! maybe you should just stay away from chains and the tourist traps! imho palm springs has some great places- several mentioned above - and is getting better every time i visit. i have had plenty of mediocre food in both SF and LA

                    1. Back from PS, and as promised here's my take on the places we visited:

                      Went to El Marisol the first night and it was as promised--excellent mid-range Mexican, exactly as good as I'd been hoping. I had the Chicken Mole and it was perfect--smooth and a bit tangy, not too sweet. My dining compadre had the carnitas and I ended up finishing them for her, not because I was hungry but because they were so damned good. The margaritas are also top-notch, poured with a heavy hand. The large was enough to get me through dinner, and I likes my beverages. This was probably my favorite place of the trip, evidenced by the fact that we went back there for dinner the last night.

                      Next night, Matchbox. I like the Matchbox in DC, and I like this one better. My tip is to go for happy hour: miniburgers are $1 apiece, you can design your own small pizzas for some other very low price, and get a good deal on their many excellent beers. Plus, the outdoor bar/patio is a nicer setting, I think, than the main dining room. We had a great dinner + some drinks and got out of there for around $40 for both of us.

                      The street fair on Thursday nights was fun, but the tip not to eat there was well-taken. There were plenty of decent looking stands, including many with bratwursts and one with indian food (and a very long line), but I don't think it warrants skipping dinner at one of the local PS restaurants.

                      Ended up at Kiyosaku on Friday night, which was a bit of a disappointment. The menu is a bit underwhelming--hardly any rolls--and while the nigiri sushi was quite good and with generous portions, I'm not sure it warranted the rather high prices. I'd likely say that skipping sushi while in PS is the best move.

                      The next day we went to Crazy Coyote Tacos in Ballard, and it was great. The place is in the middle of nowhere, right off the 10 and near the entrance to the Morongo Indian Reservation. Despite that, it gets all kinds of customers who know to go out of their way for delicious, authentic Mexican fare. It's just a stand, of course, so nothing fancy, but I love that and it was one of my favorite places we went. The giant tacos are their specialty, and they really are special. Everything is homemade, and the guac and corn tortillas are superstars. Well worth the twenty-minute drive (plus a great lunch destination if you want to see the Cabazon dinosaurs, which I totally did).

                      That night we went to Azul for dinner, and I liked it quite a bit. We sat at the bar outside, which was a very fun, lively atmosphere. The food was pretty good. I liked the gazpacho shooters with shrimp and the tuna tapenade best. Good drinks, too.

                      Overall assessment: probably true that the food in PS doesn't approach what you would get in LA or Chicago, but that said it's still really good and I have some really nice memories of it. THanks again for all the tips!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: max_power

                        Thanks for the report - tell me more about Azul - I always pictured it as a staid, hushed dining room - I know the outside bars at LQ are fun, but didn't realize there was a fun bar attached to Azul. How much did everything run & what all did you have? TIA!!

                        1. re: torta basilica

                          Yes, Azul was quite fun, not a staid dining room at all. There's a large patio at ground level outside, with a bar in the middle and these fun swing chairs on the side along Palm Canyon Drive. (You have to reserve ahead to sit there, they're pretty popular.) The music was great (after a couple drinks, we were singing along with almost all the songs) and the people were young and good-looking. Mostly gay, but all types are welcomed (I was there with a girl and everyone was totally cool with that, and there were plenty of older folks too who seemed totally at home.) There is an inside dining room that I didn't see much of, but the weather was so nice that no one sat in there.

                          As for the particular dishes, the tuna tapenade was tasty, though it was really more like a bruschetta. I'd definitely have that again if I could choose only one thing. The shrimp cocktail was also solid; each shrimp comes in a shot glass with vodka-infused gazpacho, very nice. I also ordered a vegetable flatbread, which was generously sized and fine, though nothing special. I was kind of full by that point, so didn't end up finishing it. I heard other people at the restaurant raving about their flatbreads, but I thought they were just ok.

                          Azul describes its food as tapas-inspired rather than simply tapas, and that seems about right. Tapas are smaller and more delicate and you need more of them to comprise a meal, while two of Azul's plates would do fine. As this writeup suggests, I thought the food was good-not-great, but it's also not so expensive, and the lively, upbeat atmosphere (at least on the Saturday night I went) made it a great experience.

                          One final note: parking is hard to come by on Palm Canyon on weekend nights, but Azul has its own private spaces in the lot behind the restaurant. Very convenient but takes a bit of looking.

                          1. re: torta basilica

                            Oh, and Azul's website gives a pretty good and detailed account of the place (though of course to be taken with a grain of salt like any such company site): www.azultapaslounge.com

                            1. re: max_power

                              This is so funny - I was reading your description - lively, tapas, on Palm Canyon Drive,... and I'm thinking, oops, we're talking about two totally different places... I thought you were talking about Azur at the the La Quinta Hotel - waaay different! Azul sounds like a whole lot more fun - and opposite end of the Valley. Thanks!