The greater Palm Springs area is rife with delectable treats
In Coachella, just 20 minutes outside of Palm Springs, I climbed out of a van driven by Nancy Cohee, owner of Tallgrass Hiking and Tours, and strolled along an artichoke grove. As I stood there wondering how such verdant land can exist in the desert, she said, “People know about us for pools and golf courses, but we’re an agricultural community.”
While Palm Springs is best known for its midcentury modern architecture, its best kept secret is the food, thanks in large part to chefs moving from Los Angeles. So I made it my mission to eat my way through the desert.
In Bombay Beach, a ghost town on the eastern edge of the Salton Sea, a large saline lake in the southern part of Coachella Valley, I enjoyed a tastefully prepared grilled chicken sandwich at the Ski Inn. The cash-only restaurant is plastered with dollar bills from the walls to the ceiling, but the affordable lunch menu is delicious. It also made an excellent stop on the way to Slab City, where a community of snowbird artists go to live “off the grid.” The main attraction here is Salvation Mountain, a striking hillside sculpture depicting an abstract take on the “Sinner’s Prayer” made of adobe, straw and lead-free paint, and created by local resident Leonard Knight. It’s a 90-minute drive from Palm Springs, but worth it to see a true desert oddity.
Back at the Saguaro Hotel, which was once a Holiday Inn but is now Insta-famous for its rainbow buildings, I dined at the hotel’s restaurant, El Jefe. The lively cantina features a deep tequila list, but what got my attention was the beer-battered mahi fish tacos. A thin, crisp exterior gives way to fluffy mahi. Packaged with chipotle remoulade, pico de gallo and housemade tortillas, it was a satisfying choice after a busy day.
When it came to dining in the Palm Springs area, I found it was best to either eat cheaply or splurge. I discovered sheer joy in a burrito stuffed with chopped chicken, beans, rice, avocado and salsa from the no-frills Tampico Meat Market in La Quinta. I headed out there before taking a Jeep tour with Desert Adventures. The company has access to a private ranch on the San Andreas Fault, making it easy to explore the canyons without swarms of people. Zipping across the infamous fault in an open-air Jeep is a thrill, and seeing it at sunset is otherworldly.
Later that evening, I dusted myself off and headed to The Venue, a sushi restaurant helmed by Engin Onural. The restaurant is located in the El Paseo Shopping District, a street for the well-heeled often called the “Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert.” Onural infuses the menu with homages to his Mediterranean upbringing, such as a tuna tostada appetizer accented with fresh feta cheese.
To fully encapsulate the Palm Springs epicurean experience, I couldn’t leave without a date shake from Shields Date Garden in Indio. Founded in 1924 by Bess and Floyd Shields, the shake blends crystallized dates grown in the 17-acre grove with milk and ice cream. The shake is a delicious reminder of how sweet the desert can be, and sipping it is a Palm Springs ritual worth the trek.
GET THERE: Delta now offers direct flights from Atlanta to Palm Springs four times a week.
GET AROUND: Palm Springs proper is walkable, but to explore the surrounding areas you’ll want to rent a car.
GO: Take a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park; it’s only a one-hour drive from Palm Springs.
Shields Date Garden
Tallgrass Hiking and Tours
The Saguaro Hotel/El Jefe
The Venue Sushi Bar and Sake Lounge
Visit Greater Palm Springs
Freelance writer covering food, travel, and interior design.