Inflation is real, folks, and finding good eats on the cheap gets harder every year. However, I’ve managed to find some great dishes at some of my favorite haunts in the desert. Wave your Hamiltons in the air like you really do care and grab some cheap and tasty grub at these desert spots.
Catalan, Rancho Mirage
Catalan is my go-to place for a tall glass of sangria and a large selection of tapas that won’t break the bank. Many items on their tapas menu are $10 and under during the magic hour of 5–6 p.m. daily and feature such Spanish delicacies as Suckling Pig & Smoked Manchebo Empanadas ($9), Smoked Chorizo Bilbao ($9), and Authentic Patatas Bravas ($8). My faves are the Crispy Buttermilk Asparagus with caper aioli ($8) and the Salt Cod & Potato Fritters ($9). If you’re feeling a little loose in the wallet this summer and those hunger pains are groaning a little too loud, order up their $19.95 All You Can Eat Tapas on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
MidiCi Neopolitan Pizza, Rancho Mirage
This little gem at The River in Rancho Mirage is more than just the affordable and delicious food, it’s the entire package — the feel-good energy of the staff, the beautiful, fairy tale-like olive tree that grows in the center of the restaurant, and the inspirational bathrooms. Yes, former interior designer turned restaurateur Genelle Lovett and her husband Leighton have thought of every little detail down to the inspirational quotes on the bathroom mirrors.
PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVEN SALISBURY
MidiCi is a desert gem featuring a generous $10 lunch special featuring pizza, salad, and a drink.
The moment I walked into MidiCi, the gold pizza ovens that were shipped in directly from Naples, Italy, entranced me. Each handcrafted 10-inch Neapolitan pizzas with non-GMO dough are baked in extreme heat to perfection in just 90 seconds. The artisan pizzas are big enough for two and priced at $10. My favorite time of day during the week is between noon and 3 p.m. when you can get a whole pizza, a healthy side salad, and a drink for $10. Amazing. The bestseller is the Margherita, but I’m also obsessed with the White (Bianca) pizza and the House Pesto pizza. Order the Truffle & Prosciutto if you’re feeling really fancy. My favorite little thrill of this place has to be the singing server. His voice is trained in opera, and you’ll be sipping your wine and slurping up your pepperoni feeling like you’re at an Andrea Bocelli concert or at least by the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.
VIDEO: Watch how MidiCi creates one of its pizzas.
Heirloom Craft Kitchen, Indio
From the folks that brought you Cork & Fork (one of my favorite wine bars and another great spot for $10 and under items), Heirloom’s menu comprises fresh farm-to-table cuisine, mostly vegan and vegetarian. Their menu is a $10 and under frenzy. Choose from Lemony Avocado Toast ($9) or crafted salads like Chopped or Farmer’s Market ($10) or bigger plates like Wild Mushroom Risotto.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY HEIRLOOM CRAFT KITCHEN
Lemony Avocado Toast for $9 is available at Heirloom Craft Kitchen in Indio, which is also a great wine bar.
Being an at-home vegan, I’m thoroughly impressed with the vegan-friendly section on their menu. Vegan Tater Tots ($5), Vegan Po-Boy ($10), and the Vegan Bruschetta ($9) are all tasty choices. Stop by for brunch and nosh on Brunch Tots Poutine for $10, a tempting combo of tasso gravy, cheese curds, and scallions, and pair it with the Jumbo Mimosa ($8) or a Bloody Mary ($8).
Tyler’s, Palm Springs
While a pitcher of beer is $15 and a chicken salad sandwich is $10.50, you’ll find everything else $10 and under. Their hamburgers are delish! That crunch of that fresh iceberg lettuce, the burst of that juicy tomato, and the creaminess of that melted cheese makes all your hamburger dreams come true. The charm of Tyler’s is half the appeal. The inside bar where diners sit and get their burger made to order is like a haven for locals to gather in downtown Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY CARTER
Tyler’s Burgers - you’ll find their simple, yet deliciously tempting burger menu a perfect fit for your $10 bill.
The burgers are simple which makes ordering easy: turkey burger, cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, sliders with cheese. You’ll also find sandwiches like a grilled cheese ($6), tuna sandwich ($10), and egg salad ($9). Their homemade potato salad ($4.75) and chili ($5) is crazy good and a great add-on to your burger.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY CARTER
At Acqua California Bistro, the all-day Happy Hour features large portion plates for under $10.
Acqua California Bistro, Rancho Mirage
First rule of Acqua - come hungry. The all-day happy hour menu is an a la carte wonderland filled with anything and everything you could possibly want to devour. Bring your “picky eater” friends here too as the dishes range from Italian to Mexican to seafood to salads. Most everything on the happy hour menu is $10 and under. The portions are not small, they are filling and pair like a dream with one of their many cocktails - the bartender served me his specialty - the Coachella Lemonade. Some of my very favorite $10 and under dishes at Acqua are the Ceviche De Pescado ($7.99), the Skewer of Pepper Filet Strips ($8.99) and the Linguine Checca ($8.99). The ceviche is served is a large goblet with a side of homemade chips. The Linguine Checca came at the recommendation of the bartender. Don’t miss these same deals at their sister restaurant in Palm Springs, Lulu - they have the same exact menu for you to enjoy. Happy Hour menu is for the bar area only and is served 11 a.m. until closing everyday.
On the Mark Fine Foods and Provisions, Palm Springs
This is my happy place. Surrounded by 100 different condiments, Prosecco in cans, and sunglasses made out of wine barrels is what gives me life. You’ll find extraordinary items like Sriracha cheddar baked corn puffs, lavender honey, Bloody Mary almonds and honey chipotle peanut butter. Their specialty sandwiches are all under $10 and are made with quality ingredients. ‘The Wisconsin’ is made with Genoa salami, Italian Prosciutto, Tuscan Salami, tomatoes, mozzarella, California provolone, greens, and Balsamic Vinaigrette. For the veggie lovers, The Veggie with French Brie, olive tapenade, fig spread, lettuce and tomato is well worth skipping the deli meats. Free with every sandwich comes a bag of Tim’s crispy potato chips and people watching from their sidewalk counter. Sit on smurfy blue barstools while you watch the cars and people pass you by.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY CARTER
A foodie’s oasis where fancy condiments, good wine, and gourmet deli sandwiches marry in mouthwatering harmony.
John’s Restaurant, Palm Springs
“Where do you want to eat?” can provoke premature bickering and uninvited stress in life. Try this answer: John’s in Palm Springs. Here you can find anything your undecided palate desires: steak, chicken, fish, salads, tacos, breakfast (served all day), burgers, and even churro bites. John’s “we have everything” menu might just save you from divorce or at least an unfriending from Facebook.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM POWERS
For bigger appetites, John's Restaurant offers this Barbecue Tri-Tip Salad for lunch under $10.
And what’s even more appealing: Most of the dishes are $10 and under — even complete dinners! You can order a juicy Country Fried Steak and Gravy dinner served with steamed veggies and fluffy roll with your choice of mashed potatoes and gravy, fried zucchini bites, French fries, onion rings, fresh fruit, cottage cheese or fried zucchini for just $7.95.Complete dinners are available after 4 p.m. with a wide selection of entrees. In the mood for fish? The Fried Fish Dinner is just $9.75. Chicken? The California Chicken Breast topped with melted Swiss cheese is just $8.95. Other standout dishes include Fish & Chips ($8.45) and BBQ Tri-Tip Salad ($9.50). They also have a location in Palm Desert.
Cork & Fork, La Quinta
When I see cauliflower on the menu with its snowy white, cruciferous flower that can absorb a host of interesting flavors, there’s no reason to scan the menu further. Cork & Fork’s vegan menu features the Crispy Cauliflower, dripping in pomegranate molasses, topped with pine nuts and gremolata, and a chopped herb garnish. Although some may consider cauliflower a good side dish, this veggie packs a filling punch and can easily hang with the cool “main course” kids. The Crispy Cauliflower will only set you back a crispy $10. Try the Farmer’s Market salad (also on the vegan menu) with shaved brussels sprouts, kale, candied pecans, and apples or the Avocado Toast ($8). I’m also loving their happy hour served every single evening through 6 p.m. which includes all glasses of wine and bites for under $10 — Thai Shrimp Cakes ($6), Goat Cheese Bruschetta ($8), and Everything Deviled Eggs ($6). A glass of their Red Wine of the Day is just $7.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY CORK & FORK
The Crispy Cauliflower is topped with topped with pine nuts and gremolata, and a chopped herb garnish.
El Guanaquito Pupuseria , Cathedral City
How many places actually fill up the entire plate from edge to edge with unforgettable food? El Guanaquito in Cat City has a combination platter menu featuring $9.99 dishes each served with rice and beans. You’ll find classic combos like Two Flautas, One Tamale/One Enchilada, and One Taco/One Chile Relleno to feast upon.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM POWERS
The Chile Relleno and Tamale combo at El Guanaquito is part of the combinations available for under $10.
Each combo is simple, but trust me, each dish is a tasty adventure for the appetite. This family-run restaurant also serves authentic pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish made with a thick tortilla and stuffed with a savory filling. The pupusas are all under $3 and are filled with combinations of cheese and pork, beans, or herbs. El Guanaquito Pupuseria is a great stop where the buck doesn’t stop….but goes a long way.
Happy Sushi, Palm Springs
The new sushi restaurant in downtown Palm Springs comes with quite an opener — the front page of its menu has dishes for under $5. The appetizers are a great place to start. Dive into the miso soup ($2.50), the edamame ($3.95), and the four-piece shrimp tempura ($5). Regular rolls like the avocado, the spicy scallop, and the spicy tuna are all just $3.95. The hand rolls — Salmon Truffle, Baked Blue Crab, and Albacore Tempura Jalapeño are a cool $3.95 — less than what I pay for an iced Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks. I decided to max out my Alexander Hamilton by ordering the Spider Roll ($10) — a piece of art on a plate. The Spider Roll is a deep fried soft shell crab roll with lettuce, avocado and soy paper topped with eel sauce. So incredibly tasty and very filling. Another roll to order is the Crunchy California Roll ($10), which is a classic California roll topped with more crab, eel sauce, spicy sauce and fried crispy onions. Not into sushi? Happy Sushi also has mini teriyaki rice bowls ($5.99), poke bowls ($8.99) and several varieties of ramen ($8.99). This is a $10 and under paradise.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY CARTER
The spider roll is a deep fried soft shell crab roll with lettuce, avocado, and soy paper topped with eel sauce.
Paul Bar, Palm Springs
This recently opened bar/restaurant is champagne tastes and caviar dreams with Taco Tuesday prices. The menu is perfectly curated bar food with all the delicacies to compliment an exciting night of drinking and shenanigans. The Iceberg Wedge salad ($8) and Arugula salad with pear and French feta ($9) are good light bites to pair with a glass of bubbly. For a more meaty dish, go with the Grilled Chicken Burger and Fries ($10) or the Pulled Pork & Fries ($10). All the small plates are within your 10-buck budget like the Grilled Cheese & Bacon Sourdough Sandwich ($8), Fried Calamari with Spicy Marinara ($10), and the Buffalo Chicken Wings ($10). I recommend the Meatballs with Marinara ($8) because Paul Bar summons nostalgia of Marlon Brando in the The Godfather.