The thin patty is smashed and quickly cooked on the griddle.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATE ABBOTT
If not for corporate burnout, landlord issues, a missing taco maker, and a global pandemic, Brad and Crystal Reihl might not be what they are today: owners of what’s become one of the Coachella Valley’s best and buzziest burger joints, The Heyday. Lucky for them, everything worked out. After Crystal spent years helping to run a Long Beach-based menswear brand while Brad co-owned a merchandising company, both wanted out. At the end of 2017, Crystal left her job, Brad was bought out by his partners, and by spring 2018 the couple had relocated from Orange County to Palm Springs.
“We wanted a massive change of pace, but at that point we had no idea what we were going to be doing,” says Brad, who went to culinary school and held stints in a few kitchens years back. “Crystal was like, ‘We should get back involved with food. We love restaurants. We love food. We love hospitality.’ The idea for The Heyday existed as an abstract thing in our minds. To us, it meant the peak, the pinnacle of something at its best, but we didn’t actually know what that was going to be.”-*
They first settled on a pizzeria concept, but when the space they leased was sold to new owners, the plan fell through and they were back to square one. Then, just before Labor Day weekend, when a friend who owned an Anaheim brewery lamented the taco truck he’d hired for the weekend had bailed, Brad had an idea. “I said, ‘Book us all three days. The Heyday’s going to come and I’m going to smash some burgers.’”
Though they’d never considered opening a food concept centered around burgers, they made a mean one that impressed family and friends. “These were burgers that we’d make at home just for fun,” Crystal says. “It was like Friday-night dinner at our house.”
The couple borrowed a flattop plancha from Crystal’s father and showed up at the brewery, selling out each day and giving the couple the confidence to try selling their smashburgers at VillageFest in Palm Springs.
“We were renting a casita in the Movie Colony and would walk [to the street fair] every Thursday, and we thought, ‘Why aren’t there more food vendors? There’s a great opportunity here,’” she recounts. “When we started, it was dead. No one knew what we were and, surprisingly, we had to educate our customers as to what a smashburger was.”
Brad and Crystal Reihl are making smashburgers a thing in Palm Springs.
What differentiates a smashburger from other styles is the thin patty and how hot and fast it’s cooked, according to the Reihls. They describe theirs as a California-style backyard smashburger that starts with quarter-pound balls of seasoned Harris Ranch beef that are smashed on a griddle with a dowel. “You get a lot of leverage on it, and if you have a lot of fat content in your beef, good quality beef … it creates this maillard effect,” Brad explains. “This total browning, almost like a lacy, crispy edge while still maintaining this juicy, unctuous deliciousness that a lot of other burgers don’t have.”
The Heyday’s signature sandwiches are super simple, topped with ice-cold shredded iceberg, caramelized onions, a Thousand Island-style special sauce infused with homemade pickles, and American cheese.
Their burger stand grew a following as it expanded to community events like Greater Palm Springs Pride, the Desert AIDS Walk, and the monthly Palm Springs Vintage Market. They even landed a guest appearances at downtown L.A.’s weekly foodie fest Smorgasburg. “We knew we had something good,” he adds. “We just had to keep it going.”
The Reihls had to quickly find way to do that when VillageFest — and almost every other event in America — came to a pandemic-induced halt in March 2020. The duo pivoted, signing on to use the tiny kitchen at the then-empty Cole Hotel on the north end of town for the rest of 2020. There, they served not only their signature smashburgers but also plant-based “magic mushroom” burgers, retro crispy crinkly cut fries, and a hearty Heyday salad of crunchy Romaine, pepitas, breadcrumbs, parmesan, and house ranch. With dine-in closed and word spreading, lines grew long and while they implemented online ordering for curbside pickup, waits for walk-up customers would often stretch to an hour. “We did not have the equipment to put out food for as much business as we had,” Brad concedes. “It was the worst feeling in the world to know people were waiting that long.”
One of their regular customers was Hilton Palm Springs general manager Aftab Dada, who offered the couple an opportunity at his hotel starting in January. They began using the Hilton’s (much larger) kitchen and running food out to customers car-hop style, but as COVID restrictions eased in late March, they moved into the restaurant and lounge space inside the hotel, saying goodbye to their pop-up days and giving The Heyday a brick-and-mortar restaurant complete with servers, a full bar, craft cocktails, and a mix of tables and lounge seating.
“It’s still kind of weird to say, ‘This our restaurant’ now,” Brad says, “but it’s here and it’s really exciting.”
Winners Voted by Our Readers
Desert Hot Springs
Dad’s Burgers (Tie)
Though there are more than a dozen burger offerings, we suggest the classic Dad’s Burger, simply prepared with old-school American cheese and secret sauce on brioche the zippy Mean Dad’s Burger topped with jalapeños and pepper jack. fb.com/dadsburgers
Desert Hot Springs
Sand Wedge Café (Tie)
The breakfast and lunch café on the golf course at the Mission Lakes Country Club never worries about overpromising, dubbing its burger the “MLCC Best Burger.” It lives up to its name with a juicy grilled handmade patty layered with classic toppings of lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. missionlakescountryclub.com
This no-frills burger joint and bar situated in a strip mall offers almost three dozen beefy varieties ranging from the classic with special sauce to the monstrous Hulk burger (for superheroes only, the menu claims) stacked with a trio of beef patties, plus bacon and three cheeses. You’ll also find sliders, shakes, sandwiches, dogs, and even (gasp!) salads. tonysburgers.com
Burgers and Beer
A sibling to the La Quinta location, the Rancho Mirage venue offers the same TV-heavy atmosphere and selection of burgers. Both locations also have an array of non-beef patties including black bean, turkey, and a traditional garden burger. burgersandbeer.com
Tropical vibes abound thanks to a bamboo bar, thatch grasses on the ceiling, and palm-printed wallpaper. The excellent burgers here come in 30 varieties. Made famous by a visit from Guy Fieri, the Devil’s Revenge, which is basically fire on a bun, is topped with fried spicy serrano chiles, Sriracha mayo, chipotle ketchup, and a spontaneous combustion habañero pepper relish not for the faint of heart. grill-a-burger.com
The rustic-modern restaurant has a huge craft beer list, an impressive selection of small-batch whiskeys, and, of course, plenty of gourmet burgers. Don’t miss the Cowboy burger topped with fried shoestring onions and BBQ sauce. The Fresno fig burger smothered in fig marmalade and goat cheese is a top choice, too. eurekarestaurantgroup.com
Burgers and Beer
A great place to catch a game thanks to dozens of TVs, it’s an equally excellent place to take down one of its many innovative burgers, including the best-selling grilled onion burger or the decadent five-cheese. burgersandbeer.com
The Tack Room
The restaurant, bar, and music venue at the Empire Polo Club offers plenty of beers, cool cocktails, and a mean burger, called the Empire burger, made with Kobe-style beef, cheddar, and a housemade Thousand Island spread. Swap it for an Angus cheeseburger or a vegan cheeseburger made with a plant-based patty and nut cheese. tackroomtavern.com
The all-day eatery within this small-but-mighty East Valley casino churns out one of Coachella locals’ favorite meaty masterpieces: the Augustine Burger, a half-pound patty layered with cheddar, onion, lettuce, and tomato and served on a kicky jalapeno bun. Vegans can order the Beyond Meat patty. augustinecasino.com/cafe-54-menu