What’s the point of “best of” lists?
Taste, by its very nature, is a subjective thing. Asking a foodie to select the best dish on a menu is like forcing a group of cinephiles to come to a consensus on the year’s best movies or audiophiles to choose the best rock album of the last 60 years. Yeah, right.
The point then is simply to dish about food, the thing that sustains, nurtures, and connects us all. It’s about promoting culinary excellence and recognizing the Coachella Valley’s most innovative chefs. But it’s also about passing along a tasty morsel that might otherwise be overlooked.
These are some of the dishes that delighted my taste buds, inspired my friends to snap photos of lunch, or made me sink into my chair with a satisfied groan. I hope you’ll be so lucky.
Trio Restaurant: Trio Mac and 5 Cheese
Cheese is like money. More is better. That’s why Trio is so generous with the cheese in this elevated spin on a comfort classic. Aldente pasta is coated in a mixture of Gouda, cheddar, blue, Romano, and goat cheeses, then topped with a crust of breadcrumbs and diced tomato. Maybe it isn’t some fancy-pants entrée, but for those deep comfort cravings, you can’t do better.
707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-864-8746; www.triopalmsprings.com
Pho 533: Vietnamese Crepe
In Vietnam, this dish is called bánh xèo, literally “sizzling cake,” for the sound made when the batter hits the pan. Pho 533 makes two versions of this crepe — one vegan and plump with vegetables and tofu, the other filled with sauteed shrimp and lemongrass pork. The two dishes share a lace-thin, rice flour crepe that manages to be simultaneously crisp and substantial.
1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 625, Palm Springs. 760-778-6595; www.pho533palmsprings.com
The Cork Tree: Chef’s 36-Hour Pork Shank
Some foodies have been known to forgo meat all month long in anticipation of this dish — the kind of flawless meal that carnivores dream about. Served alongside some simple wilted greens, the elegantly braised shank is yielding enough to fall off the bone, the tender meat highlighted by a sumptuous, saucy cabernet reduction.
74950 Country Club Drive, Palm Desert. 760-779-0123; www.thecorktree.com
The Venue Sushi Bar & Sake Lounge: Washugyu Kobe Style
The Venue is known for Chef Engin Onural’s irreverent sushi creations, and there’s nothing more inventive than this. The Washugyu Kobe Style beef roll is the sushi take on surf and turf: Crab, shrimp tempura, and avocado rolled together, then topped with gently seared slivers of beef and baby kale salad tossed in a wasabi-cucumber dressing.
73111 El Paseo, Suite 103, Palm Desert. 760-346-1500; www.thevenuepalmdesert.com
Si Bon: Nine-Hole Escargot Waffle
So what if chicken and waffles are trendy? Supplant that combination with something a little more challenging. Every hole in this traditional Belgian waffle is stuffed with a fat escargot. This is not an indiscriminate pairing — the contrast of flavors and textures is what makes this dish special. It’s buttery and crackly all at once.
40101 Monterey Ave., Suite E5, Rancho Mirage. 760-837-0011; www.sibon-sogood.com
Wilma & Frieda’s Cafe: Short Rib Eggs Benedict
Here’s a recipe for a delicious day: Start with a homemade English muffin. Pile high with a generous stack of tender short rib meat. Top with poached, runny eggs, and then slather the plate with creamy, house-made Hollandaise sauce. The meltingly tender meat is large on flavor and will leave you questioning why this dish was ever made with ham.
73575 El Paseo, Palm Desert. 760-773-2807; www.wilmafrieda.com
SO.PA Restaurant: Frittata Mare-Monti
Breakfast doesn’t get more decadent than a lobster frittata, but under the able hands of Michelin-starred Chef Giacomo Pettinari, this feast is as light as a spring morning. The frittata is puffy yellow, the curd soft and tiny, topped with ample hunks of butter-poached Maine lobster and delicately pickled chanterelles. It is then scattered with freshly plucked edible flowers. Close your eyes and you’ll be transported far from Earth.
1050 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-1858; www.lhorizonpalmsprings.com/sopa-restaurant
Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge: Sourdough-Crusted Chilean Seabass
A favorite dish on the menu, this entrée is as visually enticing as it is delicious. The fish is seasoned with nuance, the texture flaky and slightly satiny. It comes nestled with a Dungeness crab-stuffed piquillo pepper that’s sweet and bright, offset by a vibrant and aromatic saffron aioli.
849 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-8490; www.eight4nine.com
King’s Highway: Sticky Date Pudding
A local riff on the British classic, this dessert is one of the main reasons to visit the Ace Hotel’s retro, diner-chic restaurant. The date-rich cake layer is hot and moist, topped with a dollop of crème fraîche ice cream the size of a tennis ball. Brandy caramel marries the two with briny flakes of Stumptown salt to keep things interesting.
701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-866-6180; www.acehotel.com/palmsprings/kings-highway
Zin American Bistro: Wild Mushroom Truffle Soup
Zin has plenty of notable dishes, but this mushroom soup will hit all the right notes on a chilly day. Wild brown and white mushrooms are emulsified into a silky, satisfying concoction, and finished with enough truffle oil to make your veins liquefy. The flavor is earthy and intense, evoking autumn nights and crackling fires.
198 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-322-6300; www.pszin.com
Río Azul Mexican Bar & Grill: Oaxaca Tamal
Take one bite of this moist, banana-leaf tamale, and you’ll see why it’s far from humble.The flavor-infused masa, packed with pork, calabacita, and chile de árbol, is embellished by piquant sauces laced with heat. This culminates in a balancing act of fire and cool cornmeal — overall a beguiling combination of flavors. Chef Ernesto Gastelum says he’s inspired by family recipes, and this tamal makes you wish you could hang around his house at mealtime.
350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-992-5641; www.rioazulpalmsprings.com
Cork & Fork Ahi Sesame Poke Nachos
Forget everything you know about nachos. In this version, four wonton chips are piled high with a heap of sweet soy-seasoned ahi tuna, avocado chunks, wasabi caviar, and a sprinkle of micro greens. The thick drizzle of togarashi aioli has the tiniest bit of fire to ignite every bite. Even nacho purists will dive into this plate con gusto.
47875 Caleo Bay, Suite A106, La Quinta. 760-777-7555; www.corkandforkwinebar.com