Healthy Indulgence

Local Chefs Satisfy Your Craving For Foods With A Bad Reputation — Without Making You Feel Guilty

Matthew Kleinschmidt

The vegan, gluten-free Raw Apple Pie at Palm Greens Café.
Chris Miller/Imagine Imagery

Burgers, pasta, and pizza — three staples on restaurant menus — tempt us, but also make us shy away when we think we should select a healthier dish such as grilled fish with steamed or sautéed vegetables. Fortunately, chefs have stepped up to the plate and tweaked the typically cholesterol-laden, gravy-smothered, carbohydrate-packed dishes that we fell in love with shortly after we stopped eating baby food. Today’s menus feature little red icons designating heart-healthy options, include less sinful ingredients, and point out gluten-free options. And when it comes time for dessert, don’t feel compelled to duck under the table when your server arrives bearing a tray of sweets. Have your cake and eat it too!

Buns of Glory

Palm Greens Café
The spinach-nut burger on an organic, whole wheat, sunflower seed bun at Palm Greens Café is a healthy and satisfying alternative to greasy beef patties on a processed, white flour bun.

Chris Miller/Imagine Imagery


Hamburgers have graduated from the drive-through to the healthy menu section, thanks to the availability of free-range, grass-fed beef free of fillers, artificial flavors, preservatives, hormones, and antibiotics. These beef burgers also come with fewer calories, less cholesterol, and more antioxidants and vitamins to boot.

Grind Brgr Bar in downtown Palm Springs prides itself on its natural beef patties made of sirloin and chuck, “humanely raised” on open pastures in Tasmania on a no-corn and no-grain diet. Want fries with that? Well, then, go for the sweet potato fries. Yes, they are fried, but in less-caloric canola oil; and sweet potatoes are high in calcium, folate, potassium, and beta-carotene — plus they have a much lower glycemic index than white potatoes.

Palm Greens Café in Palm Springs uses only wild-caught fish, organic beef, and antibiotic-free and hormone-free fowl for its array of burgers. And its popular spinach-nut burger is a quantum step above your run-of-the-mill garden patty: It’s made with a savory blend of cashews, sunflowers, walnuts, rolled oats, eggs, and mozzarella cheese and served on an organic, whole wheat, sunflower seed bun.

Many restaurants use meaty portobello mushrooms as a healthy, vegan stand-in for beef burgers. Shield’s Date Garden in Indio adds nutrient-rich vegetables (red bell pepper, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant) to its gluten-free grilled portobello burger with pesto on a house-made focaccia bun.

A Slice of Life

The cheeseless Garlic Special pizza at Giuseppe’s is topped with fresh ingredients: olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and fresh basil.

Chris Miller/Imagine Imagery


Ordering thick dough topped with ham, sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and extra cheese with a side of cinnamon/sugar-sprinkled breadsticks and icing for dipping hardly shows amore for your heart. But, honestly, the number of typical Americans who don’t eat pizza probably could fit in a Mini Cooper.

Hurrah for restaurants making healthy versions of a favorite comfort food. Giuseppe’s in Palm Springs and Cathedral City sources ingredients locally from organic, sustainable farms and creates handmade crusts and sauces daily. The cheeseless, thin-crust Garlic Special pizza is tastefully topped with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, and fresh basil. Any pizza on the menu can be ordered with a gluten-free crust made from tapioca and sweet potato and/or with soy cheese.

Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza in Palm Desert offers up vegan and/ or gluten-free pies, with local organic ingredients and no butter or artificial trans fats. A standout is the goat cheese pizza on a whole-wheat crust with sautéed wild mushrooms, garlic, red onions, and organic spinach. Meat lovers can add preservative and hormone-free chicken.

Zpizza, also in Palm Desert, uses certified organic wheat flour crusts prepared fresh daily, along with organic tomato and pesto sauces. The mozzarella is part-skim, rBGH-free, from grass-fed cows. Add vegan cheese and a gluten-free crust made from rice flour and tapioca flour, and you’ve got one of the healthiest pizzas ever.

Using Their Noodles

Quinoa seeds
Quinoa seeds are used to make gluten-free pasta.


Fettuccine Alfredo hath powers to soothe the soul, but also packs a calorie-dense, artery-unfriendly wallop that you may regret tomorrow. Like Superman to the rescue, quinoa has become the darling of pasta/health lovers. The nutty-tasting grain that originated in the ancient cultures of South America is rich not in fat, but rather in protein and essential amino acids and is finding a foothold on restaurant menus.

Solano’s Bistro in La Quinta features organic, gluten-free quinoa pasta with vegan pesto. Acqua Pazza in Rancho Mirage and LuLu California Bistro in Palm Springs (sister venues with the same menu) offer low-carb, low-sugar, gluten-free quinoa and corn spaghetti topped with diced Roma tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.

Giuseppe’s offers diners the option of ordering a whole wheat or brown rice version of their pasta selection.

Cheating the system by not using any type of grain, Morgan’s in the desert at La Quinta Resort & Club creates gluten-free ravioli by using shaved apples or pounded scallops to envelop squash or lobster, respectively. And Palm Greens Café makes ravioli by wrapping spinach, mushrooms, and macadamia nut “cheese” in mandoline-sliced zucchini. It’s topped with marinara sauce and crumbled “Parmesan” made from pignoli nuts, yeast flakes, and salt.

Sweet Dreams

Palm Greens Café
The vegan, gluten-free Raw Apple Pie at Palm Greens Café is made with sliced apples, cinnamon, dates, and oranges on a date and almond crust. A side of “whipped cream” is made with ground cashews, dates, and vanilla bean.

Chris Miller/Imagine Imagery


When Scripps Research Institute researchers wanted to determine if high-fat foods are physically addictive, they let lab rats binge on cheesecake. Poor rats — they weren’t offered an alternative low-carb strawberry cheesecake made with Splenda instead of sugar. Fortunately for humans in the Coachella Valley, Cheesecake Factory in Rancho Mirage gives customers that option (topped with sugar-free whipped cream if desired).

Sherman’s Deli and Bakery in Palm Springs and Palm Desert makes sugar-free, kosher-style carrot and chocolate cakes. They’ll also make low-carb cakes special order.

Palm Greens Café maintains a rotating assortment of gluten-free, vegan, and organic cookies, cakes, and pies, as does Luscious Lorraine’s in Palm Desert. LuLu California Bistro and Acqua Pazza offer gluten-free desserts like créme brulée, chocolate fondue, and flourless triple chocolate cake. Sweet.