Dining in the Desert

Experience a traveler’s culinary journey through Rancho Mirage.

Jade Broadus Current Digital, Restaurants

Three days, 18 restaurants, eight cocktails, six coffees, five tacos, two milkshakes, and one prime rib.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JADE BROADUS AND BOBBY CHRISTIAN

I always plan my getaways, staycations, and date nights around the food, and embarking on a weekend getaway to Rancho Mirage with my family was no different. Plotting a three-day itinerary is easy when you fill five slots with different culinary adventures. Sure, there was time for the lazy river at the pool and a hike near Joshua Tree to burn off all those calories, but the main excursions revolved around choosing a cocktail and whether or not to have two desserts.

Rancho Mirage is a foodie’s playground — amazing fine dining, gorgeous views for sunset cocktails, quirky spots for a pit-stop lunch, and brunches that linger well into the afternoon. From The River to the resorts, my family and I jaunted around the city in search of the best meals. Beyond the dishes themselves, we discovered the magic and friendliness of the chefs and mixologists, roasters and brewers, owners and dreamers. Even through direct messages on Instagram, we were getting suggestions of where and why to visit certain restaurants in Rancho Mirage. What easily could have just been a simple weekend getaway from Los Angeles turned into a vacation that felt like visiting family. Everyone we met was so proud of Rancho Mirage, proud to be a part of this community, and proud to watch it grow and thrive.

Three days, 18 restaurants, eight cocktails, six coffees, five tacos, two milkshakes, and one prime rib.

DAY 1

8 a.m. / Koffi

We woke up with the sun and needed a caffeine fix to kick off our day. At Koffi, I snuck back to the roasting room and met roaster Brian, who loves Mexican coffee flavors but works with beans from all over the world. Here, they not only create coffee blends for the store, they also mix flavors for several area restaurants.

Back at the front of house, we grabbed both a hot and iced coffee and got our hands on an oversized blueberry muffin along with some decadent pumpkin pastries.

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10 a.m. / Acqua California Bistro

Acqua California Bistro’s vibrant outdoor patio, set within the topaz pools of The River, makes this one of the most eye-catching sights along Highway 111. Inside, I found the walls lined with artwork created by the late Marvin Cohn, the father-in-law of Acqua owner Jerry Keller. Immediately, I felt completely welcome within this vibrant oasis.

Our server had been part of the Acqua family for years and pointed us to his personal favorites: huevos rancheros (a mix of cheddar and mozzarella cheese made these extra special) and the chilaquiles. Both were bursting with flavor.

1 p.m. / The Slice

We came for the pizza, but we’ll return for the chicken piccata. After only a few minutes talking with Jack Srebnik, the owner, he called over a waitress and ordered a few of his favorite dishes for the table. This seemed to be the way Jack believed a restaurant should feel: personal. To him, people and food are equally important to a great dining experience.

Chatting over chicken piccata, Jack talked as much about Rancho Mirage and the dining community as he did about his own restaurants, leaving plenty of time to take in another glass of wine. In addition to the chicken, we tried several salads and, of course, a slice of pizza. As I was leaving Jack insisted I also grab a piece of his chocolate cake for later.

3 p.m. / Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewery

This restaurant is home to the oldest brewery in the Coachella Valley, which is where we met Dale, their newest brewmaster. My husband and I followed Dale back to the brewery, where we squeezed by the massive tanks that Babe’s has used to churn out beer for the restaurant and several others in the valley. With plans to expand soon, it was clear that Babe’s has got a great brew.

Back at our patio table, we grabbed pints of the two recommended beers, Babe’s Honey Blonde and the Seasonal Doppelbock, which tips the scales at over 8 percent ABV.

Always on the lookout for good BBQ, we ordered a slab of ribs, pulled pork, corn on the cob, and fried okra. While it was all delicious, the okra and ribs were the first to completely disappear.

When the food is this good, I don’t say no to dessert, so we grabbed an apple and a blackberry pie to go.

5 p.m. / The Ritz Carlton

Located high above the city, The Ritz Carlton is my ideal stop for sunset cocktails. It offers the perfect combination of specially designed cocktails and unobstructed views of the city as its lights begin to twinkle. Grabbing drinks, we headed straight for the back patio with its cliff top reflecting pool and panoramic mountain views.

Facing east, the sun sets behind the resort, meaning we had a perfect spot to see the clouds turn pastel shades of pink and orange. It’s impossible not to feel special when you’re snuggling up in a loveseat overlooking the Coachella Valley, me with my fuchsia Ginger Mallow (Nolet’s gin, hibiscus syrup, lime, and ginger beer) and my husband sipping his Wilfskill & Pine (FAIR vodka, lemon,
rosemary, and Chandon Brut).

7 p.m. / Kobe Japenese Steak House

Between the roar of the flames and the banter between chefs and guests, Kobe Japanese Steak House is lively, fun, and a great spot to bring a family. Located along Rancho Mirage’s restaurant corridor, this sushi and five-course hibachi-style restaurant is best enjoyed on an empty stomach (or maybe I’d just suggest not eating at five other restaurants before arriving for your reservation).

Dining here is a communal experience. With each table seating eight, part of a night at Kobe is bonding with the other guests at your table. For us, it came down to competing over which party was going to be able to catch the most shrimp tossed by our chef: My husband took three to the face before catching a single one.

We splurged on steaks, ahi tuna, and filet mignon — both of which were cooked to our preference, with our chef going above and beyond to meet the dietary restrictions of our tablemates.

9 p.m. / Catalan Mediterranean Cuisine

Dining in the restaurant corridor makes progressive dinners or bar hopping walkable — especially on warm desert nights. My husband and I passed through Kobe’s Japanese garden, heading down to Catalan, a stunningly beautiful Mediterranean-style restaurant with a cultivated Spanish design and a gorgeous indoor courtyard.

Catalan makes its own infused liquors, so I went to the old world-style bar for recommendations. The mixologist definitely earned his title as he walked me through his personal recipes and drink list, pointing out the barrel for his ongoing three-year personal aging project. I decided to try the blackberry whiskey lemonade, which featured juniper and apricot-infused gin. It was a refreshing drink, with each sip bringing out new flavors.

My husband talked me into sampling a few of the tapas from the bar only menu, and, as much as I loved the charred shishito peppers and patatas bravas, the Catalan fish tacos were one of the best dishes of the day.


DAY 2

8 a.m. / Si Bon

Day two of our food extravaganza lead us to Si Bon, which means it’s good. Inside and out, the owners Edith and Philippe Caupain pulled out all the stops to make this look like a little European bistro, from the bright red café chairs to the hand-painted mural.

I had been led here by local recommendations for the best waffles and crepes in Rancho Mirage. Looking over the menu, I asked our waiter to help choose and ended up with the French crepe and the mango-stuffed Belgian waffle, which is the perfect brunch entree. Its decedent layering of fruit and light custard promises rich flavors, while its elegant preparation keeps it from becoming a dessert.

10 a.m. / The Sandbox Kitchen

Based on the comments I’d heard about The Sandbox Kitchen, it seems like everyone who eats here becomes a regular. As I opened the door and smelled the carinatas, I knew we were in for a treat.

Before taking my first bite, I met the owner, Daniel Felix, who flashed a bright smile while grilling cauliflower behind the counter. The restaurant is built from his dreams and his family’s hard work. After working at several valley restaurants, this self-taught chef and master taco maker began a catering business with aspirations of opening his own restaurant one day. Two years later, he saw an opportunity to take his cooking to the next level by renting the out-of-the-way kitchen that is now his own restaurant.

We ordered up carne asada tacos and a cauliflower steak sandwich. While the tacos were unbelievable, the cauliflower sandwich is what I’ll be dreaming about for weeks to come.

12 p.m. / Haus of Poké

Jack from The Slice was quick to recommend dining at Haus of Poké, a quick-casual restaurant in the heart of Rancho Mirage. Founders Tim and Monica Bradely were already well-known in the Coachella Valley from Tim’s boxing career when they decided to open up their own restaurant after falling in love with poké. As they saw it, poké is a fast dining option that is both healthy and full of flavor.

Staring down the line of fresh fish and vegetables, it’s easy to see how the couple’s love of healthy food shapes the restaurant’s vibe. I chose to design my own, with a mix of tuna, salmon, and octopus, while adding in fresh seaweed, edamame, and masago. It was refreshing and light, mixing a dash of spice while letting the flavor of the salmon take center stage.

1 p.m. / Brandini Toffee

Walking distance from Haus of Poké, Brandini Toffee is half toffee house, half tourist attraction. Launched in 2006, the founder’s, Brandon Weimer and Leah Post, high school toffee making company is at home in Rancho Mirage. This Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center location is their largest to date and the first to offer spectators a view of the candy-making process, and it’s also the first candy-making shop in the Coachella Valley.

The posters and awards that line the walls of the shop speak to the following created since their high school start. Heading inside, I held the door open for a couple that had just driven down from San Francisco to pick up some Brandini Toffee. After they bought their fill of fresh toffee popcorn, I ordered what turned out to be an unbelievably thick and creamy milkshake and a box of fresh popcorn to take back home.

3 p.m. / Pinzimini at Westin

The Westin sets itself apart from other Rancho Mirage resorts with its streamlined footpath, vibrant flowers, and multiple waterfalls. I headed here to relax in the fresh air while sipping on some of the Pinzimini’s signature cocktails.

Focusing on the outdoors, the Westin’s onsite restaurant features couches as well as tables overlooking the winding walking and water features. Surrounded by shades of pink in the picturesque archways and the overhanging bougainvillea, I followed the theme and ordered the Caliente Margarita. The peeled grapefruit garnish adds a rough-hewn look to the drink that befits its taste:  refreshing with a sharp pepper kick.

6 p.m. / Wally’s Desert Turtle

Wally’s is a classically elegant restaurant, dappled with the details that make an evening out something to remember. I slipped on my fanciest gown and felt like a princess floating across the starlit patio and past the hall of mirrors, then I turned around to have my picture taken surrounded by the twinkling lights.

As the saxophonist blended into the gentle ambience, I grabbed a seat at the bar. I think I was the only one there for the first time. All around me parties shared stories of their visits over the years, some having dined here when they were kids, now accompanied by their own kids.

My husband asked the bartender which crafted cocktail was popular with the old Hollywood celebrities and we wound up sipping a POM tini and a Wally’s Manhattan.

Dinner / Lord Fletcher’s Inn

During our trip, any time food came up in conversation, someone nearby would mention Lord Fletcher’s. Everyone from our Uber driver to the Albertson’s checkout clerk had a story to share about the classic English restaurant. For over five decades, it was a signature stop for Frank Sinatra, presidents have dined here, and its art collection houses a rather large number of Toby jugs.

We visited with Sir Andrew, who is only the third barkeep to work at Lord Fletcher’s since its opening in December 1966. As we took pictures of the decorations and our pints, he was quick to point out that our camera wasn’t a problem — when Anthony Bourdain featured him in No Reservations they’d brought three.

Seated in the Shakespeare Room, my husband didn’t even look at the menu. His favorite meal is prime rib served rare. For me, it was the braised short ribs, just like Sinatra. The prime rib and pint were just what we wanted in that atmosphere. Maybe Prince Harry can bring Meghan when they visit for the holidays.

After Hours / Bernie’s

There are few nights out that feel as classically Coachella Valley as an evening at Bernie’s. Opening the door, the subdued glow of the neon lights draws you toward the cocktail tables and atmospheric dance floor. We were lucky to grab seats near the live band singing a mix of lounge and pop hits.

The place felt like a secret: couples paired up over small tables, a long table leading down a white hallway to another room. It’s the kind of place that seems like you’d need to know someone to be able to visit.

We ordered tableside martinis, which were poured right to the brim and had to be sipped just to pick them up off the table. Whether you go by yourself or with a large group, your night is bound to be a blast.


DAY 3

9 a.m. / Krispy Kreme

After a night of cocktails and dancing, there is no better way to wake up than with a ‘hot now’ doughnut and a cup of coffee. Of course, if I’m going to splurge, I might as well get something in my personal color scheme, too. This is a nice addition to the breakfast scene that is quick, easy, and delicious.

12 p.m. / Las Casuelas Nuevas

After a dip in the pool, we hopped over to Las Casuelas for their Sunday brunch. A staple of restaurant row, this family-owned Mexican restaurant has been in the area for more than 40 years. The mariachi band strolling through the restaurant stopped at most tables, greeting the diners by name like they were old friends.

We sat on the patio in the shade of a tree and had mimosas in our hands before we were even settled. Throughout our meal, our cups never went dry, and we never saw any more orange juice.

Inside, the sprawling breakfast buffet offers everything from shrimp fajitas to prime rib to tres leches and churros. This is not a quick stop, so set aside a couple of hours to really take in this experience.

4 p.m. / bluEmber
at Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa

The Omni’s signature restaurant was our final stop. We stretched out this meal with light appetizers and a final cocktail by the fire pits peeking towards the golf course. In the afternoon, the vibe at the Omni is relaxed, and we didn’t feel the need to rush.

We were seated in time to sample the lounge menu, the afternoon dining service. Filled with shareable and lighter options, we split the beet panzanella salad and the Korean BBQ shrimp bowl. Both were light and sweet, which was just what I was looking for after a day at the pool. The beet panzanella salad’s dried cranberries and burrata were nicely framed by the house vinaigrette. The shrimp and the bok choy defined the robust staples playing under the sweet Asian sauce.

/ LEAVING

After 18 restaurants over three days, I had some stories to share with my friends back home, but nothing tells the tale of dining better than edible souvenirs. I packed up my Brandini Toffee popcorn, a few cans of Babe’s beer, and a fresh roasted bag of coffee from Koffi. There was just one more place to stop on our way out of town.

Jensen’s Minute Shoppe is the best stop for a sandwich to go or to load up for a road trip. I popped in to grab some dried mango and headed out of town. With bags packed full of goodies to share, I knew I’d be coming back.

Bobby Christian also contributed to this article.

This story originally appeared in R/M, the Magazine of Rancho Mirage, 2020 edition. To read the current digital edition, click HERE.