To step into Lord Fletcher’s is like stepping back in time to a place that is a historical cross between turn-of-the-century England and the Golden Age of Hollywood. “If you walked into the restaurant in 1966, this is exactly how it looked,” says second-generation owner Michael Fletcher.
“We’ve been so lucky that we’ve had clientele who have been coming in for 10, 20, 30, 40 years,” Fletcher says. “But the part I like to see now is the younger generation, people in their 20s and 30s. This whole new cultural thing of re-appreciating midcentury modern architecture or classic cocktails of the 1950s — it has been something that has encouraged a curiosity with a whole new generation of people.”
Among the tables, you’ll find the ones occupied by regulars Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball. On the menu, the prime rib they have been serving since its opening is still one of the most popular dishes to order and is served with creamed spinach and the classic English favorite, Yorkshire pudding. If you are looking to order Frank’s go-to dish, that would be the braised short rib.
Around the restaurant you’ll find relics of antiques, art, and collectibles that were hand-picked and shipped from England by the restaurant’s original owner Ron Fletcher. One notable relic is the authentic Grandfather clock. “It actually came from my father’s house in Portsmouth, England,” Fletcher notes. “And it still worked when we brought it over, but unfortunately when it chimed it scared everyone. They thought it was a fire alarm, so we had to take the chimes out.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE SALISBURY
The Royal Brandy Ice was Frank Sinatra’s favorite.
Michael now carries on the legacy of what has become one of the most legendary restaurants in the desert, pioneering the popular Restaurant Row in Rancho Mirage.
“To be part of this community, growing up here, going to school here it’s been wonderful,” Fletcher says. “I’m so happy this is where my family came. This desert is a really unique area, and Rancho Mirage is really something special.”
Don’t forget to try their signature drink, the Royal Brandy Ice, which features a nice, stiff brandy poured over ice cream. lordfletcher.com
VIDEO: Michael Fletcher takes you on a nostalgic tour of Lord Fletcher’s in Rancho Mirage.
Lord Fletcher is just one example of a long list of restaurants that have endured the changing times of the desert for more than 30 years. Here is a list of the oldest restaurants in the desert spanning three decades or more. Did we miss one? Be sure to tell us and we’ll be sure to include them.
Mr. Lyons (1945), Palm Springs
Aging gracefully is fine, but aging into your 70s while still keeping that swagger, that cool, that style and charm is only done well by few. This iconic Palm Springs steakhouse is in that “age is just a number” club. Their menu remains centered around steak and sides and tableside service that never goes out of style. Whether you’re in the mood for an upscale dinner, an informal meal in the lounge, or a cocktail at their speakeasy-esque bar, Seymour’s, you’re sure to feel swept away in the nostalgia of the glamorous Palm Springs of yesteryear.
Burger Box (1954) Indio
If you don’t know how good the food is at Burger Box, just stand outside their humble food stand and you’ll hear locals chatter back and forth. “Best burgers in the valley!” “My favorite fries, get the large!” “Gotta get the pastrami sandwich, it’s epic!” I’ve never had so many friendly people approach me in line asking what I was going to get and offering suggestions of their favorite items to order. Locals have been coming here since they were children and still get that giddy kid-like smile and enthusiasm when they talk about Burger Box.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TIFFANY CARTER
Going old school? Burger Box has to be on your list.
The double-double is the perfect size to hold in one hand while slurping down a Neapolitan shake (strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate) in the other. The two seasoned beef patties are tucked into a fluffy bun with oozing American cheese. The price is the star, though — an entire meal (burger, fries, and shake) can be had for less than $5.
Keedy’s Fountain & Grill (1957) Palm Desert
Looking like a set out of Back to the Future, Keedy’s Fountain & Grill is where you’ll spend your happy days sipping on root beer floats and hand-scooped milkshakes. The diner has retained its vintage look, but the all-American menu has been updated to include a tasty selection of Mexican dishes. “This is our 62nd year in business, same location,” says owner David Chapman. “It opened in 1957. In that time we’ve sold about 8 million pancakes. They are the best pancakes you’ve ever had. They’re ultra thin, like crepes. They are so tender they almost fall apart. You can’t get pancakes like that anywhere in the desert.”
The Original Las Casuelas (1958) Palm Springs
Opened by Maria and Florencio “Del” Delgado in 1958, this staple mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant on North Palm Canyon Drive continues to satisfy rumbling bellies with scratch-made family recipes highlighting the flavors of Mazatán, Mexico. (Maria’s spinach enchiladas and creamy guacamole remain favorites six decades later.) With a focus on fresh ingredients and warm service, the Delgados successfully launched a local chain of restaurants that they passed down to their kids, including Las Casuelas Terraza in downtown Palm Springs and Las Casuelas Nuevas in Rancho Mirage. Their daughter Florence and granddaughter Alana Coffin keep the Delgado traditions alive at the original.
Sherman’s Deli (1963) Palm Springs
Where did Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Rita Hayworth all get their sandwich fix in the desert? Sherman’s Deli, of course. For the past 60 years, this local hotspot has been dishing out deli classics like hot pastrami, corned beef, and meatloaf sandwiches. Attention to quality and freshness is the key to their success — they roast their own meats, make their coleslaw from scratch, and their bread is made fresh, in-house daily. The food is only outdone by the excellent customer service.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ARTHUR COLEMAN
Sherman’s baked goods are created at their Palm Desert location and brought over to their spot in Palm Springs.
The Nest (1965) Indian Wells
The Nest is a breath of fresh fun among the upscale homes, hotels, and country clubs in Indian Wells. Owners Dodi and Kevin Henry (only the second owners in 54 years) have created a fine-dining establishment served with a side of energetic bar scene, live music, and all-night dancing. The food ranges from fancy comfort food — think potato chips drizzled in blue cheese and old steakhouse favorites. The crowd is a mix of the original desert dwellers and the new generation of valley “nesters.”
Ciro’s (1966) Indio
Ciro’s pizza is a legend. The hand-tossed dough is made fresh daily from scratch as are the sauces. The toppings to add on are aplenty. The crust is thin, but sturdy so you can be confident enough to fold your pizza in half, New York–street style without it snapping apart on you. They do a great job on keeping the locals happy with special weekday deals like half-off pizza and pasta dishes for only $12.99. Though ownership has changed throughout the years, the menu has remained constant as well as the family atmosphere and service.
Nicolino’s Famous Italian Restaurant (1969)
Palm Springs and Cathedral City
In its early beginnings, Nicolino’s (owned by Papa Nicolino and his wife, Emilie) was an Italian deli and bakery in Palm Springs (the first of its kind in the desert) that catered to locals, snowbirds, and celebrities like Natalie Wood and Sonny Bono. In the mid-’80s, Nicolino & Son’s Deli and Bakery closed and reopened in Cathedral City as Nicolino’s Famous Italian restaurant (now owned by Papa Nicolino’s son Mark and his wife, Rhonda), serving authentic Italian dishes like manicotti, hand-tossed pizza, and made-to-order desserts. A Palm Springs location was later brought back.
Mario’s Italian Cafe (1972) Palm Springs
There are three things to love most about Mario’s Italian Cafe. One: They serve the largest glass of wine in the valley for only $5. Two: The cafés began in Brooklyn so you know the pizza is old-school hand-tossed, brick-oven good before even tasting it. Three: Their cafés are all across the valley with seven award-winning locations run by 17 family members. “Our cooking is from old-world style recipes dating generations back to Naples, Italy,” says owner Mario Del Guidice. “Our menu has dishes ranging from veal, seafood, chicken, steak, pasta, and Mama’s own eggplant parmesan. For all you sausage lovers, our homemade sausage and meatballs is a must.”
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF LE VALLAURIS
Le Vallauris is housed in one of the desert’s oldest buildings — the home built in 1927 by George Roberson, manager of The Desert Inn.
Le Vallauris (1974) Palm Springs
Although the restaurant was established in 1974, there is an even more vintage feel to the place because it is housed in one of the desert’s oldest buildings — the home built in 1927 by George Roberson, manager of The Desert Inn. The three-bedroom abode gives the restaurant a feeling of dining at a home complete with a large patio set in a Garden of Eden setting with towering trees. Le Vallauris has been host to many celebrity guests throughout the decades , including Loretta Young, Eva and Ava Gabor, even anthropologist Jane Goodall. The menu of French-Mediterranean changes frequently and is presented on a chalkboard menu at the table to keep with French tradition.
Melvyn’s (1975) Palm Springs
Melvyn’s, part of the historic Ingleside Inn, has been serving the who’s who of Hollywood royalty and the desert’s social elite for years. “Mel Haber arrived in 1975 and put his stamp on the Ingleside Inn and quickly became known as Mr. Palm Springs,” says head maitre d’ Matt Butorac. “Melvyn’s, his namesake restaurant, has been known for classic libations, fantastic food, incredible ambiance and atmosphere.”
The Steak Diane served tableside is one of the most popular dishes and was a favorite of regular Frank Sinatra. “Our captain, Bobby Bolduc, has been serving the steak tableside for 44 years,” Butorac says.
“Matt loves when people order the wilted spinach salad, also served tableside,” says executive chef Jennifer Town. “He walks up to the guests that ordered the dish and says, ‘Thank you for ordering the wilted spinach salad because the air fills with an incredible bouquet and I gained a pound just like that!’ while simultaneously snapping his fingers.”
Billy Reed’s (1975) Palm Springs
Everything comes full circle — even in the restaurant business. In 1975, Reed Gardner (Billy) and Robbie Lemley opened Billy Reed’s Restaurant & Bakery, highlighting the award-winning recipes from Billy’s grandmother, who taught him how to bake. In 1987, retirement called and the two leased the restaurant for 25 years to a new owner, while retaining ownership of the property. In 2012, the duo took back the restaurant, and Billy is once again at the helm baking all the cakes and pies each day. Coconut-pineapple and carrot cakes are a must-try, and the peach pie is one of their biggest hits made with juicy, ripe fruit. The dark wood interiors with stained glass accents give the restaurant a Cheers, where-everybody-knows-your-name, vibe.
Johnny Costa’s Ristorante (1976) Palm Springs
Another one of Frank Sinatra’s haunts, Johnny Costa’s aims to please with classic Italian dishes that have been on the menu since the day the doors opened, including the Chairman of the Board’s favorites: the Steak Sinatra and Linguini Clams. Founder Johnny Costa has been a chef and restaurant owner in the Palm Springs area for more than four decades. His friendship with Sinatra began while cooking at various restaurants where Sinatra dined in the 1960s — even at one point becoming his personal chef in the desert.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JOHNNY COSTA’S RISTORANTE
Johnny Costa’s offers classical Italian music and fare.
The restaurant remains a family affair with Johnny’s son, Vince Costa, and his cousin, general manager Sal Illiano at the helm, keeping with tradition and offering the same dishes that have been in the family for generations. Vince’s brothers, cousins, and sons assist in running the restaurant.
Wally’s Desert Turtle (1978) Rancho Mirage
Founded by Wally Botello, the restaurateur behind the Velvet Turtle chain, Wally’s is now guided by his son Michael, who operates the restaurant on famed Restaurant Row in Rancho Mirage with his wife, Nicole. As a destination for many desert dwellers during high-season holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, guests indulge in fine-dining service and an extensive list of California wines and French champagnes. The dining areas are impeccably designed by Steve Chase and Randy Patton — midcentury elegance meets west coast desert living — reflecting the California-contemporary gourmet dishes from Chef Pascal Lallemand. The restaurant hosts live music nightly in their Sahara lounge.
Kobe Japanese Steak House (1978) Rancho Mirage
An enchanting retreat on Restaurant Row inspired by the replica of a 300-year old Japanese country inn complete with red footbridge, Kobe Japanese Steak House is the culinary child of restaurateurs Hy Aisenstat and Rod Gardiner. Their idea to offer authentic Japanese cuisine prepared by trained teppan chefs with only the finest ingredients is what has kept guests dining there for more than forty years. Much of the staff has been here since the early years, as have the koi fish swimming in the outdoor pond in the garden.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY KOBE JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE
This replica 300-year-old Asian country inn houses a teppanyaki steak house.
Tables are communal with a front-row seat to the chef’s show where you can find all types of fish, steak, and veggies sizzling on the teppanyaki grill. Hand-cut rolled sushi is an art form here; a must-try is their Calamari Desert Roll.
Bob’s Twin Kitchen (1978) Indio
Generations of loyal customers have been frequenting this quirky looking, straight-out-of-a-Quentin-Tarantino-movie-style restaurant since the late 1970s, noshing on everything from fried chicken to fish and chips. As the name suggests, former owner Bob Kiel had a twin brother. Kiel’s protégés, brothers Francisco and Javier Jauregui, purchased the restaurant in 1994 after Kiel’s retirement. They have kept the locals happy by keeping the menu the same and adding some of their own favorite Mexican dishes like huevos rancheros and their weekend menudo special.
Jalisco Restaurant (1980) Coachella
This family-owned business, which specializes in authentic Mexican food, opened in Coachella in a neighborhood rich in Latino culture nearly 40 years ago. While the restaurant has experienced hardships (a devastating fire in 2007 that closed the restaurant for a year), the cozy spot has grown from seating just 15 customers to 75 due to its overwhelming popularity. The birria (slow-cooked goat meat) soup and the tortas are a must-try. Drawing your initials on the side of a frosted, ice-cold glass filled with their tasty Micheladas has become a social media trend among foodies.