5 Best Restaurants in Palm Springs
In just the past couple years, Palm Springs, CA, has erupted with nearly 30 brand-new restaurants, cafes and lounges. For a city of only 45,000 year-round residents, it now enjoys one of the nation’s largest restaurant scenes per capita. Hipsters and trendsetters have rediscovered Hollywood’s hideaway in the desert, and Palm Springs’ new eateries are one-of-a-kind gems, from neo-retro supper clubs to industrial-chic spaces.
1. Workshop Kitchen + Bar
Workshop Kitchen + Bar is located in a newly restored 1926 Spanish colonial revival building in Palm Springs’ artsy Uptown. Its 3,500-square-foot space won a coveted International Restaurant & Bar Design Award in 2013. Peaked wooden ceilings soar 27 feet high over barn-style windows, contrasting nicely with the 98-seat dining room’s cool concrete tables and monolithic cement slab booths.
Owner and chef Michael Beckman’s past stints in France and Beverly Hills informed his international take on a rotating menu of Americana dishes. The 30-ounce ribeye is presented on a large wooden cutting board and comes with mushroom conserva, and the rich herbes de Provence fries are cooked in duck fat. Most ingredients are sourced within 100 miles, and the cocktails are 1800s-era recipes made with ingredients such as white whiskey and house-made ginger beer.
Resourceful “desert rats” (as locals affectionately call themselves) have revitalized the eating scene as much as the new transplants. In 2008, Palm Springs native Tara Lazar took a defunct bookstore in the then-moribund Uptown district and opened Cheeky's, which Gourmet magazine heralded as “the type of lunch place every city needs.”
Seasonal organic items from the immediate region become a decadent pleasure in the form of truffle tater tots, waffles stuffed with cheddar cheese, and bacon “flights” (samples of five different flavors such as apple cinnamon, maple, honey smoke and jalapeno). Cheeky’s loyal following — including fashion designers Trina Turk and Wil Stiles — knows that it’s well worth the wait for one of the 30 orange plastic seats in the small, white-walled dining room with a clanky open kitchen.
In 2009, Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen opened Trio in a historic midcentury bank building to instant acclaim. Revolving modern art installations on the dining room’s walls and ceilings give Trio an upscale yet playful vibe, and it’s usually jam-packed with Palm Springs residents who have adopted the place as their lively living room.
Reasonably priced Midwest comfort food meets hip West Coast innovation on Trio’s menu: thick, hand-cut potato chips dipped in house-made ranch, St. Louis-style spare ribs with chipotle rub, “Mac and 5 Cheese” (gouda, cheddar, blue, goat and Romano). In 2013, Trio’s menu was replicated when its owners refurbished and reopened The Purple Room, Palm Springs’ legendary live performance supper club, a former hangout of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
4. Le Vallauris
Inhabiting a 1927 Mediterranean revival home, this classic French restaurant has remained a Palm Springs landmark since its debut four decades ago. Jerry Berns, the former proprietor of New York City’s famed 21 Club, called Le Vallauris “one of the best restaurants in the world,” and it’s a favorite of desert-dwelling artists such as glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, fashion designer James Galanos, singer Barry Manilow and entertainer Suzanne Somers.
The ficus-lined patio is sprawling yet intimate, and Flemish tapestries and Louis XV furniture fill the cozy dining room. Braised rabbit with onion and Madeira wine, or foie gras ravioli in cream of aged Parmesan and truffle oil are presented by old-timer, French-speaking waiters. Chef Jean Paul Lair sojourns to France every summer to find new inspiration for his 5-star Continental prix-fixe menu.
5. The Tropicale
The Tropicale’s lowly lit, salmon-hued dining room, with its plush, high-backed, semicircular banquettes, evokes the desert’s tuxedoed Hollywood supper clubs of yesteryear. The restaurant’s local crowd reflects the diverse demographics of Palm Springs itself, and its 2,000-square-foot olive-tree patio offers the desert’s best al fresco dining.
A sparkling East-meets-West menu features spicy Korean-style skirt steak skewers with citrus kimchi, or “Big Ass” shrimp with bacon grits étouffée. All meat and fish is organically raised and hormone-free, and gourmet weekend brunches last a good, long five hours on both Saturday and Sunday. Daily specialty cocktails include the likes of lemongrass basil mojitos and raspberry passion-fruit margaritas. In late 2013, Tropicale’s owners opened Copa Room, a 6,000-square-foot nightclub/cabaret, next door.