Every decent city in America has its nearby escape. New York has the Hamptons and Jersey Shore, and Chicago has, well, Wisconsin. And Los Angeles? We get Palm Springs – only the best escape destination in the entire country. When a town takes sitting by the pool and getting hammered as seriously as Palm Springs does, there’s little to complain about.
But between all those poolside mojitos and dancing at Coachella, there are some seriously good spots to eat at as well. From the classic old haunts where Marilyn Monroe got her groove on, to the new, modern spots popping up all over downtown, Palm Springs is a culinary destination to be reckoned with. Here’s our guide on exactly how to navigate it.
Breakfast / Brunch
Big group getaway weekends are common in Palm Springs, which makes finding places where everyone can comfortably eat together imperative – particularly for brunch. Put Boozehounds at the top of your big group dining list. The sprawling space has a massive outdoor patio, a four-sided bar inside, plus tons of semi-private sitting areas throughout. In other words, no group is too big at this bar/restaurant in the Uptown Design District. As far as food goes, we like the Filipino-leaning dishes the most, like the perfectly-simmered adobo chicken and crackly pork lumpia, but all the menus (they have different ones for brunch, lunch, dinner, and Happy Hour) are large and cover a ton of ground, so everyone will find something they like. And that includes dogs, who get their own separate food menu as well.
After downing a pitcher of mojitos at the pool and singing along to musical theater videos at Quadz all night, a dozen bagels or so is probably necessary. Be the hero of your vacation rental and go to Townie Bagels. The massively popular shop started out as an at-home business before eventually moving into their current brick-and-mortar on Sunny Dunes Rd. just south of downtown in 2015. The bagels here are all water-boiled giving them a crispy, crackling exterior and a perfectly soft interior. You can’t go wrong with any of the spreads–which are also all made in-house–but we’re partial to either the actually-spicy jalapeno or veggie cream cheese. Don’t miss the lox either, they’re probably the best in the desert.
It’s not often you eat brunch in an abandoned Denny’s and want your friends to see it on Instagram. Yet sure enough, inside of America’s urban millennial safe house (Ace Hotel), King’s Highway is the all-day cafe where everyone who just can’t with the pool fills up before heading out to the pool again. Don’t let the wide-brim hat crowd fool you though – with a menu full of waffles, pastries, and soft scrambles, King’s Highway has sneakily become one of the best breakfasts in town.
Located right outside the airport, Carousel is a tiny order-at-the-counter bakery and our go-to for early morning baked goods and pastries in Palm Springs. We love the giant, gooey sticky bun, the savory feta and spinach croissant, and the perfectly-balanced cheese and guava turnover. That said, everything in the daily pastry case is good, so if you’re overwhelmed, just follow your gut and start pointing. If you want some dessert for later (or for the drive home), the carrot cake is a must.
12 Restaurants Worthy Of A Day Trip Outside LA
Technically serving as the all-day cafe at Parker Palm Springs, Norma’s is the kind of scene you came to Palm Springs to experience – especially at 12:30pm on a Saturday. Locals draped in Vivienne Westwood and drinking chardonnay before lunch, stressed-out bridal parties guzzling mimosas, and you and your friends going to town on fish tacos and Bloody Marys before hitting the pool for the next 72 hours.
Wilma and Frieda’s is located in the celebrity-laden enclave in Palm Desert and serves the exact kind of comfort food you need after a long day of mai tais. Don’t be distracted by its location next to a Saks Fifth Avenue in a fancy mall - the food is much better and more affordable than you’d expect. They serve stuff like short rib eggs benedict and a blackberry custard french toast, and it all generally falls under the $20 mark. Bonus: There’s a second location right in downtown Palm Springs now.
If you hear someone shout “Brunch!” in Palm Springs, it probably means they’re on their way to Cheeky’s. Open only until 2pm each day, this cafe has become an absolute go-to morning dining destination. We’re warning you now: the line gets ridiculous. But for those who tough it out, a fantastic rotating menu of hangover-curing breakfast foods awaits. Two words: bacon flight.
The Colony Club
In the heart of downtown sits The Colony Palms Hotel. And at the heart of The Colony Palms sits The Colony Club – their all-day poolside restaurant straight out of your patterned wallpaper dreams. Brunch is a meal that gets chaotic quickly in Palm Springs, but on those mornings where the only thing we want is some peace and quiet and a well-made omelet, you’ll find us at The Colony Club enjoying the uninterrupted tranquility.
The Real Italian Deli is one of those places we wish we had around the corner from our apartment. The small, order-at-the-counter spot is in a large strip mall a few miles outside of downtown Palm Springs, but they make some of our favorite sandwiches in town. You’re going to want the parma, which is prosciutto and mozzarella, on a house-made torpedo roll (crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside) with a side of their mac salad. Also note, there’s a grocery component here too if you’re in the mood to cook up an Italian feast later tonight at the vacation rental.
Gambino’s Creperie is hidden down a tiny side alley off E. Palm Canyon, so don’t get frustrated if it takes you a few tries to find it. Because once you do, you’ll be treated to one of our favorite quick lunch spots in town. Made with a special blend of chimichurri, cheese, and jalapenos, and filled with everything from chicken caesar to turkey cheddar, these are by no means traditional crepes. They’re savory hand-held masterpieces that don’t just look good, but also taste incredible. Our favorite at the moment is the chicken pesto, but whichever one you get, just be sure to add Nonna’s special sauce on top. It’s made with jalapenos, cilantro, garlic, and olive oil, and elevates each crepe even further.
Sherman's Deli and Bakery
Certain scenarios are expected of Palm Springs, like plenty of pool time, a lot of golf, and local residents at stoplights asking you if you know their grandson. But a NYC-style kosher deli in the heart of downtown took us by surprise. Sherman’s is a Palm Springs institution, serving immensely respectable versions of all the old classics. It might be 114 degrees out, but sometimes a hot pastrami on rye and matzo ball soup is simply what needs to happen.
Driving home hungover from Palm Springs is a rite-of-passage, and the only way to get through it is a pitstop at Crazy Coyote, an order-at-the-window taco shack right outside the Cabazon outlets. $7.50 might seem like a lot for a taco, but when they say “giant taco,” they really mean it – two will keep you full until dinner. Our order is always one steak and one chicken, each doused in their spicy ghost salsa. Their burritos are excellent too.
Residing on the quieter, northern edge of Palm Springs, Peruvian Fuego is an all-around solid Peruvian spot with tasty versions of fish and shrimp ceviche, lomo saltado, and yuca fries. But what sets this tiny strip mall spot apart is their pollo a la brasa. This is some of the best Peruvian rotisserie chicken we’ve eaten in Southern California. It has perfectly crispy skin with a moist, meaty interior and comes accompanied by thick french fries and aji verde sauce for a nice kick of heat. If you’re by yourself, the quarter chicken makes for a great solo lunch, but if there’s a group of hungry friends and family waiting back at the house, grab a whole chicken (or three) and call it a day.
El Salvador Cafe is located directly next door to Peruvian Fuego, so we’re not saying you have to do a double lunch, but we’re also not not. In the chillier months (yes, it does get quite cold in Palm Springs), our order will always include a pork tamal and chicken soup, but no matter what time of year it is, a great meal at El Salvador Cafe is one filled with pupusas. With almost 20 different varieties, choosing can get stressful quickly, but we recommend the queso con jalapeno, the chicharron, and the loca, which comes with cheese, pork, frijoles, loroco, spinach, mushroom, ham, chicken, and asada. The whole operation is currently takeout only, and we definitely recommend ordering ahead online.
Opening in April 2021, Bar Cecil is unquestionably the hardest table to get in town right now. Reservations at this American bar/restaurant book out weeks in advance–even during the low season–and if you think going midweek will help your chances, it won’t. Here’s the good news: the bar area is walk-in only and that’s where you’ll want to sit anyway. The entire menu is offered here (get the perfectly-moist pork chop, it’s the best we’ve ever eaten), plus you can chat up the bartenders about all the original art on the walls while they pour you a perfectly-made Old Fashioned. Bar Cecil is one of those places that’s sexy and chic without feeling like “sexy and chic” is the theme. It just naturally is – while also being our favorite place to grab dinner in town.
If you’re looking for a lighter dinner spot before a night out on the town, this sushi/whiskey bar can compete with most of the best sushi spots in Los Angeles. If you’re coming in with a big group, go for one of the tables outside, but if it’s just a few of you (or ideally, just you) head to the bar. There you can talk to the chefs and order exactly what they recommend that day.
Counter Reformation is one of our favorite restaurants in Palm Springs, and the perfect spot for a date or if you’re in town on a romantic getaway. Hidden away in the massive Parker Palm Springs, you head to this tiny bar to drink great wine and leave talking about the food. Perfectly-sautéed hen of the woods, spiced duck breast, and faux gras macarons – Counter Reformation is only a few years old, but has firmly cemented its status as one of the best romantic dinner spots in town.
Located in a strip mall north of the airport, Paul Bar/Food isn’t the most convenient dinner spot in town – particularly if you’re staying off Palm Canyon. But if you’re up for a drive, your reward will be one of the coolest dinner experiences in PS. And when we say cool, we mean 1940s-Rat-Pack-era, slinking-across-the-bar-with-a-martini type cool. The dimly-lit space is tiny – it’s essentially one long bar and a few booths against the wall – giving the whole place an intimate, romantic vibe. Come here for some marinara-covered meatballs and a crisp wedge salad – just don’t be fazed if the bartender tells you about some crazy celebrity that just came in and know you will likely stumble out a few hours later, having completely forgotten you’re in the middle of the desert.
This tremendous Vietnamese restaurant is our favorite casual dinner spot in Palm Springs. From the coconut mussels and tea leaf salad to the turmeric cod (not to mention the complimentary cup of congee you get just for sitting down), Rooster And The Pig’s menu is stacked with excellent, shareable dishes that are unlike anything else you can find this far into the desert.
Located in the courtyard of the former Cary Grant estate, the almost-entirely-outdoor space (with ridiculous mountain views) is that idyllic Palm Springs setting you trekked out past the windmills and into the desert to experience. Also, they have one of our favorite steaks in town. If you’re looking for that quintessential Palm Springs date night, this is it.
If you’re from out-of-town and aren’t too familiar with restaurants in Palm Springs, chances are you’ve still heard of Workshop. Open since 2012, this stunning, all-concrete restaurant on Palm Canyon not only proved farm-to-table menus were possible this far into the desert, but arguably put the entire city on the modern dining map. And today, it’s still hitting on all cylinders. With everything from goat cheese pierogis to duck fried rice to doro wat chicken, the menu certainly covers a lot of ground, but that just means everyone in your group will find something they love. Definitely make a reservation far in advance – it still books up quickly.
A big part of vacationing in Palm Springs is simply hanging around your rental house enjoying life in the desert. So, skip the hassle of getting ready and going out downtown, and just order in from Bill’s. This casual pizza shop makes giant, 18-inch pies that are ideal for feeding a house of people who spent too much time in the sun today. We love the feta and artichoke-topped Elton John or Carol’s White Pizza, which comes with ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella.
Elite Mexican food in Palm Springs is not always easy to come by, which is why you need to know about Felipe’s. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this family-run cafe serves Mexican classics better than anybody in town. The tiny spot is out by the airport, perfect if you’re flying in for a festival or aren’t in the mood to deal with the downtown crowds. The chile relleno de asada topped with creamy chile pasilla sauce is our go-to.
Right next door to Cheeky’s (with the same address) is Birba. The almost entirely-outdoor pizza spot is an ideal big group jumping-off point before a night out on Palm Canyon. With bar, lounge, and table seating, Birba is a flexible options that will frankly fit any type of occasion. Expect a lively (but not annoying) courtyard atmosphere and a lot of delicious white pizza.
Not so much a throwback as it is a perfectly-preserved relic, Melvyn’s was a favorite of Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack. Stay on the staff’s good side, and they’ll treat you to some carefully-practiced banter as they prepare their famous Steak Diane tableside.
With an old-school Miami supper club feel, The Tropicale is a grown-up, kitschy oasis and perhaps your best opportunity to finally pull off that flowered button-down you got in Nassau. This is a fine dining experience (and a great one at that), but with an impressive cocktail list and an even better back patio, the recipe is right for things to get weird. Take note – The Tropicale is down to party.
For all the varying types of nightlife found in Palm Springs, a cool, laidback natural wine bar is somewhat hard to come by. That’s why Dead Or Alive is good to know about. Located south of downtown on Palm Canyon, this tiny bottle shop/bar is the kind of place you come to for a quick glass of minerally orange wine before dinner and end up canceling your reservation because you don’t want to leave. There’s a good-sized bar inside, but the string-lit front patio is where you’ll usually find us hanging out, chatting up the owner, and making quick friends with everyone else drinking chilled red wine like it’s juice. There’s no formal food menu, but they usually have nightly snacks like trout dip and sometimes even oysters.
The row of bars going along E. Arenas Rd. is the center of Palm Springs’ queer nightlife, and at its core sits Quadz. This musical theater video bar isn’t just our favorite place to drink in Palm Springs, it’s one of our favorite bars in the entire world. It’s a place where visiting 25-year-olds and locals who remember when it used to be called Spurline come together nightly to drink dirt cheap cocktails and sing-along to some of the most iconic musical theater moments in history. Even if Barbra Streisand belting “Don’t Rain On My Parade” or Jennifer Holliday’s 1982 Tony Awards performance are unknown entities to you, by the end of the night, you’ll be a trained expert.
Palm Springs is home to several good tiki bars, but Bootlegger remains our favorite. The tiny bar in the Uptown Design District is actually located in the same space as the original Don The Beachcomber, and while it isn’t a speakeasy, per se, its side street entrance is certainly a bit hidden. Once you do find it though, you’ll be treated to a kitschy, intimate space (there are only four booths and a few chairs going along the bar), friendly bartenders, and of course, expertly-made tiki drinks. There’s no bad drink on the menu, but we love the Barbados Heat, which comes with three different kinds of rum, ginger and almond syrup, and bitters.
Opening in September 2021, Tailor Shop is one of the newest cocktail bars in town, and it’s also the most exciting. Located directly next to Bootleggers, this place has a dark, moody interior with velvet banquettes, leather chairs, and a wrap-around marble bar. It’s the perfect pre-dinner drink spot and a chance to really impress your date with some bar knowledge. We haven’t had a cocktail here that we don’t like, but just know that if you sit at one of the banquettes, one of the bartenders will come around with a cart and make your cocktails tableside. If you get hungry, there’s a tiny snacks menu filled with excellent sushi (Tailor Shop is owned by the people who run Sandfish) and other small dishes like snow crab deviled eggs and Wagyu carpaccio.