PALM SPRINGS, Calif.
Last week I got back from my first trip to Palm Springs where I was searching for some spring warmth in the dead of winter. While I wasn’t so successful in the temperature department (laying out at the pool in 60 degree weather did remind me of home though), I was able to eat my way through some of the city’s favorite spots.
This is a roundup of some of the places I visited (excluding the two restaurants I already featured in last week’s posts). I should qualify this to say that I spent most of my time in Palm Springs proper, but there’s a lot to the valley, including Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert, and even Joshua Tree if I had more time to explore. Those places will have to be saved for another trip.
King’s Highway at the Ace Hotel
This former Denny’s has now been taken over by the local hipster crowd, which makes sense since it’s inside the Ace Hotel. The place was renovated and upgraded by the same team behind Brooklyn’s Five Leaves, serving up upscale diner food.
The large space has a friendly staff, and the menu reflected an LA-slant, from the black kale salad to the daily smoothie. It was here where I tried my first date shake ($7), which is a classic in these parts featuring local dates. King’s Highway’s version uses almond milk and vanilla bean gelato for the base.
While some of the dishes seemed really creative and presented nicely (such as an avocado toast in a heart shape), the flavors sometimes fell flat, like my grilled chicken salad sandwich made with Jidori chicken. Or the popular “World Famous” Five Leaves burger ($16) that was cooked on the well side (even though I asked for medium rare) and had a runny fried egg that squirted yellow yolk at the first bite. King’s Highway seems more like a fun place to hangout than to be nourished.
The deets: King’s Highway, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive (attached to the Ace Hotel), Palm Springs. PH: 760.969.5789. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. Website
Rooster and The Pig
Hidden more toward the back of a tiny strip mall along Indian Canyon Drive, Rooster and The Pig reminded me a lot of Hawker Fare in Oakland with its hip Southeast Asian decor and fun cocktails. But while Hawker Fare emphasizes Thai and Southeast Asian street food, Rooster and The Pig is primarily a play on Vietnamese cuisine.
It’s a hip way to explore Asian cuisine. Even the menu is playful, breaking up the sections by telling you how to eat, from “You begin…” to “You eat fresh …” to “best you share.”
The service is great and the menu interesting, but the food does tend to lean on the Americanized sweet-salty approach to Asian food, such as the spicy garlic shrimp with bok choy or the charred Brussels sprouts with Asian sausage. But I guess people like that here because the place was packed when I dined on a weeknight and more people came as I was wrapping up my dinner.
The deets: Rooster and The Pig, 356 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. PH: 760.832.6691. Open from 5 to 9 p.m. every day except Tuesday. No reservations. www.roosterandthepig.com
This is the only place I ate in Palm Springs where I had to wait for a table. Most places I could walk in or it wasn’t that crowded, but Cheeky’s is so popular you always see a crowd of people standing outside.
But I can see why after I had brunch there on a Monday. It’s the kind of place that serves breakfast all day. The menu changes weekly, and it sounds like your typical brunch fare. But there’s a sophistication to the plate, as demonstrated in the delicious corned beef hash that I ordered. Mixed with the corned beef and breakfast potatoes were Brussels sprout leaves that added crunch and texture, and the poached egg on top was done perfectly.
The inside space is small so eating outdoor is the way to go, especially when the sun is out.
The deets: Cheeky’s, 622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. PH: 760.327.7595. Open Wednesday through Monday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. No reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.cheekysps.com/cheekys
Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise
I had read about this place when researching my trip, but didn’t plan on dining here since there are so many good izakayas in the San Francisco Bay Area. But one night after driving aimlessly around the desert chasing the sunset, I was hungry and it was a Monday night so a lot of places were closed. Since Gyoro Gyoro was in downtown Palm Springs near the touristy area, I figured it’ll be open.
A part of a large Tokyo-based chain, Gyoro Gyoro is chic with a large dining room and patio space. Along with an izakaya menu serving up yakitori (or grilled skewers), they have a large sushi menu as well. Everything I had was delicious and well prepared, and I especially liked the salmon belly skewer, which had a custard-like flesh but a nice grilled exterior. I also loved my chirashi bowl (or raw fish over sushi rice) with a great variety of fish that were fresh and beautifully displayed (some probably flown in from Japan).
The only downside to this spot is that some of the servers are a bit awkward. One busboy reached across me to grab a plate on the other side of the table when he could have easily just walk to the other side and picked it up, and another server kept asking me if I wanted more water while she could obviously see I was in mid-chew of a large cucumber slice.
Despite some unpolished service, the food is fresh and expertly done. Even though you might not think of sushi or Japanese food when you’re in Palm Springs, Gyoro Gyoro delivers if you crave it.
The deets: Gyoro Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise, 105 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. PH: 760.325.3005. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (later on weekends). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. Facebook page
In the heat of Palm Springs, you have to have a milk shake to survive. But even in the marginally warm weather I had on my trip (really, I’m not complaining), I still had to try a cold gourmet shake from Great Shakes.
I read a lot about this almost-3-year-old spot in downtown Palm Springs but didn’t expect to fall in love with the shake I had. I’m not a big shake person, but even I loved the Caramel Coffee Creme shake I ordered, one of several varieties to choose from. First, let’s talk about the little mini donut wrapped around the straw that comes with your shake. How cute is that? A nice amuse before devouring the shake.
Then the shake itself is quality stuff. You can tell they’re not lying when they say that use the finest ingredients. The coffee flavored ice cream was easy to drink and then the whipped cream was drizzled with their homemade salted caramel. I really wanted to come back the next day on my way to the airport, but earlier that day I had already had a shake from King’s Highway. Now I’m dreaming about a Great Shake.
The deets: Great Shakes, 160 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. PH: 760.327.5300. Open daily from noon to 9 p.m. (later on weekends). greatshakesps.com
For a real old-time tiki bar, there’s no other spot than Bootlegger. The tiny bar has a popular happy hour, and it has the dark red hue of a speakeasy. The hand-crafted cocktails have fun names like the (Straw) Barry White I ordered. This is strictly a bar though, no food, unless you count the pineapple garnish.
The deets: Bootlegger Tiki, 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. PH: 760.318.4154. Open daily from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. www.bootleggertiki.com
If you’re not looking for alcoholic drinks and want a place to chill, then Ernest Coffee next door to Bootlegger Tiki might be the spot. They’re both owned by the same people, and Ernest Coffee sells some Bootlegger Tiki merchandise. In the Uptown Design District, this cafe serves up Stumptown Coffee from Portland. (Stumptown is one of my favorite coffee roasters, and several places in Palm Springs serve it.)
One interesting thing I found about getting coffee in Palm Springs, or specifically lattes, which is my drink of preference, is that the places I got lattes rarely offered soy milk as an option (they’re more into almond milk here) and the lattes always seem to come extremely hot. (Translation= too hot to sip right away.) But if you’re not into hot coffee, Ernest also sells cold brews.
The deets: Ernest Coffee, 1101 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. PH: 760.318.4254. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. www.earnestcoffee.com
Simon Kitchen and Bar
I dropped by this spot for an early happy hour before my flight home. I wasn’t expecting much, and you shouldn’t too if you decide to dine here.
Don’t get me wrong, this beautifully decorated bar restaurant inside the Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs has the perfect look for the area (a real Rat Pack decor) and great service. The food and drinks were just OK.
The restaurant was started by celebrity Chef Kerry Simon, who sadly died last year. A mural of the chef is still prominent on one wall, almost watching over diners. Too bad he’s not watching over the kitchen.
Still, the friendly bartender and large martini I had was a fun and fitting end to my short vacation. So I’ll always remember that.
The deets: Simon Kitchen and Bar, 150 S. Indian Canyon Drive (inside the Hard Rock Hotel), Palm Springs. PH: 760.325.9676. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Website
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