LAGuide

The Best Restaurants & Bars In Palm Springs

Palm Springs may be LA’s adult playground, but it’s also a dining destination.
The Best Restaurants & Bars In Palm Springs image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Every major American city has its nearby escape. New York has the Hamptons and Chicago has, well, Wisconsin. And Los Angeles? We get Palm Springs, where the daily agenda revolves around sitting by the pool and getting hammered.

But between poolside mojitos and music festivals, there are some great restaurants, too. 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 no longer the sleepy food town it used to be. Here’s how to navigate your options.

BREAKFAST / BRUNCH

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

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Getaway weekends are common in Palm Springs, which makes finding places where all of your friends can comfortably eat together imperative—particularly for brunch. Put Boozehounds at the top of your big group dining list. The space has a massive outdoor patio, a four-sided bar inside, and semi-private seating areas. In other words, no group is too large 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 chicken adobo and biscuits with longanisa gravy. Lunch, dinner, and Happy Hour menus cover a ton of ground, too. So everyone will find something they like.


photo credit: Jessie Clapp

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After downing a pitcher of mojitos at the pool and singing along to musical theater videos at Quadz all night, a dozen bagels may be in order. Be the hero of your vacation rental and go to Townie Bagels. The popular shop started as an at-home business before eventually moving into its 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. We like spicy jalapeno or veggie cream cheese, and lox—easily the best in the desert.

Peninsula is a tiny, order-at-the-counter bakery inside a strip mall off Palm Canyon, and home to the best pastries, bread, and baked goods in Palm Springs. They make everything daily using imported French flour and butter, and when they sell out, they’re out. So no matter how late things went in the hot tub last night, be sure to get there before 10am or prepare for slim pickings. It’s impossible to pick a favorite at a place like Peninsula, but if you see a gooey almond croissant or thick, crunchy kouign amann behind the glass case, get them.

This mostly outdoor restaurant is within doable walking distance of all the major downtown hotels, meaning on Saturday mornings this place resembles a hangover recovery center. So as long as you’re OK with that—or are part of that crowd yourself—you’ll have a lovely time. Expect brunch heavy-hitters like brioche french toast, decadent omelets, and an egg and cheese. Everything’s quite good. And in case you’re wondering, there are mimosas and bloody marys on the menu, but no, they aren’t bottomless. 

The all-day poolside restaurant at the Drift hotel offers not just good food, but something rarer when it comes to brunch in Palm Springs: legitimate peace and quiet. The tranquil, all-white patio with views of the crystal blue lap pool in the distance feels like you’re on a private island in the Mediterranean, not a roadside hotel in the desert. We love the breakfast sandwich, which comes with juicy carnitas, bacon, fried egg, and refried beans on a pillowy brioche bun, but if you’re already in lunch mode, get the adobo shrimp tacos drizzled with chorizo aioli.

LUNCH

After three hours of laying by the pool doing nothing, reward yourself with a leisurely lunch at The Heyday. The former smashburger pop-up is now located on the north end of Palm Canyon in a retro dining room with dark red booths and stained-glass lampshades. It feels like a pizza parlor from the mid-'80s where everyone’s eating crispy crinkle fries, double-fried chicken wings, and smashburgers slick with Thousand Island dressing. There’s also a full bar and plenty of natural wine—our move is the all-day martini and burger special.

We wish we had this deli around the corner from our apartment. The small, order-at-the-counter spot is located in a strip mall a few miles outside of downtown Palm Springs, and 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 that there’s a grocery component here, in case you're looking for dinner supplies for later.

In the chillier months (yes, it does get quite cold in Palm Springs), our order at this Salvadoran cafe always includes a pork tamal and chicken soup. But no matter what time of year it is, the pupusas take priority. There are 20 different varieties, 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.

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 at 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. 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 takes each crepe to another level.

Certain scenarios are expected of Palm Springs, like plenty of pool time, golf, and local residents at stoplights asking you if you know their grandson. But an 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 classics. It might be 114 degrees out, but sometimes a hot pastrami on rye and matzo ball soup is simply what needs to happen.


DINNER

Bar Cecil is one of the tougher-to-book spots in town right now. Reservations at this American bar/restaurant get nabbed 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 pork chop), plus you can chat up the bartenders about the art on the walls while they pour you an 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.

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 has essentially one long bar and a few booths against the wall. 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 came in. You'll likely stumble out a few hours later, having completely forgotten you’re in the middle of the desert.

This family-run Vietnamese restaurant is one of our favorite places for a casual meal 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 for just sitting down), Rooster And The Pig’s menu is stacked with excellent, shareable dishes that stand out from anything else you can get downtown. Warning: Lines form well before their 5pm opening.

If you’re looking to eat a light-ish dinner before going out, this sushi and whiskey bar is the answer. The fish here can compete with what's being served at some of the best sushi spots in Los Angeles. We usually opt for sitting outside, since there's more room for groups. But if you're by yourself (or with just one other person), head to the bar. There you can talk to the chefs and order exactly what they recommend that day.

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 make an incredible steak. If you’re looking for that quintessential Palm Springs date night—or hoping to reenact the most iconic scene in Real Houswives history—this is it.

Dinner at Johannes can feel like traveling to a different universe—and not because there’s some over-the-top design aesthetic or boundary-pushing menu. In fact, this casual Austrian-leaning spot is pretty standard in that regard. It’s because no matter what night you go, the entire place will be filled with people who actually live in Palm Springs. Couples with weekly standing reservations split crispy, tender wiener schnitzel (there are seven different kinds on the menu) and groups of neighbors swig red wine and inquire who’ll be their server tonight. Johannes is a complete throwback and where you need to go when you’re done talking over bachelorette parties all night. 


Even if you aren’t too familiar with 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 covers a lot of ground. Make a reservation far in advance—the restaurant still books up quickly.

Less of a nostalgic throwback as it is a perfectly preserved relic, Mr. Lyons has been around in some form or another since the 1940s. But after a massive renovation in 2015, this historic steakhouse has retaken its place as the desert’s go-to spot for breaking out your best pearls, sipping martinis like they’re tap water, and going to town on giant slabs of meat. With multiple dining rooms, a lounge/bar area, a wrap-around patio, and a private dining space, Mr. Lyons is sneakily quite large, making it a great option if you’re in town with a bunch of people who are in the mood to celebrate.  


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 option that will frankly fit any type of occasion. Expect a lively (but not annoying) courtyard atmosphere and a lot of delicious white pizza.


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.

BARS

For all the various types of nightlife available, a laidback microbrewery and natural wine bar is still somewhat hard to come by in Palm Springs. That’s why Las Palmas Brewery is a gem. Located north of downtown on Palm Canyon, the taproom is a great place to swing by on a lazy Saturday afternoon for a few glasses of unfiltered wine or beer (we particularly like the bitter, tropical Fifty Four saison) and then accidentally stay for three hours. Keep an eye on their Instagram, as they have food pop-ups throughout the week featuring local pizza and taquerias, plus events like movie nights and chess tournaments. 

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.

It wasn’t long ago that finding a great cocktail in Palm Springs required having either a dinner reservation or someone in your vacation rental with bartending experience. But that’s changed—and Seymour’s is the best proof yet. This dark, semi-secret bar (hidden inside Mr. Lyons behind a black curtain by the bathrooms) goes all-in on Old Hollywood aesthetics with hand-drawn portraits on the walls, secluded sitting areas, and a gold-tinted bar with black and white movies projected behind it. Still, the draw here is the cocktails, which are strong, straightforward, and classic. Order the Vesper. 

If we had only one finger, we’d still be able to count the number of rooftop bars in Palm Springs—High Bar, that’s it. Located on top of the Kimpton Rowan (take the elevator up to the roof and walk past the restaurant to the pool area), this outdoor bar is the perfect spot to sneak away for a few sunset cocktails before your dinner reservation. The margaritas are stiff, the views of the San Jacinto Mountains are endless, and despite being the only one of its kind in town, there’s rarely ever a crowd. 

Tailor Shop is one of the newer 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. 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 snack menu filled with better-than-expected sushi (Tailor Shop is owned by the people who run Sandfish).

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