With the horrendous heat, dwindling population and sudden newfound risk of tropical storms, it would seem there couldn’t possibly be a worse time to open a restaurant in the Palm Springs area than the summer.
But luckily, those downsides haven’t stopped several enterprising restaurateurs from enthusiastically jumping into the game lately.
In recent months, Palm Springs and Cathedral City have welcomed new places to nosh on everything from crispy fried chicken to chimichangas to chocolate mousse. One intriguing new spot will even serve you a sandwich while you challenge your friend to a game on a life-sized Connect Four board.
And with the 120-degree days, floods and devastating championship hockey losses — hopefully — behind us, the snowbirds soon will be flocking back to the nest, ready to snatch up and each and every reservation from now until Stagecoach has rang out its last grating autotune next spring.So take heed and check out these new spots soon — before you find yourself having to compete with half of Winnipeg and Pasadena for a table, or even just a seat at the giant Connect Four board.
Inside the Hilton Palm Springs at 400 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs
11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5 p.m.–9 p.m. Wednesday–Sunday
This new “modern Mediterranean kitchen” inside the Hilton Palm Springs takes its name and ethos from the Yiddish word for “grandfather.”
Lauren Underhill, who started the restaurant with her husband, Bar Cecil bar manager Avery Underhill, said the restaurant was particularly inspired by her own grandfather, who she refers to as “Mr. Hospitality.”
“He would always invite people to join our family dinners, and anyone he met he treated like family,” she said. “So that’s kind of the atmosphere we wanted to incorporate.”
That warmth is expressed through the restaurant’s décor, which is heavy on family photos and other travel souvenirs and knickknacks that make you feel as if you walked out of the hotel and into someone’s home. It also comes through in the soft-serve ice cream that is the focus of the restaurant’s dessert menu (a big sign outside advertising the ice cream will likely provide a beacon to many on blistering summer days).
However, the Underhills also say they wanted to also express hospitality by introducing people to dishes they have never tried before.
“We wanted to inspire people with some new ideas,” Underhill said. “A lot of people look at our menu and they are like, 'We don’t know what a boureka is.'"
A boureka, as it turns out, is a puff pastry that is one of several appetizers available on the menu, which was inspired by a trip to Israel and also includes several sandwiches, pitas, salads and grain bowls (the chicken schnitzel sandwich is one of the standouts).
The bar, meanwhile, serves wine, beer and several cocktails shaped by Avery’s time at Bar Cecil, including Zadie’s take on a pickle martini and a bloody Mary made with an African chili paste.
Freddie's Kitchen at The Cole
5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Monday
2323 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Chef Frederic Pierrel has spent decades cooking up fine French fare at some of the most high-profile joints in the skier’s — and diner’s — paradise that is Mammoth Lakes. But he says anyone coming to eat at his new, more unassuming spot on the north side of Palm Canyon Drive shouldn’t expect to see white tablecloths awaiting them.
“Don’t think of a fancy French restaurant, because that’s not this at all,” he said.
Instead, Pierrel said he is going for what people in his native country call a brasserie — a small restaurant with a large selection of drinks.
But even if casualness rules the day here (hence his decision to go with the name Freddie’s Café rather than something that sounds more typically French), Pierrel says diners can still expect an elevated meal from the small menu, which will always feature several traditionally prepared French favorites ranging from escargot and French onion soup to start things off to crème brûlée and chocolate mousse for dessert.
Pierrel takes a more global approach to his main dishes, however: Current options include a pasta with a short-rib sauce, an Australian sea bass and elk medallions, which he says are a specialty that he does not believe are offered anywhere else in the Coachella Valley. Diners should also expect the menu to change regularly, with each week bringing a new special; recent ones have included a pork chop and a duck breast.
Mickey's Kitchen Mexican Cuisine
240 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Monday
It’d be understandable to see Mickey Kitchen’s name, green-heavy logo and location next to the longtime downtown Palm Springs staple Shamrock’s Irish Pub and conclude it might be some kind of ambitious and perhaps misguided attempt to mash up up an Irish bar and Mexican restaurant.
Thankfully, that conclusion would be wrong.
The restaurant’s moniker refers to Micaela Silva, who runs it with her son, Jose Flores, and serves up a steady stream of Mexican favorites from the kitchen. And if you look closer at the logo, you will notice it also includes the red and white of the Mexican flag.
The menu, meanwhile, includes everything from classics like tortas and chimichangas to menudo, cucarrachas (fried shrimp coated in seasonings) and other less universal specialties. However, Flores says first-timers shouldn’t miss his mom’s famous fish tacos and sopes (a fried corn dough topped with various toppings similar to nachos).
“It’s the mix that she makes, especially the things she throws on there that make people go, ‘What?’,” said Flores of what makes those dishes so good.
Silva first began serving food out of her house in Palm Springs’ Windy Point area a few years ago. However, when complaints from neighbors led the county to put a stop to that, the pair began looking for a spot to set up shop.
“This has always been a dream for her,” Silva said of his mother, who cooks all of the food served at the restaurant each day. “Especially to be here in downtown Palm Springs because this is where we’ve always been."
67555 E Palm Canyon Dr. Suit A-105, Cathedral City
Noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Monday
For seven years, Umami Seoul served up sushi and other mostly Japanese fare near the border of Cathedral City and Palm Springs. But when Isabella Kim took over the strip mall space from her retiring parents this summer, she decided it was time to take it in a different direction that would more fully embrace her family’s Korean heritage.
The result is this cheekily named spot focused on serving up what Kim calls “elevated Korean street food”: the “BeeCh” in the name is a portmanteau of the words “beer” and “chicken,” which are two staples of the menu.
Kim says that while there are lots of variations on Korean fried chicken out there from which she could take inspiration, she’s opted for a more elegant version that uses boneless, white meat chicken. The sauce options for the chicken (which can also be served grilled) include teriyaki, soy garlic, honey butter and “snow,” which the menu describes as a "milky, creamy, cheesy sprinkle."
But while chicken will surely be the star, the menu includes a lengthy list of appetizers and ramens, plus mochi (a sweet rice cake) and green tea and ginger ice creams for dessert.
Anyone who has ever enjoyed sipping on a Soju in Los Angeles’ Koreatown will also want to check out the list of cocktails made with the sweet Korean liquor that feature their own unique twist.
“There’s an edible glitter in them,” Kim said. “So its very pearlescent, which is kind of fun.”
Play Lounge & Cafe (opening soon)
2825 E Tahquitz Canyon Way Building C, Palm Springs
The current plan is to open the week of Sept. 25
6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
When Matt Irby moved to Palm Springs a few years back, one of his greatest sources of connection and community was a weekly game night he continues to attend on Tuesdays. Yet when Irby and his partner, Nick Bannor, looked around Palm Springs’ nighttime scene, they saw few places that offered the kind of setting and experience those nights provided.
“There’s plenty of bars and places you can go dance and stuff,” Bannor said. “But there wasn’t somewhere where you can sit down, play some games and interact with one another.”
The pair say their new business, which Irby and Bannor said on Sept. 20 will likely open in the next week, will live up to the "Play" referenced in its name with over 30 board games available for customers to play, plus a pool table, dartboard and a scrabble wall. The fun will continue outside, where there will be a large patio, cornhole boards and even life-size versions of iconic games like Jenga and Connect Four.
Of course, you can only play for so long before you work up an appetite: Play Lounge and Cafe will serve a "cafe" menu during the day with bagels, muffins, breakfast quesadillas and other coffee shop fare during the morning and sandwiches during lunch. The evening menu will include pizzas and snacky items such as charcuterie boards and chips.
The bar offerings, meanwhile, will focus on beer and wine, plus wine slushies and a spritzer drink that will combine vermouth and champagne. And speaking of bubbly, they will also be offering what they describe as “champagne bongs" during weekend brunches.
“They are big plastic containers and you just pour the bottle of champagne in and you start chugging like a beer bong,” Irby said. “It’s less ‘frat’ and more ‘brunch.”
Paul Albani-Burgio covers breaking news and the city of Palm Springs. Follow him on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and email him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs new restaurants: 5 local places to eat this fall