Hit them all in a weekend!

Mary Holland
Updated April 09, 2019

Counter Reformation (5230, 4200 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264; (760) 770-5000) is not an easy restaurant to locate. Hidden away in an inky, narrow space in the Parker Palm Springs hotel, it’s unlikely you’ll casually wander past it. With 22 counter seats allocated for walk-ins only, it’s not the kind of joint where you can bring the whole gang. It also doesn’t serve the kind of food you might expect in a place like Palm Springs. With a solid selection of wines from around the globe, and small plates you’d see on menus in France or Spain (like caviar with creme fraiche and quail eggs, and Spanish chorizo with baked burrata), the restaurant isn’t defined by its region. “Palm Springs isn't tied to an ‘expected cuisine,’ so you have a great deal of freedom as a chef,” says executive chef Hervé Glin. 

While Palm Springs (and the greater Coachella Desert) may not be known for a specific type of food, it has become closely associated with the crowd it draws. Celebrities and design fiends dazzled by the architecture, and festival-goers clad in flower crowns and Stetsons; visitors always went for the modernist buildings, music and mild winter weather, but never for the food.

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“The Palm Springs area used to have the slightly negative stigma of only having mediocre, un-imaginative restaurants and endless happy hours,” says chef Jason Niederkorn of the Pink Cabana (44-985 Province Way, Indian Wells, CA 92210; (760) 321-3771) at Sands Hotel & Spa in neighboring Indian Wells. “Over the past few years there has been a very exciting renaissance breaking through this stigma.”  One of desert’s hottest restaurants to open in 2018, Pink Cabana attracts diners not just for its food, but also its delightful pastel brasserie-style interior. The menu is loaded with meals you would not expect to find in a desert, like ahi tuna with jalapeño and avocado and crispy calamari with paprika.

Chef Niederkorn attributes this ambitious "un-desert-like" cuisine to the clientele, who “appreciate creativity and a new level of innovation.” That innovation also comes in the form of really good, experimental sushi (the one thing people will tell you not to eat in a desert). Chef Engin Onural’s Sandfish Sushi and Whisky (1556 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262; (760) 537-1022), which opened a few months ago in an all-wood space, uses freshly sourced tuna and salmon to create playful rolls topped with decadent sauces—all served with a side of whisky and tangy cocktails. 

Across the street from Sandfish, on the same strip as restaurants like much-loved pizza and pasta place Birba and the hyper-local Workshop Kitchen + Bar, is another new addition to downtown Palm Springs. Wexler’s Deli (1551 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262; (760) 507-1650), an L.A.-based classic known for its smoked fish and pastrami sandwiches, recently opened a spot at the Arrive Hotel. In the bright courtyard, an all-day breakfast of egg sandwiches and smoked fish plates is served, as well as midday meals like the famous pastrami on rye and classic Reuben. For a city that has long lacked remarkable breakfast and coffee options, it's a much appreciated addition—especially for those seeking something on the fresher and/or lighter side (they do a great bowl of overnight oats with fruit and almond milk).

“There’s a rising interest in healthy eating and food culture here in Palm Springs,” says Troy Thompson, executive chef of the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs. At the hotel’s signature 4 Saints restaurant (100 W Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262; (760) 392-2020), which is huddled next to the majestic San Jacinto mountains, diners feast on fine food accompanied by fantastic views. The haute plates of filet with fois gras and Santa Barbara uni are something you’d expect out of a kitchen in a serious food city like Chicago, L.A. or New York. “Palm Springs has become more diverse culturally, which is reflected in the diversity of cuisines we’re seeing now. This is attracting chefs trained in both classical and modern techniques, bringing a unique style to the city and putting it on the map as a genuine culinary destination,” says Thompson. 

Palm Springs has never had a problem cementing itself as a worthy destination (have you seen those hotel pools?). But for those who are more interested in culinary experiences than modernism or music, the desert just turned up the heat. 

Where to Eat in Palm Springs