Our desert playground is all grown up. This October’s Money magazine names it one of the top places to retire. Gone are the days of mediocre restaurants with few alternatives. Eateries have sprung up like Spring wild flowers, but there are a few that are superb and a must-visit on anyone’s list whether living or vacationing in the desert area.

Writer's #1 Choice for Italian in the Coachella Valley, and beyond:

La Spiga Ristorante Italiano:
72-557 Hwy 111
Palm Desert, CA 9260
(760) 340-9318

Nothing is more authentic and deliciously Italian than this gemstone. It’s perhaps the best Italian cuisine we’ve tasted in Southern California. The charming owners, Vince and Connie Cultraro, are Sicilian, home of the best Italian cooking. While Connie greets you like an old friend, Vince delivers beyond-excellent dishes to you like you’re family. The restaurant itself resembles an old Tuscan home complete with stone walls, wood beams and fabulous Mascalzone granites throughout. The gardens are not only a delightful place to feast amongst the myriad roses, but you also taste many of the veggies and herbs that are growing around you. The service is immaculate and without flaw, especially if you ask for Raymond, who delivers good looks and big smiles to your table at the same level of excellence as world class venues. Everything on the menu is a winner, but don’t miss their unique spin on Calamari Fritti, ($15), served on a bed of julienne cucumbers with a tomatillo reduction--the best we’ve ever savored. The pastas are extraordinary, our favorite being the Pappardelle Al Bosco ($29), with a light cheese and cream sauce and it delivers rich, unparalleled flavor. Ask the knowledgeable sommelier to pair one of the myriad fine wines they have to offer by the glass or bottle with your repast.

Finish with the tastiest and most incomparable tiramasu you’ve ever had and you’ll never want to go home.

Rating: Food: 5/5 Spoons -- Atmosphere 4.5/5 Spoons -- Service 5/5 Spoons

330 E Amado Road
Palm Springs, Ca.
760 866 1952

When it comes to Palm Springs, this restaurant stands out from the pack. Built from the ground up, its style and décor are mid-century, but with fresh and trendy appeal. The scene is alive with energy, be it in the outside bar area that is buzzing with lookers, or the restaurant, which is sophisticated and inviting. Comfortably ensconced in a booth, you can watch the show of people as well as enjoy an array of terrific food including their most remarkable dish, crispy boneless Southern Fried Chicken marinated in buttermilk & paprika ($21.95). Don’t forget the pizzas; the Crumbled Italian Sausage is superb at $14.95. This is a place to eat well, have fun with friends and leave feeling you’ve got your money’s worth. We look forward to the next visit.

Rating: Food: 4/5 Spoons -- Atmosphere 4/5 Spoons -- Service 3/5 Spoons

68885 Ramon Road
Cathedral City, Ca. 92234
760 328 9991

Who thinks of Cathedral City as the place for good eats? Well think again. Hidden next to a strip mall surrounded by auto shops is one of the best places to get burgers and insults in the desert, since 1969. Ask for ketchup; be prepared to shield yourself from the otherwise amiable owner, Ed Marinko (George’s son took the reins when George died in 1999) who will bark at you that his burgers don’t need it. We agree. Succulent pieces of meat (and who doesn’t like that?) are added to tasty fresh baked buns (same comment) and liberally spiced with a secret concoction that oozes between your fingers, making the location, service, décor and tattooed Motorcycle-types an irrelevant incidental to satisfying burgers and homemade chili. Make sure to try the Burger fries and you’ll get lunch for under $20. Nothing has changed since its inception. We’ve noticed of late that one of the best ways to judge a truly great burger is how you feel after you leave and we craved another. This and Tyler’s (which we given rave reviews before) are the best burgers in the desert.

Rating: Food: 4/5 Spoons -- Atmosphere 1/5 Spoons -- Service 0/5 Spoons

By Scott E. Schwimer and Michael H. Epstein, The Dining Duo
Photos by Scott E. Schwimer

Posted by The Dining Duo | 8:40 AM | , , , , , | 0 comments »

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