mexcian comida aquí, allí y en todas partes

Southern California is a haven for Mexican food, and Palm Springs is no exception.  Some American cities have a Starbuck’s on every corner.  Well, Palm Springs has Mexican food joints.  So, without further adieu, we offer to you our quick run-down of the “best-of-the-best” - and our reasons why, since as you know, not all Mexican restaurants are created equally...

Best Ambience (and Food) - Las Casuelas (multiple locations):  This regionally located mini-chain of restaurants certainly knows what it’s doing.  While each outpost of the family-run Las Casuelas is impeccably decorated to mimic exotic climes “South of the Border,” it’s the further festooning, courtesy of talented live music and dancers, that really puts the chain at the top of our list.

And the food is darn good too.  Having survived over 50 years of competition, this trio of spots is still packing locals and tourists in.  (Just try to get in without a reservation on a weekend night!)  Our recommendations?  ANYTHING from the menu, but particularly the “Camarones Diablos.”  And check out that Tequila menu!  Yikes.  Designated driver required.

Las Casuelas Terraza - 222 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 325-2794,

Las Casuelas Nuevas - 70050 California 111, Rancho Mirage, CA  92270, (760) 328-8844 ‎,

Las Casuelas Quinta, 78480 California 111, La Quinta, CA  92253, (760) 777-7715,

Best Lunch Quickie - Blue Coyote Grill:  Attractive, but understated.  Service is quick, prices reasonable.  Best to take the little ‘uns for a no frills “Southwestern” lunch that will get you in and out in a jiffy, that is if there is no wait!

Blue Coyote Grill - 445 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 327-1196,

Best People Watching - Azul Tapas Lounge:  This North Palm Canyon Drive spot is popular with locals looking to check out the day’s fresh crop of “tourist meat.”  (The modern porch swing seating may be a gimmick, but it’s a good one.)  While the drinks here were certainly memorable, the menu is surprisingly not really “Mexican,” but more a mixture of Mexican and Caribbean-inspired tapas.  (You can even get tasty sliders and pizza/ flat-breads if so inclined.)  Perhaps a bit too sticky at high noon under the intense sun, Azul Tapas Lounge really kicks off at Happy Hour when drinks easily segue into dinner, and then back into drinks, often accompanied by local LGBT-supplied entertainment.  (Yes, for better or worse, that means Judy, Liza and Bette impersonations!)

Azul Tapas Lounge - 369 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 325-5533,

Best Place You Will Forget To Check Out - El Gallito:  This is the real deal friends, a Mexican restaurant that does not want (or need) to dazzle you with modern decor, fancy margaritas or singing waiters.  The friendly proprietors at El Gallito simply rely on their authentically tasty food!  The menu features exactly what you might expect - burritos, carnitas and albondigas soup, though the more adventuresome in your group may opt for menudo!  Bring cash as El Gallito does not take plastic!

El Gallito - 68820 Grove Street, Cathedral City, CA  92234, (760) 328-7794,

Rick’s Restaurant(s)

On the recommendation of other travelers staying at Ruby Montana’s Coral Sands Inn (see “digs”), we chose Rick’s Restaurant as our Saturday morning hangover cure!  Located only a few blocks walk from the Coral Sands, Rick’s is apparently an institution in North Palm Springs, though you wouldn’t know it by taking a quick glance at its appearance.  Apparently an homage to “Rick’s Cafe Americain” from Casablanca, the ambiance instantly recalled that of an all-too-practical buffet restaurant somewhere on the west coast of Florida.  But we’re here to tell you...  Don’t let that “Golden Girls After Dark” decor fool you.  The food here is good, so good in fact that it attracted a steady crowd of locals and tourists throughout the duration of our breakfast repast.

The menu is voluminous, if not basic.  This is simply “American diner” Breakfast/ Lunch classics, though with a slightly Cuban twist!  (Real Estate must be cheap in Palm Springs, for the restaurant changes locales mid-day to an address further up the road where dinner is served in a more “upscale” setting.)  We chose pancakes, eggs, bacon and toast and were impressed by the “just perfect” portions.  Still, it was the efficient service - courtesy of two lasses we’ll dub “Severe-Up-In-Here Supa-Haunch” and “Freedom School Sassabone” - and the cinnamon rolls that really impressed!  If you are on a diet, break it for one of these giant suckers! Pure bliss.

Rick’s serves breakfast and lunch daily at their 1973 North Palm Canyon Drive location.  Hours of operation are 6:00 AM until 3:00 PM.  Dinner is served at 1596 North Palm Canyon Drive “Desert Grille” outpost Sunday through Thursday from 3:00 PM until 9:00 PM and Fridays and Saturdays from 3:00 PM until 10:00 PM.  While your “Set of Drifters” did not venture out from the “breakfast zone,” a gentleman in our party did have a salmon plate with herbs, capers and avocado that he reported was simply sublime!

Rick’s Restaurant (breakfast and lunch) - 1973 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 416-0090

Rick’s Desert Grille (dinner) - 1596 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 325-2127

But we’re in Palm Springs, no we’re in Hawaii... No, we’re in Palm Springs!

Although we were worn out after a long day poolside at the Caliente Tropics (see “digs” above), it was still Doug’s birthday in September of 2009 so we had to celebrate!  (A quick shower and a change of clothes can do wonders for the spirit!)  A short ride later, we found ourselves in nearby Rancho Mirage, peering into the electric koi ponds just outside the teppan house of Kobe.

I must admit I was a bit surprised to find the eatery here in California.  The last time I had chomped down at the restaurant had been 10 years earlier while vacationing in lovely Maui.  And though we normally do not indulge in chain establishments, I remember thoroughly enjoying the quality of food that the Japanese outfit has on offer.  Kobe is certainly the more sophisticated cousin of Benihana’s, though you can bet your bottom yen that the chefs on hand will still find a way to make you laugh while they dice away at the veggies, seafood and meats cooked tableside!  Ours even went as far as to make a tiny volcano from the steam that rose out from a tower of sliced onions!  Charming.

Kobe chops up your shrimp and tosses them into your lap Sunday through Thursday from 5:00 PM until 10:00 PM.  They are open on Friday and Saturday from 5:00 PM until 11:00 PM.  Set of Drifters tip:  Make sure you paw the odd life-size badger out front.  Legend has it that he will give you good luck, or at the very least, a Faebook-worthy photo opportunity!

Another Hawaiian favorite that has made it to Palm Springs is Lappert’s Ice Cream, though according to their website, the flavors found on the mainland are quite different from those that sell so well at the famed creamery on the islands.  Lappert’s in California is run by the original owner’s son who has taken the company in new directions, creating flavors that are unique to the mainland stores.  That being said, sweaty tourists strolling along North Palm Canyon can still take in that island feel with double scoops of Lappert’s delicious Kauai Pie or Guava Sorbet!  And if you are jonesing for some caffeine, Lappert’s also offers a tremendous array of gourmet coffee options.  They even sell some of their bean varieties, such as Vanilla Macadamia Nut or Kona Blue Makua, from their website!

Kobe Japanese Steak House - 69838 California 111, Rancho Mirage, CA  92270, (760) 324-1717,

Lappert’s Ice Cream - 130 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 778-3700,

We also recommend:

Purple Palm Restaurant & Bar - 572 North Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 969-1818,

Bill’s Pizza - 119 South Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA  92262, (760) 325-5571,