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Best Palm Springs Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors

Dining out is recreation in this pleasure-oriented town, where the local gossip revolves around restaurant openings—and closings. Food quality and ambiance are the keys to success, not the celebrity of the chef, although there certainly are stars, such as Jimmy Schmidt, who works his magic at Morgan’s in the Desert. Many Palm Springs restaurants have been around for 20 or more years, thanks to locals, who are a loyal lot. If you arrive in the heat of summer, be sure to check ahead. Some restaurants close for a few weeks.

Wally's Desert Turtle

Neighborhood: Rancho Mirage Price: Expensive

If you’re going to do expensive, this is probably the most expensive, certainly the most ostentatious, restaurant in the desert. But it has the food to match. The oft-awarded continental menu includes seared filet of Loch Duart salmon, with braised salsify, balsamic reduction and fried shallots; sautéed imported Dover sole, served amandine or meuniere, and roasted Colorado rack of lamb with herb potato pancake, garlic confit and ratatouille, fresh rosemary and thyme jus. But this is a place to see and be seen, and it’s difficult to concentrate on the food, what with the beveled mirrors on the ceilings reflecting off the beveled mirrors on the pillars, and the huge hand-painted murals vying for attention.

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Copley’s Palm Springs

Neighborhood: Uptown Price: Expensive

Housed in a small, historic Spanish-style villa that was once the estate of Cary Grant, this restaurant is the talk of the town, thanks to chef-owner Andrew Manion Copley’s penchant for flying in the face of tradition. His signature “Oh My Lobster Pot Pie” is a thrilling concoction of lobster simmered with jumbo shrimp, carrots, pearl onions, leeks, mushrooms and sweet peas in a creamy velouté sauce and topped with golden puff pastry. If you like his style, set up a group cooking class—he’s happy to share.

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Copley’s Palm Springs  

Le Vallauris

Neighborhood: Uptown Price: Expensive

If you’re looking for a romantic meal, Le Vallauris is the best. Sumptuous Louis XV-style furnishings inside or the moonlit patio, with live piano music wafting through the air, provide a sublime setting for sublime Mediterranean-French-California cuisine. It’s expensive. But if you’re going to splurge—do it right. Try the sautéed Perigord foie gras with mango chutney or roasted crispy half duck with red currant reduction, served with celery root puree and baby bok choy, and be sure to finish with Grand Marnier soufflé. It’ll make a night to remember.

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Johannes Restaurant

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate

Foodies flock to this stylish but unpretentious downtown Palm Springs restaurant for the cosmopolitan pan-Asian-Austrian cuisine of chef-owner Johannes Bacher. From a single storefront space in 1999, it’s expanded several times over, a testament to his palate-pleasing dishes like the roasted organic beets and grapefruit salad with fig dressing, goat cheese and roasted pistachios. His Thai shrimp curry is too good to be true—and if you love Wiener schnitzel, welcome to nirvana. His signature “Wiener Schnitzel Lover’s Menu” lets you choose your own sauce, including caper, lemon, parsley and butter or Calvados, apple and cream. Oh, and the wine list is spectacular.

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Sherman's Deli

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate

You’ve got to go to “Sherm’s,” as the locals call it. Everyone does—it’s almost mandatory. Matzo ball soup with a single softball-sized matzo ball, corned beef, hot pastrami, chopped liver—the food is plentiful and delicious at this airy, Formica-style café, with floor-to-ceiling windows. Sherm’s has been an institution since 1953. The staff is friendly, they’ve been there forever and they know all the regulars. Go for breakfast or lunch, that’s what the locals do, although dinner is also served. In the morning after you’ve eaten, grab a cup of coffee-to-go on your way out, compliments of the house.

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Casuelas Terraza (Las)

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate

This is one of those “must-visit” places, a Mexican restaurant in business since 1958. The food is good, with all the expected items, from tacos to carne asada (charbroiled steak) and some non-Mex choices like spinach salads and hamburgers. It’s always crowded, mostly with tourists. Try to get a table with a view of South Palm Canyon Drive, where the people-watching is great. Even better, when it’s time to drift away to Margaritaville, gravitate to the large outside Palapa Bar and rock out to a live band playing contemporary, Latin, top-40s and, of course, the occasional Jimmy Buffett tune. There’s a dance area, if the mood strikes.

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Matchbox Palm Springs

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Moderate

Good times and good pizza come together at this wood-fired pizza bistro located upstairs with views of the action-packed Mercado Plaza in the center of downtown Palm Springs. The best seats are on the outside deck over South Palm Canyon Drive, or at the always-crowded bar overlooking the Mercado Plaza. Authentic wood-fired masonry ovens produce pizzas with crunchy, smoky-flavored crusts topped with house-made meatballs, crispy bacon, crushed red pepper, zesty tomato sauce and mozzarella and more. If you don’t want pizza, the Angus beef burgers, grilled salmon and chicken dishes are great, too. And if this all sounds familiar, yes, the Matchbox Palm Springs is a sister to the Matchbox bistro in Washington, D.C.

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Matchbox Palm Springs  

Tyler's Burgers

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget

Family-owned-and-operated Tyler’s attracts hundreds of fans addicted to its thick juicy burgers and sliders made with fresh-ground meat and its house-made potato salad. The place is easy to miss. It’s a small round building in the middle of a parking lot on a downtown side street. Just look for the crowd, and be prepared to wait. There are a few stools inside, but everyone sits outside on plastic chairs under the awnings. Grab a juicy slider—a White Castle-size burger—grilled onions, sauce, pickles and cheese for around $3. Fries, cole slaw, homemade soup, chili, hot dogs, malts and sodas round out the menu. It’s great for families, but it’s cash only. It closes daily at 4PM and is closed all day Sunday.

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Fisherman’s Market & Grill

Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Budget

Tucked just far enough off the main drag to be loved by the locals and largely invisible to tourists, the Fisherman’s Market & Grill serves simple, honest, fresh fish, charbroiled, pan-fried or grilled, with all the expected fixings. You can load up on fish tacos and sandwiches, chicken, burgers and so on, for under $10. They’ve also got a value lunch for $7.95 and an early-bird dinner for $9.95. It varies daily, so ask. If you hit the patio at dinnertime, you might as well stick around for a drink next door, at Shanghai Reds Bar & Grill. It’s owned by the same guys (local fishing enthusiasts who turned their passion into their livelihood) who own Fisherman’s Market & Grill, and it’s a classic dive, where you’ll hear local bands on the weekends.

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Fisherman’s Market & Grill  

The King’s Highway Diner

Neighborhood: Twin Palms Price: Budget

Executive Chef Craig Mattox is obsessed with fresh, made-from-scratch foods, served in this former Denny’s-style-diner turned roadhouse eatery. Even the triple sec in the margaritas is concocted in-house. Half of the breakfast menu is served all day and is like nothing you’ve ever tasted. Ricotta hot cakes, poblano and cheddar grits, homemade lox and bagel (with tequila-cured salmon), even the grilled tomato served as a garnish has a fabulous rosemary flavor. The ambiance is as fresh as the food: Water is served in re-purposed wine bottles and the old-school dinner hostess belts out show tunes from her days on Broadway. The food is all over the map: North African, Mexican, steak and frites. Not all items are under $10, but the ones that are, are large enough for a memorable meal.

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