Best Bagels

Panera Bread, valleywide
Yes, they have the classics like plain, whole grain, sesame and “everything” loaded with enough seeds on top to landscape the north 40 at Sunnylands. But you’re really there for the signature flavors such as asiago cheese, cinnamon swirl and raisin, French toast, jalapeno and cheddar, chocolate chip, sweet onion and poppy seed and blueberrynow available with wild blueberry cream cheese spread. Come back in season for the cranberry and walnut version. They’re all baked pre-dawn, daily. And darn if they don’t have reduced-fat plain cream cheese spreads, so there’s no excuse not to go. That’s if you don’t get waylaid by little calorie bombs like the 5200 Ramon Rd., Palm Springs, (760) 778-5150; panerabread.com.
2nd: Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, Palm Desert and Palm Springs
3rd: Manhattan in the Desert, Palm Springs

Best Bakery

Aspen Mills Bread Co., Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage
The steady stream of customers pulling the wholesome rounded loaves of daily-baked breads off the shelves attests to the popularity of this bakery situated in the terra cotta-hued, pueblo-style strip center on Sunrise and Ramon. The basic offerings include hard crust Italian, nine grain, white honey and whole wheat honey breads. Then there’s banana nut, cranberry spice, jalapeno cheddar, pumpkin raisin, spinach onion parmesan and New York Rye. Plus on Monday through Saturday, they add to the flavor options with two to four specialty breads each day. What’s notable is what’s missing: fats, oils, dairy products, processed sugars, artificial flavors, additives, eggs and preservatives. They stone grind the all-natural wheat daily, and sweeten the bread with 100-percent pure honey. Did we mention the muffins and the luscious cupcakes baked daily? Here’s a sample: The Love Potion, comprised of dark chocolate cake with a filling of raspberry compote and chocolate ganache, topped by chocolate butter cream and a perfect fresh raspberryso fresh, you must refrigerate it. 555 S. Sunrise Way, Ste. 101, Palm Springs, (760) 323-3123. You’ll also find outposts within the Rancho Mirage Library and Clark’s Nutrition, both in Rancho Mirage; aspenmillsps.com.
2nd: Juliette’s Bakery, La Quinta
3rd: Panera Bread, valleywide

Best Coffee Place

Starbucks, valleywide
With more than 17,000 stores in 55 countries, including over 12,500 in the United States at last count, Starbucks is undoubtedly familiar to you. Regardless, it’s time to acknowledge that they’re doing something right. Besides the perfectly blended brew, it’s the Starbucks culture that keeps us coming back for more: the cool, house-blended music CDs to go with the house-blended coffees like their new blonde flavor that you can order “your way.” There are about 154 hot beverage options alone, according to Starbucks’ calorie count list. The heat-and-eat breakfast and lunch items, sweet afternoon pick-me-ups, signage, mugs, packaging, on-the-go size packets–perfect to tuck in next to your iPad–all express the company’s eco-friendly, individualistic, laid-back-but-aware vibe. In La Quinta: 50-921 Washington St., (760) 777-1554; 78-271 Hwy 111, (760) 564-2001; 79-845 Hwy 111, (760) 342-2106. In Palm Desert: 73-520 El Paseo, (760) 674-1111; 74-600 Hwy 111, (760) 773-5059; 72-549 Hwy 111, (760) 341-9307. In Palm Springs: 101 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 323-7412; 425 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs, (760) 327-0809; 682 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 323-8023. In Rancho Mirage: 40-101 Monterey Ave., (760) 341-4925; 71-800 Hwy 111, (760) 776-1844. All-valley reference: starbucks.com.
2nd: Koffi, Palm Springs
3rd: Old Town Coffee Company, La Quinta

Best Frozen Yogurt

Cactusberry, Palm Springs
Now ensconced in their new home in Smoke Tree Village, the yogurt boutique continues its winning formula of keeping it fresh and keeping it simple. You’ll find four to six yogurt choices like the delectable sugar-free four berries, made with agave. There’s the heavenly cactusberry, a blend of strawberry and prickly pear. PPA is a mix of pear, peach and apricot. Of course, there’s a slightly tart but winning vanilla, as well. Summer will bring out the pineapple mango and also a pomegranate. Top any of them from a choice of six fresh fruits, three nut choices and then a few high-calorie gems like toasted coconut and M&Ms. 1775 E. Palm Canyon, Ste. 145, Palm Springs, (760) 574-3258.
2nd: Golden Spoon, Rancho Mirage
3rd: Eddie’s Frozen Yogurt, Palm Springs

Best Ice Cream

Cold Stone Creamery, valleywide

We like to have it our way, made while we’re watching, and that’s the joy of Cold Stone Creamery. First of all, there are 17 scrumptious flavors as your foundation, all with the buttery consistency of Italian gelato. Then there are 19 possible toppings to chop and blend into your custom mix over the icy-cold slab. “But, wait, there’s more!” as they say in the late-night infomercials: New are the Hot Stone concoctions. That’s fresh-blended ice cream placed on top of warmed churros, funnel cakes, chocolate cake or brownies, then covered with caramel, hot fudge or strawberry sauces, nuts. 68-718 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Ste. 101, Cathedral City, (760) 321-0158; 78-380 Hwy 111, La Quinta, (760) 771-8242; 72-840 Hwy 111, Palm Desert, (760) 837-0071; 36-957 Cook Street, Palm Desert, (760) 565-1990; 155 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Ste. B-2, Palm Springs, (760) 327-6892. All locations: coldstonecreamery.com.

2nd: Baskin-Robbins, valleywide

3rd: Ben & Jerry’s, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage

Best Barbecue

Jackalope Ranch, Indio
The barbecue here is described as “California Ranch Style.” That means low and slow. The pork ribs, chicken and brisket are all, therefore, meltingly tender. Select your barbeque sauce with discretion: the traditional is tasty, the chipotle Ancho sauce complex and smoky and the Prickly Pear, with habanero peppers, can be a challenge to the uninitiated. 80-400 Hwy 111, Indio, (760) 342-1999; restaurantsofpalmsprings.com.
2nd: Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse, Rancho Mirage
3rd: Tony Roma’s, Palm Desert

Best Burger Place

In-N-Out, Indio and Thousand Palms
When you do just one thing, you’d better be very good at it. In-N-Out only does burgers, but they’re made with high-quality beef chuck, ground and shaped into patties before being shipped fresh to stores. Each burger gets cooked to order, dressed with real American cheese, then nestled into a bun baked from a slow-rising sponge dough. There’s no microwave and no heat lamp, just wrap-both-hands-around-it and sink-your-teeth-in goodness. Wipe your chin. 72-265 Varner Rd., Thousand Palms, (800) 786-1000; 82-043 Hwy 111, Indio, (800) 786-1000; plans for a new Cathedral City location have been confirmed; inandout.com.
2nd: Tyler’s Burgers, Palm Springs
3rd: Woody’s Burgers and Beer, Palm Springs

Best Fast Food

In-N-Out, Indio and Thousand Palms
French fries come from potatoes, not a plastic freezer bag. And milkshakes start with thick, creamy real ice cream, not a food-like powder. It didn’t take long for customers to figure out that In-N-Out does it the right way and has kept it up for more than 60 years. So let’s recap: great burgers, fries and shakes, reasonable prices, spotless restaurants, friendly and helpful clerks, open late for after-party noshing.

No wonder it’s a winner. 72-265 Varner Rd., Thousand Palms, (800) 786-1000; 82-043 Hwy 111, Indio, (800) 786-1000; look for a new Cathedral City location soon; inandout.com.
2nd: Chipolte Mexican Grill, La Quinta and Palm Springs
3rd: Fisherman’s Market & Grill, valleywide

Best Fish Taco

Fisherman’s Market & Grill, valleywide
Sure, other places try to compete with their fancy sauces and impressive cabbage chopping skills, but they miss the most important point: You must start with the most delicious, flaky and perfect fish to ever jump into a boat, screaming “Take me to Fisherman’s Market!” all the way. (You didn’t know we spoke cod, did you?) The fresh corn tortilla and special white sauce doesn’t hurt, either. 78-575 Hwy 111, Ste. 100, La Quinta, (760) 777-1601; 44-250 Town Center Way, Ste. C-2, Palm Desert, (760) 776-6533; 235 S. Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 327-1766; fishermans.com.
2nd: Rubio’s Mexican Grill, valleywide
3rd: Shanghai Red’s, La Quinta and Palm Springs

Best Hot Dogs

Costco, La Quinta and Palm Desert
We’d like to have one of those roller/roasters at home, so we could turn out fresh and tasty hot dogs whenever the craving hits. But then, we’d still probably be at Costco every week for the best deal in town, a hot dog and a drink for $1.50. And maybe a 95-roll pack of paper towels. 72-800 Dinah Shore Dr., Palm Desert, (760) 770-2810; 79-795 Hwy 111, La Quinta, (760) 775-0370; costco.com.
2nd: Tyler’s Burgers, Palm Springs
3rd: Wienerschnitzel, valleywide

Best Pizza

Stuft Pizza Bar & Grill, La Quinta
It has been said that any pizza is good pizza, but one look at the menu at Stuft and you’ll never want to choke down a slice of plain old cheese again. This is the mother lode of gourmet pies, where toppings include blackened chicken, sauteed zucchini, smoked bacon, gouda cheese, caramelized onions, apples and even shrimp scampi. New this year is the Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) which features prosciutto, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and black olives, along with signature sauce, mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil. 78-015 Main St., Ste. 100, La Quinta, (760) 777-9989; stuftpizzalaquinta.com.
2nd: Bill’s Pizza, Palm Springs
3rd: California Pizza Kitchen, Palm Desert

Best Sandwich

Sherman’s Deli and Bakery, Palm Desert and Palm Springs
It’s a little touch of New York, with overstuffed sandwiches, amazing pastries and all the restexcept that the counter people don’t yell at you when you can’t make up your mind between the pastrami or the roast beef, or when you ask for the sauce on the side and maybe an extra pickle. You’ll find all the usual hot and cold suspects on the sandwich board at this kosher-style family restaurant, along with brisket, tongue, liverwurst and other faves, served on fresh deli rye bread. 73-161 Country Club Dr., Palm Desert, (760) 568-1350; 401 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, (760) 325-1199; shermansdeli.com.
2nd: Manhattan in the Desert, Palm Springs
3rd: Aspen Mills Bread Co., Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage

Best Chinese Restaurant

PF Chang’s China Bistro, Rancho Mirage
This huge American-Chinese chain is popular for a reason: it serves reliable, consistent and tasty dishes in a boisterous, upbeat atmosphere while offering a huge array of selections. It has an excellent vegetarian section, with good vegan items. It offers a gluten-free menu. It also keeps the prices affordable (check out the four-course menu for two). The Rancho Mirage location is a popular site for parties and for casual drop-ins. The River, 71-800 Hwy 111, Rancho Mirage, (760) 776-4912; pfchangs.com.
2nd: City Wok, Palm Desert
3rd: Wang’s in the Desert, Palm Springs

Best French Restaurant

Le Vallauris, Palm Springs
This is the classic Palm Springs French restaurant, with a lovely patio, an elegant interior and a menu that offers classic French dishes prepared with flair and finesse. Chef Jean-Paul Lair has subtly lightened traditional items without losing their timeless appeal. His foie gras appetizers are superlative. 385 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, (760) 325-5059, levallauris.com.
2nd: Cuistot, Palm Desert
3rd: La Brasserie Bistro and Bar, La Quinta

Best Italian Restaurant

Le Donne Cucina Italiana, Palm Desert
This charming Italian bistro may be tucked away in the corner of a shopping mall, but its many loyal customers know where to find it. They love the heaping plates of homemade pastas and the carefully cooked risotti (the seafood risotto is a special favorite). Also, the veal dishes are a specialty of the house. 72-624 El Paseo, C-7, Palm Desert, (760) 773-9441.
2nd: Mario’s Italian Restaurant & Cafe, valleywide
3rd: Castelli’s, Palm Desert

Best Japanese Restaurant

Okura Robata Grill and Sushi Bar, La Quinta
Okura’s elegant fusion and grilled dishes have always been among Okura Robata’s strongest features. Start with a Serrano Hamachi carpaccio then progress to the chef’s specialty, Toban Yaki, a ribeye with asparagus and mushrooms cooked in sake, soy and yuzu juice. It’s outstanding. Happy Point Plaza, 78-370 Hwy 111, La Quinta, (760) 564-5820; okurasushi.com.
2nd: Kobe Japanese Steak House, Rancho Mirage
3rd: Hibachi Japanese Steakhouse, Rancho Mirage

Best Mexican Restaurant

El Mirasol Regional Cuisines of Mexico, Palm Springs
Owner Felipe Castaneda covers a wide range of Mexican regional options, from the delicious traditional chicharron (marvelously fatty and crisp) to super-healthy vegetarian dishes bursting with flavor. If they’re in season, order his crab enchiladas and also be sure to try his pollo en mole poblano or anything in his pipian sauce. 140 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 323-0721; 784 N. Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 459-3136.
2nd: El Gallito Restaurant, Cathedral City
3rd: Las Casuelas Terraza, Palm Springs

Best Sushi

Okura Robata Grill and Sushi Bar, La Quinta
The simple sushi and sashimi here are lovely, while the specialty rolls are inventive and palate pleasing. “The Dragon” combines barbequed eel with cucumber over tempura shrimp for great texture and taste. And who could resist the “Marilyn Monroe” of shrimp, avocado and cucumber with crab, scallop and sweet sauce? Happy Point Plaza, 78-370 Hwy 111, La Quinta, (760) 564-5820; okurasushi.com.
2nd: The Venue Sushi Bar & Sake Lounge, Palm Desert
3rd: Sam’s Sushi, La Quinta and Rancho Mirage

Best Thai Restaurant

Thai Smile of Rancho Mirage
This small and always busy Thai bistro delights customers with the friendliness of its service, no matter how big the crowd. Patrons also love the crispy beef salad, the signature papaya salad, the curries and the spicy eggplant. 42-476 Bob Hope Dr., Rancho Mirage, (760) 341-6565, thaismilerm.com.
2nd: Thai Smile, Palm Springs
3rd: Bangkok Five Thai Cuisine, Rancho Mirage

Best Continental Dining

Spencer’s Restaurant, Palm Springs
Pick your continent, Spencer’s can supply it. The Chinese-style Kung Pao calamari and the fried coconut-coated shrimp with Hawaiian pineapple give you extreme east and west. The veal chop Milanese and the dijon-coated lamb chop offer Europe. The Moroccan chicken with figs is middle eastern and the Long Island breast of duck is all-American. All are first rate. Culinary globe-trotters can rejoice. 701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs; (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com.
2nd: Kaiser Grille, Palm Springs
3rd: Trio Restaurant, Palm Springs

Best Seafood

Fisherman’s Market & Grill, valleywide
In season there are lines outside these popular restaurants. The eager clientele know that the fish has been brought from the San Pedro docks and the catch of the day is really that day’s harvest. The fish is simply prepared, either charbroiled or grilled, with coleslaw and rice or chips. There’s no doubt about what you will get when you order. Or you can buy what you see at the front counter and prepare it yourself at home. 235 S. Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 327-1766; 44-250 Town Center Way, #C2, Palm Desert, (760) 776-6533; 78-575 Hwy 111, #100, La Quinta, (760) 777-1601; fishermansmarketandgrill.com.
2nd: Pacifica Seafood Restaurant, Palm Desert
3rd: Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, Rancho Mirage

Best Steakhouse

Chophouse, Palm Springs and Palm Desert
The menus at the two Chophouses differ very slightly but the basics remain the same- excellent meat carefully butchered and prepared. The steak-loving Morcus family very properly refuses to be responsible for any steak that has been ordered medium well or well done. If you don’t want steak, there are plenty of other good options, but the meat is the prime story here. 262 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 320-4500; 74-040 Hwy 111, Palm Desert, (760) 779-9888; restaurantsofpalmsprings.com.
2nd: Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Palm Desert
3rd: LG’s Prime Steakhouse, La Quinta

Best Vegetarian Dining

Native Foods, Palm Springs
Creator and co-owner Tanya Petrovna began her burgeoning empire of vegetarian restaurants in a small Palm Springs shopping mall, making her own tempeh, tofu and seitan and giving customers creative and healthy versions of fast food favorites. Now she has Native Foods places not only throughout Southern California, but in Chicago and Boulder, with more to come. Meanwhile, that Palm Springs original is being renovated for a grand reopening in the spring. Smoke Tree Village, 1775 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 416-0070; nativefoods.com.
2nd: Thai Smile, Rancho Mirage
3rd: Luscious Lorraine’s, Palm Desert

Best Brunch

Spencer’s Restaurant, Palm Springs Weekend brunch has belonged to Spencer’s for years now and every Saturday and Sunday morning is a party. The atmosphere is unmatchable and the eggs Benedict are among the best anywhere. When soft shell crab is in season, the combination of impeccably poached egg and simply but exquisitely cooked crab should be on a list of things that must be tasted. 701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs, (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com. 2nd: Acqua Pazza California Bistro, Rancho Mirage 3rd: Escena Grill, Palm Springs

Best Dinner Deal

Acqua Pazza California Bistro, Rancho Mirage
Certainly the special three-course dinner for $19.99 can’t be beaten, but if you only want one or two courses you’ll still get a deal because the portions are large and the prices reasonable. The quinoa stuffed acorn squash appetizer is a meal, tastes good and brings healthy into the bargain. Try either the chicken or lobster pot pies to feel thriftily spoiled. The River, 71-800 Hwy 111, #A167, Rancho Mirage, (760) 862-9800; acquapazzabistro.com.
2nd: Hog’s Breath Inn, La Quinta
3rd: Lulu California Bistro, Palm Springs

Best Family Dining

Jackalope Ranch, Indio
Parents, grandparents and children all can enjoy themselves at this busy, sprawling, half-indoor, half-outdoor spread. Just be aware of the three grades of heat in the barbecue sauces and don’t let the kids mix them up. There are family-style sides that serve mac n’ cheese or sweet potato fries? 80-400 Hwy 111, Indio, (760) 342-1999; Posted in Dining 2012, Dining By Type 2012

Best Outdoor Dining

Spencer’s Restaurant, Palm Springs
The beautiful patio is the heart of this elegant place and it’s gorgeous at any time of the day or evening. The plonk of the nearby tennis balls and the splash from the pool at the adjacent Palm Springs Tennis Club compounds the soothing pleasure of the excellent menu. This is the embodiment of how Palm Springs is meant to be a desert oasis. 701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs, (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com.
2nd: Jackalope Ranch, Indio
3rd: Acqua Pazza California Bistro, Rancho Mirage

Best Romantic Dinner

Spencer’s, Palm Springs
The changing light in this beautiful restaurant could make the susceptible fall in love even if they’re not already. The sun goes down behind the sheltering San Jacinto Mountains, the chandeliers light up among the trees, the fire pits begin to blaze and the pianist plays your favorite tune. Share a plate of hot appetizers, try the best lobster dishes in town and give in to the mood. 701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs, (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com.
2nd: Chop House, Palm Desert and Palm Springs
3rd: Trio Restaurant, Palm Springs