Best New Restaurant 2013

1st: CATALAN RESTAURANT
Maybe it’s because Chef Drew Davis changes his Mediterranean farm-to-table menus with the seasons, always beginning his creations when the component flavors are at their absolute peak. But also, Davis, who co-owns Catalan with his father, Mark, has honed his culinary skills while serving a very demanding following. Years as a private chef for Steven Spielberg, Jay-Z, Billy Joel and Beyoncé were followed by his eight-year stint culminating in the position of executive sous-chef

at one of East Hampton’s hottest dining spots, Nick & Tom’s café.
70-026 Hwy 111, Rancho Mirage; (760) 770-9508; catalanrestaurant.com

2nd: AJ’S ON THE GREEN, CATHEDRAL CITY
3rd: DISH CREATIVE CUISINE, CATHEDRAL CITY

Best Breakfast 2013

1st: SPENCER’S RESTAURANT It’s tough to find a really good breakfast. Spencer’s and a handful of others are the exceptions. You can have bacon and eggs if you really want to, but you can do that at home. This is a special occasion, not because Spencer’s is outrageously expensive – it is not – but because any meal at Spencer’s is special. Try making a crab cake Benedict at home. How is your Hollandaise? How about a lobster Benedict, or eggs Florentine? Or, build your own omelette: goat cheese, mushrooms, and fresh herbs? Special? You bet. 701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs; (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com 2nd: CHEEKY’S, PALM SPRINGS 3rd: KEEDY’S CAFÉ, PALM DESERT

Best Brunch 2013

1st: SPENCER’S RESTAURANT
You can have it all at Sunday brunch here. Brunch culls the best and most popular dishes from all of its menus to sate the unsuspecting diner. Pick an appetizer of Nantucket Sea Scallops with a potato leak confit and Nolly Prat cream, move up to wild mushroom ravioli and finish with a slice of banana cream pie. Can you still be hungry?
701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs; (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com

2nd: ACQUA PAZZA CALIFORNIA BISTRO, RANCHO MIRAGE
3rd: LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO, PALM SPRINGS

Best Romantic Dinner 2013

1st: SPENCER’S RESTAURANT
With the breath of a gentle breeze wafting through the patio’s trees, and the mist of
its cooling system dancing through the evening air, Spencer’s actually comes close to defining romantic. Add to this the strains of the great American songbook lightly touching the ear courtesy of any of three pianists, and you are truly approaching that most elusive of all emotions. With a feast of colors, including black and yellow against an azure sky, and the restaurant’s magical repose, your romantic nirvana is achieved. Who cares what you eat?
701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs; (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com

2nd: LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO, PALM SPRINGS
3rd: ACQUA PAZZA CALIFORNIA BISTRO, RANCHO MIRAGE

Best Outdoor Dining 2013

1st: SPENCER’S RESTAURANT
Technically the work that has gone into this patio is astonishing. Heating is easy: some propane and a spark do the trick, but cooling the outside during the summer is not only difficult, it would seem to be impossible. Spencer’s has the only even-modestly effective outdoor air conditioning. There is an unobtrusive evaporative cooling duct encircling the patio. This, plus the misters, can reduce the temperature by as much as 19 degrees. This patio, with its internal use of trees, is reminiscent of the patio at Le Vallauris, which predates it by some 30 years. What has happened here, however, is a peculiar feeling of repose. Whether this comes from a deliberate attempt to incorporate the principles of feng shui, Japanese Minimalist architectural techniques, or is simply a happy coincidence, the fact is, the patio is a wonderful place to simply be.
701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs; (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com

2nd: JACKALOPE RANCH, INDIO
3rd: ACQUA PAZZA CALIFORNIA BISTRO, RANCHO MIRAGE

Best Place to Dine with Children 2013

1st: RED ROBIN
The stamp of children is all over Red Robin: the arcade, the posters and décor. The mezzanine area with its bar is separate from the rest of the restaurant, allowing adults who wish to dine in a more segregated environment to do so. The rest of the restaurant, however, is abuzz with kids of all ages. The waiters sing “Happy Birthday” (presumably on your birthday, but one never knows), and dispense balloons.

The kid’s menu is generic, but that is not the reason for this award. Children are handed a “deliciously different” gaming sheet with their menu. An origami, a surreal coloring of your burger and fries and a recipe for the “Rookie Magic Shake” are on it. Crayons provided.
La Quinta: 78-722 Hwy 111; (760) 777-1111. Rancho Mirage: 72-797 Dinah Shore Dr.; (760) 324-8310; redrobin.com

2nd: RUBY’S DINER, PALM SPRINGS
3rd: STUFT PIZZA BAR & GRILL, LA QUINTA

Best Late-Night Dining 2013

1st: LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO
Sunday through Thursday until 10 p.m., weekends till midnight. For those relatively new to the valley, this location used to house a flashy nightclub. Lulu retains the look and feel of a nightclub with its multi-tiered architecture. The various mezzanines call to mind theater seating. The sense of a party is always present, so it is only natural that late-night dining would become a significant part of the ambiance. Besides, you can have the $19.99 three-course special the whole day into night.
200 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs; (760) 327-5858; lulupalmsprings.com

2nd: ACQUA PAZZA CALIFORNIA BISTRO, RANCHO MIRAGE
3rd: YARD HOUSE, RANCHO MIRAGE

Best Dinner Deal 2013

1st: LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO
There are many establishments offering a three-course, early dinner special, but only one of them sets the customer back a whopping $15.99, and that is LULU’s. Not only that, the three-course special is available any other time after 11 a.m. for $19.99 – not just in the 3–6 p.m. early bird time slot.

So what choices do you get for your hard-earned 16 bucks? There are five appetizers, 12 entrees, and four desserts to choose from. We’d get the wild mushroom soup, the lobster ravioli, and the flourless triple chocolate cake. Delish! On second thought, you could always select the vichyssoise, pork chop, and…?
200 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs; (760) 327-5858; lulupalmsprings.com

2nd: ACQUA PAZZA CALIFORNIA BISTRO, RANCHO MIRAGE
3rd: HOG’S BREATH INN, LA QUINTA

Best Barbecue Place 2013

1st: BABE’S BAR-B-QUE & BREWHOUSE
Look for the pink myoglobin ring just beneath the surface, caused by smoke – in this case 18 hours of 250-degree hickory smoke. This is the real thing. Babe’s has a large inclusive menu with all manner of smoked and grilled meats, from salmon and chicken to tri tip, steaks and pork chops. But it is the St. Louis Style spare ribs that define what barbecue is all about. Western style sauce–sweet, tomato-based and not too spicy–slathered on these luscious ribs will satisfy the soul of any smoke fancier. With the usual, although better than the norm, sides of corn bread, sweet potato fries, beans and coleslaw, Babe’s manages to provide the full range of a barbecue experience. And, of course, order one of their home-brewed beers. Vegetarian? Try the corn bread, sweet potato fries and the 25-ounce Blackfin brew.
71-800 Hwy 111, at The River, Rancho Mirage; (760) 346-8738; babesbbque.com
2nd: JACKALOPE RANCH, INDIO
3rd: BIG MAMA’S SOUL FOOD, CATHEDRAL CITY

Best Steak House 2013

1st: CHOP HOUSE
With meat as the starring attraction at Chop House’s two restaurants, the focus on quality, in-house butchered, all-natural premium Angus beef is a winning strategy. These USDA Prime aged steaks and chops, some with bone-in options, are carefully grilled to permit the full flowering of flavors and tenderness when your steak knife cuts easily into the red-pink first bite. The menu actually states “The Chop House Does Not Recommend & Is Not Responsible for Steaks Ordered Medium Well or Well Done.”

Other entrée options include fish and shellfish, lamb and chicken, all accompanied by a seasonal pick of California’s vegetables. The wine cellar offers some 3,500 choices for the ideal pairings to enhance your menu choices.
Palm Desert: 74-040 Hwy 111 at Portola; (760) 779-9888. Palm Springs: 262 S. Palm Canyon Dr.; (760) 320-4500; restaurantsofpalmsprings.com/chophouse.php

2nd: RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE, PALM DESERT
3rd: LG’S PRIME STEAKHOUSE, PALM SPRINGS

Best Vegetarian Dining 2013

1st: NATIVE FOODS CAFE Since its founding in Palm Springs by Tanya Petrovna nine years ago, Native Foods Café has grown to be “America’s premier fast-casual vegan restaurant group” as noted in a recent Desert Sun article. The success is based on Petrovna’s delicious recipes that quickly disassociate the ideas of bland and texture-less food from the word vegetarian. Among her culinary triumphs were the discovery of the protein-laden possibilities of Indonesia’s tempeh and seitan and also the café’s Native Chicken, craftily comprised of wheat, soy and pea protein. Notable are Native Sausage seitan meatballs in marinara sauce with caramelized onions, roasted sweet peppers, pumpkin seed pesto with ranch dressing and Native Parmesan on a grilled baguette. 1775 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs; (760) 416-0070; nativefoods.com 2nd: THAI SMILE, PALM SPRINGS AND RANCHO MIRAGE 3rd: PHO VU, LA QUINTA

Best Gluten-Free Restaurant 2013

1st: SPENCER’S RESTAURANT
As anyone who suffers from gluten sensitivity or even the autoimmune disorder of celiac disease, the wrong or even cross-contaminated food choices can wreak havoc on the system. Wheat, barley, rye, and certain other grains, as well as malt, are the culprits. That leaves fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and some dairy products, as well as rice and potatoes, corn, tapioca, beans, and things that we rarely eat like sorghum, quinoa, millet, pure buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff, Montina and nut flours as options. Chef Eric Wadlund notes that many items on the menu are already gluten free, but with nearly everything made to order, he says, diners also can request a dish they desire to be made gluten-free.
701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs; (760) 327-3446; spencersrestaurant.com

2nd: ACQUA PAZZA CALIFORNIA BISTRO, RANCHO MIRAGE
3rd: LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO, PALM SPRINGS

Best Seafood Restaurant 2013

1st: FISHERMAN’S MARKET & GRILL
Fresh fish begins to deteriorate as soon as it is pulled from the water. Getting a variety of fresh fish to the desert every day and putting in on the table within hours is not an easy task, but Fisherman’s has succeeded where many have failed.

Fish? They’ve got a lot of it and almost all of it is fresh (or still alive): mahi mahi, salmon, sand dabs, ahi, albacore, sea bass, halibut, sole, trout, catfish, tilapia, roughy, swordfish, mussels, clams, crab, shrimp, lobster, oysters… You get the idea. They do it in tacos, deep fried, grilled, wraps, sandwiches, salads, soups and pastas. Try the Cioppino.
Palm Springs: 235 S. Indian Canyon Dr.; (760) 327-1766. Palm Desert: 44-250 Town Center Way, C2; (760) 776-6533. La Quinta: 78-575 Hwy 111; (760) 777-1601;
fishermans.com

2nd: PACIFICA SEAFOOD RESTAURANT, PALM DESERT
3rd: ROY’S HAWAIIAN FUSION CUISINE, RANCHO MIRAGE

Best Chinese Restaurant 2013

1st: CITY WOK Since its founding in 1990 in the Los Angeles area, City Wok has emphasized freshness in their meats, seafood and produce, with their professional chefs making each dish to order in their exhibition kitchens. Sauces are homemade and free of MSG. Can’t make up your mind? Go for a selection of half orders, perfect for sampling and sharing. 74-970 Country Club Dr., Palm Desert; (760) 341-1511; citywok.com 2nd: PF CHANG’S CHINA BISTRO, RANCHO MIRAGE 3rd: WANG’S IN THE DESERT, PALM SPRINGS

Best Thai Restaurant 2013

1st: TIE: THAI SMILE
That’s right, two winners. So whether you live in Palm Springs or hang out near Rancho Mirage’s The River, great Thai food is just around the corner.

Thai flavors are unique in the world. There’s lemon grass, galangal or Thai ginger, Thai basil, prik-khing that’s actually a chili paste and peanuts. Cuisine-wise Thailand is right up there with the world’s greats. It is grounded in its unique stocks–spicy hot and sweet. Curries, unlike anything you’ve experienced from India, are based on coconut milk.
For a special treat try the Duck-Shoo-Shee, which is roasted, sliced duck breast in curry sauce with bell peppers, baby corn, carrots, pineapple, tomatoes, basil and snow peas.

Although they have different ownership, both restaurants’ menus are the same.
Palm Springs: 651 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; (760) 320-5503; thaismilepalmsprings.com. Rancho Mirage: 42-476 Bob Hope Dr., across from The River; (760) 341-6565; thaismilerm.com

2nd: LEGACY THAI CUISINE, LA QUINTA
3rd: BLUE ORCHID THAI BISTRO, PALM DESERT

Best Italian Restaurant 2013

1st: LE DONNE CUCINA ITALIANA
This is the quintessence of the local Italian trattoria. It is everything one could possibly ask for in an unpretentious and charming little Italian refuge. Le Donne represents the Italian version of home cooking, cucina or casalinga. Pastas like the tortellini alla panna or the linguine Salsicce Arrabblata and also the risotto, like their risotto Putanesca, are basic to this kind of establishment. The Zuppa Livornese is a marvelously flavorful soup of mussels, clams, calamari and shrimp that’s served in either red or white sauce. It’s a bit complicated to find if you are not intimately familiar with the Palms to Pines Shopping Center, but it is across the parking lot and to the west of Vons.
72-624 El Paseo, C7, Palm Desert; (760) 773-9441; ledonnecucina.com

2nd: MAMA GINA, PALM DESERT
3rd: MARIO’S ITALIAN RESTAURANT & CAFÉ, BERMUDA DUNES, INDIO AND PALM DESERT

Best Japanese/Sushi Restaurant 2013

1st: OKURA ROBATA GRILL
Yoshi Kojima was Okura’s first chef back in 2005. Yoshi Kojima was a genius. He left in 2006, but his creations set the tone for everything to come.

The Hamachi Carpaccio, with or without the addition of a Serrano chili, is a marvel. The Robata grilled, sake-marinated spareribs will change your barbecue expectations forever. You may think of it as the new normal. How about the Chilean sea bass “served in a soy ginger butter sauce on a bed of steamed bok choy, garnished with lemon grass and ginger with mussels and scallops.” The chef’s special is a 10 oz. prime rib eye “with shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, asparagus and tomatoes cooked with sake, soy and yuzu juice in the Toban and brought to your table with the lid closed to finish cooking. Open the lid and share with your family and friends.” This may well become your new normal steak, too.
78-370 Hwy 111, #150, at Point Happy Plaza, La Quinta; (760) 564-5820; okurasushi.com

2nd: KOBE JAPANESE STEAK HOUSE, RANCHO MIRAGE
3rd: THE VENUE SUSHI & SAKE LOUNGE, PALM DESERT

Best French Restaurant 2013

1st: LE VALLAURIS
Jean Paul Lair. Say it as many times as you need to lock it into your memory. He is the chef and he has been with Le Vallauris since 1986. This is unheard of in dining circles. The “Frenchness” has been somewhat tempered over the years by local California ingredients and fusion techniques (think sashimi-grade tuna and avocado with spicy soy), but its heart and soul remains in France.

So we are talking about: duck rillettes, duck liver mousse, wild boar paté, classic escargot, sweetbreads with lemon and capers, milk-fed veal with chardonnay-tomato-sage reduction, and rack of lamb with a Moroccan twist (cumin and harissa). In addition, Lair presents an extensive chalkboard of nightly specials.

You want frou-frou or faux? Go elsewhere. You want the real thing? You have landed.
385 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; (760) 325-5059; levallauris.com

2nd: PALMIE FRENCH RESTAURANT, PALM DESERT
3rd: LA BRASSERIE BISTRO & BAR, LA QUINTA

Best Continental Restaurant 2013

SPENCER’S RESTAURANT
Whether it is classified as “Continental” or “California Fusion,” Spencer’s provides its diners with some of the best food the valley has to offer: rare duck breast with blueberry port wine reduction, Milanese center cut veal chop, crisp skin Whitefish and Moroccan double breast of free-range chicken with quinoa and fig salad. Or, travel back to 2003 and order the USDA Prime 20-ounce, bone-in rib-eye. It may not be haute cuisine, but it sure is good. 701 W. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs; (760) 327-3446;

spencersrestaurant.com

2nd: LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO, PALM SPRINGS
3rd: TRIO RESTAURANT, PALM SPRINGS

Best Burger 2013

1st: FRICKLEBURGERS
So what on earth is a Frickleburger? Enough voters from all around the Coachella Valley have discovered this little hole in the wall to blow away a dozen venerable establishments. Burgers come with six cheese possibilities and 44 possible condiments. Among their 10 house creations, the Mother Frickle, the Happy Hubby (spicy) and the Big Kenny (German) rank as the most popular. The Big Nasty is one of the more original creations. To quote the menu: “this one is served bun-less. It is your choice of two Frickleburgers, two Brats, or two Frankfurters topped over a bed of fries and rings. We then smother it with chili and cheese. We suggest it with a friend. $10.99.”
68-375 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Cathedral City; (760) 565-7085;
frickleburgers.com

2nd: IN-N-OUT, INDIO AND THOUSAND PALMS
3rd: GRILL-A-BURGER, PALM DESERT

Best Pizza 2013

1st: STUFT PIZZA BAR & GRILL The array of delicious options are dazzling. Two new choices include the Indian curry and ground lamb pizza as well as a gluten free, thin crust pizza with your choice of toppings. Unlike others in this 37-year-old franchise chain here in California and Oregon, the La Quinta outpost not only offers a more comprehensive menu, but also a full bar, table service, a wine list and HD TV for sports fans. 78-015 Main St., #100, La Quinta; (760) 777-9989; stuftpizzalaquinta.com 2nd: BILL’S PIZZA, PALM SPRINGS 3rd: LULU CALIFORNIA BISTRO, PALM SPRINGS

Best Hot Dog 2013

1st: COSTCO
R U kidding me? A Big Box Store? The voters have a knack for finding the best, whether it’s fine dining like Spencer’s or Le Vallauris, or even a hole-in-the wall burger joint, i.e., Frickleburgers. Ya gotta love the voters.

So how is this dog? Pretty darn good, and cheap too! A buck and a half will get you a quarter-pound Kirkland all-beef dog, or Polish sausage and a refillable 20-oz. soda. Condiments? Freshly chopped onions, mustard, deli mustard, catsup and relish. A buck and a half? Go for it!
La Quinta: 79-795 Hwy 111; (760) 775-3070. Palm Desert: 72-800 Dinah Shore Dr.; (760) 318-4291; costco.com

2nd: TYLER’S BURGERS, PALM SPRINGS
3rd: WIENERSCHNITZEL, BERMUDA DUNES, CATHEDRAL CITY AND INDIO

Biggest Sandwich 2013

1st: SHERMAN’S DELI AND BAKERY Ginormous! Not only that, there are 43 different ones to choose from, ranging from a simple fried egg or grilled cheese to monster combos like the #17 Special, comprised of one-half and one-half pastrami. While three halves do not make a whole, at Sherman’s, ordinary math rules do not apply. These meals-for-two creations come with sides as well: French fries, baked beans, cottage fried, potato salad, or coleslaw. Deli rye bread is typical, but you can request anything you like. The default choice is the New York-style hot pastrami on rye bread with mustard and a side of potato salad. Palm Desert: 73-161 Country Club Dr.; (760) 568-1581. Palm Springs: 401 E Tahquitz Canyon Way; (760) 325-1199; ShermansDeli.com 2nd: MANHATTAN IN THE DESERT, PALM SPRINGS 3rd: JACKALOPE RANCH, INDIO

Best Cupcake 2013

1st: OVER THE RAINBOW CUPCAKES & DESSERTS
Of course you can walk in and buy whatever strikes your fancy, but you also can customize an order, choosing from a variety of colorful wrappers, frosting and stick-in decorations. Further, Over the Rainbow offers their unique cupcake bouquet, comprised of six standard-size cupcakes in up to two flavors atop a keepsake stand. Valley-wide delivery is available. Incidentally, the bakery took first place in last November’s Fantasy Springs Cupcake Challenge.
1775 E. Palm Canyon Rd., Ste. 150, in Smoke Tree Village, Palm Springs; (760) 322-2253; romanblas.com

2nd: TIFFANY’S SWEET SPOT, LA QUINTA
3rd: ASPEN MILLS BAKERY & BREAD COMPANY, PALM SPRINGS

Best Fast Food 2013

1st: IN-N-OUT
Everybody knows they are the best, but why? In-N-Out sparkles and the food is fresh-made to order. ’Nuff said.
Indio: 82-043 Hwy 111; and Thousand Palms: 72-265 Varner Rd.; (800) 786-1000;
inandout.com

2nd: CHIPOLTE MEXICAN GRILL, LA QUINTA, PALM DESERT AND PALM SPRINGS
3rd: FIVE GUYS BURGERS AND FRIES, LA QUINTA AND RANCHO MIRAGE

Best Place to Caffeinate 2013

1st: STARBUCKS
Since 1971, Starbucks has served exceptional coffee, growing to more than 17,000 stores in 55 countries. The company proudly claims to be “the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world.” The array of coffee concoctions is dizzying, running into well over 100 for hot beverages alone. And you’ll find plenty of fresh-made, wrapped items for breakfast, lunch or snacks, as well as irresistible baked goods. Settle back into one of their comfy brown leather chairs and enjoy your break on the premises, or steer up to the drive-thru window and zip off with your treat.
Multiple outlets in Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage

2nd: KOFFI, PALM SPRINGS
3rd: ESPRESSO CIELO, PALM SPRINGS

Best Bakery 2013

1st: OVER THE RAINBOW CUPCAKES & DESSERTS
The winning combination in any kitchen is talent, taste, top-tier ingredients and freshness?all present in the creations of OTR’s chef-owner Roman Blas, who opened his bakery after serving as pastry chef at Indian Ridge Country Club. Focusing only on desserts, cupcakes and cakes, the bakery makes everything daily from scratch, providing tasty creations for birthdays, weddings, commitment ceremonies, showers, Quinceañeras and other celebrations. Happily for those with dietary restrictions – other than caloric – the bakery offers gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and vegan choices, as well. 1775
E. Palm Canyon Rd., Ste. 150, in Smoke Tree Village, Palm Springs; (760) 322-2253; romanblas.com

2nd: PANERA BREAD, PALM DESERT AND PALM SPRINGS
3rd: ASPEN MILLS BAKERY & BREAD COMPANY, PALM SPRINGS

Best Frozen Treats 2013

1st: CACTUSBERRY
Cactusberry starts with quality yogurt from Honey Hill Farms, perhaps the finest and most expensive domestic yogurt available. Next, their menu is limited to only four yogurt flavors at any given time, rotating from among chocolate, PPA (pear, peach, apricot), Cactusberry (prickly pear and strawberry), four berries and pom for pomegranate. Plain vanilla is used with a number of other seasonal fruits.

Toppings are likewise limited to provide consistent quality: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, kiwi and mango are typical. A limited number of sweets like M&M’s, chocolate chips and crushed Oreo cookies are there to satisfy the sweet tooth.
1775 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Ste.145, Palm Springs; (760) 574-3258; cactusberryps.com

2nd: JUICE IT UP, RANCHO MIRAGE
3rd: COLD STONE CREAMERY, CATHEDRAL CITY, LA QUINTA, PALM DESERT (TWO) AND PALM SPRINGS