Whether it’s Modernism Week, Coachella or Stagecoach Festival in Indio, to get to any of the venues, you’re more than likely going to pass through Cathedral City. And if you’re looking for something a little more toned down than the high prices and heavily trafficked hotels owned by East Coast conglomerates in Palm Springs or the mega resorts in Palm Desert, Cat City offers a diverse variety of satisfying cuisines at reasonable prices with no valets involved.
The Cahuilla Indians were the original inhabitants of Cathedral City. They lived throughout the Coachella Valley for more than 2,000. In 1876, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians established their reservation, which encompasses approximately 28 percent of Cathedral City.
In 1850, Col. Henry Washington of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discovered the area’s canyons resembled the interior of a grand cathedral. Recording history, he named this canyon of dramatic architecture Cathedral Canyon.
“Cathedral City sits between Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage and for years it was considered a ‘working man’s town,’” local realtor Carol Corcoran of Leaskou Partners tells L.A. Weekly. “With new construction and affordable housing, it has gentrified over the years. As its residents have changed so have eating habits and there are many new restaurants that are really wonderful. as well as established places that have been there for years. The city is filled with hidden gems that only locals know about, the industrial parks and strip malls house some of the best owner run and operated restaurants in the valley.”
Many of the family mom and pop spots don’t even have websites. Here are nine great joints to eat like a local if you’re passing through.
Owner and chef Daniel Villanueva’s inventive and ever-changing farm-driven menu includes seasonal dishes like grilled buffalo rib-eye, braised Texas wild boar shoulder with zaatar and date sauce, and grilled duck breast and leg confit in a spicy chocolate sauce. Villanueva, who has been a fixture in the Coachella Valley for years, combines honey-roasted cippolini onions with strawberries and goat cheese in a chili vinaigrette for his spinach salad. For starters, get the local Futterman Farm dates with Spanish goat cheese and a delicate fruit sauce. Daniel’s Table, 68-327 E. Palm Canyon, Cathedral City; danielstable.com.
One of three great restaurants in the Mission Plaza, India Oven is a multigenerational family business that has been offering authentic Indian cuisine at reasonable prices in Cathedral City for the last 12 years. Lunch specials come in at $8.49. The vegetarian option includes two vegetable curries, daal, basmati rice, naan, raita, an appetizer of your choice and a cooling rice pudding for dessert. For the same price, carnivores get a piece of chicken tandoori, meat and vegetable curry, daal, rice, raita, naan and dessert. Not to miss: palak paneer (spinach cooked with homemade cheese) and the mind-blowing spicy mushroom korma cooked with nuts in onion and tomato gravy. Wash in all down with a Taj Mahal beer. India Oven, 35875 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City; (760) 770-3918
A local favorite since 1995, the cozy Salsa’s is always packed from breakfast to dinner. Famous for a large variety of no less than 25 Mexican seafood dishes like camarones poblanos in a roasted corn sauce and green mussels with your choice of sauce, margaritas come in at $3.50 to $7. Or try the tacos Lidia, with carne asada, chorizo, whole beans and fried onions for $6 and grab an Absolut Bloody Mary for $7. Salsa’s Restaurant, 69020 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City; (760) 321-6612.
Oceans Palms Springs
Tucked in a hidden corner of a large shopping center and cloaked in bougainvilleas is the romantic Italian Oceans Palms Springs with the best shellfish in the valley. There’s a bouillabaisse with shrimp, scallops, fresh fish, clams, mussels and 8 oz. of lobster in a saffron vegetable broth and a dramatic seafood Caesar where the romaine serves as a garnish and the shellfish is center stage. And if it’s one of those hot valley days, cool off with their signature limoncello sorbet. Oceans Palms Spring, 67555 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City; oceanspalmsprings.com.
Barrel District Pizza
If you’re looking for some decent pizza and bar grub, Barrel District Pizza is also in the Mission Plaza and offers a variety of pizzas, like the Coachella with black olives, artichokes, mushrooms, onion and fresh tomatoes and avocado topped with a garlic oil drizzle. There’s also a 12” Chicago deep dish, or build it your own way from a long list of options. You can also build your own salad bowl from choices of bases like romaine, iceberg, spinach or mixed greens; proteins including salmon, meat balls , tofu, steak and chicken. Toppings range from sun-dried tomatoes and tortilla strips to dried cranberries and assorted cheeses, and there are eight different dressings to choose from. Barrel District Pizza, 35939 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City; barreldistrictpizza.com.
Spectacularly kitschy, the walls of Michael’s are covered from floor to ceiling in tacky Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley memorabilia. It’s the perfect hangover breakfast spot with plenty of booths, a breakfast counter and sassy waitresses who don’t waste any time bringing home the bacon. They’ll turn your omelet into a scramble (Texas chili and cheese is awesome) and have every egg and griddle combo you can dream of as well as a kickass eggs benedict. There’s an extensive lunch menu as well. Michael’s Cafe, 35955 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City; (760) 321-7197.
Castaneda’s Mexican Food
If you’re on the go, there are two Castaneda’s drive-thrus in Cathedral City open 24 hours. Home of their famous carne asada fries, they have a mammoth selection of combination plates, ceviche tostadas, burrito plates, tacos, tortas, rolled taquitos and more. The huevos rancheros, chilaquiles and breakfast burritos are as good as your abuela’s and you can dine in as well. Multiple locations; castanedasmexicanfood.com.
AJ’s On the Green
On the retro route, a hidden local favorite is AJ’s on the Green. It’s tucked away in the public Date Palm Country Club in Cathedral City and owned by Lee Lovitt, the late Hugh Hefner’s mother-in-law. Service is old-school attentive, and bartender Alec pours a perfect martini in the cozy clubby space with expansive views of the fairway and pond.
Dinner standards include prime rib, bourbon-glazed pork chops and seared jumbo sea scallops risotto.
Situated across from what will be the new 13-acre Agua Caliente Casino currently under construction, there’s live music seven nights a week, and if you check in on Mondays, you can catch Bill Marx, son of Harpo Marx, perform on piano and reminisce about the days when the Marx Brothers roamed and helped develop the Greater Palm Springs area. AJ’s on the Green, 36200 Date Palm Dr, Cathedral City; www.ajsonthegreen.com.
Don and Sweet Sue’s Cafe
Another everyday breakfast joint for those who live full time in the desert, Don and Sweet Sue’s offers lots of homespun favorites, like omelets and Bleecker Street scrambles in a familial environment. Plenty of buttermilk, blueberry, banana and granola cakes topped with chopped walnuts are highlights on the menu, as well as cinnamon raisin French toast. There’s lunch and dinner as well. Don and Sweet Sue’s Cafe, 68955 Ramon Rd # 1, Cathedral City; donandsweetsues.com.