It's been three years since Goldenvoice made the decision to upgrade the food at Coachella, and after this weekend it's safe to say that the best summer music festival in the country now has some of the best food of any music festival in the country. Admittedly, many of the upgrades have happened in the VIP areas, where tickets for the weekend will run you $899. But there's enough happening out in the general-admission areas and craft beer garden to keep any food fan satisfied for three days of desert fun.
If you are headed to Coachella for weekend two (or just want to live vicariously), here are some highlights from our weekend of gluttony.
Sugarfish premiered its hand-roll concept here in 2014, and after three straight years it is dangerously close to becoming a Coachella food classic. Sushi isn't the first thing you think of eating in 100-degree heat, but there's something soothing about sidling up to the counter in the Rose Garden for a respectable maki meal. And when a slice of pizza costs $7, three hand rolls for $15 feels like an insanely good bargain.
Free Range L.A.
One of the longer food lines at the festival was for Free Range's wonderful tempura-fried chicken sandwiches, which provided ample sustenance for those braving the hot days and windy nights in Indio. Pictured above is the original chicken sandwich, which comes with Fresno chili coleslaw and honey mustard sauce on a toasted sweet bun.
KazuNori wasn't the only food stand converting concertgoers to the joy of eating raw fish in the desert this past weekend. Guerrilla Taco served up a tuna poké with seaweed salad, and Unit 120 featured a Filipino ceviche from LASA on Friday. But the most popular vendor by far was this new-school Santa Monica poké spot. Its stand in the mainstage VIP area featured a paired-down version of its popular build-your-own menu, with toppings including fried garlic, avocado and edamame.
GD Bro Burger
With its raspberry-red bun and potato chip topping, there's no denying that this over-the-top burger from Orange County was made for Instagram. But it was also the best burger we ate all weekend. The bun was perfectly squishy, and the patty was char-grilled, giving it a backyard barbecue taste that's exactly what you want while standing in a sun-drenched field. It's from the same people who own the insanely popular Afters Ice Cream (hello, hot doughnut–filled ice cream sandwich!), proving that these guys really know how to do festival food.
The Kogi truck was conspicuously absent from the mainstage VIP area this year, but Culver City's Hanjip more than made up for it with its Korean bowls. The bibimbap was a crowd-pleaser for sure, but the best was the mazeman-ish ramen bowl topped with pork belly and poached egg, served inside a Shin Ramen cup.
Though Wes Avila's photo-ready tacos seem like a natural pairing for Coachella, this was actually the first year that Guerrilla Tacos made it out to the desert. Besides the poké bowl, the other big hit at its stand was the crispy sweet potato tacos, which came three to an order, topped with almond-chili salsa, queso fresco, scallions and fresh arugula.
Noodles are a tough thing to pull off in the dessert, but Top Chef Ilan Hall managed to master them at his Ramen Hood booth in the Rose Garden. You can get the same great vegan ramen that Ramen Hood has become known for here in L.A., but its newest dish is even better suited for Coachella: cold smokey soba noodles. Don't fret if you're not headed to Indio for weekend two. Ramen Hood just started serving the dish at Grand Central Market a few weeks ago.
Starry Kitchen/Button Mash
One of the best new additions to the craft beer area at Coachella this year was Starry Kitchen, whose banana-clad mascot Nguyen Tran was handing out condoms with every order of the now-legendary fried tofu balls. But even better were the garlic noodles topped with lemongrass chicken and fried garlic (in addition to the garlic they stir-fry into the noodles). In other words, eat these noodles and you're probably not going to get to use that condom.
Halo-Halo by Isa Fabro
Those of us who have been following pastry chef Isa Fabro since she left Orsa & Winston and set up shop inside Unit 120 (Alvin Cailin's Chinatown incubator) have been treated to some pretty awesome creations over the past few months. There were her Filipino-style kouign-amann ensaymadas and a couple of different kinds of malasadas. Her latest, a Coachella exclusive, is a hybrid version of halo-halo shaved ice made with coconut milk, soft tofu, boba, ube paste and Fruity Pebbles.
The popular Koreatown beer bar was doing double duty at Coachella. While its food tent was serving festival-worthy party snacks such as fried pork belly chips with Tabasco aioli, grilled cheese and deep-fried broccoli tossed with Sriracha and basil, its rare craft beer bar was pouring some of the best beers that Coachella had ever seen, including a killer guava-passionfruit sour beer called Help Yourself, from local favorite Highland Park Brewery.
Rosaliné Pop-Up Restaurant
There's no doubt that the best cooking at Coachella goes on at the three sit-down “restaurants” in the mainstage VIP area. These pop-ups debuted last year, and it seems that word is starting to get around about how good they are. You can't go wrong with any of the three options: Pok Pok, Roy Choi's Commissary and, most exciting of all, a preview of Peruvian chef Ricardo Zarate's new concept, Rosaliné. And if you've got the money to splurge on VIP tickets, the $50 price tag for a three-course meal should be no problem.
As good as the new food options are at Coachella, it's still worth swinging back around for a few of the classics. Crab fries and corn dogs were harder to find this year but worth seeking out. And leaving Coachella without having at least one slice of Spicy Pie is as much of a crime as the $7 price tag.