ON THE WAY IN
Sherman’s Deli & Bakery
The ride to Palm Springs from the heart of Orange County takes an hour and a half. On the way there, you will build up an appetite, especially if you are leaving in the morning and getting there around noon. For those of you who agree that a proper sandwich consists of a generous ratio of meat to bread, stop at Sherman’s. A family-run business that’s been around since the 1950s, the deli is known for its pastrami sandwiches, which is what you will be ordering.
If it’s your first time there, ask for the Beef n’ Latkas. You will have the choice of pastrami or corned beef, but you’ll want the former. The pastrami is steamed for hours until it’s transformed into sliced layers of soft meat, smoky fat and those coveted charred bits. Th meat gets piled between two potato pancakes traditionally served during Hanukkah. Sherman’s latkas are thicker than most, grilled then fried in vegetable oil until the grated potato shreds crisp up, yet they maintain a fall-apart center. To cut through the savory layers of potato and meat, the sandwich comes accompanied by a side of plain sour cream and applesauce. The applesauce is delicately sweet and cool, a welcoming counterpart to that hulk of meat. It also doesn’t hurt to smear a bite of the pastrami and latkas with the sweet, hot mustard found on the table.
When you’ve gulped down the last bite, the waitress will come around and ask if you have room for dessert. You probably won’t, but I suggest you order a healthy slice of the strawberry shortcake anyway. 401 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, (760) 325-1199; shermansdeli.com.
The place feels a bit like stepping into Rocko’s Modern Life. Great Shakes is small, with a black-and-white patterned floor under a ceiling of jutting layers of neon pink, yellow, blue and purple. On one side of the shop, blue pendant lights hang above tiny black tables squished between retro vinyl chairs.
Every shake here starts with a vanilla-ice-cream base, and from there, it’s a matter of how you like it. The logo claims, “Happiness Guaranteed,” but having never sent a shake back, I couldn’t tell you what that entails exactly. While the menu has about 30 different flavors to choose from, you can also mix s’mores with strawberry butterscotch if you feel so inclined.
But the best option is Great Shakes’ signature date shake. The fresh dates, from the nearby Coachella Valley, get blended up into a caramel-like sweetness, mild and smooth, heightening the flavors of the vanilla ice cream just enough. When asked if you want your drink topped with homemade whipped cream, you’ll want that—and you will want the optional walnuts, too. You can get the walnuts blended into the shake, resulting in soft, toasty bits with every gulp. The whole thing is garnished with a mini doughnut pierced through a straw. If you’ve ever wondered if a milkshake could be “balanced,” this is it. 160 S. Palm Canyon Dr. A, Palm Springs, (760) 327-5300; www.greatshakes.com.
WHERE TO STAY
The street will be remarkably quiet, and you will wonder if you drove past it, but you didn’t—just keep driving. The Westcott is housed in a low, single-story building that’s painted stark white. Among the endless lineup of boutique hotels and mega resorts in Palm Springs, the Westcott might be as intimate as you can get. Operating as a hotel since the 1930s, the building was originally intended for guests of the legendary El Mirador Hotel who were looking for more discrete accommodations. There are 10 rooms on the property, each one fitted with Art Deco furniture handpicked by the owners. And every room faces the pool, a large area lined with wicker lounge chairs and rattan couches stuffed with pillows.
If you timed it right, you will be settled in by cocktail hour, which runs nightly from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Grab a premade mojito or wine—or both—while Michael, the pleasantest concierge you’ll ever meet, gives you a tour of the grounds and brings your luggage to the room. The beds are big, roomy and soft as hell, and you may be tempted to end your day even if the sun’s still out. 530 E. Mel Ave., Palm Springs, (760) 992-5410; www.thewestcott.com.
Rooster and the Pig
The line builds up fast at the tiny strip-mall location and often spills into the parking lot, so try getting to Rooster and the Pig at least 30 minutes before it opens.
A quick glance at the menu of the Vietnamese-American restaurant of chef/owner Tai Spendley, and you will quickly realize there’s nothing else like it in the city. Each meal is served with a small bowl of complimentary congee, aromatic and rich. The Vietnamese crispy rolls are essentially fresh spring rolls fried in hot oil—crunchy, chewy, meaty—with the spongy wood ear mushrooms and chicken coming together in a messy, addictive combination. Order the Jasmine Tea Leaf, a tangy, textured salad mixed with fermented tea leaves, napa cabbage, seeds and sweet peanuts—similar to lahpet thohk, but not quite as traditional, which isn’t a bad thing. You won’t want to leave without trying the panko-crusted rice ball filled with chicken and surrounded by a moat of sweet coconut yellow curry. It’s the kind of dish you will think about on that slow drive back to Orange County. 356 S. Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 832-6691; www.roosterandthepig.com.
After dinner, if you’re feeling up to it, make your way to the top of the Kimpton Rowan Hotel for after-dinner drinks. Filled with leather seats and dark wood, 4 Saints offers a seasonal menu; ambitious, knowledgeable bartenders; and panoramic views of the San Jacinto Mountains.
It’s also the only rooftop restaurant and bar in Palm Springs, which is noteworthy for the valley, and since word hasn’t gotten out yet on this somewhat newly minted venue, it should be easy enough to find a seat near the bar. Try the aromatised wines, of which 4 Saints has a small, thoughtful selection. The Pineau Des Charentes is beautiful, juicy, oak-barrel-aged and packed with sweet flavors pulled forward with cognac. The bartender may offer to mellow it out with soda water, but you’ll want this one solo, served chilled. 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, (760) 392-2020; www.4saintspalmsprings.com.
Located in the same space that housed the historic Don the Beachcomber restaurant, Bootlegger Tiki is keeping the kitschy culture alive with its row of hanging puffer-fish lamps (they’re real), nude velvet paintings, false lauhala ceiling and moody red lighting.
Naturally, rum is the speciality here, and you’ll find it in abundance on Bootlegger Tiki’s roster of cocktails, including the slightly surprising and wonderful martini made with two types of rum; Suze, a French apéritif made from gentian root; and celery bitters. There’s also the popular, tastefully comforting Pod Thai, with white rum and coconut. Among the other offerings, sans rum, is the Heart of the Sea, a sugar-fueled vodka soup spiked with lime that comes served in a pineapple, coconut or porcelain shell.
But for a damn good cocktail, get the Donn Beach 1934 Zombie. Named for the year it was dreamed up and the man himself, the drink stays true to its roots with three types of rum, syrupy Carribean falernum, grapefruit, cinnamon, grenadine, a squirt of lime and absinthe bitters. While there are thousands of interpretations of this boozy classic, Bootlegger Tiki’s may be one of the best in the country. 1101 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 318-4154; www.bootleggertiki.com.
Slink past the white tablecloths of Mr. Lyons steakhouse and through the purple curtain to land in Seymour’s, a dark, speakeasy-like bar velvet seats lining the bar and tucked in corners. Rare liquors are perched behind curved glass cabinets, and drinks are served in vintage glassware. The walls are filled with curious caricatures of men in top hats leaning on wood canes. It all feels English, as well as decidedly very Palm Springs.
The bartenders here know their stuff and offer some of the most smartly put-together cocktails in the valley. The ingredients are intentional and concise, and they do a fantastic show of giving a nod to the such forgotten classics as Bees Knees, which is made with gin and honey, and Hem Daq, a reference to Ernest Hemingway trying a daquiri for the first time in Florida and informing the bartender he would prefer it less sugary with double the rum. And don’t forget the punctuated Wait . . . What? Avocado?, a formidable healthier-than-thou gin cocktail with muddled fresh avocado strained twice and cut with mint and lime. The sweet creaminess is not unlike the popsicles my aunt used to make, a very Filipino blend of avocados, milk and sugar frozen in small plastic bags and enjoyed best during hot, humid summers. 233 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 892-9000; seymoursps.com.
New York Pizza Delivery
Affectionately abbreviated to NYPD by locals, this late-night pizza shop doubles as a dive bar. The atmosphere is a bit frenzied, with the smell of spilled alcohol and fresh pizza mingling in a way that isn’t totally unpleasant.
There’s a massive oven by the cash register that issues everything from a 28-inch pizza you could nap in to a personal pie. Expect to wait, though; a tourist from the hotel across the street may stumble in to join you, and a beer will help pass the time. The 20 or so minutes are worth it, and while what you get isn’t exactly what you’d expect if you were on the East Coast, the pizzas are doughy, cheesy and greasy. 260 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 778-6973; nypd-pizza.com.
To soak up your hangover, find your way to John’s for a hearty, respectable breakfast—or dinner, as the impressive wall menu offers everything from burgers to country fried steak with gravy. This local mainstay has been around since the ’70s; you’ll order at the counter, grab a number and take a seat while you wait for someone to bring your food on a plastic tray. Most meals are immensely satisfying, and almost all of them are generously portioned.
The plate of French toast with sunny-side-up eggs and bacon is perfection. The bread is airy, lightly cooked in egg batter and not overly sweet. The butter is deeply satisfying and salty; you’ll want an extra side of it because you’ll run out, and each bite of that toast deserves a dab. The bacon is thin, crispy and just right for dipping into the yolky eggs, which are solid-ish on the bottom and still creamy on top. If you’re feeling daring, stack a large piece of buttered French toast with bacon, then dip it all in the yolk. Butter not optional. 900 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, (760) 327-8522; www.johnsrestaurantpalmsprings.com.