Hitting Palm Springs casinos? Here’s where to eat between games
I’ve traveled to the Palm Springs area a couple of times a year for as long as I can remember. As a child, my parents organized various vacations, mostly so my sister and I could stay somewhere with a pool. In March, we went for the BNP Paribas Open, or what we usually refer to as “the tennis tournament.” I’ve also been to numerous Airbnbs for bachelorette parties (thankfully without any matching tank tops) and birthday celebrations. And for the past 16 years, my grandmother has lived in a senior citizen community in Palm Desert, ensuring that I’m in the area more than a few times a year.
Grandma loves the penny slots. I’m sure she loves the other slots too, but due to her penchant for gambling, she has limited herself to the ones that make a $20 bill last. By her side, and along with some of her friends, I’ve visited seven casinos in and around Palm Springs, spent time in their coffee shops while I waited for her to make her way through that $20 and eaten at most of the restaurants.
Critic Bill Addison gives us 10 Palm Springs restaurants where he’s happy to stand in line or jostle for a last-minute reservation.
The following is your guide to dining at the casinos in the Greater Palm Springs area. Whether you’re at the casino for a concert, a wedding party or simply to gamble on a Tuesday, here are the best places to eat. Because Grandma doesn’t like gambling on an empty stomach, and neither do I.
Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City
Across from 360 Sports is the restaurant Café One Eleven, which I imagine is named for Highway 111, the main road that runs through the Coachella Valley. Each table is set with a serving contraption that resembles a miniature tree with four branches, designed to hold four ramekins of the house salsas. Skip the salsa and go straight to the $32, 12-ounce prime rib dinner. It’s the type of plate I imagine ordering at a casino, designed to be a conciliatory deal after you lose some money at the blackjack table. The thick-cut slab is rimmed with a full inch of fat, cooked to your liking and served in its own juices alongside a scoop of mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables. At $32, my grandma Phyllis Harris (a self-proclaimed expert in all things relating to a bargain) calls it the best deal in the area.
Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs
And because it’s an Agua Caliente, you’ll also find a location of the 360 Sports restaurant and an expanded version of Java Caliente, the casino’s coffee bar. While the Java Calientes in Rancho Mirage and Cathedral City serve coffee, boba and maybe a few grab-and-go items, the one in Palm Springs offers a full menu with weekly specials like lasagna on Tuesdays and fried chicken on Thursdays. Saturday is meatloaf, of course.
Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage
Waters Cafe is a sprawling restaurant with ample seating, cheery servers and lighting that always feels just a little too bright. It’s the hotel restaurant you’re expecting: Orange chicken, assorted Kellogg’s cereals, galbi, a BBQ chicken salad and buttermilk pancakes share real estate on the menu. The kitchen also turns out an excellent chicken pot pie. The version at Waters Cafe is enough for two, served as a deep dish of shredded chicken, diced carrots, onion and potato in a rich cream sauce under a dome of crisp, buttery pastry. It is lighter than the one at Marie Callender’s, and probably better too.
If you’re looking for something even more casual, Jade Asian Cuisine at the District has a bowl of oxtail soup that tastes like it’s been simmering on the stove for hours. The portion is sizable, with at least two hulking oxtails in each bowl, crowded with green onion and plenty of cilantro. I usually spy various groups of elderly Asian women sitting at the tables just opposite the register, hunched over steaming bowls of soup, using their hands to strip the tender meat from the bones. On a recent visit, I sat right alongside them, slurping the broth with my fingers in the bones.
The menudo is an Augustine signature dish, and it’s available at both the restaurant and Menyikish, the smaller cafe near the entrance to the casino. The broth is crowded with tripe, salty, livery and dense with a powerful offal funk. The tables of the regulars are littered with crumpled stained napkins, stray pieces of chopped raw onion and cilantro and the carcasses of already squeezed wedges of lime. If you play your cards right, your table should look the same.
Fantasy Springs Resort Casino
The dough turns bubbly and flaky in the oven with flecks of what I imagine are dried oregano and parsley dotting the top. It’s sliced into five thick pieces, with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni spilling out of each opening. The stromboli is served with a large cup of marinara on the side for dipping.
For dessert, there’s an old-school ice cream shop called Lique, where you can order an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top or a root beer float.
Morongo Casino Resort & Spa
If you were lucky at the blackjack table, there’s a steakhouse with a view on the 27th floor called Cielo. It’s a place worthy of a celebration with a menu full of steakhouse standards and luxe add-ons like roasted bone marrow and Alaskan king crab. But the standouts here are the seafood dishes, with crab cakes glutted with lump crab meat and a miso-glazed sea bass. And the bartenders make an excellent chocolate chai old-fashioned, with sweet and spicy vanilla chai bitters and creme de cacao.
Spotlight 29 Casino
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