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Colorful pan-roasted Chilean sea bass dish
A pan-roasted Chilean sea bass.
(Sohyun Lee / For The Times)

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.

Feb. 8, 2023

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.

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Stuffed tater tots, left, next to a burger dripping with cheese
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City

Cathedral City American $$
This tiny casino, located about a 15-minute drive east of Palm Springs, is home to 360 Sports, one of the best sports bars in the area (there’s a sister location at the Agua Caliente in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage too). It looks like a miniature sportsbook at a Vegas casino, complete with large wraparound LED screens, cozy chairs and a full restaurant where you can order most handheld foods associated with watching sports. There’s even a burger that manages to make good use of a local ingredient (the spicy Wagyu burger features a date habanero aioli). Whatever you order, make sure there is a plate of the stuffed tots on the table. The fat, golden brown cylinders are full of melted cheese and far superior to smaller tots, which now seem sad and empty. And yes, you can have a cup of ranch with anything.

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.
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overhead view of several dishes of food at a steakhouse
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs

Palm Springs American $$$
It makes sense to have a steakhouse in a casino — the type of place where a high roller can feel properly pampered and the rest of us can visit as a special-occasion restaurant. I appreciate a good steakhouse, and the Steakhouse at the Agua Caliente in Palm Springs (there’s a location at the Rancho Mirage property too) is a very good steakhouse. Dimly lit with plush booths and a carpet designed to look fancy and disguise wine stains, it’s a place where time always seems to stand still. It could be 1990 or 2023 in the dining room, and you’ll be comfortable either way. There are massive slabs of meat in any cut you like, but as I’ve said before, I’m at a steakhouse for the starters, sides and dessert. The wedge salad is first-rate and the server doesn’t scoff when you ask for extra blue cheese dressing. The giant shrimp cocktails are as advertised, and the Parmesan creamed spinach is like a sizable bowl of your favorite creamy spinach dip. There’s an attempt to showcase local dates too, in the date butter that accompanies the bread basket and the complimentary stuffed dates that follow the bread. The best part of the Steakhouse might be the old-school dessert tray. Servers come around with an actual tray, so you can spy the cheesecake, the crème brûlée and the lava cake (with a scoop of whipped cream as a stand-in for the ice cream) before you make your decision.

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.
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overhead view of soup in a white bowl
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage

Rancho Mirage American $$
The Rancho Mirage casino is the largest and the most luxurious of the three Agua Caliente casinos in the area. It’s also home to the most dining options. In addition to the Steakhouse and a Cheesecake Factory-style restaurant called Waters Cafe, there is a small, three-stall food court called the District.

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.
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overhead view of soup in a bowl and four smaller bowls of toppings
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Augustine Casino

Coachella Mexican $
Like most casinos in the area, Augustine has a full-service restaurant with a something-for-everyone menu and a smaller cafe for coffee and quick bites. On a recent visit to the Cafe 54 restaurant, I noticed multiple groups of men in scuffed boots and a pair of women with name tags affixed to their blouses, sitting at various tables in the dining room. Our server let us know that a lot of people who work in the area stop in for lunch, and they all order the same thing: a bowl of menudo with warm tortillas. I quickly did the same.

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.
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bread oozing with cheese
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino

Indio Italian $$
By default, casinos are for adults, but the best stuff to eat at Fantasy Springs is more in line with the diet of a teenager in the middle of a growth spurt. First, there’s the stromboli. The calzone cousin is the main attraction at the Pizza Kitchen, a fast-casual restaurant inside the casino. It’s a colossal mass of cheese, pepperoni and pizza dough that easily fills the entirety of a large pizza box. Order it about 30 minutes ahead of when you actually want to eat. The stromboli is baked fresh, and it takes the full quoted 30 minutes.

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.
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Pork & Waffle station with spicy fried chicken and waffle and sides
(Sohyun Lee / For The Times)

Morongo Casino Resort & Spa

Riverside American Italian Asian Mexican BBQ
Morongo is the casino you hit off the 10 freeway on your way into Palm Springs. It’s the one with the flashing lights along the top, encouraging you to pull over and try your luck. It’s also a good place to stop to eat, whether or not you hit the slots. If you’re in the mood for a buffet or with a group, try the Marketplace. It’s a buffet masquerading as a food hall with multiple branded restaurant stations, each with its own name, kitchen crew and menu that changes weekly. Instead of serving yourself, you order at one end of the station, wait for your food to be cooked or assembled, then pick it up a few feet away. Pork & Waffles is the place for Nashville hot chicken and waffles and Texas-style smoked brisket with a good crusty bark. There’s prime rib at Prime Cuts and a steady supply of warm tortillas for tacos at Al Comal. If you’re lucky, chef Steven Hernandez will have his birria pho on the specials menu at Sukiru. He assembles each bowl with a beautifully rich and layered beef broth scented with star anise and loads it up with birria, fresh rice noodles and all the greens and sprouts you associate with good pho. He tops the bowl with a handful of pickled onions and a squeeze bottle filled with a mixture of Valentina and hoisin sauce. It’s easily one of the best things I’ve eaten in the Greater Palm Springs area.

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.
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A chile relleno burrito and carne asada fries on a paper-topped plate
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Spotlight 29 Casino

Coachella Mexican $
You will not go hungry at Spotlight 29 Casino. Between the Taproom 29 brewery and Malie, the catch-all “Asian Kitchen” restaurant, you can find anything from chicken wings and nachos to pho. But I’m going to tell you instead to eat at the small Mexican restaurant called Santiago’s Mexican Food that’s inside the gas station just outside the casino. And depending on your appetite, to order the chile relleno burrito or the carne asada fries. The burrito does not carry the same heft as the one at La Azteca Tortilleria in Los Angeles. The cheese does not ooze out of the middle. Instead, it’s like a chile relleno combo plate with the fried cheese-stuffed pepper and a nice scoop of rice in a 50/50 ratio, nestled into the middle of a chewy, blistered tortilla. It’s slender and manageable and won’t weigh you down while you’re playing the slots. If you’re in need of serious sustenance, the carne asada fries is a formidable box of meat and potatoes. You get what feels like several pounds of French fries and a burrito’s worth of carne asada. There’s enough steak, melted cheese, salsa, guacamole and sour cream to block out the sun.
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