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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The carne asada tacos

Where: Baja Springs, 1800 N. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs

How much: $1.69 separately; $8.99 combo plate (as shown)

Contact: 760-322-9988

Why: They’re packed with yummy meat.

Tacos … is there a more popular food in the United States today? When you have the best basketball player on the planet, LeBron James, making “Taco Tuesday” a social-media sensation—to the point where he actually tried to trademark the term, but the application was denied because the phrase is too ubiquitous—that says something.

Did you know, however, that tacos were not the first Mexican food to become popular in the United States? Friend of the Independent Gustavo Arellano, now a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, literally wrote the book on the subject: Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. In 2012, he spoke with KCRW about how tacos became popular thanks largely to the food scene in Los Angeles—especially the birth of the taquito at Cielito Lindo on Olvera Street in 1934. This happened, however, well after chili became huge in San Antonio, and tamales were a craze in San Francisco.

While the Coachella Valley’s restaurant scene has its pluses and minuses, we’re blessed with a lot of good Mexican food—especially tacos. It’s often said that the best tacos can be found in unexpected, hole-in-the-wall places, and while this is not always correct, it is in the case of Baja Springs: This small market, tucked away on Sunrise Way just north of Vista Chino in Palm Springs, has been churning out great tacos (and other Mexican fare) for years—but I only recently discovered it when the place came up on a food-delivery app.

Pretty much every imaginable meat is stuffed into corn tortillas at Baja Springs, from chicken to fish to tripe to cabeza. While I haven’t been able to try all 12 of the tacos on offer, I can vouch for the fantastic carne asada tacos. They’re delicious—and only $1.69 each.

All hail the great taco!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The machaca con verduras

Where: Asadero Los Corrales, 425 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs; also locations in La Quinta and Coachella

How much: $13.80

Contact: 760-992-5107

Why: It brought up delicious memories.

Food can be an intimate, emotional thing. We experience food with all five of our senses, and many of life’s important moments are focused around, or at least include, meals. As a result, we’ve all had the experience of taking a bite of food and being flooded with memories—sometimes good, sometimes bad—of an event or time from our past.

This happened to me during a recent breakfast at Asadero Los Corrales, which opened in Palm Springs not long ago inside the old Maxcy’s Grill space in the Ralph’s shopping center at Sunrise Drive and Ramon Road. I ordered the machaca con verudas—dried, shredded beef with sautéed tomatoes, onions and peppers.

The plate came; I placed the meat inside a fresh corn tortilla; I took a bite—and memories of Tucson, Ariz., came rushing forth.

I spent 10 years of my life in Tucson, and one of my favorite dishes in that city is the carne seca at El Charro Café, a restaurant which has been in business since 1922. The dish has some degree of fame, both because of its unique preparation—it is shredded beef, dried in the sun on El Charro’s roof, as it has been for close to a century now—and because it’s quite delicious.

Well, the machaca con verduras at Asadero Los Corrales looks, feels, smells and tastes a lot like El Charro’s famous carne seca. (Four of the five senses ain’t bad!) While I can’t say that Los Corrales’ machaca is as good as El Charro’s carne seca, I can say that it is fantastic.

The machaca con verudas may not lead to an emotional experience for you like it did for me—but it will make your taste buds very happy.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The grilled shrimp tacos

Where: El Patron Crafted Tacos and Drinks, 101 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $13

Contact: 888-340-8226; www.elpatronps.com

Why: They’re simply delicious.

It was a bit strange to walk into the space I’d known for years as the downtown Palm Springs Starbucks … and instead find a vibrant, colorful Mexican restaurant.

Strange … but good. Starbucks fans (A note to y’all: Considering buying local instead, damn it!) have a gorgeous new Reserve shop across the street, and fans of tasty Mexican fare and yummy drinks now have El Patron.

I stopped in for a recent weekday lunch, walked to the counter where one orders, and requested an order of shrimp tacos and a michelada ($10) with Negro Modelo. Take note of these prices: They ain’t cheap. Fortunately, everything that showed up at my table a short time later was delicious.

The tacos, in particular, were fantastic: The Mexican white shrimp (you can get ’em either fried or grilled) were prepared juuust right, topped with cabbage and pico de gallo, and tucked in a thick, house-made tortilla. They came with a handful of house-made chips and a red salsa. The person who dropped off the food asked if I wanted any other salsas; after he listed a spicy green salsa as one of the options, I responded with an enthusiastic: “Yes, please!” It was splendid.

My one concern about El Patron involves price: A block and a half away, I can get two shrimp tacos of similar quality—and get table service to boot—at a beloved restaurant for $2 less (or $4 less if it’s after 9 p.m.). Tourists won’t care, of course, but cost-conscious locals may.

Aside from that one potential problem, however, I must tip my figurative hat to El Patron. The service is great; the food is delicious; and the vibe inside that former Starbucks is fun and festive.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The enchiladas de mole

Where: Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant, 68718 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City

How much: $10.95

Contact: 760-992-5133; www.facebook.com/LosArcosMex/

Why: It’s a sublime mix of sweet and savory.

Los Arcos Mexican Food opened back in 2015, on the side of the former IMAX theater at Palm Canyon and Cathedral Canyon drives. I’d heard good things, and I placed it on my mental “Restaurants I Need to Try” list.

Well, I thought I’d lost my chance: Last fall, Los Arcos closed its doors. The old movie theater was being turned into the brand-new CVRep Playhouse (and the theater company needed Los Arcos’ space), and while I am elated about everything CVRep has done with the new building, I was bummed I never got a chance to try Los Arcos.

Fortunately, Los Arcos was not closed—just on hiatus: A few months ago, it reappeared on the other side of what’s euphemistically called “downtown Cathedral City.” Not wanting to miss out again, I headed to Los Arcos on a recent Sunday for dinner.

I intended to order the chicken tortilla soup ($7.95) and the combo featuring a relleno, a taco and an enchilada (a downright reasonable $10.95). Alas, the restaurant was out of tortilla soup, so I had to settle for the combo—and it was quite good, albeit a step or two short of endorsement-worthy.

However … I knew my Monday was going to be crazy, so I ordered the enchiladas de mole (with chicken) to go, for lunch the next day. I was quite full when I got home, but I figured I must try one bite before the food cooled down. After that one bite, I realized I had two things: 1) an endorsement-worthy dish, and 2) a test of self-control, as it was so tasty I was inclined to keep going after that one bite. The mole was rich, sweet, savory and complex—everything a traditional chocolate mole should be.

I am glad Los Arcos is back from its hiatus. If you like delicious mole, then you should be, too.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The shrimp ceviche

Where: Tac/Quila, 415 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $16

Contact: 760-417-4471; www.tacquila.com

Why: It’s refreshing and tasty.

I had decidedly mixed feelings when I learned that Tac/Quila was going to be opening in the space most recently occupied by Watercress Vietnamese Bistro.

On the minus side, the Coachella Valley is not suffering from a dearth of good Mexican restaurants—taqueria, upscale Mexican, regional fare … it can all be found here. In other words, Tac/Quila would not be filling a defined culinary need in the valley.

On the plus side, Mark and Liz Ostoich know what they’re doing. The owners of Tac/Quila have proven themselves to be shrewd restaurateurs and fantastic members of the community with Farm, the mostly outdoor French restaurant in La Plaza the Ostoiches purchased in 2016. Given what they’ve done with Farm, I was curious to see what they’d do with a Mexican concept.

As for what they’ve done … they’ve knocked it out of the park with Tac/Quila. They’ve taken what was a somewhat clunky space and infused it with class, beauty and charm—and the menu is absolutely mouth-watering. Consider yourself warned: You’ll pay more at Tac/Quila than you will at the vast majority of other Mexican restaurants around the valley—but what comes out of the kitchen and is delivered to your table will most likely be worth it.

I met a friend at Tac/Quila for a recent lunch. (There’s not a separate lunch menu, so be prepared to pay dinner prices.) I decided to try the chicken tortilla soup ($11) and the shrimp ceviche ($16). The soup was quite good, if misnamed—it’s actually a chicken vegetable soup, with tortillas having nothing to do with it other than being tossed on top. The ceviche, meanwhile, was perfect—fresh, delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day.

Tac/Quila may wind up filling a local culinary need after all: While many good restaurants call the Coachella Valley home, there are few great restaurants—and Tac/Quila has the potential to become one.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The al pastor taco

Where: Taqueria Tortilla Factory, 35270 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City

How much: $2.99

Contact: 760-324-6505; taqueria-tortilla-factory.business.site

Why: It outshined the main course.

Sometimes, the supporting player outshines the star.

Such was the case during a recent lunch I enjoyed at Taqueria Tortilla Factory, located in a busy little strip mall in Cathedral City. I was trying to get over that terrible cold that’s been going around, and I was craving soup—specifically, that fabled cold remedy known as menudo.

I understand that menudo isn’t for everyone—the main ingredient is tripe, aka cow’s stomach—but when it’s done right, I think it’s delicious. I’d never had the menudo at Taqueria Tortilla Factory, and I’d heard good things, so I decided to give it a shot. I ordered it at the counter—and decided to add on an al pastor taco, because, well, tacos are delicious.

The verdict: The menudo was pretty darned good. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had—while the tripe, hominy and other ingredients were perfect, the broth could have been more flavorful—but it was enjoyable, and it was a welcome salve for my sniffles. After downing most of the bowl, I turned my attention to the taco.

Wow.

It was fantastic. The pork meat was delicious and just a little crispy—as good al pastor should be. Some might balk at the $2.99 price; while you can get cheaper tacos in town, those tacos likely won’t come with this amount of meat.

In addition to making its own fantastic tortillas (as the name makes obvious), Taqueria Tortilla Factory cooks up a wide variety of delicious food, from breakfasts to seafood plates to all the Mexican-restaurant standards one would expect. I am not sure what I’ll order on my next visit … but I am sure that I’ll add on an al pastor taco.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Prime barbecue season is upon us—and barbecuing lends itself to Mexican food.

I’ll never look down my nose at Mexican mass-produced beer—it’s better overall than American mass-produced beer, in my opinion—but an even better sensory experience can be had with Mexican cuisine if you step up the beer game. To put it bluntly: You can do better than beers where the ads instruct you to put a wedge of lime in the bottle. (Why didn’t they just add that when they were brewing?) But I digress.

Instead of just listing pairings of entrées and beer styles, it would be more helpful to summarize some of the most-common ingredients in Mexican cuisine, and explain why they might be better partners with certain types of beers:

Corn: This is a staple in both Mexican food and beer. That distinct corn flavor and sweetness make Mexican beer styles an obvious choice for pairing. A lot of Mexican beer (excluding the brews from the excellent Mexican craft breweries burgeoning at the moment) consists of German-style pilsner with corn; the darker stuff is Vienna lager with corn. Corn adds sugar to a beer with almost no body, making the finished beer drier, and usually imparting at least a hint of corn flavor. The Belgians have been doing something similar with candi sugar (made from beets) to dry out their stronger beers and make them devilishly drinkable.

Pork: German beer was basically designed around the stuff, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more natural pairings than pork and most German styles. This has to do with malt: Many German styles call for malt to be kilned in such a way as to create melanoidins. Melanoidins are what give you that distinct browned-bread character—the same flavor you can get from searing pork or beef (not to be confused with caramelization). I think you can see why, say, a German bock is a no-brainer for pairing with pork.

Cheese: I mention cheese more for its texture than anything. (This is not to say that traditional Mexican cheeses are necessarily mild.) This one is more about mouthfeel, and crisper or higher-strength beers (or both in one, perhaps) will help scrub the palate. This is equally important with the next ingredient …

Beans: Frijoles are a massive staple, and mouthfeel is again the most-important factor to consider here, as there are also likely to be other flavors to deal with in any particular dish that includes or comes with beans.

Chiles: I am a huge fan of spice, and there are some very noteworthy things to take into account when pairing beer with spicy food. The first is that alcohol accentuates capsaicin (the stuff that makes chiles burn), and so do hops. This does not mean that you should never pair a triple IPA with spicy chicken tinga, but it does mean you should be aware that you’re throwing a bit of gasoline on that fire when you do. Malty, less-crisp beers help here, so consider English styles when up against spiciness. It works for Indian cuisine, too.

Now that we are armed with some fundamentals, let’s tackle actual pairings with specific dishes. One thing I haven’t covered yet is seafood. Ceviche is one of my favorites; while refreshing on its own, it can be exponentially so when paired with the right beer. A Belgian witbier and a German hefeweizen are both great choices. A citrusy pale ale is also not a bad idea, but beware of oily fish, as hops turn that flavor combination into metallic unpleasantness.

Carnitas is another beautiful thing to behold; I already mentioned one pairing (bock), but a Munich dunkel lager will do just as well.

Good chicken mole is hard to come by locally (if I am missing out on a place where they do it right, please contact me), which is a shame, because a nice porter or dry Irish stout will do wonders with it. Craft breweries have long caught on to Mexican chocolate flavors; you can try pairing with one of those, but instead, I recommend supporting the mole flavors and letting them do that work with your beer. Along those lines, if you’re looking to try something lighter that can still match the intensity of this dish, try a German schwarzbier: It’s a black lager that shares some darker beer flavors of chocolate, coffee and dark fruit, but without any roasty quality, and with a bit of a fire-extinguishing effect if the mole is up there in spice.

A few parting thoughts, before I send you on the path to sabor. One is that it is generally a good idea to match intensities with beer/food pairings. Another consideration is whether you want to complement, contrast or combine. This takes much more explanation, and the best way to do that is to read up on the subject. I wrote a column a while back on pairing beer and food that covers some of it, but if you want more depth, I would highly recommend Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide From the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, or The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver, one of the very few master cicerones. Both are great guides and are very good at getting you to be more mindful when it comes to pairing any beverage with food, never mind beer.

The next time you have a chance to enjoy a Mexican dish, forget the typical Mexican lagers, and swing for the gustatorial fences. And, hey: Even if your pairing lets you down, you still have beer and Mexican food to comfort you. ¡Salud!

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

What: The chicken chiles Agave

Where: Fresh Agave Mexican Bar and Grill, 73325 Highway 111, Palm Desert

How much: $12.50

Contact: 760-836-9028; www.freshagavemexicanbarandgrill.com

Why: The sauce ties it all together.

It wasn’t supposed to be my entrée.

I was having my monthly meeting with Independent contributor Kevin Fitzgerald, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted for lunch. I hadn’t been to Fresh Agave before, and I wanted to give the place a try, given how well it does in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll every year. I intended to get a couple of items to try; because of my unfamiliarity with the menu, I asked the server for advice.

She recommended the chicken chiles Agave as a starter, along with a handful of entrées. The appetizer recommendation—yellow peppers stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, cilantro and onions, with chipotle sauce on the side—sounded good to me, so we ordered it and asked for more time to decide on our entrées.

The chicken chiles Agave arrived fairly quickly … and it was a good thing I hadn’t yet ordered my main course, as it was immediately obvious that I would not need one, given the size of what was on the plate—six not-small peppers stuffed with tasty goodness.

Kevin only wanted one of the six peppers, and the remaining five were enough of a meal, even for a hearty eater like me. And what a delicious meal it was; it was a perfect example of how ingredients when combined can become more than the sum of their parts: The stuffed peppers by themselves were just OK, and the chipotle sauce on its own was unspectacular. But when the two were combined … yum. The creamy, peppery and just slightly sweet sauce brought out all sorts of fantastic favors in the moist chicken.

I’ll definitely order the chicken chiles Agave on my next visit to Fresh Agave … but I’ll need to take more dining companions with me, so we can share it—meaning I’ll have enough room for an entrée.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The big guac burrito

Where: Guacamoles, 555 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs

How much: $9.25

Contact: 760-325-9766; www.guacsps.com

Why: It’s one of the tastiest burritos around.

Guacamoles does not get the respect it deserves.

The Mexican restaurant is an undeniable success—it’s been open now for 28 years, since the Sesma family launched it during the first half of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. Yet when I hear people talking about their Palm Springs-area Mexican-food favorites, Guacmoles rarely comes up.

Perhaps this is due to the space Guacamoles occupies: It’s small and tucked away in the middle of the shopping mall at the southwest corner of Sunrise Way and Ramon Road. Perhaps it’s due to the restaurant’s no-frills vibe: You order at the counter, and the food is delivered on disposable plates with plastic utensils. I admit that until fairly recently, I rarely dined at Guacamole’s; over a five-year period, I ate there once, maybe twice—and that was it.

However, that all changed one night not long ago. I was stuck at home alone, with work deadlines looming; I was hungry and had no time to cook. So I got on one of the delivery apps and perused my options, one of which was Guacamoles. A burrito sounded good, so I decided to order a chicken big guac (aka a burrito with the works).

The food was delivered quickly. And even though the burrito weighed in at around a pound, it was devoured quickly: It was delicious, and gluttony won out.

Since that fateful night, Guacamole’s has become one of my regular takeout or delivery options. (Although whenever I get the big guac now, I cut it in half and put half away for later, to avoid further gluttony.) The food is fresh—with no MSG or lard—well-prepared and tasty.

Cheers to the Sesma family for their success. Here’s to another 28 years—and Guacamoles hopefully getting the respect it deserves.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The roasted suckling pig

Where: Alebrije Bistro Mexico, 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $28

Contact: 760-537-1279; www.alebrijeps.com

Why: It’s a surprisingly refined dish.

Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week brought both disappointments and delicious finds at the handful of participants I was able to visit—but my most delicious find of all was Alebrije Bistro Mexico.

It was so delicious that Alebrije was the only place I visited twice during Restaurant Week.

Alebrije went above and beyond by offering four courses—not just the requisite three—for $39, and the food showed a level of sophistication rarely found here in the Coachella Valley. A couple of examples: The octopus ceviche ($14 on the regular menu) respected the star ingredient while wowing the taste buds. The creamy poblano soup ($8) with roasted corn and caramelized peppers was a nuanced, creamy revelation, with the spice and earthiness of the pepper enhanced and improved by the sweetness of the corn.

Either of these dishes was worthy of an endorsement—but the entrée I had on both Restaurant Week visits, as well as a follow-up visit, came out on the top of my list: the roasted suckling pig. There doesn’t seem to be all that much to the dish: There’s a pile of shredded meat with onions on top; some corn puree spread around the plate; and small dishes of black beans and salsa verde, with homemade corn tortillas on the side.

The magic happens when the ingredients are combined: Once a portion of that moist, delicious pork is placed in a delicious tortilla with a little bit of each of the other ingredients … wow.

On all of my visits so far, Alebrije has been far from busy. This, folks, is a shame: This Palm Springs restaurant is offering an upscale dining experience like no other in the Coachella Valley. Go. You will be very happy that you did.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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