CVIndependent

Sun12152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The smoked pulled pork sandwich

Where: Unique Bite Eatery, 82900 Avenue 42, Indio

How much: $10.99

Contact: 760-342-8286; uniquebiteeatery.com

Why: The quality of the food is unique.

The name Unique Bite Eatery is a bit of a misnomer.

I do not mean this as an insult in any way: In fact, I am a big fan of the entrées offered at this newish fast-casual eatery, located north of Interstate 10 in Indio … but these dishes are not unique. A scan of the menu reveals a whole lot of classic Americana—house-smoked pork, pot roast, spaghetti, fried chicken, grilled chicken, burgers and the like.

On my recent lunch visit, I ordered the house smoked pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and barbecue sauce. I was torn between that and the creamy chicken with creamy rice, and the lovely woman behind the counter was kind enough to allow me to order the children’s size ($6.99) so I could try it.

After a longer-than-expected wait—although a sign on the wall does warn diners that the food is fresh-made, and that takes time—the aforementioned woman delivered my food. The chicken was tasty—the milk-based sauce on the chicken was flavorful, as was the cooked-in-milk rice—while the sandwich was fantastic. The house-smoked pork was delicious, and the crisp, cool house-made coleslaw was the perfect in-sandwich complement.

It’s worth noting that my friend Jeff tried to meet me for lunch, but got held up; he wound up going to Unique Bite Eatery later that same day, and he offered the smoked brisket sandwich ($12.99) his own endorsement. “If (I lived) closer, I’d be a regular,” Jeff told me.

If Unique Bite Eatery happened to be in my neighborhood, I’d be a regular as well. The food offerings may not be unique—but the quality definitely is.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The famous truffle tots

Where: Heirloom Craft Kitchen, 49990 Jefferson St., No. 100, Indio

How much: $6; $4 when added to an entrée

Contact: 760-773-2233; heirloomcraftkitchen.com

Why: The crispiness, the seasoning and the sauces.

Andie Hubka is one of the valley’s most talented restaurateurs. More than six years ago, she opened the fun and stylish dinner restaurant Cork and Fork in La Quinta; then early last year, she opened Heirloom Craft Kitchen, a fast-casual joint serving brunch, lunch and dinner in Indio.

As justifiably acclaimed as Cork and Fork is, Hubka really outdid herself with Heirloom: It’s more accessible than Cork and Fork—and the food served there is every bit as delicious.

Heirloom offers “craft sandwiches,” “crafted salads,” starters, a handful of entrées, fun brunch items and an impressive selection of vegan offerings. Everything on the menu is thoughtful and unique—so much so that on a recent lunch visit, I had one hell of a time deciding which delicious-sounding thing to order. I finally decided on the shrimp and grits with andouille sausage ($14)—and because I have a policy of trying anything on a restaurant menu that includes the word “famous,” I added on the famous truffle tots as a side.

The shrimp and grits were excellent—elevated, surprisingly enough, by the inclusion of small pieces of pickled jalapeños, which added a much-needed brightness to the otherwise-earthy dish. However, the highlight of the meal was the add-on: The “famous” truffle tots were downright revelatory.

Truffle oil has become such a ubiquitous ingredient on menus that it’s received a not-entirely-unjustified bit of backlash from some chefs, but the way Hubka uses it here is a perfect illustration of why it became ubiquitous in the first place: The truffle flavor doesn’t overwhelm the tots, but instead just makes them more interesting. Then there are the sauces served with the tots: The fantastic homemade ketchup (lighter and fresher-tasting than the bottled stuff) and the dill aioli (which I apparently received by mistake) were perfect matches. (I got some of the sauce I was supposed to receive, too: a truffle aioli, and while it was decent, I preferred the other two.)

Heirloom Craft Kitchen is truly a special place. And the famous truffle tots are pretty special, too.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The huevos rancheros

Where: Tacos Gonzalez, 80120 Highway 111, Indio

How much: $9.99

Contact: 760-347-6858

Why: It’s delicious, meticulous simplicity.

It shouldn’t be difficult to make great yet simple food … but it most definitely is.

For example, consider the amazing huevos rancheros at Tacos Gonzalez, a popular hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint in Indio. There is nothing fancy or complicated about the dish: It consists of eggs, and tortillas, and sauce, and salsa, with beans, rice, lettuce and guacamole surrounding it.

Simple ingredients all, correct? Well, this leads to a question: If all of this is so simple, why don’t all restaurants serve such splendid huevos rancheros?

The answer: Not all cooks pay attention to the details like they do at Tacos Gonzalez.

The tortillas were tasty and well-prepared. The eggs were a perfect over-medium—just as I ordered them. The ranchero sauce was delicious with just a hint of spiciness. The salsa fresca was fresh and vibrant. All of the accompaniments were spot-on—especially the guacamole, which made me regret not ordering more as an appetizer.

If just one of these ingredients had been amiss—if, say, the eggs were overcooked, or the ranchero sauce was bland—the dish would have fallen into mediocrity. But the people in Taco Gonzalez’s kitchen made sure that did not happen. As a result, the huevos rancheros were fantastic.

This attention to detail was also apparent in the street tacos ($1.89 to $2.29 each) my husband ordered. He got six tacos, each with a different meat, and there was not a bad taco in the bunch. I liked the chicken best, while Garrett’s favorite was the carnitas.

The aforementioned meal was our first at Tacos Gonzalez—and it most certainly won’t be our last. All cooks—from restaurants at every price level—could learn a thing or two from the attention to detail on display at Tacos Gonzalez.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Strawberry Banana Crepes

Where: Sloan’s Restaurant, 81539 Highway 111, Indio

How much: $13.29

Contact: 760-347-3923; www.sloansrestaurant.com

Why: The high-quality ingredients make all of the sweetness work.

While have quite a healthy sweet tooth when it comes to desserts, I usually prefer savory breakfasts and brunches, for reasons I’ve discussed in this space before

But on rare occasions, my sweet tooth makes its presence known during breakfast—and this was the case during a recent meal at Sloan’s in Indio. Therefore, I ordered one of the house specialties, the strawberry banana crepes.

All I can say is … wow.

Talk about sweet (and I mean this in a good way): Not only does the dish feature bananas and strawberries and strawberry glaze and powdered sugar; then it’s topped with either whipped cream or vanilla ice cream! (The version I enjoyed, shown here, had both whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.)

A dish with this amount of almost exclusively sweet ingredients could become a sugar-infused disaster if either the dish were not prepared right, or if the ingredients used were subpar. Thankfully, Sloan’s has been around in one form or another for decades (it was an Elmer’s before it was called Sloan’s), so they know what they’re doing here—and everything on the gorgeous plate was perfect, from the ripe yet firm banana slices to the flavorful fresh strawberries to the splendid crepe.

If sweet isn’t your thing, however, Sloan’s offers plenty of great food, for breakfast, lunch and dinner—and you can even enjoy a cocktail from the cozy lounge. As one small example, my friend and dining companion V.J. ordered liver and onions, and she had nothing but raves for the dish.

Sloan’s has been an Indio mainstay for a long time—and there are many good reasons for that.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Pesto Chicken Ranch Club at TKB Bakery

Where: TKB Bakery and Deli, 44911 Golf Center Parkway, Indio

How much: $10.99

Contact: 760-775-8330; www.tkbbakery.com

Why: It’s delicious, pure and simple.

TKB Bakery is one of the five best-rated restaurants in the United States.

This is not hyperbole; it’s fact, according to the granddaddy website of crowd-sourced reviews, Yelp—and while Yelp reviews are about as trustworthy as Sean Hannity on Quaaludes, it says a lot that TKB has been one of Yelp’s Top 5-rated restaurants now for three years in a row. No other restaurant in the whole U.S. of A. can say that.

I recently visited TKB—a family-owned affair tucked into an Indio industrial park not too far off of Interstate 10—for the first time, and I can now say I completely understand why TKB has received such crowd-sourced acclaim. The counter service is friendly (and brand-new customers get a free cookie!). The vibe is decidedly fun. And the sandwich I had—the pesto chicken ranch club—was downright spectacular.

You may pay more for a sandwich at TKB than you would at other fine sandwich joints, but the $10.99 I shelled out for my sandwich was worth every penny. The pesto was amazing; the fresh Parmesan roll was revelatory; and the chicken was moist and flavorful. The complementary ingredients—provolone, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion, along with mustard, mayo and ranch dressing—were all top-notch … and that free cookie? It was the best peanut-butter cookie I’ve ever eaten.

TKB has been around for a while; there used to be several other valley locations which became victims of the Great Recession. Right now, there’s just one TKB (it stands for “The Kids’ Business, by the way), located in the middle of nowhere—and if you love great sandwiches and baked goods, you need to seek it out. It’s one of the country’s top-rated places to eat for a lot of damn good reasons.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The shredded pork with garlic sauce

Where: Cie Sichuan Cuisine, 45682 Towne St., Indio

How much: $8.50 as a lunch special; $9.50 as an entrée

Contact: 760-342-9888; ciesichuancuisine.com

Why: It was worth the wait.

I’ve been hearing raves about Cie Sichuan Cuisine for months now. Some friends have even gone so far as to say that Cie serves some of the best—if not the best—Chinese cuisine in the Coachella Valley. Seeing as I love good Chinese food, and am generally unimpressed with the Chinese restaurants ’round these parts, I looked forward to dining at Cie Sichuan.

One problem: Cie Sichuan is a 28-mile drive from both my home and my office. While I do get to the East Valley often, my schedule is usually slammed, so I don’t often have time to go explore new restaurants and such. Ugh.

However, on one recent weekday, I turned lemons into lemonade: A client was a no-show for a meeting in Indio. I suddenly had an open hour around lunch time—so off to Cie Sichuan I went.

I would have loved to try Cie for the first time with several other people, so we could have sampled a variety of dishes. However, it was just me. Hmm … should I try something rather unique-sounding like the cold dressing beef slice and lung ($9.50)? Or the ribs-with-radish soup ($7.95)? The divine-sounding stir-fried pork belly ($10.50)?

I couldn’t decide, so I asked the server for advice; he recommended the shredded pork with garlic sauce lunch special. I took his advice—and was glad I did.

After a lovely cup of egg drop soup, the entrée arrived. The pork was not shredded like you’d find in a burrito at a Mexican joint; instead, it was sliced into thin strips and coated with a splendid garlic sauce that included sprouts, carrots, green onions and peppers. While my breath after lunch was probably dreadful, my taste buds were enthralled.

I’m looking forward to trying more of Cie Sichuan’s cuisine … and with the rise of all the new delivery services here locally (Yelp’s Eat24, UberEATS, etc.), it looks like I may be able to get Cie’s food delivered to my home soon, if not already. Awesome.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Bi Bim Bap

Where: JOY Asian Cuisine at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio

How much: $17

Contact: 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com/prod/dining/dining.php#joy

Why: So many flavors and sensations!

Once upon a time, casino food was looked down upon. I grew up in Reno, Nev., home of the Club Cal Neva, which for years advertised a 99-cent ham-and-eggs meal on billboards far and wide. And, yes, you get what you pay for.

Of course, things have changed since those days, when casinos were pretty much limited to Nevada and Atlantic City. Today, casinos can be found most anywhere—and they’ve upped their game, no pun intended, when it comes to food. In fact, some of the world’s best restaurants are found in casinos. The same can be said about the Coachella Valley: I’ve recently discovered that one of the area’s best Asian restaurants can be found inside of Fantasy Springs.

JOY offers a pan-Asian menu, and on my inaugural visit there, I was happy with every dish that I tried. The kimchi? Amazing. The war wonton soup? Packed with flavor. And the bi bim bap? One of the best preparations of this dish I’ve ever had.

What made the JOY version of this Korean classic so gosh-darned yummy? Well, there is the well-seasoned beef. (My only nitpick is that I wanted a little more.) Then there are the tasty mushrooms and vegetables. And last but oh-so-certainly not least is the rice, oh that rice—pillow-soft in some parts, and delightfully crispy along the sides of the blazing-hot bowl.

Regular readers know I am not thrilled with the Asian food on offer here in the Coachella Valley. Well, I am feeling a little better about things after the first of what will most likely be many visits to JOY. My mouth waters at the mere thought of that bi bim bap; it was truly excellent.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Szechwan beef lunch special

Where: China Bistro, 45765 Towne St., Indio

How much: $7.50 (lunch special)

Contact: 760-342-7288; chinabistroindio.com

Why: Good flavor—and they deliver the spice, if you ask.

Let’s say you’re an east valley resident craving good Chinese food for lunch. Or maybe you’re from the west valley, and you’ve been called to do your civic duty at the Larson Justice Center—and you want a quick, delicious lunch (preferably at a spot within walking distance). In either case, it’d be smart to head to China Bistro.

Just a block north of the Larson Justice Center, China Bistro offers great Chinese food at reasonable prices—especially at lunch. The menu includes the standards one would expect, and I was fortunate enough to select the Szechwan beef.

The dish featured a reasonable amount of tender, tasty beef (you can get this preparation with shrimp or chicken, if you prefer), as well as a variety of crisp vegetables, including green and red bell peppers, mushrooms, celery, water chestnuts, carrots and onions. It was all covered in a tasty sauce, and served alongside some decent, if unremarkable fried rice (regular rice is also an option) and a fried wonton wrapper, as well as the soup of the day (which was egg drop soup when I was there).

One other detail worth noting: I like my food very spicy, and far too often, restaurants fail to make food spicy enough for my tastes. Well, the good folks at China Bistro adequately heeded my request for spicy Szechuan beef, and left my taste buds happy.

The next time I find myself in Indio, you can bet that if I’m in the mood for some delicious, inexpensive Chinese food (and I am pretty much always in such a mood), I’ll be stopping by China Bistro.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Dragon Roll with the all-you-can-eat sushi at Dragon Sushi

Where: Dragon Sushi, 68369 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City; also at 82451 Highway 111, No. 103, Indio

How much: $22.99 for lunch; $27.99 for dinner

Contact: (760) 321-5935; www.facebook.com/pages/Dragon-sushi/194086770616660

Why: A variety of flavors and textures for one fair price.

Nevada may just be the all-you-can-eat (AYCE) sushi capital of the world.

Several recent newspaper articles have confirmed that the cities of Reno and Las Vegas are havens for AYCE sushi; in fact, one of those stories speculated that every sushi joint in Reno offers an AYCE option. These stories throw out a variety of speculative reasons for this, ranging from the need for sushi restaurants to compete with the ample number of all-you-can-eat buffets, to a desire for sushi by cash-strapped college students (and both Reno and Las Vegas are indeed college towns).

I bring this all up for one reason: I, your humble food scribe, grew up in Reno, which means my formative years were spent gobbling up nigiri and various rolls without concern for individual prices. Alas, when it comes to sushi, the Coachella Valley ain’t Reno: Many of the area’s finer sushi joints don’t offer an all-you-can-eat option, meaning that my AYCE-conditioned brain is confused and paranoid about pricing whenever I eat at one of these places.

However, an increasing number of local sushi restaurants are starting to offer AYCE options—such as the relatively new Dragon Sushi in Cathedral City. (The original Dragon Sushi location in Indio does, too.) This somewhat peculiar restaurant—it shares an entrance and space with La Tablita, a Mexican joint—offers a nice variety of appetizers, nigiri and rolls under its AYCE option. During a recent lunch, we sampled a number of goodies, and they were uniformly tasty—but our favorite was the Dragon Roll (what else would it be at a place called Dragon Sushi?), which is basically a California Roll with freshwater eel, eel sauce and crunch thrown in.

It was a great lunch—and my brain was spared confusion and paranoia. Here’s to the continuing spread of the AYCE sushi paradigm! 

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The salsa (with chips, of course)

Where: Rincon Norteño, 83011 Indio Blvd., Indio

How much: Free with your meal

Contact: 760-347-4754; www.rinconnorteno.com

Why: Because it’s hot—and we ain’t talking about the spice.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, well past my usual lunch time. Due to various meetings in Indio, I have not yet had a chance to eat, and I am freaking hungry.

I wander in to Rincon Norteño, and for some reason, the waitress who seats me thinks I am ordering to-go. When she comes to take my order, and I tell her that I am actually dining at the restaurant, she says “Ohhhh!” and immediately heads to … a soup warmer?

Yes. A soup warmer.

She ladles some of the contents into a bowl; grabs a bowl of chips off a nearby shelf (the chips are placed in bowls in advance; why, I have no idea); and delivers them to me.

I sniff the warm, tan-colored liquid in the small yellow bowl. It does not look all that appetizing, but I am ravenous, so I grab one of the thickish tortilla chips and dive in.

Mmmm.

Most salsas that are served around these parts, of course, are served chilled (or perhaps room-temperature), and feature tomatoes as one of the main ingredients. In this deliciously warm concoction, at least two different types of peppers (the server tells me) are instead the main attraction, with a lot of white onions backing them up. (As for the ingredients beyond the onions and the chiles? I have no idea. It’s a delicious mystery.)

While the salsa is heat-hot, it’s not all that spicy-hot—these are mellow peppers, with just a little bit of kick. The resulting salsa/sauce/gravy/soup is earthy, comforting and just plain yummy.

The combination plate I had was, frankly, pretty average. No matter; that warm salsa will keep me coming back to Rincon Norteño. It’s that good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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