Best Auto Service for Honesty’s Sake
Cam Stone’s Automotive
Cam Stone’s Automotive in Palm Desert is the kind of auto-service shop every woman dreams of—at least women (and men) like me who know little to nothing about car repairs.
The people at Cam’s do good work, are honest, and never seem to recommend anything you don’t really need. And if money’s really tight … you can ask them what absolutely, positively has to be done; they’ll let you know how far you can push the part you can’t afford to have replaced today before a major mishap occurs.
Guy Allchin (pictured here with his family), who runs it, and Karl, his excellent sidekick, are straight-up guys who explain things so you can understand them and so you can make the best decisions to keep your wheels on the road. 74867 Velie Way, Palm Desert; 760-568-2999; camstonesautomotive.com.
Best Sandwiches Inside a Convenience/Liquor Store
Larry’s Gourmet Market and Deli
From the outside, Larry’s Gourmet Market and Deli looks like a run-of the-mill liquor store, selling the usual stuff. But … go inside, and you’ll see Larry’s is an unexpected, family-run treasure chest.
For one thing, the deli is really good. We’ve enjoyed everything we’ve gotten there, but our favorite is the meat-filled Don Veto specialty sandwich (pictured here).
Larry’s also has a variety of interesting gourmet items you might not find elsewhere. One example: On a recent trip, we got a box of delicious rose-flavored Turkish delight candy.
Along with a nice variety of beer and hard liquor, Larry’s carries a respectable wine selection that goes from very cheap to the $100-a-bottle range. There’s even a refrigerated wine room in the back that feels great in the heat of summer.
Just don’t go to Larry’s looking for lottery tickets. They don’t sell them … which, for us, classes up the place. 2781 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-832-7188; larrysgourmetmarket.com.
Best Place to Avoid If You’re Arachnophobic
The VW Spider on Indian Canyon Drive at Interstate 10
When you’re driving by, you can’t help but notice the massive spider looming large in front of a warehouse with “Hole in the Wall” emblazoned across the front. And you may have wondered, like me: What? How? Why?
After some sleuthing, I discovered that the 28-foot high, eight-legged hunk of metal formerly fronted a Volkswagen repair shop, Hole in the Wall Welding. The enormous recycled artwork (the spider body is a full-size VW bug) was created by owner/welder/mechanic/desert rat Bob Miner, who passed away in 2008. The repair shop no longer exists, but Bob’s family still resides in the warehouse.
If you’re into kitsch and not afraid of creepy crawlers, this hairy-legged arachnid is a quirky must-see landmark. If you are afraid … avoid Indian Canyon Drive (next to Jack in the Box), just south of the Interstate 10.
Best Place to Pretend You’re on the Set of a David Lynch Movie
Open-Mic Night at the Palms Restaurant in Wonder Valley
The Palms is one of those middle-of-nowhere places that’s really a groovy hangout. It’s a throwback, with very affordable booze—$1.50 for a can of Pabst beer; $3 for a domestic bottle; shots starting at $4—and cheap tasty, eats (the onion rings and fried zucchini are delish), all in an atmosphere that’s weathered, worn-in, kooky and cool.
Every Friday at 7 p.m. (with signups starting at 6:30), The Palms hosts an open-mic night, where there’s a good chance reality may become fuzzy—all in the name of “entertainment.” Spoken word, comedic acts, genuinely gifted musicians, not-so-gifted musicians … there’s something for everyone. You may witness folks like “Grannie”—a toothless senior in a cute wig and cowboy hat—crooning “Stand by Me,” a cappella, in a gruff, “I’ve been smoking a pack a day for the last 60 years” voice. The Palms’ open mic is truly strange and endearing at the same time. The Palms Restaurant, 83131 Amboy Road, Wonder Valley; 760-361-2810. (Pictured: Guitar-player Karl Van Dyke performs at The Palms’ open-mic night. Photo courtesy of Joseph Barrett.)
Best Tapas and Wine Hideout
Counter Reformation at the Parker Palm Springs
With its semi-mandatory valet parking, fancy-schmancy main restaurant and well-heeled celebrity clientele, the Parker Palm Springs can be a bit intimidating … despite the hotel’s ostensible casual-hip vibe. However, we’re madly in love with Counter Reformation, the hotel’s cozy wine bar, featuring friendly service and great music.
The door to the bar is hard to find—head toward the pool and take a left—but discovering this well-designed and inventively Catholic-themed spot is serendipity. The wine choices are not extensive, but the selections are diverse and interesting enough. And at the prices … well, at the Parker, at least, they’re bargains.
We’ve sampled about half of the tapas on the menu, and everything so far has been delicious. These small plates, along with the free loaves of fresh-baked bread and the complimentary olives and cornichons, can make for a filling meal … a meal you can partially work off during the walk back to your self-parked car on the street outside. 4200 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-770-5000; www.parkerpalmsprings.com/food-and-drink. (Pictured: The Jamón Iberico at Counter Reformation.)
Best New Band
Mega Sun arrived in early 2018—and the group quickly earned the admiration of the local music scene.
The band’s sound reminds of stoner rock, circa the early ’90s, and the group’s live shows are always loud and fantastic.
The power trio is currently in the process of completing some recordings. I’m excited to see what this band will do in 2019 … and beyond.
Throw the Goat, The Joke’s On Us
Throw the Goat had a great year in 2018 after finishing off 2017 on a mind-blowing note: The group won a contest, as announced on New Year’s Eve 2017, put on by Dave Ellefson of Megadeth to release an album on his Combat Records label. The Joke’s On Us was released shortly thereafter.
The name of the album is a reference to the presidency of Donald Trump and has political themes. Produced and recorded by guitarist Brian “Puke” Parnell, the album shows the band going heavier with more punk. It’s a great example of a musical evolution.
While Throw the Goat might confuse audiences who question whether the band is punk or metal, we can all agree: The Joke’s On Us is a great album.
Best All-Female Band
The After Lashes
I have enjoyed watching the all-female four-piece band The After Lashes improve its sound over the course of 2018; in fact, every time I take in one of the group’s shows, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much the talented band has improved since I first saw The After Lashes.
Why has the band improved? The members of The After Lashes put in the work. Combine that hard work with talent, attitude and energy, and The After Lashes are amazing.
Best Pizza Joint You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
I’m kind of shocked that Pizzeria Bambinos wasn’t a Best Pizza finalist this year. But then again … this fantastic pizza joint seems to be flying under the figurative radar. In fact, it may be the valley’s best kept pizza secret.
Maybe it has to do with the location; this small pizzeria is tucked away in the same shopping plaza as Big Lots in Cathedral City, and has limited seating … but it makes fantastic pizza, with other delicious options as well. 69040 Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City; 760-770-0505; pizzeriabambinos.com.
Best Comfort Food in a Desert Dining Wasteland
Two Guys Pies
I moved to Morongo Valley a year ago from the Bay Area … and my taste buds have been suffering terribly in this desert wasteland. Nearby Yucca Valley is more of a mecca for fast food (including ridiculous overexcited buzzing about the recent opening of a Popeye’s Chicken) than any sort of place for fine dining. However, all is not lost.
I am in the midst of a comfort foodgasm over my discovery of Two Guys Pies, aka TGP. Specializing in brick oven ’za, Guy and Guy, the two guys behind Two Guys Pies, promote rock ’n’ rolling all night and ’za-ing every day. Their double-decker pepperoni pizza ranked 24th in the world at an international pizza expo just last year!
Aside from the delicious pizza, Two Guys has salads, pastas and sandwiches … all with creative rockin’ names like Sound Tomato Garden, Bon Chovies, The Hungry Rollins Band, Spinach Tap, Weird Al-Fredo, Run DMCaesar, etc. The Basket Case bread balls with Love Potion No. 9 dipping sauce are an absolute must-have.
It’s hard for me to refrain from eating at TGP every night. My only complaint: It closes at 4 p.m. on Sundays. 56969 Yucca Trail; Yucca Valley; 760-418-5075; 2guyspies.com. (Pictured: A Two Guys Pies employee hard at work. Photo by Shawn Smith.)
Best Local Event for Car Lovers
McCormick’s Palm Springs Collector Car Auctions
Keith McCormick is a classic-car guru, and whether you’re looking for a rare foreign vehicle or a domestic beauty from the ’50s, a Porsche or a Corvette, chances are you can find one at McCormick’s showroom on Indian Canyon Drive downtown Palm Springs—or at his twice-a-year car auction.
McCormick is an import himself: He moved from the outskirts of Liverpool in England to Palm Springs in 1981.
“I’ve been into the cars since I was 18,” he said. “Moving my exotic car biz here was a no brainer: It was the same (here) as in England, except for the sunshine and no rain over here.”
In 1985, he put together the Palm Springs Vintage Grand Prix and Concours d’Elegance show to help promote local tourism.
“We raced the vintage cars where now the new Convention Center is,” he said, proudly pointing out that he himself owns a cool Ferrari 488 GTB.
The McCormick family—with his wife and son, Jason, working alongside—has put together 65 Palm Springs Collector Car Auctions so far. The event is held twice a year, in February and November, with more than 500 cars at each event.
The McCormicks sell and ship cars all over the world, from Japan to Germany.
“We have sold Sinatra’s, Liberace’s and Elvis’ cars—even the Batmobile,” McCormick said with a grin. “Classic cars are like art to me—it’s like looking at ‘Mona Lisa,’ but a lot less expensive.” www.classic-carauction.com. (Pictured: Keith McCormick. Photo by Brane Jevric.)
Best Artery-Clogging Meal
The Disco Superfries at Blackbook
If you’ve ever been hungry while in downtown Palm Springs, you know there are many, many options for food … but when my friends and I are in the mood to be bad, we always pick the cardiac special of disco superfries at Blackbook on Arenas Road.
These little yummies are a home run every time. Think nachos … but instead of chips, you get fries! That’s right—fresh fries topped with gooey cheese, sour cream, tomatoes and hot sauce.
You can share them, or you can make them a meal—you get a whole small cookie sheet of them! Warning: This is an item that’s just begging to be shared, so even if you’re alone and intend the superfries to be your meal … you will always have “friends” magically appear, even if you didn’t bring any with you. 315 Arenas Road, Palm Springs; 760-832-8497; blackbookbar.com.
The Coachella Valley is certainly not suffering from a lack of talented professional singers. But if you’re not a professional … it’s hard to carry your shower out on the town with you, so check out Peabody’s Café on Friday and Saturday nights for karaoke.
Even if you don’t want to croon yourself, you can kick back and hear some great singers … and some not-so-great singers. There is a great music selection, and the DJ is a nice guy. The fun starts at 7:30 p.m., but get there early—it fills up fast!
Enjoy the menu and bar while you’re waiting for your turn on the mic; Peabody’s has killer Bloody Mary’s. Heck, bring your friends and make a night of it! 134 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-1877; www.peabodyscafeandbar.com.
Best Weekend Culinary Classes
Wabi Sabi Japan Living
One of my favorite places to hang out is Wabi Sabi Japan Living. It may sound weird that I like to hang out at a small Japanese-goods store, but don’t judge.
Not only does Wabi Sabi have great merchandise; the owners, Darrell and Sam, offer amazing classes on how to enjoy and use their products. Check out the website for dates and times; the classes are usually held on Saturday afternoons. I have been to the bonsai tree and ramen classes … but I have yet to attend the class I want to take most of all: the sushi-making class. You learn how to make three rolls by actually making them … then you get to eat them! You have to sign up early; the class fills up quickly. Wabi Sabi also offers sake and Japanese-grilling classes.
Not only do Darrell and Sam know what they are talking about; you can feel their passion. Take note: Wabi Sabi is set back off of the road a bit; look for the Rising Sun flags. 258 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-537-3838; www.wabisabijapanliving.com.
Best Seafood Towers and Tostadas
Because I am a west valley resident, I don’t get down to the east valley that much … but I can tell you that an east valley trip is coming soon. In fact, it’s probably already happened by the time you’ve read this.
The reason: I have a huge, honking hankering for the food at Mariscoco’s Culiacan.
The last time I was at this Coachella mainstay, I ordered the tostada especial (pictured here): an individual-sized plate of delicious, fresh and cool seafood, including shrimp, abalone, octopus, fish, sea snail and scallops—plus cucumbers, onion, avocado and other ingredients—all mixed in with Mariscoco’s special smoky-tasting sauce. It was really, really good.
Still, I looked longingly at the seafood towers—including many of the aforementioned ingredients, and then some—as they went by to other tables. These huge creations are meant for more than one mere mortal … so next time I go to Mariscoco’s, I won’t be going alone.
Hey, west valley friends: How about a short road trip? We can meet our east valley friends at Mariscoco’s. 51683 Harrison (Cesar Chavez) St., Coachella; 760-398-5666; www.facebook.com/mariscocosymaristorresculiacan760.