Best Band to Help You Learn Spanish
In all honesty, the only Spanish words I—a decidedly white guy—know are lyrics to Ocho Ojos songs.
Following a last-minute booking at Coachella in 2017, and an album and EP release in 2018, the duo transformed into a quartet, with the band’s sound evolving into something that could be described as “psychedelic cumbia.”
This has been a standout year for Ocho Ojos: The band was again on the Coachella schedule—when the poster was released, not as a last-minute addition. This prompted a frenzy for Ocho Ojos, as the group could seemingly be seen performing anywhere in the valley, and even in Los Angeles. The shows could range from 30 minutes to three hours, thanks to the band members’ ability to perform many popular Spanish tunes in addition their own catalog—all while keeping the crowd singing along and dancing the night away.
When Sunday nights at Coachella came, the boys proceeded to close out the Sonora Stage in front of a packed tent. The energy was electric, and it was something only a band that truly represents the Coachella Valley could pull off.
Don’t believe me? Then take it from Rolling Stone: “Ocho Ojos managed to make their performance feel like a grand family function of pure baile with all your primos and extended relatives in attendance.” The performances were listed by the publication’s writers as one of the 16 best things they saw.
Best Weird Place to See a Band
Gadi’s Bar and Grill
In a building at 56193 Twentynine Palms Highway that has been home to various restaurants since the 1960s, Gadi’s Bar and Grill (www.gadisbarandgrill.com)has now been around since 2014, when Gadi Okevi bought what was then a Yucca Valley rib joint.
One side has a tiny bar with dining booths … but a short walk down a hallway will take you to an adjoining second barroom with a sound stage. Here’s where things get weird: Looming above the generic tables, chairs and tile floor is some wacked-out wavy woodwork that worms its way over the room. It was apparently created in the ’60s, and the wood-lined walls and ceiling don’t match anything else.
Why the funky ceiling was built remains a mystery. Was it was done as a creative way to hide vents? Or to amplify acoustics? Who knows. Whatever the case may be, soundman Jason Maxfield always makes the room sound amazing.
Gadi’s hosts an eclectic mix of live shows, from smaller local bands to occasional bigger acts, in genres including country, metal, old school punk or rock—Gadi doesn’t seem to have met a genre he doesn’t like. And thanks to Jason Maxfield, it all sounds amazing—whether or not that crazy ceiling is a help or a hinderance.
We’ve often posited in these pages that the Coachella Valley is about five years behind the big cities regarding the arrival of food and drink trends—and such is the case when it comes to ramen.
This time last year, if I wanted reliably good ramen in the Coachella Valley, I had nowhere to go, at least that I knew of. However, today, I have at least one regularly available option: Hooray for Ramen Musashi, located at 44491 Town Center Way, in Palm Desert.
This little restaurant was opened earlier this year by the good folks who also operate Musashi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which has been around since 1996. In other words, Ramen Musashi is run by restaurateurs who know what they’re doing—and this is proven by every bowl of original Musashi tonkatsu that comes out of the kitchen.
Here’s what I wrote about the Musashi tonkotsu a few months back: “The ramen was revelatory. All of the ingredients were perfect. The pork was tender and delicious; the egg was a creamy delight. The garlic chips and onion did not overwhelm, and the noodles were just right. But for me, ramen is all about the broth—and this tonkotsu broth was stellar. It was packed with umami, seasoned masterfully and soooooo delicious.”
Damn. My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.
Best Local Album
Captain Ghost, Into the Grave
If you’re looking for an album to listen to while driving very fast, look no further than Into the Grave.
Captain Ghost exploded onto the music scene this year—and very quickly made a name for itself, with lyrics of love and politics being screamed out in a desperate cry over firework-style guitar riffs and tight, crunchy bass and drum lines.
If you get a chance to see Captain Ghost live, take note: It is fun to see people’s reactions to the group, as mustachioed leader Brad Burton towers over his bandmates, almost Joey Ramone-esque, and his sweet stage banter offers a direct contrast to his emphatic cries.
After the band began performing, it began to win more and more hearts with each show—while anticipation grew for the release of Captain Ghost’s debut album, which is a hard-hitting 35 minutes of rock. Tracks like “Raise the Flag,” “Behold the Press” and “Last Day” are sure to make any music fan a Captain Ghost fanatic.
Best Evidence of Our Flourishing Theater Scene
CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City
I’ve been fortunate enough to occasionally attend theatrical productions in the Coachella Valley for seven years now, and I’m shocked—in a good way—at how much the theater scene has absolutely flourished during that timeframe.
Dezart Performs is wowing audiences with top-notch performances in its home at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club—a home the company is quickly outgrowing. Dezart’s fellow Woman’s Club tenant, Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is continuously mounting edgy productions of brand-new shows; Desert Theatreworks has helped revitalize the Indio Performing Arts Center with a steady slate of varied productions; and the LGBT-focused Desert Rose Playhouse continues to raise the figurative bar with seemingly every play. (Its summer production of Ruthless! was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, period.)
However, this all pales in comparison to what Coachella Valley Repertory has pulled off: Raising millions of dollars to turn the old IMAX theater in Cathedral City into a Broadway-caliber, state-of-the-art playhouse.
It is, in a word, stunning. Founder Ron Celona—along with his staff, board and volunteers—have changed the game for Coachella Valley theater with the CVRep Playhouse. It’s proof that while the Coachella Valley as a whole may still be a “small town,” our theater scene is worthy of a big city.
Best Comic Book Shop by Day, and Music Venue by Night
Interstellar Comic Books and Collectibles
Music nerds and comic nerds can unite under one roof at Interstellar Comics.
In the heart of Palm Springs, on Tahquitz Canyon Drive just off Indian Canyon Drive, sits this colorful comic-book shop. Whether you’re in search of a vintage find, or are excited about a new issue, you can find both on the shelves at Interstellar. You can even come in to play various card games, such as Magic the Gathering, with your friends.
But on occasion, when the sun sets over the strip, you can hear local bands reverberating within the walls of the shop. Interstellar has been host to a few shows over the year, once every couple months or so—and I couldn’t think of a better place to perform or watch a show. During these shows, local artists also sell their art inside the multifaceted space. In other words: If you catch a show at Interstellar, you are celebrating all that the local art scene has to offer, in one place, at the same time.
Best Tucked-Away Pastry Palace
Carousel Bakery is an unassuming little gem, tucked away in a hidden corner of the airport-adjacent El Cielo Center (440 S. El Cielo Road), known mostly for its Spectrum storefront.
Inside, friendly and hard-working owners Elizabeth and Alberto create all their baked masterpieces from scratch, with no pre-made anything. Yep: They actually cut up and cooked a real pumpkin to make that fresh pie in the case. The result is the best possible combination of professionally baked goods and homemade appeal.
Along with a surprising variety of traditional bakery fare (pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, croissants, bagels, etc.), Carousel produces some delicious Latin specialties. Think sweet empanadas in an array of flavors ranging from apple to the more-exotic guava with cheese. And don’t miss their one-day-only offerings of Pan de Muerto for Day of the Dead, and Rosca de Reyes for Epiphany.
Carousel serves tasty sandwiches that are enough of a reason to visit, but the real jewels here are the pastries. So the next time you’ve had to wait 45 minutes to return equipment at the Spectrum store, take the edge off with a baked treasure from Carousel.
Best Place to Feel Childlike Wonderment and Joy
Bob’s Crystal Cave at the Sky Village Swap Meet
A tiny enclave in the middle of Yucca Valley’s seven-acre Saturday-and-Sunday swap meet (7028 Theatre Road), Bob’s Crystal Cave is an anomaly amidst junk and vintage vendors, stained-glass art and desert cactus gardens.
What is it, exactly? Well, it’s a Flintstones-esque building created from chicken wire and spray foam—and its puffy porthole-pocked exterior unveils a walk of wonderment. A short wander through the spray-foam-packed hall reveals locked doors (what lurks behind them?) and small windows here and there. You can peek into a whimsical miniature world of tiny trees; and mosaics of glass, mirror and precious stone. Water flows throughout into pools of lazily swimming goldfish.
Sadly, creator Bob Carr died in January of this year. But his legacy lives on through his serene creation, one that can make even the biggest curmudgeon crack a smile. Bob’s Crystal Cave is so cool that it’s written about in “the definitive guide to the world’s hidden wonders,” Atlas Obscura.
Best Place to Learn About and Look at the Cosmos
Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater
The Joshua Tree Astronomy Arts Theater is an open-air theater located next to the Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground, at 2601 Sunfair Road.
What is it? Well, it’s a fenced-in area with a large stage and screen—including plenty of nice, sloped outdoor-chair seating, with plenty of room to set up your own chairs or blankets. It’s a big, dark place—perfect for stargazing.
Along the left side of the “theater” are various telescopes manned by gregarious members of the Southern California Desert Video Astronomers (www.scdva.org), who are happy to tour the constellations with anyone who wanders over. People of all ages can come to relax and learn tales of the cosmos. The group hosts regular events with cool themes like Friday the 13th’s “Spooky Superstitions: Lucky Stars and Moons of Doom,” or an amazing night of meteor showers at their peak. The JTAAT has also hosted movies (about aliens!) and the live tunes of local musician Clive Wright, who plays guitar along with “singing plants.”
When you go, BYOB—food, beers, buds—or, in other words, pack a picnic! Don’t forget to bring a flashlight so you can find your way to the porta-potties in the parking lot.
Best Combination of Silky and Fried
The California Avocado Fries at Grill a Burger
The other day, I was driving down the road, when all of a sudden, a thought popped into my mind: “Damn, I could go for some avocado fries at Grill-a-Burger right now.”
Now, let me place this random thought in proper context: I had not been to Grill-a-Burger in about a year and a half. I haven’t had avocado fries of any sort since then. So, what in tarnation led me to have this thought at this time? Was it the result of some unknown stimuli? A signal from the mothership?
I have no freaking idea. All I know is that ever since, I have not been able to get Grill-a-Burger’s avocado fries off my mind. These deliciously filling wedges have it all: Sweet. Savory. Smoothness. A Panko-breadcrumb crunch. Yum.
If you like avocado to the slightest degree, you must try these. Get thee to 73091 Country Club Drive, in Palm Desert, pronto.
Buttermilk Pie at Billy Reed’s
As our press deadline for this issue approached, the heartbreaking news broke that Robbie Lemley, the co-owner of Billy Reed’s (at 1800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs), had passed away at the age of 86.
After the news broke, local social-media pages were flooded with remembrances and tributes, both to Lemley himself and the iconic restaurant he helped create. I didn’t know Lemley personally (although I am sure he greeted me a time or three during my visits to Billy Reed’s). However, I adore his work: Billy Reed’s is truly one of a kind.
Billy Reed’s is the place where I celebrated my most recent birthday. It’s the place I recently took some close friends who just moved here for their first “official meal” as Palm Springs residents. And it’s the place that introduced me to what has become one of my favorite desserts: buttermilk pie.
A piece of this pie looks simple, but its flavor is surprisingly complex. I don’t know exactly what the bakers at Billy Reed’s put in their version, but buttermilk pie, I’ve come to learn, typically includes a blend of buttermilk, eggs, butter, flour, lemon, vanilla and a whole lot of sugar. The resulting custard pie is pure decadence.
Thank you, Mr. Lemley, for the special place you helped make. And thank you for broadening my dessert horizons just a little, too.