House combo meals from Misaki Sushi and Grill. Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald

Best Bang for Your Yen

Misaki Sushi and Grill

Tucked away in the back of the large strip mall at the southeast corner of Washington Street and Highway 111 in La Quinta sits Misaki Sushi and Grill. In pre-COVID times, the small, bustling eatery was packed with sushi and sashimi fans devouring some of the valley’s best fresh fish, served up in generous slices, at reasonable prices.

But if you’re looking for something beyond reasonable prices, Misaki’s house combo meal is a fantastic deal. For as little as $16, you get to choose one item from a group that includes beef teriyaki, chicken teriyaki, salmon teriyaki, mixed tempura, gyoza and shumai; and one item from a second group, which includes a California roll, a spicy tuna roll, four pieces of nigiri sushi or six pieces of sashimi. (Some of these items come with an additional charge.) If you increase your expenditure by $3, can select a second item from that first group.

The phone-order and curbside pickup service—so important these days—offered by the Misaki staff is convenient and efficient. For people who want to dine at the restaurant, outdoor seating is available on the patio.

We should also note that the portions are rather large. More than once, the three-item dinner combo option provided enough leftovers for a meal the next day.

—Kevin Fitzgerald


Best El Paseo Restaurant (Non-Pretentious Category)

The Fix Restaurant

The El Paseo shopping district can feel a little pretentious—but it always feels comfortable at The Fix Restaurant, which is self-billed as “a modern California bistro.”

The new owner has done a great job of remodeling The Fix, which was previously a bakery-focused endeavor. Both the indoor and outdoor spaces are light, bright, airy and modern. The menu selection is small yet extensive enough that most everyone can find something they’d want. One of my favorite menu items is the turkey cranberry melt sandwich—on multigrain bread, with copious amounts of turkey and cranberry cream cheese. The accompanying sweet potato fries are delicious.

However, what really blew me away is the service: On one visit, I felt like I was at a fancier restaurant when I got back to the table from the bathroom, and my cloth napkin had been neatly refolded on the table. The Fix is well-staffed, and everyone is friendly and professional. You can tell the hard-working owner, often behind the bar, has a lot of pride in his business.

Getting your fix at The Fix is not cheap, but it’s not too expensive, either—and it’s certainly well worth the money.

—Jeffrey Clarkson


Best Place to Find Consignment Treasures

Misty’s Consignments

We’ve heard some horror stories about shady furniture-consignment stores in the Coachella Valley—but our experiences with Misty’s Consignments, occupying a rambling warehouse space on Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage, have always been fantastic, on both the consignment and buying sides.

Whether we were dealing with Misty herself or a member of her staff, everyone has been helpful and pleasant. Misty has a reputation of being a bit picky about accepting consignments, but for good reason: Everything we’ve ever consigned there has sold in less time than we imagined.

Of all the furniture-consignment shops we’ve visited in these parts, Misty’s has the largest share of items for sale that make us say, “That’s interesting.” In other words: You don’t have to dig too hard to find the treasures at Misty’s.

—Jeffrey Clarkson


Best Music Festival and Adventure Park

4xFAR

“Way back” in January, the inaugural 4xFAR Music and Adventure Festival came to Empire Grand Oasis. The announcement of the event took me by surprise, as the melding of music and adventure was a new concept—and the setting, in Thermal, seemed a bit odd.

But when I went to the festival, which was presented by Land Rover, it all made sense. The two-day event offered something for everyone, as music acts like Anderson .Paak and Mark Ronson shared the venue with an ax-throwing area and test drives of the 2020 Land Rover. While we never got to see what Coachella 2020 would have been like, it’s safe to say this festival was out to compete.

The future of 4xFAR is unknown, so music lovers and thrill seekers alike must keep their fingers crossed for a second coming of this unique fest.

—Matt King


Best Weird Al Tribute

Finder’s Thrift and Vinyl/Spatula City Records

Finder’s Thrift and Vinyl is an absolute gem of a store that I discovered pre-pandemic. At the La Quinta spot, I was able to find everything from favorite albums for cheap to vintage Star Wars gear. When the shutdown came, I—among others—worried how the independent store would fare.

Thankfully, owner Matt Lehman knew exactly what to do: He quickly transformed his large record selection into an online shop titled Spatula City Records. The same deals and finds from the store were made available online, complete with fast service and shipping right to one’s door.

The online shop’s name is an homage to Lehman’s hero, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and his film UHF. Check out the Spatula City Instagram, @spatulacityrecords, to see a photoshoot done in the store that features Yankovic records displayed on every shelf—and photo even got reposted by Weird Al himself.

—Matt King


Best Pandemic Pastime

El Toro Flicks

The year 2020 and the accompanying entertainment closures have revived many underutilized and older forms of media—including the drive-in movie theater.

Drive-in theaters have popped up around the Coachella Valley; after all, social distancing comes easy when you don’t have to leave your car. El Toro Flicks in Palm Desert has become a favorite of many drive-in-goers, both because of the venue and the movie selection—the theater is located at top of the art-covered Westfield Palm Desert parking garage, and the selection of movies ranges from old classics to newer gems.

It will be interesting to see whether the drive-in theater revival continues when regular movie theaters reopen for good. I, personally, hope it does: The format has advantages for introverts and germaphobes alike.

—Matt King


Best Local-Release Promo

Throw the Goat

Throw the Goat is one of the hardest-working bands in our valley—and the restrictions of COVID-19 seemed like only a minor setback to the group.

Throw the Goat adapted to a new reality when it came to promoting new album Capitol Hell. The band couldn’t perform shows or tour to promote the album—so the band created an online campaign called Vote Goat 2020. The Goat-bros filmed tons of behind-the-scenes content and issued it to fans who pre-ordered the album, along with posters, T-shirts, and stickers.

It’s safe to say that the members of Throw the Goat are ready for anything the world throws at them—because they’ve proven that nothing will stop them from getting their voices and music heard.

—Matt King


Best New Local Album

Instigator, Necessary Evil

As the members of Instigator grow older, their sound only gets better.

What started as a high school band has now morphed into one of the highlights of our music scene. The thrash-metal stylings of Instigator shine bright on their second LP, Necessary Evil—and the sound is matched only by the greats of the genre.

While the band was only able to perform live a handful of times everything closed, those shows proved that the explosiveness displayed on the record comes through just as powerfully in a live setting.

Hopefully one day soon, fans will be able to witness Instigator perform Necessary Evil live in its entirety.

—Matt King


Best Theatrical Tear-Jerker

Dezart Performs’ ‘Daniel’s Husband’

Independent theater critic Bonnie Gilgallon started off her review of the Dezart Performs production of Daniel’s Husband back in January with this: “Any professional critic worth his or her salt strives to be fair, tactful, entertaining and, most of all, honest. To regularly gush or fawn over productions would cause us to lose our credibility. But every now and then, a play comes along that leaves us no choice but to gush.”

I saw Daniel’s Husband myself—and Bonnie’s assessment is perfect.

The show starred local-theater icons David Youse and Michael Shaw as Mitch and Daniel, a couple that has been together for seven years—but the two have never married, despite the fact that same-sex marriage is currently legal in all 50 states. The audience learns that Daniel badly wants to be married—but Mitch doesn’t care at all for the institution of marriage.

Of course, something happens in the play—flawlessly directed by Darin Anthony—that turns Mitch and Daniel’s lives upside down, shining a light on the importance of legalized marriage.

The performances by Youse and Shaw were amazing—Youse’s Mitch had a moment of grief and anger that constituted the most powerful scene I’ve ever seen on a local stage—and both Chuck Yates and Hanz Enyeart are fantastic in supporting roles, as is Deborah Harmon as Daniel’s mother.

Daniel’s Husband was performed on the Pearl McManus Theater stage only 11 months ago, but an unimaginable amount of turmoil has taken place in the United States since then. The pandemic has reminded everyone how vital it is for LGBTQ individuals to be able to make medical decisions on behalf of incapacitated partners—and the addition of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court has made the nationwide existence of marriage equality seem rather tenuous. In other words, the messages in Michael McKeever’s script are rather prescient.

Kudos to Dezart Performs for bringing this powerful play to the Coachella Valley—and for leaving audience-goers gushing.

—Jimmy Boegle