Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

What: The Wok-Fired Jasmine Rice With Lemongrass Pork

Where: Pho 533, 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 625, Palm Springs

How Much: $13

Contact: 760-778-6595;

Why: It tastes even better than it looks.

It’s a good-news, bad-news kind of a situation that we have here.

The good news: Pho 533, a Palm Springs Vietnamese-food mainstay for many years, is better than ever, thanks to its new ownership. Chad Gardner, owner of Dash and a Handful Catering, has raised the bar at Pho 533 since he took over in April, tweaking the menu and refining everything that comes out of the kitchen.

The bad news: If you’re hankering for the best Vietnamese food in the entire valley, perhaps, you’d better go this weekend, because the restaurant will be closing for two weeks of renovations after dinner service on Sunday, Aug. 16.

Whether you head to Pho 533 this weekend, or wait until it reopens on Wednesday, Sept. 2, you can’t go wrong with any of the “Viet fusion” fare on offer. However, we’re particularly smitten with one item right now: The wok-fired jasmine rice with lemongrass pork.

Look at the picture above. Is that gorgeous, or what? Well, we’re here to tell you the dish tastes as good as it looks—maybe even better. The jasmine rice is a little soft and a little chewy. The lemongrass pork is tender, juicy and so delicious that you’ll be thinking about it for days. Scallions, seasonal vegetables, spices, egg and tamari sauce (it’s soy sauce without the wheat, more or less) complete the flavor profile—and what a flavor profile it is.

The dishes at Pho 533 aren’t necessarily cheap, but the portion sizes are huge, and the food quality is off the charts, so what comes on your plate is worth every penny.

It’s in your taste buds’ best interests to get to Pho 533 this weekend. If you don’t, you’ll have to deal with 16 days of bad news … but as of Sept. 2, it’ll be all good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Over the Edge Wedge

Where: Serious Food and Drink, 415 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How Much: $10.95

Contact: 760-832-6023;

Why: Pork. Belly. Croutons.

I am a simple man, who is into simple things. Whiskey. Baseball. Pork products. Etc.

Therefore, when I saw the description of the wedge salad on offer at Serious Food and Drink—a fantastic new restaurant occupying the building that previously housed Hamburger Mary’s—I was intrigued: “pork belly ‘croutons’ / grapes / bleu cheese-dill vinaigrette.”

Wait, what? Pork belly “croutons”?

Turns out bread has nothing to do with these “croutons.” No, these little cubes of deliciousness are pure pork, baby—specifically, they’re little fried pieces of pork belly that taste so awesome, you’ll have drool-inducing flashbacks for days afterward.

The rest of the salad is great, too. The dill in the bleu-cheese vinaigrette adds a welcome bit of pep. The grapes are fun, and create a lovely flavor profile when added to the bleu cheese. And cool, crisp lettuce is a welcome addition to almost anything when it’s 107 degrees outside.

But I’m not gonna lie: As nice as the lettuce, grapes and dressing all are, in this dish, it’s all about the pork. Yes, I’m a simple man—and these pork belly “croutons” make me very, very happy. Thank you, Serious Food and Drink, for bringing them into my life.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how fantastic Serious’ other offerings are, as well. There’s an amazing happy hour in the bar area, and the hand-crafted cocktails served here are among the best in town. The name is accurate: This is some serious food and drink, and the restaurant is a most welcome addition to the northern chunk of downtown Palm Springs.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Italian Soda at Ristretto

Where: Ristretto, 500 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $2.50 medium, $2.95 large

Contact: 760-656-7352;

Why: It’s a refreshing drink in a relaxing spot.

We often praise the virtues of simple food in this space—we are fans of quality ingredients, properly combined and lovingly prepared.

However, I doubt we’ll ever tout a simpler item than this, the Italian soda at Ristretto. Why, you may ask, are we bestowing the extreme honor of an Indy Endorsement on a drink that consists of soda water, Torani syrup, ice and nothing else? After all, anybody can make an Italian soda at home in less than 30 seconds, right?

The key here is the venue, not the soda itself.

Ristretto is a delightful spot that’s quickly become the de facto coffee-shop meeting place for many people in downtown Palm Springs. It’s clean; it’s comfortable; and there’s a charming patio where one can watch the goings-on at the intersection of Ramon Road and Palm Canyon Drive.

Plus, the food (including burritos, quiches, bagels, wraps and salads) and drinks Ristretto offers are quite good—and the service is always fantastic. Finally, Ristretto is endorsement-worthy for its community involvement: It recently became one of the first two restaurants (along with Pho 533) to donate 100 percent of its Dining Out for Life-day proceeds to the Desert AIDS Project.

You may also ask: If the coffee and food at Ristretto are all so groovy, why endorse an Italian freaking soda? Well, summer arrives soon, and in our heat-addled minds, there is no non-alcoholic beverage that’s more refreshing on a 100-degree day than a nice, cold soda.

So, join us at Ristretto; pick your syrup flavor (we’re partial to peach or watermelon in terms of refreshing-ness); and cool off with us, will ya?

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Peanut Butter and Banana Shake

Where: Great Shakes, 160 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite A, Palm Springs

How Much: $5.50 to $7.50

Contact: 760-327-5300;

Why: Fresh ingredients make for … well, great shakes.

In April 2013, the walk down Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs became all the more dangerous for people’s waistlines—and all the more enthralling for people’s taste buds.

That’s when Great Shakes opened, in a little storefront just north of Arenas Road.

Inside, you’ll be greeted by a chalkboard menu offering more than two-dozen milkshake concoctions, all made with premium vanilla ice cream or a lactose-free option; floats and Dole Whip are available as well.

On a recent visit there, I quizzed the young woman working behind the counter on customer favorites. She recommended the date shake, the salted caramel shake, “anything with Oreos” and the shake with peanut butter and bananas. In a nod to The King himself, thank you very much, I went with the peanut butter and banana shake. Boy, was that a good call on my part.

The flavors melded perfectly, and the inclusion of both some unblended peanut butter (smeared somewhat artistically around the inside perimeter of the plastic cup) and several banana slices gave each bite/slurp some variety in flavor and texture. (The shakes come with both a large straw and a spoon. You’ll need them both.) Of course, all shakes come with a little mini donut—a nice touch.

I got a small-sized shake (pictured here), and that was more than enough to make my taste buds happy—and to add at least an extra half-hour to my next trip to the gym. But it was sooo worth it; you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better shake anywhere in the Coachella Valley.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Happy Hour New York Steak

Where: Sammy G’s Tuscan Grill, 265 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $15

Contact: 760-320-8041;

Why: It’s a fantastic deal.

There are so many things we like about the happy hour New York steak deal at Sammy G’s Tuscan Grill that we feel the need to make a list:

1. It’s inexpensive. For just $15—the cost of a cocktail at some wayward “upscale” bars—you can get an 8-ounce New York steak. And fries. And a mixed-greens salad. In other words, you can enjoy a whole meal for just three Lincolns. Spiffy, eh?

2. It’s high-quality. You’re probably wondering about the quality of the steak: Is this one of those nasty hunks of meat like the stuff you’d get on special at a low-end Las Vegas casino? Absolutely not: We’ve enjoyed Sammy G’s happy hour steaks several times now, and every one we’ve received has been tender, with little gristle and fat. Oh, and the folks in the kitchen have successfully grilled the steak to order (medium rare, thank you) each and every time.

3. Happy hour is more like happy 8 1/2 hours. You know how some restaurant happy hours are, well, shortish in duration? Or only on certain days of the week? Not so here: Sammy G’s happy hour runs from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day in the lounge/bar area.

4. The atmosphere is lovely. Sammy G’s lounge is nice and huge. You can sit at a table, at the bar, or even on the patio. You’ll be comfortable no matter where you dine.

5. There are other great deals available during happy hour, too. Like $5 well drinks and $6 martinis.

Do both your wallet and your palate a favor, and check out this amazing happy hour deal!

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Sour

Where: Bar, 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $10

Contact: 760-537-7337;

Why: It’s one of the best cocktails in the valley.

I am convinced that Bar (if you’re unfamiliar, yes, that’s the name of the place in its entirety) remains underrated, even though the bar/restaurant/music venue has, in fact, received a fair amount of acclaim—including nabbing top honors in the Best Cocktail category of our inaugural Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll.

You know what? Our readers are pretty gosh-darned smart. Not only does Bar have one of the valley’s best cocktail menus; Bar has one of the valley’s best cocktails, period, at least as far as my palate is concerned.

Bar’s Sour includes just four ingredients of note: bourbon, lemon, sugar and egg whites. However, when these four ingredients are carefully mixed by a bartender who knows what he or she is doing (and trust me: Bar’s bartenders do indeed know what they are doing), the resulting cocktail is out of this world.

It’s tart. It’s sweet. It’s foamy It’s slightly oaky. And it’s deep.

The folks at Bar will make this drink with whatever bourbon or whiskey you prefer, and sometimes, they’ll even mix things up a bit if left to their own devices. On one recent night, the bartender told me he was making the drink with Elijah Craig 12-year, whereas Bar normally uses Buffalo Trace.

You can pair the Sour with something off of Bar’s menu of tasty food—including my favorite (and a previous Indy Endorsement recipient), the Picnic Eggs: deviled eggs with wasabi and Sriracha. Or you can drink the Sour as a meal unto itself; after all, it includes egg whites, right? (OK, maybe this is not a good idea.)

Either way, you’ll enjoy it. Trust me.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

Where: Delicatesse, 117 La Plaza, Palm Springs

How much: $7.95

Contact: 760-300-3601;

Why: It’s spicy, fresh and delicious.

My, how time flies.

I’ve been intrigued by Delicatesse, located in downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza, ever since it opened. I looove good deli, yet I had never managed to stop in to try Delicatesse’s “Euro deli delights”; either I was walking by when it was closed at night, or I was zooming by on my way somewhere else during the day. I figured this neglect had been going on for several months now, maybe even a half-year or so.

Nope. According to the Delicatesse website, the place has been open since January 2014. In other words, the place has now been open for a year.

Wow. Well, I discovered what I’ve been missing when I finally resolved to have lunch there—specifically, I’ve been missing some most-excellent sandwiches.

On what is now two recent visits (yes, the food was so good, we went back again just a couple of days later), we have enjoyed several sandwiches, all of which have been splendid. However, the one that has kept our mouths watering the most is the buffalo chicken sandwich.

Buffalo chicken? At a Euro deli? Why, yes; don’t ask me to explain it. I asked the friendly gentleman behind the counter what he recommended on my initial visit, and “buffalo chicken” was the answer. Served on a choice of bread (I recommend the German rye) and with a choice of cheese, the sauced-up, sliced-then-shredded warm chicken packs a spicy, savory punch. This isn’t the buffalo wing sauce you’d find at your average wings joint; this is soooo much better.

However, the goodness goes beyond the sauce; it extends to the fresh bread and the high-quality meats (which you can peruse in the deli counter).

Apparently, I am not the only person who’s a fan; on both recent visits, I got the last buffalo chicken sandwich of the day, because the rest of the tasty chicken had been gobbled up by hungry customers. So, go early, You’ll be glad you did.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

At 6 foot 5 inches tall, chef Tom Hogan stands above the crowd.

His stature doesn’t just involve his height. He stands out because he’s cooked for five presidents: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That’s quite a resume for a chef who calls the desert home, and has done so off and on since 2005.

Chef Tom—that’s how he’s known in the restaurant business—has been cooking for 39 years now. He started learning the trade as a kid in his aunt’s hotel in Atlantic City, right on the Boardwalk.

“I’d go down there to vacation with my parents, but I’d rather stay in the hotel’s kitchen with chefs, fascinated with cooking,” Hogan said.

From then on, Hogan, 53, followed his gastronomical passion all over the United States.

“My first job was in my birthplace, Holyoke, Mass., at The Log Cabin, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in New England during the late ‘70s,” he proudly states. “After that, I moved to L.A. and got a job at the Hard Rock Cafe.”

Hogan’s career took off following his apprenticeship at the renowned Beverly Hills Hotel. He continued his culinary education under the tutelage of Elka Gilmore, a pioneer chef in fusion cuisine.

“Elka taught me how to think outside the box in the kitchen,” Hogan said.

Hogan later joined the Along Came Mary catering company, famous for its service to numerous stars and Hollywood studios. That’s how Hogan learned how to throw grand parties—from owner Mary Micucci, generally recognized as one of Hollywood’s biggest culinary names.

Hogan then reached for the stars—the movie stars, that is. His cooking for celebs such as Barbra Streisand eventually led to attention from the political world. Naturally, the Secret Service needed to check Hogan’s background, and he received security clearance to cook for presidents.

“Reagan was the first president I’ve cooked for,” Hogan said. “It was a small intimate gathering for 12 people in L.A., and the president and the first lady were among the guests. President Reagan entered the kitchen. He said: ‘Boys, what are we having for dinner? Mommy said we’re going out peas!’ I thought it was a little odd. Then Nancy came in and said, ‘Hi, guys, I heard we’re going to have a great meal!’ She held the president’s hand and led him out of the kitchen.”

He later cooked for Jimmy Carter, after his presidential term had ended. Hogan said his experience with Carter was special, because they were able to chat a bit.

“President Carter was speaking at a large gathering in Holmby Hills in L.A.,” Hogan said. “Security was very tight, but Carter came into the kitchen. He gravitated toward me. He asked me my name and where I was from. We talked a little about my father, who was a postman. We had a nice conversation. He gave me a tap on the shoulder and shook my hand.”

A fancy meal is not always necessary to please a presidential palate, according to Hogan. President Reagan enjoyed a roast leg of lamb, while President Carter loved Hogan’s pecan pie. For President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle, a buffet with roasted baby veggies, rosemary potatoes and shrimp cocktail was sufficient.

“President Bush and Vice President Quayle were getting off the plane at the Santa Monica Airport,” Hogan said. “We did a buffet for them, but we were unhappy with where the kitchen was set up. It was in an airport hangar, and although I was told I’d meet President Bush, I didn’t get a chance to do so.”

On another occasion, President Clinton, delighted by Hogan’s fried chicken, asked to meet the chef.

“It was a fundraiser at a private estate in Malibu,” Hogan said. “I made a mean fried chicken! President Clinton asked the host of the party, ‘Who made this fried chicken?’ The president was expecting someone with a Southern background. He told me it’s something like his mom would make! I told him that I created that recipe for Streisand’s Prince of Tides premiere. We talked for maybe five minutes, about my fried chicken, basically. I told him, ‘I’m just a Yankee.’ He started laughing.”

Then there was a fundraiser for President Obama, up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hogan’s not certain where the event was held, exactly, since he was driven to the location.

“I think it was a Larry Ellison estate,” Hogan said. “There were lots of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and San Francisco-area politicians. President Obama came into the kitchen to thank everyone. I found him and President Clinton to be extremely charismatic. The moment they’d walk into the room, they both immediately became the epicenter of attention.”

Today, Hogan—who spent a four-year stint at Tropicale in downtown Palm Springs—primarily works as a private/executive chef here in the desert and elsewhere. He said he may join forces with Dr. Jane Smith, the owner of a local historic ranch, for a pure organic-food venture. In other words, the chef to the presidents has come the full circle—back to farm-to-table cuisine.

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Published in Features & Profiles

What: The Torinise Sandwich

Where: The Real Italian Deli, 100 S. Sunrise Way, Suite B, Palm Springs; also at 44795 San Pablo Avenue, No. 1, Palm Desert

How much: $7.99

Contact: 760-325-3800 (Palm Springs); 760-836-1493 (Palm Desert);

Why: The yummy ingredients—especially the bread.

The Real Italian Deli opened in Palm Desert in late 2013 to nearly universal acclaim. However, your humble scribe just so happens to live in downtown Palm Springs, meaning that my dining opportunities in Palm Desert are relatively few and far between. As a result, I hadn’t yet sampled the goodies there.

That’s why I was very happy to hear in December that the Real Italian Deli was opening a second location at Sunrise and Tahquitz Canyon ways, a mere five-minute drive from my home. I recently had the opportunity to check it out with some dining companions—and we soon realized that we have been missing out.

The charming little spot is deli/shop first, and restaurant second—seating is limited, whereas the selection of Italian goodies, both pre-packaged and freshly made, is certainly not. Therefore, we ordered our food to go. My selection: A Torinese sandwich, featuring roast beef, lettuce, tomato and a gorgonzola spread, all on a yummy roll.

Man, was the Torniese a tasty sandwich. The meat was perfect; the Gorgonzola spread offered a savory, salty bite; and the tomato and lettuce gave the sandwich a needed freshness.

But what sticks in my memory the most about that sandwich is none of those ingredients; instead, what I remember is the bread. It was soft, yet firm enough to hold up to all the ingredients—and it tasted amazing. It gave the sandwich a lovely, yeasty sweetness, taking it from very good to fantastic.

The other stuff we tried ranged from so-so (the Lucchese sandwich, featuring chicken breast, Parmesan and a sun-dried tomato pesto) to pretty good (the cheesecake) to pretty great (the lasagna). The Real Italian Deli is certainly worth a visit—whether you live within five minutes or 25 minutes of one of the two locations.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Chili Dog

Where: Teriyaki Yogi, 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 210

How much: $5.19

Contact: 760-323-1162

Why: Simply put, it’s a damn good chili dog.

A friend recently mentioned that he’d just eaten one of the best chili dogs he’d ever had.

“Where did you get this amazing chili dog?” I asked.

His reply: Teriyaki Yogi.

Wait, what? This chili dog could be found at a hole-in-the-wall teriyaki joint?! More specifically, it could be found at a hole-in-the-wall teriyaki joint I had literally driven by hundreds of times, without ever giving it a second thought?

Yes. That’s the one. So of course I had to stop in and try a chili dog. And you know what? Teriyaki Yogi’s chili dog is fantastic.

I arrived just as the lunch rush was hitting, so I had to wait a good 10 minutes or so to get my dog. It was worth the wait: The charbroiled, all-beef frank was tucked inside a perfect bun—soft, yet sturdy enough to contain all of the goodness that’s placed inside. As for that goodness, it consisted of cheese, a nice chili and optional onions. There’s no complexity here—there are just great ingredients, prepared well and placed together in perfect proportion.

How’s the teriyaki at Teriyaki Yogi, you ask? Well, I have no idea—but I’ll learn soon, as I was impressed at how the meat was chopped fresh for every cup, bowl, salad and skewer that was prepared during my wait. So I’ll be returning for a teriyaki bowl, for sure—that is, unless I try one of Teriyaki Yogi’s tasty-looking Philly cheesesteaks instead.

Philly cheesesteaks at a hole-in-the-wall teriyaki joint? Wait, what?

Published in The Indy Endorsement