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Mon03182019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

What: The chicken chiles Agave

Where: Fresh Agave Mexican Bar and Grill, 73325 Highway 111, Palm Desert

How much: $12.50

Contact: 760-836-9028; www.freshagavemexicanbarandgrill.com

Why: The sauce ties it all together.

It wasn’t supposed to be my entrée.

I was having my monthly meeting with Independent contributor Kevin Fitzgerald, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted for lunch. I hadn’t been to Fresh Agave before, and I wanted to give the place a try, given how well it does in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll every year. I intended to get a couple of items to try; because of my unfamiliarity with the menu, I asked the server for advice.

She recommended the chicken chiles Agave as a starter, along with a handful of entrées. The appetizer recommendation—yellow peppers stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, cilantro and onions, with chipotle sauce on the side—sounded good to me, so we ordered it and asked for more time to decide on our entrées.

The chicken chiles Agave arrived fairly quickly … and it was a good thing I hadn’t yet ordered my main course, as it was immediately obvious that I would not need one, given the size of what was on the plate—six not-small peppers stuffed with tasty goodness.

Kevin only wanted one of the six peppers, and the remaining five were enough of a meal, even for a hearty eater like me. And what a delicious meal it was; it was a perfect example of how ingredients when combined can become more than the sum of their parts: The stuffed peppers by themselves were just OK, and the chipotle sauce on its own was unspectacular. But when the two were combined … yum. The creamy, peppery and just slightly sweet sauce brought out all sorts of fantastic favors in the moist chicken.

I’ll definitely order the chicken chiles Agave on my next visit to Fresh Agave … but I’ll need to take more dining companions with me, so we can share it—meaning I’ll have enough room for an entrée.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The big guac burrito

Where: Guacamoles, 555 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs

How much: $9.25

Contact: 760-325-9766; www.guacsps.com

Why: It’s one of the tastiest burritos around.

Guacamoles does not get the respect it deserves.

The Mexican restaurant is an undeniable success—it’s been open now for 28 years, since the Sesma family launched it during the first half of George H.W. Bush’s presidency. Yet when I hear people talking about their Palm Springs-area Mexican-food favorites, Guacmoles rarely comes up.

Perhaps this is due to the space Guacamoles occupies: It’s small and tucked away in the middle of the shopping mall at the southwest corner of Sunrise Way and Ramon Road. Perhaps it’s due to the restaurant’s no-frills vibe: You order at the counter, and the food is delivered on disposable plates with plastic utensils. I admit that until fairly recently, I rarely dined at Guacamole’s; over a five-year period, I ate there once, maybe twice—and that was it.

However, that all changed one night not long ago. I was stuck at home alone, with work deadlines looming; I was hungry and had no time to cook. So I got on one of the delivery apps and perused my options, one of which was Guacamoles. A burrito sounded good, so I decided to order a chicken big guac (aka a burrito with the works).

The food was delivered quickly. And even though the burrito weighed in at around a pound, it was devoured quickly: It was delicious, and gluttony won out.

Since that fateful night, Guacamole’s has become one of my regular takeout or delivery options. (Although whenever I get the big guac now, I cut it in half and put half away for later, to avoid further gluttony.) The food is fresh—with no MSG or lard—well-prepared and tasty.

Cheers to the Sesma family for their success. Here’s to another 28 years—and Guacamoles hopefully getting the respect it deserves.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The roasted suckling pig

Where: Alebrije Bistro Mexico, 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $28

Contact: 760-537-1279; www.alebrijeps.com

Why: It’s a surprisingly refined dish.

Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week brought both disappointments and delicious finds at the handful of participants I was able to visit—but my most delicious find of all was Alebrije Bistro Mexico.

It was so delicious that Alebrije was the only place I visited twice during Restaurant Week.

Alebrije went above and beyond by offering four courses—not just the requisite three—for $39, and the food showed a level of sophistication rarely found here in the Coachella Valley. A couple of examples: The octopus ceviche ($14 on the regular menu) respected the star ingredient while wowing the taste buds. The creamy poblano soup ($8) with roasted corn and caramelized peppers was a nuanced, creamy revelation, with the spice and earthiness of the pepper enhanced and improved by the sweetness of the corn.

Either of these dishes was worthy of an endorsement—but the entrée I had on both Restaurant Week visits, as well as a follow-up visit, came out on the top of my list: the roasted suckling pig. There doesn’t seem to be all that much to the dish: There’s a pile of shredded meat with onions on top; some corn puree spread around the plate; and small dishes of black beans and salsa verde, with homemade corn tortillas on the side.

The magic happens when the ingredients are combined: Once a portion of that moist, delicious pork is placed in a delicious tortilla with a little bit of each of the other ingredients … wow.

On all of my visits so far, Alebrije has been far from busy. This, folks, is a shame: This Palm Springs restaurant is offering an upscale dining experience like no other in the Coachella Valley. Go. You will be very happy that you did.

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 chile relleno plate

Where: Cardenas Market, 31655 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City

How much: $6.99

Contact: 760-422-1330; www.cardenasmarkets.com

Why: It’s a delicious bargain.

When we moved here five years ago, the initial plan was to buy a house not too far from the Cathedral City Cardenas. I remember first walking into the huge Mexican-focused supermarket and being utterly wowed by the amazing selection of prepared foods on offer there.

However, the sale of that house fell through, and we wound up living in Palm Springs. Therefore, I had little reason to go to Cardenas—and somehow, I forgot about all that amazing food. Well, I recently rediscovered Cardenas, and this rediscovery has been a very good thing (for my taste buds, if not my waistline).

Since the joyous rediscovery, Cardenas has become one of my go-to places whenever I need to pick up some food for a party. The selection of Mexican goodies available is, frankly, stunning: more than a dozen different types of ceviche, a variety of salsas, tamales, tacos, burritos, breakfasts, cooked meats by the pound, and a whole bunch of yummy entrées—it is all available, and then some.

Beyond parties, Cardenas has also become a place to go when, well, I am simply hungry. One recent day, I was in the general area of the store after a doctor’s appointment, so I decided to drop in and pick up an early dinner to-go. (Eating at the store is also an option; Cardenas has a large, comfy dining area.) My only problem was choosing what to get, given the bevy of options. However, I eventually decided on the chile relleno plate—and I’m so happy I did.

The egg-battered pepper was cooked perfectly, and swam in a delightful, cheesy red sauce. It came along with beans, rice and tortillas—a damn fine meal for $6.99.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Dear Mexican: Sooooo...your boy René Redzepi is moving to Mexico. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

From Lagos

Dear Loco: Unless the acclaimed Danish chef behind the world-acclaimed Noma is into tamborazo and Antonio Aguilar, he ain’t my compa. But the Scandinavian very well could be nowadays: It was recently announced that he’s opening a pop-up Mexican restaurant in Yucatán, charging an extraordinary $600 a head. So much to unpack here, ¿qué no?

Redzepi is the latest gabacho to fall in love with Mexican food—and the latest to gentrify and exotify it. He’s the latest gaba chef to get media attention for his love of Mexican food, while Mexican chefs get ignored—when the fuck is the culinary press going to go on late-night pho runs with Carlos Salgado of Orange County’s Taco Maria, which is only the most important Mexican-American restaurant in the United States? The gringo is even bringing his entire staff from Europe to man the restaurant. Local talent? According to The New York Times, the Mexi Noma will employ “four local cooks to produce fresh tortillas”—an attempt at “authenticity” that goes back to the earliest days of Mexican food in the United States, and is as trite of an ethnic marker as a shamrock tattoo on an Irish girl’s nalga.

That’s the Zapata in me. The Benito Juarez in me, however, takes the longer view: another gabacho Reconquista’d by our cuisine. Redzepi has been promising to anyone who’ll listen that he wanted to open a restaurant in Mexico, so entranced he is by nuestra cultura. And to his credit, Redzepi’s partner in the Mexican safari is Rosio Sanchez, Noma’s longtime pastry chef who runs a bona fide taquería in Copenhagen and is the child of Mexican immigrants. Sanchez was raised in Chicago’s Little Village barrio, which gives her more cred than that pendejo Rick Bayless by a Mayan minute. So let Redzepi and Sanchez do their cosa!

If you really want to yell at someone for Noma Mexico’s appropriation, yell at foodies and food writers, who’ll always focus more on gabachos doing Mexican food than Mexicans doing Mexican food—and guess what your letter did?

Dear Mexican: As a güero crossdresser, I’m jealous that the Mexican cha-chas are so hot. Are they hot for the same reasons Mexican women are hot? Most güeros look like middle-aged stockbrokers in dresses, probably because we are, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m talking about the mamacitas! In Mexican culture, are you either macho or the girlie-girl you’ve always wanted to be, with no in between?

La Dama Loca

Dear Crazy Dame: Transgendered, crossdressing, genderqueer and genderfucking Mexicans have historically looked better than their gabachos counterparts because we have better cisgen stereotypes to play with. Men who want to look like mujeres (whether transitioning or not) draw upon the spicy señorita archetype; many Chicanas that I know who are fluid with their gender identity inevitably go the Pendleton or rockabilly look. (All credit goes to Morrissey for the latter one.) And you’re right: Mexican society, despite its historical machismo, has also had a surprisingly tolerant streak for trans folks or flamboyantly LGBT mariposas. But that was the catch: You couldn’t act “normal,” or else risk getting brutalized (and even that Faustian bargain wasn’t much protection against homo- and transphobia).

I won’t make the insult toward gabachos crossdressers you did, but I need to end with a joke here, so try this one: Rick Bayless.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

What: The Queso Bonita Tacos

Where: La Bonita’s, 330 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $12.99

Contact: 760-318-8883; www.labonitas.com

Why: Crispy cheese is an amazing thing.

Ah, the taco. It’s the perfect food—delicious, potentially nutritious, easy to make and effortless to eat. Plus, it singlehandedly elevated the status of Tuesday, formerly the most boring day of the week.

It’s not easy to improve on supposed perfection—yet that’s exactly what the good folks at downtown Palm Springs Mexican joint La Bonita’s have done to the taco.

The queso Bonita tacos have all of the good stuff one would expect in a taco—fantastic carne asada or chicken, plus salsa, onion and cilantro, all placed on a fresh tortilla. Then comes the unexpected: The tortilla is coated with crispy, melted-and-then-cooked-on cheese.

Oh. My. God. The sharp flavor of the cheese adds a whole ’nother flavor level to the tacos. There’s nothing particularly special about the accompanying beans, rice and salad—but these tacos are special enough, thank you very much.

The queso Bonita tacos are just one of the much-raved-about dishes this year-old Mexican restaurant offers in the weirdly narrow Palm Canyon Drive space that previously housed several short-lived Asian joints. Friends of mine have spoken highly about the chimichangas and the burrito bowls, for example, and one of my dining companions would not stop talking about the California burrito ($11.99), which contains either carne asada or chicken, the usual burrito fillings and … French fries. Yes, inside the burrito.

If you’re reading this shortly after its posting, and these words have made you hungry, I have some bad news: The restaurant, like too many others around town, is currently in the midst of an August closure. (“Small remodel,” explains the La Bonita Facebook page.) Expect La Bonita to reopen on Aug. 27.

There is a lot of fine Mexican food in Palm Springs (as well as some not-so-fine Mexican food). And that queso Bonita taco plate is among the finest.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The Chile Relleno de Camaron

Where: Felipe’s Fine Mexican Food, 400 S. El Cielo Road, Palm Springs

How much: $13.50

Contact: 760-318-9277

Why: It’s creamy, spicy deliciousness.

I do not care for Yelp. The quality of reviews is suspect, and many businesses accuse the website of what amounts to extortion: Yelp’s advertisers get preferential treatment when it comes to highlighting good reviews, and burying the bad ones, according to several lawsuits (which Yelp has disputed). Blech.

Still, Yelp has its useful qualities. I disregard the negative reviews (you never know what motives the reviewers have) but use the positive ones to research oft-raved-about items at unfamiliar restaurants. I also check Yelp on occasion to find out about newly opened restaurants.

In this vein, I must tip my figurative hat to Yelp for letting me know about Felipe’s, which opened around the first of the year in the space that previously housed El Cielo Bakery. Even though I’ve driven past the strip mall that Felipe’s calls home many dozens of times since the first of the year, the restaurant escaped my notice until I stumbled across its Yelp listing. The five-star cumulative rating of Felipe’s caught my eye—as did the frequent raves about the chile rellenos with shrimp.

So off I went to Felipe’s during a recent lunch. While the menu offers a wide variety of intriguing breakfast, lunch and dinner fare, my mind was set on the chile relleno de camaron. I sat at the small bar area during my lunch, and was waited on with care by Felipe himself.

Now I know what all those citizen reviewers are raving about: The dish was fantastic. The perfectly prepared peppers and the ample shrimp were brought together by the creamy chipotle sauce—it was flavorful, with just enough spice. I was tempted to pick up the square plate and lick up every last bit of that sauce.

I didn’t, but I was tempted. If you try this dish, you may be tempted to do so as well.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Dear Mexican: Isn’t the acceptance of illegal immigration by Latino politicians insulting to generations of Mexican Americans who paid taxes, built communities and worked hard for their families and their country (military service, public service, etc.)?

Legal Smiegel

Dear Gabacho: Nope, mainly because people sin papeles also pay taxes, build communities and serve. (Google “Jose Angel Garibay OC Weekly.”) But nice try in attempting to pull a Donald Trump by trying to divide and conquer between undocumented Mexicans and “legal” Mexican-Americans. Sure, you’ll always have the stray vendidos insisting what you just babbled—but the stats don’t back up your premise.

A 2014 Pew Research Center survey showed that while the immigration views of native-born, English-dominant Latinos aren’t as Aztlanista as, say, a Mechista, they’re pretty close. On the question of whether they prefer a pathway to citizenship, better border security and enforcement, or a combination of both, 48 percent of U.S.-born Latinos favored the former, while 34 percent liked the latter. That’s probably because 23 percent of them personally knew someone who had been deported in the past year.

Unlike gabachos, whose ancestors got onto Ellis Island then promptly pulled the plank so that the Greeks couldn’t come over, Mexicans don’t forget our roots—and we ain’t hypocrites, save for Eva Longoria.

I want to review a hole-in-the-wall spot that apparently makes the best tacos. Yelp reviewers keep commenting on how run-down the space is, but somehow equate “doesn’t look like much” with the authentic Mexican food experience.

Is this all just pendejadas (my gut says “Hell yes!”), or is there something to it?

Detroit Dama

Dear Pocha: First off, why are you bothering with Yelp when it comes to Mexican food? Yelp is many things, but a guide to great comida mexicana, it ain’t. This is the site, for instance, where a gabacha once left a one-star review to a Tierra Caliente-style spot in SanTana that offered amazing huchepos (sweet corn tamales), aporreado (awesome Michoacán breakfast dish) and spectacular pozole verde. The restaurant’s sin, according to the pendeja? It didn’t offer burritos—never mind that burritos are as much a part of michoacano cuisine as a Rick Bayless airport torta.

It’s the same prejudice that you describe, although yours is of a different sentido—that “true” Mexican food can’t possibly be high-class, and can only be properly prepared by women named María who slave over a comal grinding out the nixtamal themselves with their pigtails. That’s an extension of the classic American expectation that Mexicans are perpetually in poverty, and it’s bullshit. From Enrique Olvera in Mexico City to Javier Plascencia in Tijuana to Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria in Costa Mesa (named as one of Food and Wine’s 10 Best New Chefs for 2015), Mexican cooks are showing the world that alta cocina is as legit as two-tacos-for-a-buck-with-free-pineapple-juice specials.

What’s the true litmus test of a great Mexican restaurant? Great food—oh, and a calendar from the local tortillería or grocery store with an illustration of an Aztec maiden, of course.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

What: The Street Taco Platter

Where: Loco Charlie’s, 1751 N. Sunrise Way, No. F5, Palm Springs

How much: $7.95

Contact: 760-832-6474; mylococharlies.com

Why: The crispy parts.

It was lunchtime, and I was craving some good tacos.

This is not an unusual occurrence in my life. In fact, there are few lunchtimes when I am not, to some degree, craving tacos. However, on this particular day, I was really craving tacos—so off to Loco Charlie’s we went. I had never been before, but several readers have recommended the restaurant to me—and we all know that Coachella Valley Independent readers are a smart bunch, yes? (Here’s a hint: If you’re reading this, you’re an Independent reader.)

Let’s just say that the readers didn’t let me down—and my taco craving was more than satisfied.

Loco Charlie’s—located in a nondescript strip mall on the corner of Sunrise Drive and Vista Chino Road—offers four types of meat in its tacos: Carne asada (beef!), carnitas (pork!), pollo asado (chicken!) and lengua (beef tongue!). Turns out the Street Taco Platter includes four tacos, and you can mix and match the meats.

I’ll take a Street Taco Platter with one of each, please.

The chicken and lengua tacos were just fine. (By the way, if the thought of eating tongue makes you squeamish, you really should get over that. It’s good, tender stuff.) However, the carne asada and carnitas tacos were revelatory, because the meat was so delicious—due, in part, to the fact that the taco-preppers in the kitchen included both softer and crispy pieces of meat in each taco.

I feel I should include an endorsement within an endorsement for the price: Four tacos plus sides for $7.95 is a fine deal. It’s such a fine deal that I may just go back tomorrow for some more street tacos … because the more I think about those tasty tacos, the less my craving is feeling satisfied.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

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