Coachella is a national treasure for music and food fans. It’s the mega-fest, the granddaddy of them all that brings in the cool kids and the scenesters and the most scantily dressed humans in a thousand mile radius. Every year I get excited about going to the desert, and about three hours into the traffic going east to Palm Springs I’m wondering what the heck I got myself into. The festival grounds itself, which are seemingly more difficult to reach than Timbuktu on a blisteringly hot day, reaps some aural and culinary pleasures for the willing.
Coachella has continually improved their food program over the past five years, and I think this was finally the year that the food was enough of a destination to overshadow the music (well, not literally but I think everyone kind of only says that figuratively because who can overshadow The XX?).
Let’s get a few things off the chest: the chicken tikka masala poutine at Badmaash is the Radiohead headliner of food: it’s packed with flavor, it’s filling enough for two, and it’s terrible Instagram fodder. Every publication wrote about eating it last weekend and for good reason.
The second thing I absolutely had to try was the insane melty raclette thing from Paper Planes, which I found very tasty and possibly genius. They didn’t always melt the cheese properly, which is probably OK. The first time was a charm for me, but I could see how if you didn’t evenly heat the cheese it could clump up. It’s still delicious because hey, Alvin Cailan realized tater tots are the perfect vehicle for this stuff. In Switzerland, you get raclette with steamed or boiled potatoes. America, thanks for your wonderful contribution to the raclette genre.
The donuts from Birdies are also an excellent diversion from the music (and heat) if you can swing it in the VIP area. We feasted on the horchata donut and pined for about two more. Sorry, but all three of the concepts listed above are in VIP sections. What did I eat and drink in the plebeian areas? Plenty, actually.
I was a little disappointed by the soggy orange chicken bowl at Fat Dragon, but I chocked it up to their batching of the dish and my timing. Conceptually, this is a delicious food. The Cowboy burger from Eureka! is basically a fancier version of the Western Bacon cheeseburger from Carl’s Jr., and I will never fault a burger for having barbecue sauce, cheese, and onion rings on it. Plus, the food at Eureka! seems to come out almost instantaneously, which is helpful for hungry Coachella bellies. Pair with a craft beer next door, and repeat a few times over.
I got stuffed on Holy Cow’s brisket and bulled pork sandwiches, both of which were smokey and moist. Heck, even the buns were nicely toasted. Am I eating music festival food or food festival food? (I just wrote food three times and my brain hurts). The grilled corn was triumphant here as well, so don’t skip that if you need a quick veggie snack. And I always, always get spicy pie, because spicy pie is the most underrated food thing at Coachella.
Finally the main event, the Outstanding in the Field dinner cooked up by Jamie DeRosa of Miami’s Izzy’s Fish & Oyster, Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette of Boston’s Toro, and Alex Chang from the upcoming Freehand Hotel in Downtown LA. I’ll keep this quick: the burrata-like yogurt from Straus Creamery and celery root salad were great starters. I found the grilled octopus to be a little rubbery while the paella’s texture wasn’t as al dente as I’d like. But the steak sliced on top of the paella was great. My dining companions consisted of a cannabis tech entrepreneur and a plucky adventurer from Tabasco, Mexico, which made for a fun experience.
Everyone’s also talking about a mythical secret Tiki bar from PDT (yes, that cocktail bar from New York City). It was a little pain to find (it’s next to Phorage in the Beer Barn area). I had to drop more than a few names, something I hate doing. So that left me wondering: how does someone get in without having to beg? I guess there’s a waiting list for the 25 lucky souls inside the air conditioned containers. But once you’re in, you get the best cocktails of the festival, seats, cool music, cool vibe, pretty much your own little boozy oasis in the heart of America’s most ridiculous and ambitious music-slash-food festival.
As we meandered you could hear the last part of Bon Iver’s set, which somehow worked on the main stage. The moderate breeze from the evening before, which necessitated use of hankerchiefs (and possibly set Radiohead’s sound booth into a hypnotic trance), isn’t around on Saturday night. No matter what anyone tells you, there’s a certain kind magic when the sun goes down at Coachella, and it feels so much better with a belly full of Tiki drinks and tasty food.
Bonus: Be sure to hit up Carlos Salgado’s new menu at Kings Highway at the Ace Hotel. It reminded me heavily of Chicago’s Au Cheval and Dove’s Luncheonette for a nice take on American diner fare. The three-patty wagyu burger with fried onions, melty cheese, dates, and oxtail jus is a legend in the making.