Welcome to One Far Place, a Road Trip Week special where Eater LA takes a look at one out-of-the-way restaurant that is more than worth the drive. First up, this High Desert brunch specialist that draws lines despite a far-flung location.
It’s hard not to notice Yucca Valley and the greater Mojave Desert these days. The high desert area north of Palm Springs acts as a gateway to much of the open land that sprawls between the San Bernardino Mountains and Nevada, which means it’s become increasingly popular as a photogenic stop for LA hip kids and mid-week Coachella lingerers. There’s gorgeous Joshua Tree National Park, there’s old-timey Pioneertown (where bands often play shows before and after their festival sets), and then there’s La Copine, a bright and new-ish dining spot in sleepy Flamingo Heights.
Founded by East Coast couple Nikki Hill and Claire Wadsworth, La Copine has become a crucial touchstone for anyone passing through, as well as the locals who have made it their mission to build simpler, often more off-the-grid lives out under the blazing sun. The pair actually began cooking and working together in Philadelphia in 2009 under the La Copine name (then a pop-up), before moving to Los Angeles in 2012 and ultimately settling in Yucca Valley in 2015 after a trip to nearby Pioneertown.
They managed to rehab an old diner right off Highway 247 that loops the mountains around Big Bear Lake, and today serve hundreds of weekend customers, Thursday through Sunday, who crawl in for coffee and eggs with a farmers market bent.
The beauty of La Copine is instantly noticeable; all one has to do is explore their Instagram account. Sometimes a vintage Airstream trailer parks out front and acts as an upcycled general store. Other times rehabbed old cars or a vintage piano take up residence alongside hanging woven tapestries and heavy diner plates. Always there are eggs, avocados, and perfectly-lit corners to hide away in.
On weekends, vacationers looking to escape the Ace Hotel pool scene drive up from Palm Springs, while others visiting the Integratron sound bath (just a short drive further north) putter into the parking lot. Waits can reach an hour or more during prime Saturday brunch hours, and there are no reservations. Still, folks manage, knowing that Hill’s food (she’s the trained chef, while Wadsworth is a musician) is among the best food available for a good distance in any direction.
The menu reads like a Silver Lake love letter, with nods to the Middle East, the deep South, and coastal California. Greens are organic, garbanzos are spiced with za’atar, salmon is house-cured, and poblano peppers get stuffed inside a smoked potato hash with fried egg capper. Coffee comes from La Colombe, but just as many folks are keen to order the turmeric latte.
The results on the plate, and in the restaurant as a whole, are fantastic. The food is honestly delicious, and much of it comes (outside of the summer months, at least) from local farms. Hill spent a couple of years cooking in Los Angeles too, so there are connections to purveyors at places like the Santa Monica Farmers Market that keep the place infused with quality produce. And when the sunlight rolls in and bounces off the wide-brimmed hats of hip twentysomethings and their big, bursting plates of bacon and eggs, its easy to become enchanted with what La Copine promises.
The whole scene is even more appealing when one considers the history of the larger Yucca Valley/Mojave Desert, which has for centuries been a haven for anyone looking to escape the mainstream. Slab City and the weirdness of the Salton Sea are further south, but generations ago horse thieves and bandits routinely found hiding places among the rocks not far away. Today’s getaway couple might be a pair of creative types looking for a second home to fill with woven blankets and reclaimed midcentury chairs of their own, but the lure of the high desert lives on. So too does La Copine, ready to serve them all.
848 Old Woman Springs Road
Yucca Valley, CA