Festival-goers flocked to the desert this weekend for Coachella’s lineup of global headliners, including the likes of Bad Bunny and Blackpink. While the massive annual music and arts festival is known locally for draining out LA (and making it easier to get a coveted restaurant reservation in town), in recent years the festival has gone out of its way to offer stellar food from big-name culinary talent. From the Korean fried chicken of Chimmelier to the Latin flavors of Mírate, the food scene this year really reflected the artists’ and Los Angeles’s diversity.
Compared to previous years where wristbands cost around $400, Coachella prices have increased significantly — the General Admission wristbands start at $549, while VIP runs an eye-watering $1069. While that’s a seriously steep price, it is true that when it comes to the Coachella food scene, the VIP area reads like a who’s who of LA dining — and the offerings are head and shoulders above the often greasy, carb-heavy options in the general admission section. Here are some of the best bites from Coachella’s first weekend.
Through the entrance and just past the iconic Coachella ferris wheel is the Beer Barn. Plenty of trees dot the picnic-like area, providing shade for attendees to enjoy the double cheese smashburger from Burger She Wrote or bean-based “beef” tacos from Taco Party. This is a great place to catch a bite before popping down south towards the Do Lab or continuing on to the Terrace.
Past the multi-colored Spectra art installation stands the Coachella Courtyard. Options here include the classic hot chicken sandwich from Dave’s Hot Chicken, which leaves a pleasant lingering after-burn, cut with refreshing bites of pickles and slaw. For vegetarian eaters, the plant-based ribs from Compton Vegan are worth trying before dancing away to the pounding beats of the nearby Yuma tent.
Near the entrance of Coachella Courtyard stands an unmarked red door where folks can find Chef Phillip Franklin Lee’s Sushi by Scratch omakase speakeasy. Seating just a dozen people at a time, Sushi by Scratch is the most intimate dining experience the festival has to offer (reservations required). The 16-course meal progresses from bites of toro and king salmon topped with matcha salt to nigiri pieces with A5 Hokkaido wagyu and bone marrow dripped over unagi. Along the way, six different types of sake, presented with generous pours, are paired with the sushi. While the tickets run at $375, the high-energy, two-hour performance by the zealous chefs and bar manager (along with the quality and attentiveness of service) make it an exceptional meal.
12 Peaks VIP area
Just above the Coachella Courtyard is the 12 Peaks VIP area, where some of LA’s hottest restaurants are lined up beneath a row of palm trees. Yangban’s signature wings may cost $32 for three wings, but the sweet and sour sauce makes them one of the festival’s best items. The pop-up kitchen churns out orders quickly, and attendees have been eager to get their hands messy with the generous portion sizes. Nearby, Mírate’s Mexican birria pizza has been calibrated for the Coachella crowd. Topped with fresh tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and greens, the slices are an elevated step above the usual festival pizza fare. Bang Bang Noodles presents just two menu items, but the Szechuan hand-cut noodles remain a reliable, spicy, and filling festival meal.
“The curation that they’re doing here is quite remarkable,” said Nelson Lee, co-owner of Bang Bang Noodles. “The fact that you’re able to come this far away to be in the middle of the desert and have this level of food quality is amazing.”
The Michelin-starred bistro Camphor, based out of the Arts District, hosted a full restaurant pop-up experience in the 12 Peaks VIP section. The 12-course tasting menu features standouts such as the amaretto oysters and smoky asparagus maltaise, but comes at a cost — namely, $150 per person, plus some less-than-comfortable seating. Others might do well to make for the juicy burger from Camphor’s sister pop-up, Le Burger, instead.
Indio Central Market
On the opposite side of the grounds, Indio Central Market is a sprawling food court area offering ramen, burgers, pizza, and more. While some diners complained about the small portion sizes presented by vendors, over at Farmhouse Kitchen the pad thai order provided plenty of noodles to chow down on while watching Sofi Tukker or Dominic Fike at the Outdoor Theater stage. The fried mushroom baos at Maneating Plant were also a plant-based crowd favorite.