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A Handy Guide to The Desert's Newest Dining Options

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2008_10_hasmaps.jpgFor those that haven't been back to the desert since last year's Coachella, there are just a couple of things to know. 1) That hologram company went out of business, so you won't be seeing Tupac again. 2) A bunch of new restaurants have opened. Most (but not all) of them are in Palm Springs proper, and thus more convenient for the temporary Ace/Parker/Saguaro/Viceroy residents than La Quinta house renters. Nonetheless, check out 10 of the valley's new spots to dine just in time for Coachella. — Lizbeth Scordo

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Appetito

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If you're staying at hipster haven the Ace Hotel, it'll take you all of 30 seconds to walk to this new hot spot. Executive chef Chad Shaner and managing partner Patrick Service (whose grandparents founded the venerable Mexican eatery Las Caseulas up the road) met while working for Danny Meyer in New York, where Shaner was Union Square Grill's executive sous chef. The guys hired fabled local designer Christopher Kennedy to create the modern space -- with concrete floors and a super-cool collection of lamps strung from the ceiling -- and have designed a menu that toggles between casual (eggplant sliders), classic (linguine with clams) and trendy (Tuscan kale Caesar). Order at the counter and find a table in the dining room or patio, or grab a seat at the bar for a Negroni cocktail, quartino of wine, or craft beer.

Tonga Hut

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The folks behind the original North Hollywood haunt have filled this second-floor spot with retro art, tiki pieces carved by locals, and framed menus from places that have gone to tiki heaven. As for those red leather booths in the back dining room, the former owner of now-defunct Davey's Hideaway brought them with him when he came over to manage the place. For dinner, there are retro pupus like shrimp toast, spare ribs, and crab Rangoon, along with entrees ranging from a huli huli Cornish hen to a double lamp chop. The drink menu is split between Polynesian kitschy (Mai Tai, Blue Hawaiian) and classic cocktails (Sazerac, Aviation).

Purple Room

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The guys behind the Uptown Design District's ever-popular orange-splashed eatery, Trio, have taken over this formerly fraying lounge off the lobby of a timeshare hotel and transformed it into a retro-feeling supper club. There's nightly music (including the bluesy husband-and-wife duo Gand Band on weekends), solid cocktails (with unapologetic Rat-Pack-pun names like "I Did it Mai Tai and the Dean Martini,) and a menu that includes Southern comfort food (blackened catfish, sausage-and-chicken gumbo) and '60s cocktail bites (creamed mustard herring, deviled eggs).

Bernie's Lounge and Supper Club

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The institution Davey's Hideaway (famous for its prime rib, wedge salads, and fishbowl-size martinis) shut its doors last year, but has since been reincarnated by a couple of new owners who've named the place after Davey's old maitre 'd. Those old booths are gone (see above) and the menu has moved into more modern territory with starters like buratta with basil pistou and mains including scallops atop a fennel-apple salad and grilled beef cheek with sunchoke puree. Don't miss nightly standards by Patterson, N.J.-imported Bill Gulino.

Sessions at the Hard Rock Hotel

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After taking over the bland-and-boring Hotel Zoso, the Hard Rock Hotel folks revamped its former restaurant too, of course, using recycle woods for the floor, letting a graffiti artist go wild on the walls, and installing a blue-and-white tiled bar. Decipher the musical references on the all-day menu to discover American fare like phish and chips, and the rock club. Things get more serious at dinner with black tiger prawns topped with arugula pesto and a deconstructed seafood chowder. At last stop-in, the adjacent lobby bar had good cocktails at unusually low prices for a hotel.

Wilma & Frieda

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After raising more than $50,000 via a Kickstarter campaign last year, this breakfast-and-lunch spot took over an upper-level space in Palm Desert's posh outdoor shopping center The Gardens on El Paseo, offering a creative (though rather meat-centric) menu. And everything is housemade, from the biscuits and gravy to the English muffins to the strawberry jelly. There's also an espresso bar and a case full of sky-high pies and saucer-sized cookies for sale that will fill you up just looking at them.

il corso

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This new Italian eatery, also on Palm Desert's swanky shopping drive El Paseo, sticks you with a pretty pricey dinner menu ($35 lamb chops, a $40 veal porterhouse, and the cheapest pasta dish clocking in at $20), but lunch is more reasonable with a selection of paninis and thin-crust pizzas from the wood-burning oven for $15 or under. The space itself is impressive with rustic wood and stone walls, a vast bar, and sleek patio.

Cork & Fork

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OK, so this opened a couple of months before Coachella last year, but it's worth mentioning here since it's a cool spot that's not all that far from the fairgrounds and has a solid menu of well-priced and rather inspired small plates -- think goat cheese bruschetta, Thai shrimp cakes, and a short-rib grilled cheese. The wines-by-the-glass list is a solid one and several are offered by the 3-ounce pour too.

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Appetito

If you're staying at hipster haven the Ace Hotel, it'll take you all of 30 seconds to walk to this new hot spot. Executive chef Chad Shaner and managing partner Patrick Service (whose grandparents founded the venerable Mexican eatery Las Caseulas up the road) met while working for Danny Meyer in New York, where Shaner was Union Square Grill's executive sous chef. The guys hired fabled local designer Christopher Kennedy to create the modern space -- with concrete floors and a super-cool collection of lamps strung from the ceiling -- and have designed a menu that toggles between casual (eggplant sliders), classic (linguine with clams) and trendy (Tuscan kale Caesar). Order at the counter and find a table in the dining room or patio, or grab a seat at the bar for a Negroni cocktail, quartino of wine, or craft beer.

Tonga Hut

The folks behind the original North Hollywood haunt have filled this second-floor spot with retro art, tiki pieces carved by locals, and framed menus from places that have gone to tiki heaven. As for those red leather booths in the back dining room, the former owner of now-defunct Davey's Hideaway brought them with him when he came over to manage the place. For dinner, there are retro pupus like shrimp toast, spare ribs, and crab Rangoon, along with entrees ranging from a huli huli Cornish hen to a double lamp chop. The drink menu is split between Polynesian kitschy (Mai Tai, Blue Hawaiian) and classic cocktails (Sazerac, Aviation).

Purple Room

The guys behind the Uptown Design District's ever-popular orange-splashed eatery, Trio, have taken over this formerly fraying lounge off the lobby of a timeshare hotel and transformed it into a retro-feeling supper club. There's nightly music (including the bluesy husband-and-wife duo Gand Band on weekends), solid cocktails (with unapologetic Rat-Pack-pun names like "I Did it Mai Tai and the Dean Martini,) and a menu that includes Southern comfort food (blackened catfish, sausage-and-chicken gumbo) and '60s cocktail bites (creamed mustard herring, deviled eggs).

Bernie's Lounge and Supper Club

The institution Davey's Hideaway (famous for its prime rib, wedge salads, and fishbowl-size martinis) shut its doors last year, but has since been reincarnated by a couple of new owners who've named the place after Davey's old maitre 'd. Those old booths are gone (see above) and the menu has moved into more modern territory with starters like buratta with basil pistou and mains including scallops atop a fennel-apple salad and grilled beef cheek with sunchoke puree. Don't miss nightly standards by Patterson, N.J.-imported Bill Gulino.

Sessions at the Hard Rock Hotel

After taking over the bland-and-boring Hotel Zoso, the Hard Rock Hotel folks revamped its former restaurant too, of course, using recycle woods for the floor, letting a graffiti artist go wild on the walls, and installing a blue-and-white tiled bar. Decipher the musical references on the all-day menu to discover American fare like phish and chips, and the rock club. Things get more serious at dinner with black tiger prawns topped with arugula pesto and a deconstructed seafood chowder. At last stop-in, the adjacent lobby bar had good cocktails at unusually low prices for a hotel.

Wilma & Frieda

After raising more than $50,000 via a Kickstarter campaign last year, this breakfast-and-lunch spot took over an upper-level space in Palm Desert's posh outdoor shopping center The Gardens on El Paseo, offering a creative (though rather meat-centric) menu. And everything is housemade, from the biscuits and gravy to the English muffins to the strawberry jelly. There's also an espresso bar and a case full of sky-high pies and saucer-sized cookies for sale that will fill you up just looking at them.

il corso

This new Italian eatery, also on Palm Desert's swanky shopping drive El Paseo, sticks you with a pretty pricey dinner menu ($35 lamb chops, a $40 veal porterhouse, and the cheapest pasta dish clocking in at $20), but lunch is more reasonable with a selection of paninis and thin-crust pizzas from the wood-burning oven for $15 or under. The space itself is impressive with rustic wood and stone walls, a vast bar, and sleek patio.

Cork & Fork

OK, so this opened a couple of months before Coachella last year, but it's worth mentioning here since it's a cool spot that's not all that far from the fairgrounds and has a solid menu of well-priced and rather inspired small plates -- think goat cheese bruschetta, Thai shrimp cakes, and a short-rib grilled cheese. The wines-by-the-glass list is a solid one and several are offered by the 3-ounce pour too.

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