Five new Coachella Valley eateries to try in 2022 (or sooner)

It seems like a new restaurant opens up every five minutes in the Coachella Valley.

While that’s not always good news for restaurateurs (some new names are fill-ins for shuttered businesses), it’s great news for foodies, gourmets and other hungry humans.

With new restaurants come delicious new choices and new ways to distract yourself from the existential dread of things like new COVID-19 variants and ballooning inflation.

Here are five new local restaurants — from the revival of a recently-deceased Chinese kitchen to a boozy mac and cheese spot.

Luchows

Luchows in Palm Springs. The restaurant will feature singing and piano performance each Friday in December, including Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, according to owner Paul Kakuschky

Luchows in Palm Springs. The restaurant will feature singing and piano performance each Friday in December, including Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, according to owner Paul Kakuschky

Hours: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday though Saturday and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Location: 4771 E. Palm Canyon Drive

Eating Chinese food at a strip mall is far from most people’s idea of a fancy night out.

Nonetheless, Luchows owner Paul Kakuschky has made a valiant effort at transforming the defunct Supreme Dragon Chinese restaurant on East Palm Canyon Drive into a respectable restaurant and lounge, complete with live piano music and a cocktail bar.

Kakuschky said Luchows was born from a sense of nostalgia over the former Chinese restaurant that occupied the space — as well as a desire to fend off pandemic-era boredom.

“I just really really loved the space and during the pandemic — when I was thinking about things to do to keep me busy and have a new interest in life — I noticed it was for sale,” he said. “I was like ‘I know exactly what it’s going to look like; I know exactly what I’m going to do. And I just bought the place from (the former owner) right when he was going out of business.”

Kakuschky undertook heavy renovations to clean up the restaurant and add a cocktail lounge previously absent from the Chinese eatery.

“It was a big giant room and I separated it into a lounge, which has my 100-year-old piano in it,” he said, “and the bar, which I completely demoed and redid into a nice long bar with a nice back bar.”

He kept the restaurant’s original 1,000-gallon fish tank, some of the furniture and — most importantly — a large Buddha statue, which he named Luchows.

The Buddha statue in Luchows passed from the former owner to new owner Paul Kakuschky. Kakuschky says he named the Buddha Luchows.

The Buddha statue in Luchows passed from the former owner to new owner Paul Kakuschky. Kakuschky says he named the Buddha Luchows.

“It’s kind of amazing to have waked in there four years ago and then to see it now,” Kakuschky said.

Luchows’ menu currently focuses on Chinese-American classics like Orange Chicken, beef and broccoli and sweet and sour pork, as well as newer takes on those dishes like a chicken-fried egg foo young with gravy.

The restaurant’s owner said he intends to add both more traditional Chinese dishes and more Asian fusion dishes to the menu, but is currently looking for a chef with the appropriate skills do those well. He also said he plans to open for lunch in early 2022, assuming he can hire enough additional staff by that time.

Robin Miller, a longtime fixture in Palm Springs’ live entertainment scene, will sing and play the piano at Luchows each Friday in December, including Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Willie’s

Bernie's Lounge and Supper Club in Rancho Mirage in September 2021. The restaurant is set to reopen with a completely different menu and interior layout under the name "Willie's" in mid-January 2022.

Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club in Rancho Mirage in September 2021. The restaurant is set to reopen with a completely different menu and interior layout under the name “Willie’s” in mid-January 2022.

Hours: 5 p.m. until an as-yet undetermined closing time Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. until an undetermined closing time Saturday and Sunday

Location: 69-830 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage

The name change from Bernie’s to Willie’s is a small swap that should nevertheless come with some major changes, according to the restaurant’s new owner.

Willie Rhine, co-owner of 1501 Uptown Gastropub and Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge, purchased Bernie’s early this fall alongside fellow Coachella Valley restauranteur Chad Gardner.

The sale — set to close at the end of this month — will see the restaurant’s style transform from east coast to European, according to Rhine.

“Bernie’s was known for being a sort of dark, New York-style, maybe speakeasy-nightclub type environment,” Rhine said. “We’ve gone the absolute opposite direction, making it open and white and bright.”

Once renovations are complete, the restaurant will contain two main areas aiming to deliver two distinct dining experiences. The first will be a lounge area focused on drinks and casual dining.

“We’ll have a bar menu all day and that will include everything from fried chicken to sandwiches, maybe a prime rib sandwich,” Gardner said.

The second area will focus on European dishes and fine-dining experience, according to the restauranteurs.

“I like to take different dishes from all around Europe — from Italy and the Basque region and France and Spain — and just pull them together and take your rustic classics and modernize them a bit,” Gardner said.

Gardner said he didn’t want to disclose any more details about the menu so that it was a “pleasant surprise” for new visitors to the restaurant when it opens.

The restaurant is slated to open in mid-January, according to Rhine. The eponymous owner said he eventually intends to expand the restaurant’s hours to include lunch services, but noted that that likely wouldn’t happen until later in 2022.

I Heart Mac & Cheese

A rendering of what the new Palm Springs I Heart Mac & Cheese location will look like when it opens in early 2022.

A rendering of what the new Palm Springs I Heart Mac & Cheese location will look like when it opens in early 2022.

Hours: 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. until 2:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday

Location: 190 S. Indian Canyon Drive

Mac and cheese and booze until 2:30 a.m. Do you really want to know any more?

Since you apparently do, we’ll let you in on an important tidbit: the opening date for Palm Springs’ I Heart Mac & Cheese has been delayed by several months.

Originally slated to open in November, unexpected construction and permitting delays have pushed back the opening date until at least mid-February, according to franchise owner Blu Bryan. These have included a range of fixes and upgrades that Bryan said he wasn’t originally aware the space required, such as installing a new accessibility ramp and power meter.

“There’s no air conditioner, so I’ve had to buy one of those (for) 45 grand, the wiring was illegal, the stuff inside the walls was illegal so I’ve had to rip all the sheet rock out and redo all the wiring,” Bryan said. “It went from a $250,000 project to over $1 million.”

When it eventually opens, the restaurant will feature deluxe mac and cheeses built in a choose-your-adventure-style that Bryan compared to Chipotle.

“Let’s say you’re going to do a grilled cheese,” Bryan said. “You choose your bread — we have every kind of bread you could think of, from keto to wheat to rye … Then you select the cheese that you want, gouda, American, cheddar. Then you choose your protein: lobster, spare ribs, pork, breaded chicken, Beyond Meat, ground Beyond Meat, sausage beyond meat.”

An I Heart Mac & Cheese Stuffed Grilled Cheese Sandwich

An I Heart Mac & Cheese Stuffed Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Vegetables — arguably the red-headed stepchild in this cheesy concoction — are the final step before the open-faced grilled cheese is put through a toaster.

“If you want a pasta bowl you can make a choice of either quinoa, tater tots, broccoli, cauliflower, round pasta, twirl pasta, or gluten free pasta,” Bryan said. Diners then select either a vegan or dairy liquid cheese and a protein, according to Bryan, which includes similar options to the grilled cheese. The bowl is then topped off with another layer of cheese and a vegetable.

In case the possibility of having a lobster grilled cheese didn’t sound gourmet enough for you, the franchise owner noted that “only Maine lobster claws” are used in the dishes.

And what perfect desert can patrons pair with their cheesy meals?

Alcohol.

I Heart Mac & Cheese will carry a range of beer from local vendors, according to Bryan, as well as wine and different fruity-flavored frosés (aka frozen rosé) that Bryan compared to a Slurpee with alcohol.

“To give it a little kick, we’re gonna put sake in it,” Bryan added of the frosés.

The local I Heart Mac & Cheese franchise owner said his new store will include a focus on hiring people from underrepresented groups such as transgender people, people with Down syndrome and seniors, among others.

Bryan added that the benefits package for employees includes full medical, dental, vision, life insurance and a 401(k) match. He noted that even part-time employees will receive insurance coverage.

If everything goes well with the first Palm Springs I Heart Mac & Cheese location, Bryan said he plans to open 20 additional franchises in California over the next five years, including one at the Palm Springs airport.

Osteria Palmina

Carbonara pasta in a pecorino cheese wheel. One of the many traditional Italian dishes by chef Antonello Zito of the soon-to-be-opened Osteria Palmina restaurant in Palm Springs.

Carbonara pasta in a pecorino cheese wheel. One of the many traditional Italian dishes by chef Antonello Zito of the soon-to-be-opened Osteria Palmina restaurant in Palm Springs.

Hours: To be determined

Location: 2500 N. Palm Canyon Drive

Looking for extremely authentic Italian cooking? Infuriated when you see centuries-old culinary traditions usurped by modern imposters?

You’ll have a friend in Antonello Zito. The gregarious Italian gourmet is bringing his zeal for good food to a second American restaurant in Palm Springs opening later this month.

“I hate fake Italian food,” Zito said, “When I enter an Italian restaurant and I see fettuccine alfredo or chicken parmesan, I literally run away because that is the first sign they don’t understand anything about Italian cooking.”

Brushing past the staggering revelation that neither of those dishes are, in fact, Italian, Zito launched in to a lengthy and detailed description of proper Italian cooking techniques and the litany of mistakes made by amateur chefs.

“Whatever I do, I do following the tradition,” he said.

“So (for example) the eggplant parmesan is a Sicilian plate and actually never gets breaded,” Zito said. “You need to fry, but you don’t need to put in the flour or eggs or whatever. Those are little things that make the recipe really different.”

The chef waxed nostalgic about childhood years spent cooking with his grandmother in their centuries-old family home in the Italian countryside, perfecting the minute details of traditional dishes.

Zito’s eatery, dubbed Osteria Palmina after his late mother, replaces the former Venezia Italian Restaurant. It follows on the success of Zito’s first American restaurant, Puglia Italian Restaurant in Lake Arrowhead.

Antonello Zito's Puglia Italian Restaurant near Lake Arrowhead. Zito said 2021 was the restaurant's busiest year yet.

Antonello Zito’s Puglia Italian Restaurant near Lake Arrowhead. Zito said 2021 was the restaurant’s busiest year yet.

Osteria Palmina will deliver an entire Italian dining experience, according to Zito, complete with wines and coffees served nowhere else in the United States.

In addition to a range of “the best” organic Italian wines, it will also include a secret recipe Italian coffee served in a champagne flute — a best seller at Zito’s Lake Arrowhead restaurant.

So what time can you swing by and try all of this delicious food? Zito has yet to decide.

“For the beginning, I guess I’m gonna open just on the nights, then a lunch on the weekend. Maybe. I’m gonna work on it,” he said. “You know, when you open a new location you need to see what people they really want. I’m gonna ask feedback to customers and see what they like and what they want from me.”

Zito said he plans to have only the restaurant’s outdoor seating area open near the end of December, adding the indoor seating area within the next two months.

Once the restaurant is off the ground with its dinner and lunch offerings, the chef said he plans to add breakfast centered around “a nice Italian pastry and coffee.”

Raising Cane’s

A Raising Cane's box combo meal

A Raising Cane’s box combo meal

Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and until 3:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday

Location: 5601 E. Ramon Road

Traditional Italian cuisine a bit too high-brow for you? Maybe fast food and chicken fingers are more your style.

You can get them at the new Raising Cane’s location coming to Palm Springs this winter.

Originally slated to open in September, the restaurant’s opening was pushed back to December due to “general construction issues,” according to a company spokesperson at the time. The opening has since been pushed back again until Thursday, Jan. 13, according to a Raising Cane’s spokesperson, who again cited ongoing construction issues.

“While we personally believe chicken fingers should always be the highest priority, we unfortunately are not immune to construction delays,” wrote the spokesperson in an email.

The Palm Springs Raising Cane’s will be the first Coachella Valley location for the Southern fried chicken chain, replacing Beaumont as the nearest location for desert residents. It will serve the standard Cane’s array of items such as chicken fingers, crinkle-cut fries, Texas toast, coleslaw, sweet tea and lemonade.

And if all of that fried chicken has you in a food coma, you can swing over to the new Starbucks on the corner of Sunrise Way and Vista Chino and get your caffeine fix (OK, they’re not that close, but we wanted to let you in on this anyway). That new coffee stop is set to open on Dec. 16, according to a Starbucks spokesperson.

James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at [email protected]

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Five new Palm Springs-area restaurants to try in 2022