Road food: High desert edition

The term "food desert" started in the 1990s, and is meant to describe underserved communities that lack access to healthy and affordable food. I'm all about urban farming and accessibility, but sometimes I think...poor deserts. While it's true deserts lack lush vegetation, a lot of life is hiding in plain sight. And modern life has made it so that road trips through the desert are a lot more colorful than the can of beans cowboys enjoyed by the fire.

goat cheese toast

One thing about the stark landscape of deserts, is that locals are more prone to celebrate color when it does present itself. They are 100% present when a fiery sunset lights up the desert floor in a hue so ruddy, it's like you're standing on Mars. Or cactus blooms in canary yellow and hot pink, stark against the blue skies. This same reverence takes place when you are handed a plate of fresh, delicious food. You appreciate the work it took to get there.

desert cocktail


For companies in the desert that wish to be sustainable, it's difficult to get cocktail garnishes beyond citrus (local) and jarred maraschino cherries (ubiquitous). Desert establishments that take their cocktails seriously use dried herbs and fruit, which still offer flavor and visual intrigue. In fact, the dried nature of these garnishes compliment the arid landscape. 

In the desert, there's a lot of fresh mezcal and teuquila being poured, and patrons know the difference. Though both drinks derive from the agave plant, only tequila comes from the blue Weber agave. My cocktail featured dried lavender and blood organge slices, and was a delight. 

Hope Cafe

Rocket fuel

Who says that roadtrippers need to subsist on gas station coffee? Yes, some gas stations have come a long way, but the International Coffee creamers make every brew taste the same. For a richer, espresso-based drink, do a little research. The Internet has proven there are more options than inethical chains such as Starbucks.

I found a gem in El Centro called Hope Cafe, draped in rainbow Slinkees and neon wall art. There was a whole room dedicated to superhero comics. Also? Delicious iced lattes in a variety of flavors. I opted for toasted marshmallow. 

beef carpaccio

Fine dining

No road trip is authentic unless you taste local flavors. Those with true wanderlust avoid highway exits featuring the same fast food chains we see around the world. While these exits are life-savers if an adventurer needs gas or air in their tires, those in the know opt for taco stands and diners. 

When that gets old, there are a few meccas for fine dining. For us, that meant an upscale Italian dinner in Palm Springs. We dressed to the nines and ate at Il Corso, and enjoyed beef carpaccio with capers, pictured above.

Mexican crepe

Mexican food

Is any road trip through the Southwest complete without sampling delicious Mexican food? If you want to feel like a native, eat like a native. I devoured a breakfast crepe featuring fired poblano peppers and a cojita cheese sauce.

The family-owned restaurant took pride in the playful twists on their menu. It expanded upon the Mexican classics they grew up with. 

Below are lamb meatballs from Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel, my favorite stop on an unforgettable vacation. This road trip through the California desert made me realize I've only scratched the surface of what the desert has to offer. What may appear to be barren is bursting with life...and flavor

Jacumba Hot Springs Hotel

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