As a premier getaway spot for celebrities and tourists alike, the Palm Springs area is a food lover’s dream. From Thai to Greek or mom and pop shops to gourmet steakhouses, the Coachella Valley has it all. While there are many restaurants your travel agent or hotel concierge may recommend, leave it to a local to tell you where you really need to eat.
One of the local favorites is Mario’s Italian Café, which operates several restaurants throughout the desert. The chain is a “Best of the Valley” titleholder for “Best Italian Restaurant in the Valley.” This award is sponsored by the Desert Sun, the valley’s local newspaper, and is based on reader votes. Mario’s offers authentic, home-cooked Italian meals, a comfortable atmosphere and several convenient locations.
Mario’s is not an upscale, fine dining establishment. This restaurant offers a cozy, romantic and homey atmosphere with Italian-themed portraits embellishing the walls. Traditional Italian music fills the restaurant and makes guests feel like they’re dining in Venice. Adorned with the traditional red, white and green colors of Italy, seating is available in both booth and table form. Some restaurants also offer outdoor seating for guests to enjoy their Italian fare in the crisp desert weather.
A crowd of regulars can be spotted any night of the week at any location. You’ll be hard-pressed to visit a Mario’s Italian Café completely devoid of patrons. Still, guests are rarely made to wait for a table. The wait staff is usually friendly, knowledgeable and eager to please. They’re also more than willing to make suggestions if you find the menu overwhelming. Considering they are fortunate enough to dine on Mario’s food every day, you can trust their recommendations to make for a fulfilling meal.
Mario’s menu is simply phenomenal. If it’s Italian, they make it. From fried appetizers to noodles prepared any way you can fathom, you can get it at Mario’s. A wide variety of soups and salads are also available. Entrees include seafood, chicken, veal and pasta selections. Mario’s also prepares sandwiches, hot submarines and pizzas. Portions for most plates are generous.
The “Lite Eaters” menu is perfect for lunch or those looking for smaller portions. Guests can mix and match sauces and noodle types for a custom plate for under $10. Most dishes also come with a piece of Mario’s delicious garlic bread. I recommend the creamy marinara, which is a combination of alfredo sauce and marinara that makes a delicious tomato cream sauce. This sauce, combined with a bed of linguini noodles, is my go-to “Lite Eaters” plate.
Seafood lovers should ask their servers if the cioppino is available. This elusive dish can only be prepared by a handful of chefs, including Mario’s very own sons who work at some locations. If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to try this dish, you’ll soon realize it does not disappoint. It is prepared as a pasta dish with red sauce as opposed to traditional soup-based cioppino. A hearty serving offers oceanic surprises mixed into a bed of noodles, including lobster tail, clams, mussels and squid. The generous portion size makes for a decent amount of leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Mario’s Italian Café began with a lone location in Indio off Highway 111 and Monroe Street. Over the years, the restaurant grew into a chain that is now a familiar landmark of the Coachella Valley. The locations are spread throughout the east end of the valley. Restaurants are located in Indio, Bermuda Dunes, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta and Sun City. I’m lucky enough to have two of these locations within five miles of my house! Check out Mario’s website at MariosItalianCafes.com for a full list of locations, including addresses, phone numbers and driving directions.
Mario’s Italian Café is a welcomed alternative to the mass produced offerings of other Italian restaurants such as the Olive Garden. With six locations throughout the desert, there is no excuse not to drop by a local Mario’s Italian Café for a light lunch or lavish dinner. This local favorite is the desert’s best choice for authentic Italian cuisine.