The 12 Best Things We Ate and Drank at Coachella 2017

FANCY TATER TOTS, STEAK DINNERS, AND HIDDEN TIKI BARS FUEL THE WEEKEND

Photo: Brian Willette

Photo: Brian Willette

Once again, there were just as many festivalgoers coordinating their eating schedules as their music itineraries at Coachella this year. At least one guy had a list of restaurants written on his arm so he wouldn't forget where to eat before headliners Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar took the stage. The full culinary lineup — the list of chefs cooking at Outstanding in the Field, hosting full-service, sit-down pop-up restaurants in the VIP area, or serving new masterpieces in food stalls — is as hot as the music at the 18-year-old Indio music fest.

The chance to sit down in the middle of the day and eat fresh vegetables on real plates with wine and cocktails is hard to pass up, at least for anyone who can afford the extra $225 for OITF dinners (or who, like us, luckily got invited to go). Making a table reservation for Little Sister or Playa Provisions before trekking all the way to the main VIP area is so utterly civilized, we almost forgot that 98% of the people around us are there for music and not lettuce wraps and lamb curry. Even knowing that you could eat in these restaurants in LA, the food options are must-dos, even with all the sun, wind and dust.

Just like it's not all about the headliners on the main stage but some of the smaller acts you catch in the tents, we don't just go for the celebrity chef eats while we're running around the Empire Polo Club grounds. There are plenty of delicious things to grab throughout the day, from loaded hot dogs and poke bowls to ice cream, vegan tacos and greasy pepperoni pizza. Truth: Most of the time, we're choosing what to eat by how long the lines are. New cocktail options keep the buzz going (and the need for even more water great), which is so much better than pre-poured flat beer.

For 2017, as always, there is too much good eating and drinking to get through in three days, and we barely made a dent. But here are some of the best things we put in our mouths during weekend one of Coachella. Anyone going to weekend two, take note!

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Pork belly fries at Beer Belly
We honestly forget the proper name for these — the stand is in the Beer Barn, after all, and beers were consumed — but the Koreatown and Long Beach gastropub knows its audience. Loaded with chunks of fried pork belly, tons of Sriracha, curry aïoli and pickled onions, these fries put crab fries to shame.

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Indian Summer and The Shark at PDTiki
If all 125,000 concertgoers knew about or could get into this hidden tiki bar, your chances of sipping cool cocktails in a dark, air-conditioned space would be impossible. Judging by the line at this clandestine spot (look for it in the Beer Barn), it has been discovered, but hit it at the right time of day and you'll be in luck. The gist is getting your name on a list and getting buzzed on a pager when it's your turn to enter. The tiki dream was created by food and beverage director Nic Adler and the team from New York's PDT (Please Don't Tell) bar. Our favorite sips: The Shark, all blue and full of rum and fruit, and the sort of Arnold Palmer spiked with gin. 

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Appetizer tasting from Little Sister
Tin Vuong was one of the chefs invited to do a pop-up restaurant in the main VIP section, a full-service, sit-down concept that's shaded (key!), has cocktails (ditto!) and a prix fixe menu. You can even make reservations on OpenTable for a spot, which is recommended as all three restaurants (Kindred, a vegan spot from San Diego, and Playa Provisions included) looked full every time we walked by. This tasting had a little bit of everything: ground meat skewered on lemongrass, imperial rolls, red curried prawns and vermicelli noodles. The best part was definitely the super-fresh, crisp and cool lettuce. Vegetables...at Coachella! This was just one course from the menu, which also included papaya salad, beef carpaccio with spices and herbs, and braised lamb curry.

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Peruvian poke at Mamacita Cantina
Chef Ricardo Zarate sort of secretly opened his newest casual spot at Hollywood and Highland, so it's no surprise he has a secret menu item at his Coachella stand. This was definitely a highlight of the day: fresh hamachi in an aji amarillo aïoli, crispy quinoa, beets, rice and a few sprigs of mint, which seems the most out of place but it totally works. Find the bowl and other Peruvian bites in The Rose Garden VIP section.

Credit: Brian Willette 

Churro sundae at Ridges Churro Bar
Hot churros in flavors that range from traditional cinnamon-sugar to covered in Fruity Pebbles with a cup of soft serve ice cream? Oh, hell yes. The stand is located at the top of the main stage field facing the Chiaozza Garden (the whimsical pastel-colored statues). Or just ask the millionth person you see walking with one where they got it. (P.S. Stagecoach fans, the stand will be there too.)

Credit: Ryan Tanaka 

Brisket and pulled pork sandwiches and pineapple at Holy Cow BBQ
Truth be told, the line for Bludso's brisket was way too long, and Holy Cow, sort of hidden on the other side of the main Beer Barn covered area, was easier to navigate. The sandwiches hit the spot, but the pineapple was particularly refreshing on a hot day.

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Porterhouse at Outstanding in the Field
Once again the OITF crew throws down the best full-service meals at Coachella. A long, linen-topped table set with real glassware, cutlery and dishes takes up a shaded corner of The Rose Garden, and it's pure heaven for anyone tired of the lines, sun and dirt. The kick-off was on Friday night with Neal Fraser (Redbird), Paul Kahan (The Publican) and Donnie Masterton (The Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico), and every course was simply perfect, from Kahan's charcuterie and bread at the beginning to the ceviche in the middle and the frozen miso ice cream bon bons at the end. The entree, Fraser's porterhouse, was beautifully grilled and served with big trumpet mushrooms, mustard frills and spinach "croutons," which tasted like light, fluffy spinach-cheese soufflé. OITF features teams of different chefs cooking dinners at 5:30 and 7:30 PM nightly.

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Raclette and tater tots at Paper Planes
This is Alvin Cailan's (Eggslut) new clandestine concept, and we honestly know little about it. But what we do know is raclette cheese is the star of the operation. Hot, oozy cheese isn't the first thing that comes to mind when it's a dry, hot desert day, but throw it on some tater tots and it's bona fide festival food. The tots came with lightly dressed arugula and slices of ham.

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Vegetable rolls at Phorage
We ate more crisp green vegetables at this Coachella than ever before. When the lines in the Beer Barn were longer everywhere else, we snuck back to a corner for some Vietnamese imperial rolls. Delicious, light and just what we needed with our rare beers.

Credit: Neil Husvar 

Fried chicken sandwiches at Fritzi Coop
We didn't wait in line for this fried chicken sandwich (someone gave it to us), but we would. Crispy, triple-battered buttermilk fried chicken with pimento cheese, lettuce and tomato. Pimento cheese makes everything better, doesn't it? If we had the patience to wait in the omnipresent line, we would've tried The Stinger, which is doused in hot sauce and blue cheese coleslaw.

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Blackberry smash at Woodley Proper
On the hottest and last day of the weekend, the first thing we saw when walking into The Rose Garden VIP area was a stand for Phillip Frankland Lee's newest Sherman Oaks restaurant. And we can't thank barman Devon Espinosa enough for having this gin and blackberry smash on the menu. There was just enough time to take a photo before it was gone almost seconds later.

Credit: Lesley Balla 

Random pizza
Coachella isn't Coachella without a slice of pie, spicy or not. We think this one came from a stand in the GA beer garden, but honestly, it could've been any stand pulling out slices of hot, cheesy, greasy pepperoni pizza. It smelled soooooo good when we walked by, and it totally hit the spot. It just goes to show: No matter how fancy the food gets at the two-weekend festival, a good old-fashioned slice at an unmarked stand is still tops.