You’ll be spending days on end in the Indio heat, and while you could see food as nothing but fuel to get you through the onslaught of musical acts and art installations, Coachella and the festival’s food curator, Nic Adler, want to make the restaurants and dishes something to remember. It's why Coachella’s become somewhat of its own culinary destination—nickname: “Foodchella”—and in 2019, it’s stronger than ever.
This year’s vendors include more than 40 stands, including some of L.A.’s hottest up-and-coming concepts, plus craft beer halls, ice cream parlors and secret bars—and that’s not even including Outstanding in the Field, the roving alfresco dinner series (we’ve got more on this year’s dinner lineup here). We hit day one of Coachella to scope out the best food and drink the festival has to offer, so you know exactly where to drink, splurge or dine on a budget better than the 125,000 attendees around you. Just remember to hydrate, OK?
1. Gwen pop-up restaurant (VIP)
By the time you’ve spent all day wandering a 90-degree day in the desert sun, Curtis Stone’s pop-up restaurant will feel like a godsend. You’ll sit down under a shady canopy and chandeliers, servers will take your order and refill your water glasses (please remember to hydrate), and you’ll taste a three-course prix-fixe menu that feels like nothing but luxury at a music festival. Gwen’s $60 meal gives you a choice of appetizers such as grilled little gem lettuce with buttermilk caraway dressing or chicken liver parfait with grilled sourdough, and mains like smoked brisket with a tart apple-and-cabbage slaw; bright grilled shrimp skewers with shaved spring vegetables and quinoa; and orecchiette with marinated mushrooms, charred artichokes and English peas. Finish it all off with desserts like almond tart with blackberries or a dark chocolate mousse with meringue and raspberries, and take a break from the fest's madness. And because this is one of Coachella’s most haute dining experiences, there are supplements such as wagyu New York strip, Gwen’s fabulous lamb ribs, and lobster lettuce wraps. (Don’t feel like splurging? There’s also a bar complete with specialty cocktails and snacks like carrot hummus.) Coachella’s a festival that’s all about style, and so is this pop-up.
2. Tiki drinks at Please Don’t Tell (GA)
NYC’s Please Don’t Tell is back with another hidden tiki bar pop-up, but this year, there’s double the space for your tropical-drink needs. The new PDT tiki bar now includes a large outdoor area and bar, complete with a towering smoking volcano and plenty of palm fronds. The menu is identical to the one you’ll find at the adjacent indoor bar (which, pro tip, happens to be air conditioned)—this means that either spot you pick, you’ll be choosing drinks from a six-cocktail list that includes the Ruby Refresco (with tequila, brandy, lemon, cinnamon and grapefruit soda) and Cocomo (where fresh coconut water, brandy and 23-year rum mix and get served in a fresh young coconut). Find entrances to PDT in both VIP and GA; from GA, enter the large 21-plus area to the left of the main stage, then find the near-hidden alcove just to the left of the Cupcake Vineyards booth.
3. Tlyudas at Madre (VIP)
Torrance’s premier Oaxacan restaurant hits the VIP section with loosely rolled tacos, matador cocktails, palomas and smoky margaritas, but the gem is the traditional tlyauda: a crispy tostada topped with beans, cheese, avocado and lettuce. At Madre, they come so big they’re served in pizza-size cardboard boxes and topped with your choice of one meat for $17 or three meats for $20. (We’re partial to the little links of chorizo.) Crunchy, filling but still light and refreshing, this is a great dish for an outdoor festival—and it’s so big, you can share with friends.
4. Dole Whip floats and Roy Choi staples at Kogi Town (GA)
This year mark’s Roy Choi’s 10th year at the festival, and to celebrate, he’s got a corner called Kogi Town. In between the row of his food stands sits his original Kogi car, the food truck that started it all. To the left are stalls devoted to Chego rice bowls, while to the right, you’ll find Kogi Korean BBQ tacos, burritos and even a line designated line for Choi’s take on Dole Whip: pineapple Dole Whip swirled into a cup of chilled pineapple juice ($12), all topped with a neon-red maraschino cherry.
5. Tacos at Tacos 1986 (VIP)
Is there a more perfect festival food than the taco? Easy to eat while on the move, cooled down with salsa and guac, and a perfect (and delicious) bite of protein to keep you going, it’s a match made in fest-meal heaven. And there’s no hotter taco in L.A. than Tacos 1986. The lively, theatrical street cart serving Tijuana-style tacos pops up Sunday afternoons at Smorgasburg and Tuesday at Delilah, and keeps roving around town, but why chase them down when they’re right here at Coachella? Find owners Jorge “Joy” Alvarez-Tostado and Victor Delgado slinging steak, chicken and mushroom tacos just next to the VIP entrance closest to parking. (Our fave? The off-menu perron, which involves melty cheese right on the tortilla, plus beans.)
6. Vegan burgers from Monty’s Good Burger (GA and VIP through Postmates)
It’s not often that a vegan dish can steal the spotlight, but in a festival setting with a food lineup as strong as Coachella’s, full of meaty must-trys, it’s especially surprising when it’s a vegan burger. But Monty’s Good Burger, the plant-based K-town burger spot, exceeds at nailing Americana diner nostalgia. Patties are made from Impossible Foods’ “beef,” while melty Follow Your Heart “cheese” melts with grilled onions before getting topped with lettuce and tomato on a potato bun. Where’s the beef? We certainly don’t miss it. What’s more, the Monty’s team designed new Coachella packaging, complete with a spot for tots and dipping sauce. They really tried to make walking and eating easy on you! Order Monty’s exclusively through the Postmates button in the Coachella app, then pick it up in either GA or VIP.
7. Ice cream parlor pop up by Salt & Straw (GA)
Looking to escape the heat? Salt & Straw built a long stretch of ice cream parlor right by the Ferris wheel, and what’s more, it’s air conditioned. (Bless you, Salt & Straw.) Stop by the pop-up ice cream shop for sprinkle-topped cones, massive sundaes and wild flavors (plus vegan options like their so-summery roasted-strawberry and coconut). Then take a seat at the counter, where you can lick ice cream in the A/C while people-watching through the large windows along the wall—because we all know Coachella's people-watching is some of the best in the world.
8. Fried chicken sandwiches at Fuku (GA)
David Chang’s fast-casual fried chicken concept is no stranger to the festival circuit, and this year, it outshines the fried chicken competition. There are a handful of stalls selling chicken strips, and even a new (very solid) fried chicken concept from the Top Round team, but Fuku dominates. Head to both the Indio Central Market and the beer barn to find deftly seasoned fried chicken-thigh sandwiches on squishy buns, then grab a lemonade slushie to rehydrate.
9. Smashburgers and fries at Love Hour (VIP)
Smashburgers are popping up everywhere, and one of L.A.’s strongest contenders can be found serving the pressed-beef patties at this year’s Coachella. But Love Hour, the pop-up from Beer Belly’s Jimmy Han, chef Aaron Lopez, influencer Michael Pak and athletic group Koreatown Run Club, doesn’t just make fantastic, old-school smashburgers topped with American cheese, pickles and special sauce—it also makes incredible fries, available in plain variety, as well as flavors such as BBQ or sour cream and onion. Craving a burger? This is where you should head.
10. Japanese sandos at Konbi (GA)
Echo Park’s wildly popular Japanese-inspired café brought their even-more-wildly-popular egg salad sandwich to cool down festival-goers. They’ve even updated the packaging: In a nod to the classic 7-Eleven to-go sandos you’d find in Japan, Konbi’s Coachella sandos are served in that same style of container, which is charming. Of course the charm factor is nothing in comparison to the deliciousness of these milk-bread sandwiches, which are not only sold in the jammy-yolked egg salad variety; you can also find a pork katsu version. Find ’em in the Indio Central Market.