Thursday, April 11, 2019

Palm Desert Adventures: Eatin' Vegan at Indian Wells

Indian Wells // BNP Paribas Open

A couple weeks ago, Mr. VE&T and I made our annual trek down to Palm Desert for our yearly tennis and desert adventure. But this year was extra special because we had two special guests: my mom and my auntie! It was so superfun! As you can see from our attire, the weather this year was downright mild - even chilly - compared to usual. Jeans and long sleeves in the desert!

This is the 5th or 6th time we've gone down, and it's always a fun adventure. Every year is a little different, but we have our favorite experiences and restaurants too, of course. I don't know how many vegan tennis fans there are out there, but I thought I'd write up some of our favorite spots in case you're ever in the area! 

Mamma Gina's simply must come in first place. It's always our favorite place to eat dinner when we're in Palm Desert. Honestly they don't have a *ton* of vegan options, but they have *some* and the scene is excellent. Mamma Gina's has two locations, one in Palm Desert, CA and one in Florence, Italy. That's a good sign! 

First of all, they have some seriously stupendous focaccia, and they give it to you for free. Friends, I am such a focaccia snob, and I'm pretty sure I would happily go to this restaurant if this was the only vegan thing on the whole menu! ha ha. But it's not. They have minestrone soup, pasta e fagioli soup, a couple good pasta dishes that are vegan if you just leave off the parmesan, and and incredibly generous and mega-garlicky side of spinach that totally satisfied this traveling vegan's need for greens - if you know what I mean. 

We always like to eat in the bar, where there's tennis on TV, the menu is a bit smaller but way more affordable, and the mood is quite festive. It's super fun for us to be in a space where everyone's watching and talking about tennis. Usually, when you are a tennis fan, everyone else is just talking about basketball and football or whatever. Also **important** we have never once eaten at Mamma Gina's without spotting at least one A-lister professional tennis player who's also having dinner there. They always eat in the main restaurant, so you may need to poke your head in over there - but MG's is a real hot spot for the players. Some of the players we've seen include Caroline Wozniaki, Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman, Andre Rublev, Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin Del Potro... and I'm sure more that I can't think of. Pretty cool, right!? 

a little ways away in Rancho Mirage

This place is a short drive north from Palm Desert/ south from Palm Springs. Thai food is always good, and tends to be vegan friendly - but this place is *super* vegan friendly (no fish sauce!), and offers lots of great choices. You know how sometimes when you're traveling, it's hard to get enough vegetables? And you just end up longing for huge bowls of broccoli and kale salad?? Well, this place really hits the spot. The servings are huge, and we were all thinking "we'll eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow" (ha ha ha) and then we proceeded to eat it ALL. I guess we really were hungry, because I didn't even take pictures of the food. But hopefully the picture of a table full of 100% empty plates will show you how great Talay Thai is! A great spot to know about when you're on the road. 

Honestly this place is not particularly vegan friendly. Mr. VE&T is (sadly) still not a vegan, and loves to come here to get a sandwich to bring to the tennis. So why I am even telling you about it? Well, in addition to the deli, they also have a great bakery with several vegan breads including some truly dynamite focaccia.  They also have a sweet little Italian store with a ton of Italian specialty ingredients. I always love snooping around the shelves and looking for special snacks and treats. 

Honestly, there are a lot more spots in Palm Desert that we haven't explored since we're usually down at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden watching tennis all day and we like to get an early start. There's a good Whole Foods at the North end of town, which we usually end up going to at least once or twice to stock up on various supplies and snacks. There are a handful of other vegan friendly spots that seem to open mid-morning and close by early evening, so we've never made it to those places. 

At the tennis!

As far as the grounds of the tennis tournament go, you can buy food there or your can bring in your own food. There are actually quite a few appealing or semi-appealing vegan choices, but a simple diet Coke is $5, so that gives you a sense of the premium you'll be paying. 

Since I'm both frugal and particular, I always opt to bring in my own sandwich and loads of snacks. My typical sandwich is baked tofu, tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, avocado, and mustard - basic and satisfying! This is the same basic sandwich that my family makes everyday when we go camping in Tuolumne Meadows during the summer - so, although it may sound not too flashy, it has a nourishing and nostalgic place in all our hearts. For other snacks I also always bring some fresh fruit, baby carrots, and a power bar of some sort. Oh, and trail mix! 

They'll make you pour out any drinks before you enter the grounds, so don't bring fancy drinks. Just bring an empty water bottle - there are plenty of places to fill your water bottle once you get inside. Some years it's *really* hot and you need to drink a LOT of water. 

Hey, that's not a tofu sandwich!

One day we had a tragic mishap and lost our lunch bag! We had all prepared our special tofu sandwiches, and gathered all our various snacks. As we got to the court, we were all sort of scrambling around to find the best seats, someone in our group set our lunch bag down as a way of "claiming" some seats.... all fine and good except that's not where we ended up sitting, and the tactical manouever was forgotten!

When our tummies started rumbling a couple hours later, panic ensued when we realized that we were missing our lunch! Steps were back-tracked and we still couldn't find our bag or our lunches. So Mr VE&T went and fetched us all some vegan burgers from Cassell's - one of the vendors in the park. I think he was gone for about 1 hour, standing in line, waiting for the food, and then getting back in to the court. That's another good reason to bring your own food! These came with cheese on them, and my aunt and I (she's vegan too) peeled off the cheese and carried on... A burger wasn't our first choice lunch item, but it was better than no lunch at all. Funny enough, we stopped by later to complain about the cheese and found out that it was actually vegan cheese!! We could have enjoyed our cheeseburgers if only we'd known! ha ha.

After all the matches were over, I said "let's just go check one more time..." and we went to where they had been staking out seats - and now that the crowds were gone - there was our trusty lunch bag with our lunches inside! (It's a nice refrigerated bag, so the food was actually still good inside too!). Hoorah! All the people who had been sitting there said "we were wondering whose bag that was!" Ha ha. All's well that ends well.

If you enjoy the leisure and expense (ha ha) of dining at the grounds, there are several nice options besides cheese burgers. Here's a link to all their concessions - though the menus aren't listed, unfortunately.

I'll give a special mention to PizzaVino - they make a good Baby Kale Salad that's vegan if you get it without cheese, and they also make good pizzas - which you can order with Daiya cheese or cheeseless. Their minestrone is also good and also vegan. 

We really love going to this fun event - so much tennis to watch, great weather, and beautiful desert terrain to explore. If you're ever thinking of going, let me know! 


  1. Each year we say we're going to be year for sure!

  2. That is super cool that they have vegan options, including things with vegan food, in the sports area!

    1. I know!! It's changed a lot in the +/-5 years that we've been going!

  3. That is so awesome you found your lunch bag!! And saved the tofu--phew! I'm glad they had vegan options available at the arena. Is this the trip where you go to the date farm? I have that on my bucket list!!

    1. Yes!! I have a whole new post about this year's visit to the date farm coming soon!


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