A little slice of Mexico at Las Casuelas Terraza
Serving home-style Mexican cuisine since 1958
By Kevin Perry
Love and sustenance go hand in hand. They nurture us, give us purpose, and provide us the strength we need to conquer the world outside of our immediate circle of relatives. Family feeds us, in more ways than one.
Some restaurants tout their commitment to heritage, but Las Casuelas Terraza lives it. During our brief conversation with the legendary eatery’s operator, Patrick Service, he interrupts himself abruptly to make sure his wife gets her lunch. It’s a moment as endearing as it is genuine, and it has been Patrick’s central motivation from birth.
“I am a townie,” declares Service, "so I was here on day one of my life. My grandparents moved here about 62 years ago and started the Original Las Casuelas back in 1958.”
Maria and Florencio Delgado may have arrived in Palm Springs six decades ago, but their flavors date back even further. “Although Las Casuelas has been three generations in Palm Springs with that brand name, it’s been four generations of our family’s recipes done in a commercial setting.”
Harkening back to his vibrant roots, Patrick continues, “In pre-Depression Arizona, Globe and Jerome Arizona, my great grandmother, single mother of, I want to say eight – don’t want to get quoted or I’ll get yelled at by Tía.”
It’s yet another charming aside, signifying that familial bonds are of the utmost importance at Las Casuelas. Resuming his description of great grandma, Service narrates, “She cooked for copper miners in a boarding house, and so all the family recipes are just that – they’re not regional molés that you’re gonna find in the restaurants of Mexico City, these are family recipes where they were intended to fill the bellies and keep people warm and happy and coming back and continuing to work in mines. It’s the definition of comfort food for us.”
Las Casuelas is founded on a spirit of hearty homecoming, and the achievements of Patrick’s ancestors resonate through time and into their kitchen to this very day. “The recipes haven’t changed in over 100 years now. We’ve added and changed a number of items, but it’s our own brand of Mexican food, which is really cool because every day I get to come in and relive my most cherished memories at my grandparents’ house for holidays. It’s the same food I’m having five days a week for lunch.”
Savoring the moment, Service punctuates his point. “The tradition and heritage of those recipes, of the family’s warmth and style, is pretty awe-inspiring.”
Indeed, Las Casuelas is built on tradition, but the actual founding of the establishment took a massive leap of faith. “At the time,” Patrick assesses, “this part of downtown was considered more or less dead. Everybody was telling my parents, Patty and Rick, ‘There’s absolutely no way you’re gonna make it that far down.’ At the time, it was considered a big risk and gamble to build a restaurant as significant as this one was in this part of the central business district. Now, the biggest cluster of restaurants is here and it’s considered the can’t-miss part of town for food and beverage.”
The property has greatly evolved from its already storied beginnings, and it just keeps gaining momentum. “This used to be a small house built in the 1920s, a Spanish casita – stucco walls, single story – it was the real estate office at the time of Frank Bogert, who had been on and off as mayor for many, many terms. They built around it in 1978. It was more or less the first patio style dining in the desert. It was revolutionary and hadn’t been done. This was two or three days before a significant, multi-inch snowfall hit.”
Snowfall, you say? In Palm Springs? How did the locals react to such a chill omen? As Patrick tells the tale, they went “from ‘It’s going to be too hot, you can’t have patio dining in Palm Springs!’ to ‘Oh my gosh, there’s many inches of snowfall here!’ which hadn’t happened in most people’s memory.”
As doubt washed away with the remnants of the freak snowstorm, Las Casuelas could finally focus on what was important: their fabulous food. When asked which menu items he recommends, Patrick unleashes a deluge of the restaurant’s stock favorites, from chimichangas to tacos to enchiladas, before unveiling his personal preference. “Anything with our Chile Colorado is just rich, it’s packed in flavor, but it’s a little light on the tongue at the same time. That’s my go-to.”
Service credits his team with the succulent success of Las Casualeas, beaming, “The staff that works every single day we are so proud of it. They’ve been here very long and they’re very proud keepers of what we’ve been doing for so long, so we’re honored to have ‘em.”
Emanating outward from his core crew to the city at large, Patrick spreads the praise like a serving of his irresistible Chile Colorado. “Palm Springs has supported us so well for so long, because as big as we get, we’re still a small community and a small town. You can feel that. As tourism season ramps up, you can see fewer locals, but then everyone starts to come back in the summer. The best marketing strategy any business in this city can have is the recommendation of its locals. We’re honored to have them on our side, and have had them on our side for so long. We’re very grateful for them.”
Gratitude is a dish best served reciprocally. Palm Springs is equally thankful for you, Patrick. We’ll see you on the patio, come rain, shine, or snow.
222 S. Palm Canyon Dr. | 760.325.2794