Mexican Spice and Everything Nice

El Mirasol blooms like a desert flower in the Palm Springs restaurant scene

Posted By: Friday, May 17, 2019

By Kevin Perry

The next time you’re inundated by the vibrant Palm Springs sun, pause for a moment to consider how much wonder and beauty it propagates. Just take it from El Mirasol owner Felipe Castañeda.

“When I first came over here,” recounts Felipe, “I was taken by the clear skies and the big mountains that we have on the side of the town. And the sun. It was really nice. That’s how I came to name our place El Mirasol. It’s a flower that follows the sun during the day. It opens up where the sun shines and the petals face in that direction, and then they turn, following the sunlight, then they close on the other side 10 or 12 hours later. That’s why I call it El Mirasol. The town is great; lots of sunshine and friendly people.”

Felipe
Felipe Castañeda

 

What a tantalizing appetizer from the maestro of Mexican cuisine. “I was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco” Castañeda narrates. “I came to Palm Springs in 1985. There was a little kitchen available at the time, where I started here at 140 East Palm Canyon Drive. Starting back then was easier than what it would be to start right now because the town has grown into a city – a lot bigger than what it used to be. Probably right now, there is a whole lot more competition than back then.”

So how did he maneuver the barren foodie landscape to cultivate his signature brand? He let his fingers do the walking. “After I looked in the yellow pages and saw only three Mexican restaurants in town, I thought there was a little place for me, a nice place to start right here.”

After finding his footing in SoCal, Felipe scoped out the competition by infiltrating the restaurants where he worked, Undercover Boss style. “I worked as a waiter in some places in Encino and the valley area in Los Angeles. I looked at what they were doing in the kitchen; it was good, it was quality and all that. But something was missing. It was a fresher approach to cooking.”

El Mirasol

 

Slicing into an example, Castañeda continues, “Chile Rellenos back then were a slice of Ortega chile wrapped around a long piece of Monterey Jack cheese and dipped into a thick egg batter and fried in oil. When I started my restaurant, I changed that. Instead of what I just described to you, I started using the fresh poblano chile, that deep green, delicious chile, which Chile Rellenos are made from when you’re cooking seriously.”

Despite his use of the word ‘seriously’, Felipe erupts in a fit of involuntary laughter as warm as his tortillas. He then invites us into his culinary creativity by issuing a step-by-step breakdown of how he perfected his Chile Relleno recipe. “I started with those chiles, threw them on the open fire, sweating them, cleaning them, taking all the seeds out, stuffing them with a nice amount of shredded Monterey Jack cheese, and using the egg batter. But not as thick as I saw them doing it everywhere else. We still make these fresh every day.”

With the help of the rest of the Castañeda family, Felipe has leveraged his authenticity into ascendancy. They now run two award-winning eateries that will make you do a delicious double take. “We do cook a lot in our kitchens; we have two restaurants here in Palm Springs. We use fresh chiles to make our sauces – the enchilada sauce is an example of that. We don’t cut corners. We don’t cut corners. That’s for sure. People taste that. They’re able to distinguish between one thing and the other.”

El Miresol

 

As Palm Springs has evolved since Felipe Castañeda’s arrival in 1985, so too has our collective palate. He has successfully spiced up our lives and increased our threshold for fiery euphoria. “Back then, the Anglo community, they were not used to the hot chiles that now they’re consuming like crazy! Back then, they said they didn’t want bell peppers on Steak Picado because they were too hot. Can you imagine? And right now they’re eating chiles, even some habanero sauces. And you know, habanero is a very hot chile.”

Oh, we know, Felipe. Btw, pass the water, please? And as we extinguish our glorious, capsaicin-induced meal aftershocks, we yield the floor to Mr. Castañeda. Tapping into his overflowing sense of Palm Springs pride, Felipe asserts, “We’re a service-oriented community. The merchants of this town are service oriented. We pay attention to details. Everything we do is to keep the tourists coming back because that’s our bread and butter. That’s what we do. Every meal, we improve and get better at this service we provide. All of us.”

Castañeda brought his hearty heritage from Guadalajara to the Inland Empire, erasing borders and embracing unity. “I think we’ve been working hard to bring the flavors of my country to this corner of the United States. I think it’s good. I like it.”

You took the words right out of our pleasantly singed mouths, Felipe. We like it too.

El Mirasol (two locations)

140 E Palm Canyon | 760.323.0721

266 E Vía Altamira | 760.459.3136

 

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