restaurants rancho mirage
Credit: Nathan Cox
restaurants rancho mirage
Credit: Nathan Cox

An Inside Look at the Historic Wally’s Desert Turtle in Rancho Mirage

Wally’s Desert Turtle Is an Upscale and Timeless Must-Try for Both Locals and Visitors Alike

In 1978, Wally Botello brought fine dining to the desert. His restaurant, Wally’s Desert Turtle, became a local favorite almost immediately after opening its doors. As the founder of the famous fine-dining chain The Velvet Turtle, Botello had a clear vision when it came to Wally’s Desert Turtle. He wanted to create a five-star dining experience right in the heart of Rancho Mirage, and with a little help from renowned designer Steven Chase and the restaurant’s original French chef, Jean-Louis Jalouneix, Botello’s vision came true. Though Botello passed away in 1985, Wally’s Desert Turtle’s legacy lives on. It is now run by his son, Michael, and granddaughter, Madalyn.

“When my grandfather retired in the desert, he saw that there was a need for an upscale restaurant,” explains Madalyn Botello, “so he found a plot of land in Rancho Mirage and decided to create something that the desert had never seen.” Chase, the designer, decided to create a French Provincial setting and included everything from Peruvian artifacts and hand-painted murals in Wally’s Desert Turtle. “He wanted the dining room to be more of a design haven rather than just a restaurant, which was rare during the 1980s,” Botello tells us. “It’s like a museum in some respects. It’s all very vintage, historic and precise.” Even today, the dining room at Wally’s remains exactly the same.

The restaurant’s atmosphere and ambiance is also enhanced by live music that is performed nightly. “My dad has always felt that live music brings another element to dining out,” says Botello. “You know, it’s a high-end restaurant and people are spending a lot of money, so we want to create an experience that is enhanced on all levels, not just with food and service.” While the decadent and enticing menu is more than enough to catch any foodie’s eye, the live music adds the unique element of entertainment.

Though Wally’s Desert Turtle started out as a French continental restaurant, it has since evolved into focusing more on modern California cuisine. “The reason we switched up some of the menu items was because more and more people want healthier options these days,” explains Botello. “People don’t always want such heavy sauces and dishes, so we wanted to offer a little bit of everything in regards to the style of food.” While some of the restaurant’s original French recipes have remained on the menu, dishes like the rack of lamb have been adjusted to fit a more contemporary take on California fare. Other standout options include the Cape Cod scallops and Chilean sea bass and the legendary Dover Sole. Wally’s, however, is best known for its artful soufflés. “The soufflés are very specific to Wally’s, and you don’t see them a lot in mainstream restaurants,” shares Botello. “They take a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of labor. The waiters have to time the soufflés perfectly; it’s very, very skilled and time-sensitive.”

Wally’s Desert Turtle also places a huge emphasis on the quality of its ingredients and where they come from, ensuring that only the best of the best is served. “We try to get exclusively organic and grass-fed meats,” says Botello. “When it comes to the vegetables, we also try very hard to source seasonally so that everything is at its freshest.” The restaurant has built a strong relationship with sustainable farms and purveyors. “Sustainability is very important to us, and the majority of the meat comes from  farms that are farming the right way,” explains Botello.

When it comes to service, the staff at Wally’s is more like family. “Most of our staff has been with us for more than 30 years,” shares Botello. “In fact, some of our kitchen staff actually worked with my grandfather, meaning they’ve worked with three generations of our family.”

 

Food

Some of the Wally’s classics include the wild mushroom soup, the buttery escargots of Burgundy and of course, the sauteed Dover Sole. More contemporary options like Icelandic salmon and Hercules Ranch filet of beef are also popular. 

 

Decor

restaurants in Rancho Mirage
Credit: Nathan Cox

The overall ambiance is both elegant and timeless. The Moroccan influences pair beautifully with the hand-painted murals and handmade chandeliers that hang in the dining room. Though Chase designed many residential homes, Wally’s Desert Turtle is the only restaurant he worked on. 

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Price Point

Wally’s is definitely on the fine-dining end of the spectrum. However, the food, service and atmosphere work together to create an unforgettable experience that is well worth the cost. 

 

Overall Verdict

restaurants rancho mirage - Wally's Desert Turtle
Credit: Nathan Cox

Wally’s Desert Turtle is an upscale and timeless must-try for both locals and visitors alike. Whether you’re celebrating an anniversary, holiday or major milestone, this historic and artful restaurant serves up an experience unlike any other in the area.

Wally’s Desert Turtle
71775 Hwy 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
760.568.9321
@wallysdesertturtle

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Allie Lebos graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2017 with a BA in Communication. While in school she was a staff writer at The Daily Nexus for nearly two years. Since graduating she has written for The Palisades Magazine, as well as Hidden Hills Magazine. Currently living in Santa Monica, Allie loves to indulge in good food, hot yoga, and daily walks along the beach; writing articles on travel, special events, as well as features on local businesses and individuals.

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