Wally’s Desert Turtle is one of our valley’s most revered establishments. Built in 1978 as Wally Botello’s lifetime legacy, the elegant restaurant has served many desert legends including Frank Sinatra, Bob and Dolores Hope and President Gerald and Mrs. Betty Ford, to name a few. 

A trip to Wally’s is always a special treat, but fine dining can be a challenge for those who favor vegetarian and gluten-free selections. After all, a primary reason patrons return year after year is to enjoy the classics that have marked memories throughout their lives – succulent steaks, slow braised short ribs and exquisite baked Alaska.

Today, you can enjoy both thanks to the third generation – Wally’s granddaughter Madalyn Botello, now at the helm. Wally’s remains a local treasure because of Madalyn, and if you haven’t been lately, it’s time to return.

Madalyn graduated from the Nolan School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University and worked with the Four Seasons, a job she loved, for three-and-a-half years. When the pandemic hit, the hotel sent guests and staff home for “a couple of months.” 

Back in the desert, her father, Michael, was overseeing Wally’s “farewell year” as the family had decided to sell. Once home, Maddy (as she is warmly called) had a change of heart and couldn’t imagine the family restaurant changing hands. She told her father she would take the reins – as long as he allowed her the space to usher in the next generation. With much confidence, Michael chose to retire.

Honoring Wally’s 5-star rating, timeless design and long-term clientele, only small changes have been made; just enough to feel that a full refresh has taken place. The creative blend of contemporary and antique, originally designed by renowned architect Steven Chase, remains. 

“Stepping into Wally’s is like going back in time,” says Maddy who has added touches with no intention of making change. “I think it’s important to our guests and the valley that the history and look remain the same.” 

Other elements that haven’t changed are the exceptional service and dedicated staff. Maddy proudly shares that of her 50 employees, 80% have been there for more than 30 years. 

You can enjoy some of her influences on the dinner menu. Classic dishes remain alongside creative new vegetarian offerings. All dishes, excluding the pasta and short ribs, can be made gluten-free and soft and steamy gluten-free rolls are served upon request. Only healthy oils are used and meats and seafood are sustainably farmed.

On our most recent visit, we enjoyed the fall vegetable salad with baked tofu, both plentiful and savory, topped with honey poppy seed dressing. For my entrée, I ordered the cauliflower steak brimming with a variety of different flavors from grilled zucchini, roasted corn, sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, carrots and seasoned quinoa. It was exceptional and fun to explore the combination of tastes.

My husband, Tommy, enjoyed his favorite – the pan seared Chilean sea bass. Served with Swiss chard, shitake mushrooms and black rice, he added it to the top of his list.

Another of Maddy’s touches can be found on the newly launched wine list. She directed a focus on boutique and women-owned wineries, along with a larger selection of noted organics, which she notes will continue to grow from season to season. While the list is extensive, the layout and selection are not overwhelming.

Wally would be very proud of his granddaughter, and we are grateful she is preserving this valley treasure for us and future generations to enjoy. Their menu has something for everyone. So, if you haven’t been in a while, stop by to soak in the nostalgia and relax into the memorable evening you’re about to enjoy.

Wally’s Desert Turtle is located at 71775 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. They are open Tuesday through Sunday and reservations are recommended. For hours and availability, visit www.wallysdesertturtle.com or call (760) 568.9321.

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