Travel time: 3.5 hours
by Lia Steakley Dicker
Somewhere around mile marker 74 on Interstate 82, our wine-tasting trip to the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, Richland) turned into a pursuit for the best Mexican food in Washington. The change in course came when my car mates complained that, despite its award-winning wines, the region is a cultural wasteland.
Appalled by their urbanite snobbery, I pointed out that, in Eastern Washington’s agrarian community Mexican migrant workers keep an abundance of authentic cantinas and taquerias in business. To which one travel companion replied, “Forget the cabernet, I want carne asada!”
The quest was on. And by the time we’d had our fill of tasting rooms along Tulip Lane—Richland’s winery row—quizzing vineyard hands on their top taco-shack picks or where to score the tastiest huevos rancheros, our road trip had a focal point: Pasco.
We checked into the Clover Island Inn, a 150-room waterfront hotel in Kennewick with sweeping views of the Columbia River, and spent the next two days eating our way through Pasco.
The gastronomic tour led us first to El Charrito, a whitewashed mission-style eatery. We gorged on generous plates of chiles rellenos and chicken mole, but the showstopper came in the form of the thick-as-pancakes handmade tortillas we used to sop up every last morsel. A few blocks away sat La Fama. The tiny neon yellow and green taqueria serves piping-hot tacos, burritos, and Mexican sandwiches known as tortas. Before chowing down, we dressed the dishes to perfection with homemade red and green chili sauces, pico de -gallo, and other fresh fixings from the salsa bar.
Between meals we burned off calories exploring area parks. In McNary National Wildlife Refuge off Highway 12, we spied yellow-head blackbirds and Canada geese. A short but steep hike to the summit of the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve, south of Richland and west of Kennewick, paid off in panoramic views of the glistening Columbia River and windswept steppes. Then we doubled back to Pasco, to what ended up being my favorite taqueria of all.
Large photos of Salvadoran and Mexican dishes hung on the walls at El Amanecer, bridging the English-Spanish language gap. My friends tucked into tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Me? I opted for a pupusa, a biscuitlike flat bread made from corn and filled, in my case, with cheese and pumpkin. One bite into the warm doughy delight sent me hustling back to the counter to order more.