Passatempo pairs rustic Italian with Walla Walla's best wines.

Image: Brooke Fitts

Fine wine is only part of what makes a famous wine region, and Walla Walla's food scene is legit—seriously robust rather than “good for a small town.” Make reservations where they're accepted; if Walla Walla was ever a hidden gem, those days have long passed.

Hattaway’s on Alder

The passing of the great Whoopemup Hollow Cafe in 2019 opened a window for a new brand of Southern Exposure to step into the spotlight. Launched by an Alabama couple on a quiet downtown block (but near the town’s reigning fine-dining champ Passatempo Taverna), the small space dishes big flavors. Like very crisp fried chicken bathed in “backyard sauce”—flavored with the kind of herbs you might find in a personal garden. Muddled fresh peaches in a bourbon cocktail are a sweet Southern reprieve from all the wine, but the glassed-off wine cellar has its share of big local names. Don’t skip the housemade chocolate-studded bread pudding, whose aroma alone is enough to justify its addition to an already-hearty meal.

Walla Walla Steak Co.

Dan Thiessen oversaw the kitchens at the Space Needle and Salty’s before he was drawn back to the Eastern Washington farmland of his childhood. It was more than a scenic return—the cattle ranch he grew up on helped inspire the Walla Walla Steak Co., a venture he co-launched in the town’s old train depots. He’s even rearing his own cattle, though they’re not yet part of the meat co-op that supplies the New Yorks, filets, and top sirloins that end up on the restaurant’s charcoal grill. The wine town is ripe for a steak-first joint, one serious enough to offer a 34-ounce bone-in rib eye, and the Crossbuck Brewing taproom that shares the building is burgers-and-IPA counterprogramming to all the cabs and prime cuts.

Passatempo Taverna

Other wine regions may sport Michelin-starred restaurants, but Walla Walla puts on a global banquet at small-town prices. Il Nido's Mike Easton helped open Passatempo in downtown Walla Walla (though he's no longer a part of it), and the handmade pastas—all under $25—are as notable as the fact that you can get in without a reservation on a weeknight. When it launched in 2016, Easton called the fare “a bit more interesting;” the relationship of the rustic Italian food with the local wines was always at the forefront.

Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen

Wine country can mean a slate of same-old American classics, maybe a sprinkle of French and Italian. Saffron isn’t afraid to serve gözleme, a Turkish flatbread, half a world from the Bosphorus. A slate of salads and housemade pastas, familiar Italian and steaks, makes room for fans of every part of the Mediterranean coast. Open since 2007, it's become a sort of elder statesman in the Walla Walla dining scene, its reliable reputation well earned.

Bacon and Eggs

It's right there in the name: Welcome to breakfast central in downtown Walla Walla. But for all the Ron Swanson simplicity, the menu spends more time in Mexico: migas, huevos con chorizo, chilaquiles. Between a tofu stir-fry topped with kimchi and stuffed brioche french toast, the plain old bacon and eggs entree is almost lost. Lunch includes a modest spread of sandwiches and salads, and a wall of hot sauces—look for the shelves under a luchador portrait—are not just Instagram bait.

Bacon and Eggs makes breakfast memorable.

Image: Brooke Fitts

AK's Mercado

One of the best meals in Walla Walla used to come out of a gas station. The food counter at Andrae's Kitchen dished street food that deserved a finer table than the ones near the Cenex gas pumps, but the ramshackle location was part of the charm. Andrae Bopp moved to a more conventional space downtown in early 2021, dishing tacos and smoked meats and hosting a market of local vendors. Jim German, the cocktail mind behind now-shuttered but much-beloved Jimgermanbar, leads the drinks program.

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