No, the Central Washington city of Yakima has never really been, as a prominent sign cheerfully proclaims at the start of town, “The Palm Springs of Washington.” Best known for being the administrative center of an agricultural region, famous tamales, and troubled crime rates, Yakima is rarely considered a must-do getaway. But it should be. Let’s go to the evidence:
Consider Mighty Tieton, an arts facility in a town so tiny it looks like a film set. Founded when Seattle art publisher Ed Marquand’s bike tires blew in front of empty fruit warehouses, the endeavor is a small complex of studios, work-live spaces, galleries, and print shops. For $5 and advance warning, a staff member will lead a tour through apple storage rooms holding hand-printed books and a repository for the Seussian music sculptures of sound artist Trimpin.
Art is leaking out the door and all over town—the Tieton Mosaic Project is installing subway-style signs around Tieton and even strove to turn the post office into a giant tile sign. Sadly the federal agency lacked Mighty Tieton’s abundant whimsy and refused the project.
Exhibit two: Yes, Yakima has hops. The valley grows three-quarters of the nation’s crop, as the dusty, dated American Hops Museum of Toppenish won’t stop announcing. So Bale Breaker, a brewery founded by siblings in the middle of their family’s long-dominant hops farm, isn’t exactly reinventing pale ale here. But the brewery’s Topcutter IPA has quickly gained Whole Foods dominance, and when it’s time to brew a fresh hops beer, owner Meghann Quinn backs her own truck up to her parent’s crop picker and starts cooking only six minutes after the buds leave the vine. Listen close and you’ll hear other northwestern IPA makers seething with jealousy.
Hypothetical for anyone still judging the Yakima Valley: Say it’s National Hot Dog Day, and you’re walking the American Gothic streets of Prosser. Is the bar grub of Bern’s Tavern your only bet? Examine the handwritten menu one shop down, at Junebug bakery, behind the piles of arty cookbooks and opposite exposed brick walls. Today’s special is sausages topped with homemade pesto aioli and a logjam of fresh tomatoes. Pastries drip with fresh berries and artfully clumped oats. It’s official: Even hardy rural towns bait foodie Instagrammers.
Our closing argument is Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse. The restaurant turned a dilapidated downtown city park into a Graham Baba–designed eatery that looks dreamt up for a South Lake Union corner. In fact, why isn’t there an SLU joint that mixes burnished metal fixtures with mounted antlers next door to a neon dive like the kitschy Sports Center?
The debate over whether Cowiche Canyon has the best cocktail program in town will be postponed while an actual challenger is found; until then we’ll say the menu’s leadoff Campanula Sour, blending grapefruit vodka, St. Germain liqueur, and red pepper, can hold its head high in any company. Though the food menu plays it safe with vodka penne pasta and a classic prime rib, even without experimental fare the massive new eatery has earned a sceney reputation. Are you prepared, Yakima, to outcool Seattle? The argument rests with this thought: It’s closer than you think.