Yakima may bill itself as the Palm Springs of Washington—look for the billboard on the northeast end of town—but really it’s the agricultural heart of the state. Much of the Northwest’s stellar produce and beer-making hops originate in the Yakima Valley, but these aren’t the only flavors to be found. The small city’s dining scene has expanded in recent years, encompassing everything from quick-service treasures to a buzzing cocktail bar.
Redevelopment turned a dilapidated downtown city park into a Graham Baba–designed eatery that looks dreamt up for a South Lake Union corner. The cocktail program goes way beyond what you might expect in a wine-and-beer town. The menu’s leadoff Campanula Sour—which blends grapefruit vodka, St. Germain liqueur, and red pepper—can hold its head high in any company. The food menu mostly plays it safe with burgers and a classic prime rib, but rice noodle bowls and a creative slate of salads prove Cowiche Canyon isn’t sleeping on bringing new flavors to Yakima.
Felipe Hernández, a Mexican immigrant who opened a tamale shop in 1990, can claim what most chefs can only dream of—a James Beard award. His Union Gap shop won the organization's America's Classics designation in 2018, and national recognition for his handmade tamales, formed of masa made of hand-milled corn. The chicken and pork varieties are popular enough year-round that Hernández has opened a second location in Yakima; in spring and summer the seasonal asparagus version, aided by the bite of paper jack cheese, fly out the door in both fresh and frozen form. Though the Union Gap eatery is small, nearby Fulbright Park serves as an ideal picnic destination with takeout tamales.
The depot that sat in the middle of Yakima once hosted more than just cabooses; two presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft, made appearances on train tours in the early twentieth century. The current brick building, which dates back to 1909, saw new life as a coffee shop when rail service left the region. Today North Town gleams with white tile and a counter faced with tin squares, reminiscent of an art deco ceiling. A few different rooms—one stocked with toys for kids—offer privacy or workspace, and the menu features Stumptown pours and Italian sodas.