Walla Walla as a wine destination is well-documented, but the recent growth of restaurants in that town might surprise a visitor.
It surprised me, at least, when I pulled into town earlier this year for a weekend of winery exploration and found a town with so many restaurants, it would take me a month to sample them all.
I had a tough time whittling down where to eat. Our Northwest Getaways section, published in Thursday’s paper for home subscribers, includes minireviews of where I dined as well as where to sip wine. But here is a bonus column: eight dishes you’ll want to eat the next time you’re visiting Walla Walla.
1. 48-hour Beef Short Ribs, $34
The Marc Restaurant, 6 W. Rose St., inside the Marcus Whitman Hotel; 509-525-2200
This restaurant, which in January won the Washington Wine Commission’s restaurant of the year award, surprised me with its experimental take on Northwest cuisine. Molecular gastronomy showed up atop the Wagyu short ribs: a tease of foam imparted a whisper of horseradish. The beef had been batter-coated and fried, which sounds stranger than it was. The frying trick gave the meat a fascinating see-saw of crunch and chew. That same crunchy-chewy texture was mimicked in the shaved and fried carrots atop mashed Yukons sitting in a pool of deeply delicious jus.
2. Chinese pork belly steamed buns, $12
Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant, 55 W. Cherry St.; 509-525-2222, whitehousecrawford.com
The deconstructed bao looked more like tacos than steamed Chinese buns. Puffy ovals engulfed wedges of pork belly that tasted slow-cooked and swiped with hoison. Crunch came from pickled daikon and carrots. The acclaimed downtown Walla Walla restaurant — an attractive and airy destination built into a former mill — exuded charm, although service left us wanting.
3. Biscuits and gravy with eggs, $11
Bacon and Eggs, 503 E. Main; 509-876-4553, baconandeggswallawalla.com
The menu at Bacon and Eggs segues between Tex-Mex and modern American diner breakfast eats. It was a tough call to pick one menu section over the other, but if I had a do-over, I’d still get the biscuits and gravy ($11). Made with sausage sourced from a local butcher, Blue Valley, the dish featured crunchy-edged, dense biscuits that tasted homespun. Hash browns were shaved, not shredded, and the broader texture appreciated.
4. Olives to go, $7.50 per half-pint
Salumiere Cesario, 12 E. Main St.; 509-529-5620, salumierecesario.com
This downtown grocery store and cafe looked to be a fine destination for its menu of freshly made sandwiches ($7.50-$10.50), but it was the by-the-pound olive counter that captured our eye for a quick snack. Olives came in eight configurations. We opted for a plastic container of the house-mixed olives. Also, be sure to check out the cafe’s cheese closet at the front entrance. Walla Walla winery tour hours are short and concentrated between 10 a.m.-4 p.m., so if you need to pack a lunch rather than spend valuable touring time dining, Salumiere and Olive Marketplace across the street are excellent destinations for a pick-up lunch.
5. Dipped caramels, $4.49 per quarter-pound
Bright’s Candies, 11 E. Main St.; 509-525-5533, brightscandies.com
This chocolate and candy store has been operating since 1934. On weekdays, watch fudge and other sweets being made behind a glass window. Caramels came dipped in milk chocolate or dark chocolate, and some come dusted with sea salt. The truffle selection looked lovely, too.
6. Macarons, $2.50 each
Colville Street Patisserie, 40 S. Colville; 509-301-7289, colvillestreetpatisserie.com
With a pastry case full of savory and sweet, it’s tough to make up your mind, but when I spotted macarons, the French cookies, I had to buy the chocolate mocha version. The crackly-crisp exterior broke to a sugary-soft filling of butter cream. Another great destination for a quick snack in between winery tours.
7. Pozole, $11
Dora’s at The Worm Ranch, 1186 Wallula Ave., 509-529-3629.
I’ve read that tacos ($2.75) were the lure to this taqueria tucked inside a bait shop called the Worm Ranch, but I couldn’t resist ordering the pozole, a thick soup laden with slow-cooked meat and hominy. We scooped up the rich tomato broth, spiked with chile, with the hand-made tortillas that were fresh off the griddle. It’s not fancy, it’s a little quirky, and it’s a bit away from downtown, but Dora’s should be on everyone’s to-dine list when visiting Walla Walla.
8. The Hemingway, $9
Public House 124, 124 E. Main St.; 509-876-4511, ph124.com
This stylish downtown bar carved into an old ski shop is a perfect way to end a night of touring Walla Walla. A finely balanced Hemingway Daiquiri was a puckery intersection of lime, grapefruit and rum, with agave syrup standing in for maraschino liqueur. The bar doubles as an eatery, with a lengthy menu ranging from snacks to heartier fare.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously, and The News Tribune pays for all meals.