A farm town in Eastern Washington is heating up as a wine tourism destination. Walla Walla, WA, about 270 miles from Seattle and near the Idaho border, has long been an iconic and temperate growing area for wine grapes. Wine producers in the Walla Walla Valley AVA have increased from about 30 in 2001 to more than 125 this year, according to the Walla Walla Wine Alliance.
For wine lovers, the draw to the region is its diversity—both climatically and vitaculturally, Walla Walla is very different from Seattle. This results in a broad range of wine styles and price points, with offerings ranging from syrahs to cabernet sauvignons to Rhône blends.
The area has several unique growing regions—such as the Red Mountain AVA, where many producers access top-end fruit.
Walla Walla visitors can also now visit dozens of winemakers who have opened small and accessible tasting rooms near the town’s airport.
The growth of the local wine industry has fueled investment in dining and drinking options. Walla Walla’s scene now spans the gamut from wine bars to classic cocktail lounges and venues that specialize in casual fare and local beer.
Green Lantern The Tavrns has been a local and casual bar in downtown Walla Walla for decades. The operator, which was remodeled a few years ago, has an outdoor patio that’s fun in good weather, while tap handles—28, several of them local—line the bar inside.
The Green Lantern menu includes classics like burgers and nachos; it’s also becoming known for its fish tacos, which sell for $5.25. A new chef is serving up simple dishes that make great pairings and serve as low-key meals.
Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen is an intimate downtown venue specializing in seasonal, local and organic ingredients. Opened in 2007, Saffron offers tapas, flatbreads, salads and entrees. Menu items include wood-grilled quail ($10), beef cheeks ($12) and leg of lamb ($27).
Public House 124 is another bar and restaurant in downtown Walla Walla; it opened in 2011. The bulk of the buzzing space seats nearly 100 inside, with a handful of tables that line the street.
The operator’s signature cocktails, which sell for $8, include the Sinister Kid, made with Maker’s Mark Bourbon, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice and a splash of sparkling wine, and the Blood Diamond, with reposado tequila, Campari and blood orange soda.
Simple meat dishes, such as grilled hanger steak and pork skewers (both $25) are fresh and tasty. Public House 124’s menu also includes burgers, salads, small plates and bar snacks range from truffle fries ($7) to chicken wings ($10).
outside walla walla
Some intriguing drinking and dining destinations have cropped up outside Walla Walla as well. Waitsburg, WA, a wheat-farming town about 20 miles north of Walla Walla, is home to a few.
One is the Whoopemup Hollow Café, a Cajun place opened in 2005 by a pair of former Seattle restaurant operators. The wine list features a handful of Washington wines, as well as sips and tastes from other countries, and the menu changes frequently.
The food at the Whoopemup Hollow Café, named for “a local hollow where legendary parties were once hosted by its residents,” is spicy, heavy and lively in the great tradition of New Orleans. The menu includes fried oysters ($10.95) crawfish pie ($12.95) and jambalaya ($23.95), as well as savory beignets stuffed with house-made boudin (Cajun-spiced pork sausage and rice) and priced at $9.95.
Across the street from Whoopemup is The Jimgermanbar, owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Jim German and Claire Johnston. Opened in 2007, the bar has become popular for hosting locals and tourists alike for a great night out, complete with art that guests can view at the couple’s gallery space next door.
The Jimgermanbar’s menu includes “Etruscan Snacks” (tapas) such as Tortilla de Espana with carmelized onion, potato and chive ($7) and chorizo poached in red wine ($8). But the operator is really known for its cocktails.
German makes his own bitters, buys unusual spirits and creates sophisticated drinks that are precise, balanced and satisfying. One favorite is the Mumbai, an infusion of golden rhum, chai tea with fresh spices ($10).
The Walla Walla region is clearly expanding and showing off its wine, cocktail, craft beer and culinary chops. Many operators who have visited the town often say it reminds them of the Napa Valley 20 to 30 years ago, in terms of its laid-back style and accessibility to winemakers in their tasting rooms.
With the food and drink scene evolving right along with the wine, it’s a great time to check out Walla Walla. ·