Food has changed a lot since I was a kid, especially the availability of different types of ethnic food around Walla Walla.
When I was little, the only place we could go for anything remotely different from what mom made at home was The Modern, for Chinese food. We certainly didn’t eat Mexican food, Thai food or anything else that veered too far from meat and potatoes. My dad would take me to the Modern on Fridays for lunch where I would always order the same thing: pineapple chicken and fried rice. Yum! To this day I still really like pineapple chicken, even though I prefer spicier and more vegetable-laden Chinese food now. Really, though, Chinese food was easily the strangest thing anybody I knew ever ate. For food that was a little different we would go to Abby’s Pizza (again, I always insisted on pineapple, this time on the Hawaiian) or Merchants for a bagel and cream cheese.
But today, Walla Walla continues to branch out in the food realm. Aloha Sushi is fantastic, Saffron and Pho Sho are delicious and elegant, Phoumy’s is tasty. Brasserie Four has really interesting and appetizing food, plus it caters nicely to little kids. Sipid Bites by Sarah offers a great variety of exotic meal options. The Valley can’t give up its march toward out-of-the-ordinary food offerings. Maybe someday we will even have a restaurant with food from Africa.
And Mexican food. How did I ever live without Mexican food? I lived in Mexico for two years as a young adult, and I am a Spanish teacher, so I may be a little biased ... but I loooooove Mexican food. I eat Mexican food probably three times a week and it is my favorite choice if faced with a varied menu. Clarettes? The Mexican-style omelet. Bacon & Eggs? The huevos rancheros. The Mill Creek Brew Pub? The spicy hamburger. The Green? Fish tacos. Does anyone else remember when none of us really knew what Mexican food even was? We had Outrageous Taco on Main Street, where you could get a really good burrito. And ... that was it. No tortas or guacamole or taquitos or chiles rellenos. How did we survive?
And remember the days when we didn’t even have taco trucks? I remember the first one I went to in Walla Walla. It is still there, parked at Melody Muffler: El Taco Loco. Oh yum. (I think I need to take a little break and go buy a torta from there right now. Be right back.)
Hands down, though, my favorite is Taqueria Yungapeti, mainly because of their salsa selection and the pans of warm chiles and onions. I eat there at least once a week, rotating between the torta and the taco plate, both of the Walla Walla variety, which means they include avocado and caramelized onions.
My dad told me that when he was a boy, food options were much less varied than today. His family ate different variations of beef, pork or chicken with a side of potatoes and a vegetable every evening. He chuckled as he described the first time his mom ventured out and made an Italian food called spaghetti, a foreign noodle dish she fried in tomatoes. It looked nothing like the spaghetti we eat once or twice a week now! He also likes to tell the story of the time when, as a young man, he attempted to make a French dish, quiche Lorraine. He and my mom both really liked it, enough to order it on a trip to a fancy restaurant in Portland. My mom doesn’t like this part of the story, though, because when she ordered, the waiter snickered at her pronunciation of quiche as “quick.” Oh well, we can’t all be sophisticated and worldly. In fact, my boyfriend kindly told me recently that when I had been espousing the benefits of the sparkling water “Perri-ER” it is actually pronounced “Pear-e-AY.” Ooo-la-la.
Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native, middle school dual language teacher and mom to two children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.