An Eastern Washington mom-and-pop tamale shop is one of five winners of the James Beard Foundation’s 2018 America’s Classics award.
Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap, just south of Yakima, is the only America’s Classics award-winner from the Pacific Northwest this year.
It’s owned and operated by Felipe and June Hernandez, who not only mix their own masa but mill the corn for it. They season the mixture with a secret blend of spices, using a recipe adapted from Felipe Hernandez’s sister, Leocacia Sanchez.
Felipe Hernandez came to America in 1957 from Mexico to work in agriculture and opened the tamale eatery in 1990. Daughter Rachel Wilburn and her husband, Dion Wilburn, help run the humble shop on Union Gap’s main drag, selling pork and chicken tamales year round and specialty cheese-and-asparagus tamales during the short-lived local asparagus season.
The America’s Classics award honors restaurants that have timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community, according to the news release from the foundation.
Winners will be celebrated at the annual James Beard Foundation Awards Gala on May 7 in Chicago. This year’s other four winners are Sun Wah in Chicago, Galleria Umberto in Boston, El Guero Canelo in Tucson, and Dong Phuong Bakery in New Orleans.
To qualify, establishments must have been in existence at least 10 years and be locally owned. Honorees are selected by a group of restaurant critics and food writers, editors and other experts.
Past Northwest winners are: Emmet Watson’s Oyster Bar, Ray’s Boathouse and Cafe and Maneki in Seattle; Original Pancake House in Portland, Oregon; Nick’s Italian Cafe in McMinnville, Oregon; Gustavus Inn in Gustavus, Alaska, Matt’s Place Drive-In in Butte, Montana; and Nora’s Fish Creek Inn in Wilson, Wyoming.