While Seattle had established itself nationwide as a culinary destination, Spokane, for many years, was often overlooked as a foodie city.
But now, that’s beginning to change.
Realtor.com, a real estate listing website, recently ranked the Lilac City ninth on its list of America’s surprising new food destinations.
Portland, Oregon, topped the list, which also featured Charlotte, North Carolina; Detroit; Denver; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Houston; and Austin, Texas, as top foodie destinations.
Spokane chef and restaurateur Jeremy Hansen said Wednesday the local food scene is “definitely growing” compared to a decade ago.
Hansen and his wife, Kate, are known in the local culinary scene for launching Inland Pacific Kitchen, Hogwash Whiskey Den and Smoke & Mirrors Saloon, which replaced Santè Restaurant and Charcuterie in downtown Spokane.
“It’s more diverse, that’s for sure,” Hansen said, referring to the local food landscape. “There’s a lot of good chefs in town doing really good things, and it’s kind of exciting to watch it grow from what it was 10 years ago to what it is now.”
In compiling its list, Realtor.com examined the number of new restaurants in each city, number of chefs per capita, full-service restaurant sales as well as the number of coffee shops, bakeries, farmers markets, street vendors and breweries.
It also compared the share of fast-food restaurants with full-service restaurants in each city, diversity of culinary options and percentage of homes for sale with chef or gourmet kitchens.
Realtor.com omitted “old school culinary powerhouses” like Seattle, New York, Chicago and San Francisco from its list in order to narrow the scope to smaller cities with lower home values and smaller mortgage payments, which leave residents with more cash to spend at restaurants.
Downtown Spokane’s Cork District, the Kendall Yards Night Market and street food vendors helped land the Lilac City on Realtor.com’s list of new foodie destinations.
The Greater Spokane Food Truck Association launched in 2012 with only a few members. Now, it boasts more than 30 aiming to advance the local food truck scene, association president Tony Epefanio said.
“Our food truck scene has grown a lot here, and that helps the culinary scene,” Epefanio said.
Epefanio owns and operates Mixed Plate Food Truck & Catering with Nat Vargas. Together, they serve Asian- and Pacific Island-influenced dishes at Food Truck Friday in downtown Spokane, the Spokane Valley Farmers Market and the Kendall Yards Night Market.
People are able to find diverse food options from local food trucks, he said, noting they added Kalbi-Korean short ribs to their Mixed Plate Food Truck menu for the Kendall Yards Night Market.
“It’s exciting to see (the food scene) grow,” he said. “There’s a lot going on, and it’s great to see and be a part of.”
Spokane’s culinary scene is booming because of more communication between chefs, who are making a conscious effort to improve local dining options, said Adam Hegsted, chef and restaurateur who founded Yards Bruncheon, Wandering Table, Incrediburger & Eggs, Gilded Unicorn and Le Catering.
“It’s exciting and amazing,” he said, referring to Spokane’s ranking by Realtor.com. “Ten years ago, we weren’t on the radar at all. A part of it is people are collaborating and talking.”
Events such as the Crave Food and Drink Celebration, founded by Hegsted in 2017, are drawing more tourists to Spokane and bringing recognition to the city’s food offerings.
The three-day event, which has grown to feature more than 50 regional and national chefs, is expected to attract more than 2,000 people today through Saturday.
Spokane’s affordability is another draw for potential restaurateurs, Hegsted said.
“Rent is still affordable, and we can still do some chef-owned restaurants. They can take that leap and not spend $10,000 a month on rent,” he said. “The cost of living and quality of life, obviously, are a good draw for people willing to take a chance on starting a restaurant.”
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