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Running Tab: Let’s dive deep into Spokane’s food scene

UPDATED: Tue., May 28, 2019, 12:41 p.m.

Whether $5 or $500, the food just needs to be good.

This has been my mantra while writing about food for the past 15 years in my 23-year career as a journalist, which also has included the coverage areas of news, celebrities, nightlife, music, arts and entertainment. Whether it’s Sonic Drive-In or steak and seafood, hot dogs or Jose Andres, apple pie or Adam Hegsted, the food just needs to be good.

And sometimes the best food costs nothing at all and doesn’t require leaving home.

Growing up in Helena from ages 2 to 18, one thing that Dad, my brother Charles and my sister Michelle could expect on Saturdays was a delicious, fragrant and hearty bowl of pho – Vietnamese noodle soup in a broth, usually beef. (It’s pronounced “phuh,” like “fun,” although the Chareunsy family and many friends pronounce it like “foot.” It’s definitely not “faux.”)

Mom used oxtail to flavor her large pot of pho broth. The entire family flavored pho with Thai basil, and that’s where the unanimity ends. Dad and Charles loved their pho sweeter and, to this day, add a healthy dose of sugar, while I could never add enough onions and avoid bean sprouts at all costs.

The preference and style of pho varied, but one thing that remained constant year after year was sitting down together as a family at the table on a Saturday morning for a bowl of pho. It’s where I learned the importance of family and, well, pho. Pho was among many of Mom’s dishes I missed when I moved away to Spokane to attend Gonzaga University in 19 … well, the year isn’t important.

Mom died in 2007 in San Diego. I miss her each and every day, and I include her every night in my prayers. She is the reason that I love and cherish good – no, great – food, and I am especially reminded of her and childhood memories every time I have a nourishing and hot bowl of pho.

I started the job as food editor at The Spokesman-Review on April 29, but Spokane is not new to me. I graduated cum laude from Gonzaga University with degrees in journalism and political science, and Michelle graduated from GU four years later (middle child Charles is an alumnus of WSU).

My journalism career has taken me to the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, San Diego, then Las Vegas the past 11 years, but I would travel to Spokane at least once a year, sometimes more often, to visit Michelle, my brother-in-law Heath, my niece Anya, who turns 12 soon, and my nephew Shawn, who turned 8 last month.

One of the joys of my visits is going fishing with the fam. We’re up and out the door by 6 a.m., and on really good days we’ve caught our daily limit by late morning. I was here in August 2014 when a 3-year-old Shawn, in a little red Gonzaga hoodie, reeled in his first trout at Waitts Lake.

Another joy is dining out with my family and friends while in Spokane. Now I do it here for work – and get paid to do it! How did I get so lucky? Four years at GU, 10 years of paying off student loans on time and a 23-year journalism career probably have something to do with it.

My first month on the job in Spokane has been wonderful, and I already have a handful of notable dining experiences in the books: Fleur de Sel Artisan Creperie (savory Thai chicken crepe); Rusty Moose Bar & Grill (prime rib); Bridge Press Cellars (rosé all day); Cochinito Taqueria (octopus and fried oyster tacos); Rüt Bar & Kitchen (Impossible and Beyond burgers); Northwest Pizza in Spokane Valley; and Smoke & Mirrors (Saloon Burger and bread pudding).

Also: anything Nitro at First Avenue Coffee; Ruins (the Japanese izakaya menu); Clinkerdagger (crème brulee); Prohibition Gastropub (for SecretBurger.com); Luna (everything, with an extra nod to the shrimp and grits, coconut cake and Betty Draper); Steam Plant (happy hour); and the Mango Tree (solid new Indian food in downtown Spokane).

The list goes on – who’s complaining about Spokane’s culinary scene? – and now I’m hungry. Let’s dive deep into Spokane’s food scene together. Let’s enjoy the classics, as well as discover new and exciting restaurants and menu offerings. I welcome your suggestions at donc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5446. And, I love and miss you each and every day, Mom.

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