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Running Tab: Looking back and forward – Spokane’s culinary scene in 2021 and the new year

My 79-year-old dad, Cy, said to me many years ago, “Don, eat to live, don’t live to eat.” I know that he didn’t originate the quote, and I thought it was funny at the time. But as I continue to work in journalism as a features editor, and in that realm cover food, the quote has flipped for me.

I live to eat because I absolutely love food. Food gives me so much joy because it includes inventive and mouth-watering recipes for dishes and beverages; incredibly talented and hard-working people; beautifully designed and even sexy restaurants and bars; and the invaluable bonus of connection and interaction in society.

As we continue to navigate life in a pandemic – thanks, omicron – I take a look back at some of my culinary highlights in Spokane in 2021 and touch on what I am looking forward to as we enter the second week of the new year.

2021 highlights

This list is by no means comprehensive but rather what I remember from the last year. So, yes, these are some of my favorite meals and memories.

For many years now, I will always order any iteration of butternut squash soup, from Bobby Flay’s in Las Vegas to Luna‘s always stellar butternut squash soup with Dungeness crab a few months ago. Yes, please.

Ethan Stowell’s Tavolata opened downtown in May in the former Olive Garden, and my visits there number in the double digits now, from opening weekend and my nephew Shawn’s 10th birthday (where he was introduced to octopus and now loves it) to countless Happy Hour meetings, dinners and events. And I have tried every pasta on the menu now.

My second-most-visited restaurant in 2021 was most likely Wooden City, partly because it’s less than two blocks from The Spokesman-Review; it, too, features a stellar Happy Hour; and it is one of my favorite restaurants in Spokane that never disappoints.

Vieux Carre holds a special place in my heart for multiple reasons. It opened in 2021, it’s local, and it’s owned by a woman, Korri McElfresh. Also: The New Orleans-inspired food and libations are stellar, from the signature cocktail Vieux Carre and crawfish boil to the beignets and bananas Foster.

Baba is Adam Hegsted’s newest restaurant, and the Mediterranean destination replaced his Wandering Table in Kendall Yards. The cocktails are solid, and I still dream about the octopus and short rib. Without hesitation, they are must-orders.

Chad White is my go-to for fresh seafood, oysters and a whole lotta flavor and spice, so Zona Blanca is the place to be. I also continue to frequent his High Tide Lobster Bar in the Wonder Building and TT’s Old Iron Brewery and BBQ in Spokane Valley.

I finally made it to Anna Vogel’s Italia Trattoria in Browne’s Addition and was blown away by her fresh pasta. And speaking of carbs, a visit to Ricky Webster’s Rind and Wheat was a nearly weekly trip for a while. It’s probably best that I moved from downtown to the Perry District over the summer!

My regular coffee fixes include First Avenue Coffee, Ladder Coffee, Indaba Coffee and Evans Brothers Coffee. Along with more coffeehouses, I am committed to drinking at new breweries in 2022 alongside favorites and constants YaYa Brewing Co., No-Li Brewhouse, Brick West Brewing and Lumberbeard Brewing. We are blessed with an abundance of talented brewers in our region.

And for special-occasion, inventive and fine dining, David Adlard’s Candle in the Woods continues to top my list alongside Gander & Ryegrass, Wiley’s Downtown Bistro and Inland Pacific Kitchen.

Other memorable meals in 2021: Park Inn (I am obsessed with the fried chicken), Park Lodge (the pot de crème is next level), Steam Plant (so happy that it’s open again), Osprey (one of the best outdoor patios in town), Bangkok Thai (the Trent location is my Thai food mainstay), Pho Van and D’Bali Asian Bistro (two more Asian mainstays), Downriver Grill (a brunch spot favorite alongside Prohibition Gastropub) and, for steak, Masselow’s Steakhouse and Rusty Moose.

New in 2022

The new year started out slowly, partly because everyone was still recovering from the holidays, as well as adjusting to the ever-present coronavirus, but things are picking up. While the new year started with some restaurants having to temporarily close due to COVID-19, let’s hope business and life improve moving forward.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but my plans in the next few weeks include ordering from Jennifer Davis of Scoop fame’s new Hidden Bagel; enjoying a cocktail or two at the second location of Bijou, which is dangerously close to my abode; trying Emrys Fermentation again now that there is movement from Jordan Obermeyer and his team; enjoying a cocktail or two at Emma Rue’s; and ending the day with dessert at the new Tre Palline Gelato Napolitano in the Steam Plant.

Quick takes

Russian bakery Piroshky Piroshky, whose flagship location is in Pike Place Market in Seattle, has been touring the country with preorder pop-ups, and two of them are returning to Spokane and Coeur d’Alene next week. The details:

Event date: Tuesday. Order deadline: 2 p.m. Monday. Minimum order: $40. Pickup time: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday. Location: 9320 E. Mission Ave., Spokane Valley. Event date: Jan. 19. Order deadline: 9 a.m. Tuesday. Minimum order: $50. Pickup time: 4-6 p.m. Jan. 19. Location: 1170 W. Prairie Ave, Coeur d’Alene. For more information, go to

And Wednesday is National Hot Tea Day, and it is National Hot Tea Month.

I welcome your culinary suggestions; please email me at Here’s to all the culinary best in 2022!