Washington's second city—Spokane—is long past ready for its close-up.
spokane washington food scene
Credit: gregobagel / Getty Images

A really long drive from those Technicolor rainforests, misty fjords and the rugged surf of the Pacific Ocean, the Eastern Washington city of Spokane isn't so much part of the Pacific Northwest that most of the rest of the world is longing to see. It's dry, it's often really hot (or really cold), it snows a lot in winter. When the town makes the headlines, it's typically not for having done something good. Possibly because of this, it sometimes feels like everyone in the region, whether they know the city or not, has something to say about Spokane. (It usually isn't all that nice.)

Whatever you've heard might not be entirely untrue—chances are, however, it's far from the whole story. Let's just say this, right up front: Spokane, the heart of a metropolitan region of more than half a million people, doesn't get nearly enough credit. It's got an architecturally appealing, well-planned downtown, perched above the dramatic Spokane River Gorge—the giant Riverfront Park is filled with remnants from the 1974 World's Fair, hosted here. There are some beautiful old neighborhoods you can live in, there's that extreme proximity to a wealth of outdoor activity—lakes, national forest, ski slopes are all close at hand—and, last but not least, there's the city's food and drink scene, which is so much better than most visitors will be expecting.

This last bit really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows their regional geography—much of the produce that Washington is known for comes from this half of the state; one of the West's largest wine regions, the Columbia Valley, is practically on Spokane's doorstep. (Seattle, by contrast, is a four-hour drive away.)

Consequently, you'll find a great little scene in Spokane—plenty of source-conscious, farm-to-table dining, great farmers markets, not to mention a whole slew of the sort of coffee shops, craft breweries and urban wineries you'd hope to find in this part of the world. Headed this way? Here are just a few of the stops you should be making.

The food. Two of the most talked-about restaurants in town belong to the city's two most prominent (and prolific) chef/restaurateurs, both have recently been James Beard Award semifinalists. Adam Hegsted is perhaps best known for The Wandering Table, a source-obsessive small plates joint with a seasonal menu and great cocktails—the restaurant is located within the Kendall Yards neighborhood, a planned community along the Spokane River. Back across the bridge, Jeremy Hansen's new Inland Pacific Kitchen is pushing the downtown scene to the next level; the gleefully experimental, open-concept spot rotates its entire menu every few weeks; this summer, the theme was medicinal herbs and spices. Casual dining downtown options have increased, of late—the Saranac Commons food hall echoes Seattle's hip Melrose Market, with a handful of great stops including Hansen's Biscuit Wizard and Common Crumb Bakery.

The beer. Some cities have incubators set up for food businesses, or tech start-ups—Spokane has one for beer. With room for up to five breweries, The Steel Barrel Taproom is not only a showroom of sorts—you can sample the goods from Young Buck and Little Spokane, their two in-house brewers right now—but also a great place to hang out and eat. (Top Chef contestant Chad White's Zona Blanca ceviche bar is right on premises.) From here, other worthy spots like Whistle Punk, Iron Goat and One Tree Cider House are a short stroll away.

The wine. No need to head to wine country—you're in it: Spokane now has more than a dozen wineries in the downtown area alone. Barrister Winery has set up shop in a gorgeous, century-old warehouse on Railroad Avenue—they produce an average of 5,000 cases each year and are known for their bold reds (try the Cabernet Franc). The city has officially established what it calls the Cork District; there's even an app to help you find your way around.