So when you are in Yakima (probably tasting wine and visiting vineyards) and you ask where to go for lunch, everyone will say the same thing…”Los Hernández“. No fewer than 5 people told us this was the place to go. (we did have a shout out for Los 3 Pancho in Toppenish, where we were told the 1/2 chicken is amazing, but we didn’t have time to stop on this trip).
“They do tamales” we were told, “They won a James Beard Award”. Well that certainly had us intrigued. So, we located them on GPS and set forth to try the tamales.
We were not sure what to expect. We had just finished out interview with Barbara Glover of Wine Yakima Valley at Stems wine shop and she and Brad (the owner of Stems) mentioned the asparagus tamales that were limited to the asparagus season. They were pretty sure those were done for the season.
Asparagus tamales, James Beard Award Winner….I was unprepared for the unassuming spot we found when Google Maps said “Your destination is on the right”.
Authentic & Unassuming
The building was a stand alone cinder block building, painted white and trimmed in red, white and blue. Out front wine barrel planters filled with petunias in white, pink and purple, also have a couple of American flags tucked in, perhaps left from the barely passed 4th of July weekend, when we were there. “Orders To Go” says the sign above the door and the window.
Inside there are just a few tables, and you walk to the counter to place your order. The menu is simple, Pork, chicken or asparagus with pepper jack cheese tamales which you can get fresh or frozen (so you can take them home and cook them). They also sell fresh salsa, masa and hojas (the corn husks for tamales). They have lunch specials which adds rice beans and salsa,which was what we had come for. I opted to try the asparagus and pepper jack, as they were still available and Michael went for the chicken.
We sat down at a table with a simple plastic table cloth to wait while our order was made. Three of the tables were full of others quietly enjoying lunch and conversation. These were all people who were not afraid to get their hands dirty, obviously locals who could tell we were “out-of-towners”. A woman walked in, boots dusty from being somewhere in a field. She ordered and ended up joining a man who was already there. They talked about the new vineyard she had just been checking out. It was faint, but lovely to listen to a couple of winemakers talk shop. Both obviously had been up early and in the vineyards.
James Beard American Classics Award
So how did they come to have a James Beard Award, here in this unassuming concrete block building in Union Gap Washington?
Well the James Beard Foundation yearly honors not only the big time chefs and restaurants, but a handful of “America’s Classics”. These are restaurants around the country, that are beloved in their communities. They must have been around for at least a decade. Los Hernandez was one of 5 restaurants honored in 2018 by the James Beard Foundation.
Los Hernández Tamales opened in 1990, when Felipe lost his job at the local Montgomery Wards. Their chicken and pork tamales were a hit. One day, his wife June brought home locale asparagus (did you know that 40 percent of the US asparagus in grown in Washington?) for dinner and they played around with some extra masa, they added pepper jack cheese and a new seasonal standard was born.
The asparagus and pepper jack tamales are only typically available from April to June, we lucked out that they still had them in July. But you can get the chicken and pork tamales year round.
Quietly enjoying these tamales, sitting at a simple clean table with the same type of plastic flannel backed table cloth that cover my kitchen table growing up as a child, it was a little bit of home and nostalgia. Okay, not that my Mom made tamales…for her it was cabbage rolls, different culture, same comfort. It was good to Listen to quiet conversation on everyday things and take a moment, like everyone else here, to refill. The energy doesn’t just come from the food.
How to find them
You can call and order to pick up at 509.457.6003. Which might be a good idea, as we sat there enjoying lunch, the place filled up, we hurried to finish and open up a table.
Los Hernández is located at 3705 Main Street, Union Gap, WA 98903, where they are open Sunday-Friday 11am to 6pm and Saturday 10am to 7 pm. Or you can visit their new location at 6411 W. Nob Hill Blvd in Yakima.
Oh…and the lunch special which will set you back $6.75, is only available from 11-2. (I think there is an extra charge for the asparagus tamales, which run $2.09 a piece compared to the pork or chicken for $1.75)
Is your mouth watering and you find yourself no where near Washington? Well..check their site, they sometimes ship… if they have enough. Currently they added a restaurant in Yakima to keep up with the demand and don’t have enough to ship, but, they hope to ship again in the future.