UNION GAP, Wash. -- Today, Felipe Hernandez will make, sell and eat tamales that have won the loyalty of local palates.
He won’t do it alone. His wife, June, and daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Dion Wilburn, will be by his side.
It’s a routine that hasn’t changed much over nearly three decades — even with the high-profile recognition many other restaurateurs crave.
Yes, that’s right — Los Hernandez Tamales was recognized Thursday by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.
The foundation announced Thursday that the Union Gap eatery is one of five recipients of the America’s Classics award, which recognizes restaurants that have “timeless appeal” and “quality food” reflecting the region’s character. Los Hernandez Tamales joins nearly 100 restaurants that have earned the award since it was established in 1998.
The James Beard Awards recognize the nation’s top culinary professionals and restaurants. Restaurants are nominated for the award and a committee of distinguished culinary members chooses the winners. Felipe and his family learned late last month that their restaurant had been nominated and then were notified a few weeks later that Los Hernandez Tamales was a winner.
The business, and the other four America’s Classics award recipients, will be recognized during The James Beard Foundation Awards Gala on May 7 in Chicago.
The foundation took note of the Union Gap eatery’s popular pepper jack and asparagus tamale offered during the peak of the spring asparagus season. Los Hernandez Tamales, opened by Felipe in 1990, also is the first Washington state restaurant outside of Seattle to receive the award.
“You fully expect a Seattle or a Portland (restaurant to be recognized),” Rachel Wilburn said. “You don’t expect a rural area like ours to have a place that hits this mark.”
The recognition, however, was of little surprise to those who have enjoyed the eatery’s famed tamales over the years. Los Hernandez Tamales has drawn statewide and regional appeal thanks to features in a wide array of publications, such as Sunset and The Seattle Times.
“We’ll still get up and make and eat tamales tomorrow, because we love them,” Wilburn said.
“We’re glad that other people love them, too.”