Fall is and has always been my favorite season. Let’s be honest, part of it is because of fresh hop beers and part of it is because no one will question me if I’m walking around the streets dressed as Sloth from Goonies asking neighbors for a Baby Ruth. More importantly, it is because restaurants lock away the summer salads and we get new menus full of stews, pasta and warm cuddly creations made for early sunsets and oversized sweaters.
The term ‘comfort food’ itself is a bit ambiguous. After all, once I saw a girl on TV a few years ago who got comfort from eating the stuffing out of her couch cushions. So when I was tasked with coming up with my top 20 comfort food in the Pacific Northwest, I had to put a few rules in place.
First, I wanted to stay true to MY PERSONAL list, not just restaurants and dishes the general public might applaud. You’ll notice this lineup is savory-heavy and leans a bit toward warmer heartier foods.
I also wanted to stay away from burgers, tacos, and pizza because though those are on almost everyone’s radar, they are so common in our city that they almost each deserve their own series.
Lastly, since this was such a personal account I thought it would be entertaining to ACTUALLY rank them instead of giving you a generalized list.
Break out your boots and grab your scarf, here are the top 20 dishes you’ll catch me carbo-loading this fall.
Kris K’s Top 20 Comfort Food in the Pacific Northwest
20. Candy Bar Cheesecake – Outlaw BBQ
Outlaw BBQ might be a go-to gathering place for BBQ, but don’t sleep on their dessert case. In both the Downriver and Valley locations, they have a glass case full of oversized sweets. You’ll find brownies, cobblers, and cookies the size of your head.
But the best comfort food on their list is the coveted candy bar cheesecake. Forget cherries, this creamy house-made cheesecake is absolutely covered with crushed-up bits and pieces of your favorite candy bars.
The best part is, after a Texas-sized BBQ feast, this is a perfect dessert to hunker down and share with the entire table.
19. Shepherds Pie – Shawn O’Donnell’s
A Seattle import, Shawn O’Donnell’s gives Spokane a much-needed glimpse into what a great themed restaurant/bar should be. With a large majority of our drinkeries defaulting to some version of a sports bar, O’Donnell’s takes its Irish persona seriously, with history, whiskey, and an entire menu of comfort food classics.
Atop that list is the best true-to-tradition shepherd’s pie in the city – packed with ground lamb, parsnips, peas, corn, celery, and onion in a thick brown gravy and topped with mashed potatoes and then browned crisp under the broiler. This is hands down the best meal to shove your face into on a cold blustery day.
18. Fried Green Tomatoes – Izzy’s Comfort Kitchen
Spokane isn’t the only space to seek comfort food in the Pacific Northwest. Our sister city to the east, Coeur D’Alene, scored big when two years ago Reannan Keene and her team opened Izzy’s Comfort Kitchen in Midtown. Though any variety of their homestyle recipes could end up on this list, the Fried Green Tomatoes are something truly special.
Plucked before fully ripened, the denser green tomato perfectly holds up to breading and frying and then is served with a spicy Cajun aioli and a sweet red onion and bacon jam. A truly unique dish for anyone who may be searching for something Southern with a Pacific Northwest twist.
17. Grilled Cheese – Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese
It is undeniable. You simply cannot make a list of comfort food in the Pacific Northwest without talking about grilled cheese. Meltz, a titan in this field, is a ‘must try’ on this list of comfort foods, with plenty of reasons why.
From winning multiple awards at the National Grilled Cheese Invitational to being called the ‘best sandwich’ in national publications like People, Thrillist and USA Today – you are in overwhelming company if you enjoy the cheesy goodness of one of Meltz’ oozy classics.
With 10 different kinds of cheese to mix and match, and a variety of addicting additions like bacon, pesto, sun-dried tomato, and buttermilk fried onions – your sandwich can be as customized and creative as your mouth could wish.
16. Cinnamon Roll – Blissful Whisk
For years now, one of my best-kept secrets is the giant cinnamon rolls at a very out-of-the-way bakery off Barker at the furthest edge of Spokane Valley. Apparently, I’m not great at keeping my mouth shut because the last two times I’ve popped by, Blissful’s sinful cinnamon sensations have been sold out.
For someone who knows next to nothing about baking – I’m not really sure what makes this cinnamon roll better than any other in the city. All I know is when so many rolls can be dry or hard, or even too rich, Blissful Whisk offers up an always fresh, perfectly sweet pastry that is absolutely unrivaled. Pick up one solo or an entire pack for the family.
15. Tater Tot Casserole – Gilded Unicorn
Chef Adam Hegsted might be a James Beard Finalist, but it’s not all fancy plates and fine dining. Gilded Unicorn, his downstairs downtown eatery focuses primarily on popular comfort foods you might have grown up with, re-imagined with a chef twist.
My favorite, which has been on the menu since inception, is their tater-tot casserole. Instead of the standard ground beef, they use a braised brisket that simmers in a chunky mushroom cream sauce that will have you coming back for seconds. It’s topped with aged cheddar and tots then wood oven-fired for a supreme crisp that you just can’t recreate in your house.
14. Lilac City Mac – Backyard Public House
I have a love/hate relationship with mac n’ cheese in Spokane. Whereas it can be one of the most worthy comfort foods in existence, my foodie pet peeve is and will always be overcooked pasta. Time and time again, local restaurants that boast great mac, I either find underwhelming or offer some mushy baked cheese thing that I don’t even classify as mac n’ cheese.
If you’re in the same boat as me, run – don’t walk – to Backyard Public House, which not only has perfect al dente cavatappi cooked in gouda, cheddar, bacon and cream, and offers it in entrée size on Wednesdays for only $10.
Kris K Tip: Tell them to ‘Make it squeal’ for the addition of pulled pork, jalapenos, and BBQ drizzle.
13. Deep Fried PB &J – Heritage Bar & Kitchen
I constantly list Heritage as one of the most underrated restaurants in the city. Not only does it have great drinks and atmosphere, but they love to do fun unique things with the menu. You can order fancy meat pies or a chipotle meatloaf sandwich. Just make sure no matter what you eat you save room for their deep-fried peanut butter and jelly.
For something so simple, it truly is a work of art. Nothing is more satisfying than warm peanut butter and tangy jelly dripping out of a super crispy shell. Though this technically is listed as a desert, I’d eat it stand-alone for lunch any day of the week.
Don’t worry, if you’re not really into peanut butter they also offer a version with Nutella and marshmallow fluff.
12. Fried Pickles – Post Street
I commonly ignore fried pickles when I see them on an appetizer menu. Not because I dislike them, I just feel like no matter where you go they are the same: uninspired and soggy served up with a side of ranch. Davenport’s Post Street Ale House is the exception to the rule. Their fried pickles are unlike any I’ve had before.
To start, they use super thick cut rounds of a sweet horseradish pickle that once fried stays juicy, a little spicy, and crisp. Pickles aside, the star of this dish is their secret beer battering that they also use on fish and fried mozz. It packs amazing flavor but most importantly isn’t too heavy.
Deep-fried eats tend to use a heavy breading that can overpower whatever awaits inside. The people at Post Street have it dialed in. An absolute must for pickle lovers, and they are even offered at half price for their appetizer happy hour.
11. Biscuits & Gravy – Elliotts Urban Kitchen
I’ve had more than my share of comfort food Sundays after having too much fun on a Saturday night. My go-to breakfast move to bail my stomach out of post-party festivities is biscuits and gravy. Elliotts, which since opening four years ago has emerged as a top brunch destination in Spokane, takes the comfort food classic to the next level by offering to cover them half in their country sausage gravy and half in their absolutely phenomenal pork chile verde.
Getting two flavors and multiple different textures turns an already iconic dish into something you will be telling your co-workers about the next day at work. The best part, for all those middle bites where the two gravies combine, it surprisingly works and creates a flavor tornado that will have you telling Toto you’re not in Kansas anymore.
10. Soup – Jake and Clays
Of everything listed, this one kind of feels like cheating because it is not for a specific menu item. Jake and Clays Public House, which opened literally weeks before COVID shutdowns in a tiny little strip mall is easily one of the most hidden gems in our city. With a heavy focus on wine and beer, their menu while small due to not having a full kitchen, but mighty when it comes to flavor.
Chef Jake Schneider worked for over 10 years as a soup-slinging sous chef at Liberty Lake’s Hay J’s Bistro. He has honed his craft and currently curates dozens of daily soups that rotate on their specials board. On any given night soups will range from a smoked beer cheese or curry vegetable to a pork belly tortilla or mushroom goat cheese. Whatever awaits you when you walk in, you literally can’t miss, coming from someone who’s tried them all.
9. Hot Cookie Soft Serve – Breauxdoo Bakery
There might not be two better sweet tooth comfort foods than ice cream and cookies, so imagine what happens when you combine our city’s best cookie shop (in my opinion) with a soft-serve sundae. That’s exactly what Beauxdoo Bakery has recently started to offer in their hidden away shop in Spokane Valley.
Breauxdoo became famous for being our first warm cookie delivery offering ‘to your door’ deliciousness as late as midnight. Now, to add to their arsenal, you can choose your favorite warm cookie fresh out of the oven, flavor of soft serve, and top it with any variety of toppings. A true best-of-both-worlds addition to an already stellar lineup.
8. Turkey Pot Pie – Chaps
Owner Celeste Shaw is one of the most adored restaurant owners in the city, partly because she treats her restaurant like it’s part of her family and partly because it’s some of the best eats around. It’s consistently rated among the top baked goods and brunch in our region, but what often gets overlooked is the dinner menu. An absolute shining star is Chaps’ turkey pot pie.
You get an overflowing bowl with huge chunks of turkey, veg, and potato in a super rich and creamy gravy… but what you won’t quit talking about is their house-made puff pastry. It’s buttery and crisp with a warm chewy center that when it gets dunked in its gooey center. It is an absolute comfort food explosion!
7. Brisket – TT’s Brewery and BBQ
The absolute best thing about eating BBQ is you can have the best meal of your life at a 5-star restaurant or a hole-in-the-wall in a city you’ve never heard of. TT’s Old Iron Brewery is the best of both worlds. It might be a bit out of the way of your normal commute, but if you love smoked meat, their pitmaster is making award-winning brisket at the highest level.
Finding that perfect cook that renders the delicious fatty tissue of the point but doesn’t dry out the denser flat cut isn’t necessarily a secret, it is a skill built with repetition and a little bit of love. Next time you are in need to feed your inner carnivore, head to TT’s, pick up some cold beer, a pound of brisket, and some extra napkins.
6. Ham & Cheese Croissant- Rind and Wheat
If we’re being honest, is there any better comfort food than bread? Rind and Wheat owner Ricky Webster doesn’t think so and it’s apparent because he has mastered all things gluten. At his westside bakery you can pick up seasonal sourdoughs, flavored financiers, or a pecan sticky bun but one of our city’s top savory treats sits stacked on a plate right when you walk in the door.
Rind and Wheat’s ham and cheese croissant is like a snack, a meal and a dessert wrapped up tight in tiny fluffy layers. In one bite, you get the warm flaky crust of the fresh croissant, the hearty saltiness of the ham, the melty goodness of two-year aged cheddar, and the sweet tang of whole grain mustard. It’s everything you want to eat on a special occasion. Though you may start to consider a random Tuesday, special!
5. Mud Pie – Wiley’s Bistro
I realize my list isn’t sweets heavy because comfort food is more savory to me personally, but my hands down favorite dessert in this city is Wiley’s Bistro mud pie. I know, you’re thinking I’m stuck in the 70’s but I promise what Chef Michael Wiley is doing to the Mississippi cult classic is nothing but contemporary genius.
Ambitiously built for two, it starts with a smooth espresso ice cream that is interlaced with chunks of Aztec fudge. It sits on a mound of cookie crumble and is topped with spicy chocolate bark and whip cream. My stomach rarely allows me to eat ice cream, and I absolutely never drink coffee, so spicy chocolate is a concept I can’t really wrap my brain around. Still, when you combine them all together, it is the first thing I want when my sweet tooth kicks in after an exhausting day.
4. Stuffed Hungarian Wax Peppers – Wooden City
Bare with me, I’m going to get VERY passionate toward the end of this list. If you even remotely enjoy a classic stuffed bell pepper or love to order jalapeno poppers, make a reservation this week for Wooden City. Order anything on their menu (it’s all absolutely delicious) and order the stuffed Hungarian wax peppers to share.
Chef Jon Green’s family recipe turned iconic appetizer imports its peppers from the Midwest, blisters them on an open flame, and fills them with ground sausage and a cream cheese/sharp cheddar mixture. If that wasn’t enough, where this dish exalts into a different food atmosphere is the pool of chive oil it sits in with freshly toasted ciabatta. Tear off a piece of bread, dip it in the chive oil, and hit it with a schmear of pepper. Easily one of the best flavor combinations in the city.
3. Tamale Waffle – Bruncheonette
Our little city has come a long way food-wise in the last 10 years. One thing you still catch me gripping about is how one-dimensional our brunch options in Spokane are. It seems everywhere you go there is an entire menu of omelets, chicken fried steaks as big as your head and maybe a benedict if you’re lucky.
Not so with Bruncheonette! The Tamale Waffle is a strange crossbreed of your Abuela’s favorite tamales and a southern-style chicken and waffles. When it comes to your table, you almost don’t know where to start. Do you dig into the green onion and cheddar waffle that is made from masa? Do you fill your fork with Mexican spiced shredded beef? The answer is: pop the yoke of your eggs and gather a dab of it all with a cherry tomato, pickled jalapeno, romaine, and crema and then send me a thank you note.
2. Pappardelle Lamb Ragu – Italia Trattoria
Still to this day I don’t understand how Italia Trattoria doesn’t have a waitlist out the door every single night of the week. Not only has Chef Anna Vogel been one of our region’s only James Beard Finalists but Food and Wine Magazine also named Italia Trattoria among America’s favorite brunch spots.
For years I’ve touted them as my favorite restaurant in town and argued that it single-handedly has the best dish in the city. Luckily it didn’t take long for you to not have to take my word for it because in 2019 Food Network agreed with me and listed my beloved Pappardelle Lamb Ragu in their top pasta dishes in the entire United States.
When I hear the term comfort food, two very distinct things live in my head: stew and pasta. This dish is the best of both worlds. Slow red wine braised lamb shank on a bed of housemade, perfectly fat pappardelle with pecorino cheese and fresh mint.
1. Broasted Chicken – Park Inn
Let me preface this with – I will gladly go to jail defending how much I love fried chicken. There are plenty of fancy plates and painstaking secret recipes on this list but sometimes you just need a dive bar and simple fried food. The Park Inn may be the oldest bar/restaurant in town and an iconic fixture of the lower South Hill, but their Broasted Chicken is anything but antiquated.
Fried chicken too often gets overcooked, is heavily breaded, or just ends up a soggy mess. What makes Park inn’s process so amazing is that the breading is so thin it truly feels like you are just eating crispy chicken skin and since it is cooked to order it comes out piping hot with the marinated chicken still super juicy inside.
It’s also served with giant oversized jojos that could be a meal in and of themselves. If your idea of comfort food centers around that hearty meat and potatoes ‘supper’ style experience there is no better combination in the city.
Summary of the Top Comfort Foods to Warm You Up This Winter
Winter in Spokane is all about comfort and warmth – how else are we going to deal with these cold days? If you’re looking for some of the best comfort food in the Pacific Northwest, add my favorite spots and meals to your list!
To recap, here are my top recommendations for delicious comfort food around Spokane:
- Candy Bar Cheesecake from Outlaw BBQ
- Shepherds Pie from Shawn O’Donnells
- Fried Green Tomatoes from Izzy’s
- Grilled Cheese from Meltz
- Cinnamon Roll from Blissful Whisk
- Tater Tot Casserole from Gilded Unicorn
- Lilac City Mac from Backyard Public House
- Deep Fried PB&J from Heritage
- Fried Pickles from Post Street
- Biscuits and Gravy from Elliott’s
- Soup from Jake and Clays
- Hot Cookie Soft Serve from Breauxdoo
- Turkey Pot Pie from Chaps
- Brisket from TT’s
- Ham & Cheese Croissant from Rind & Wheat
- Mud Pie from Wiley’s
- Stuffed Hungarian Peppers from Wooden City
- Tamale Waffle from Bruncheonette
- Pappardelle Lamb Ragu from Italia Trattoria
- Broasted Chicken from Park Inn
Kris is a local foodie, business owner, and co-founder of the popular Spokane-area Facebook food group Food Finder Spokane.