While 2020's pandemic-inflicted upheaval of the hospitality industry remains unprecedented — and with enduring fallout — this second full year of COVID-19 also leaves some lasting marks: staffing woes, supply chain snags, new virus variants, unruly customers, permanent business closures and more.
Yet even among these hardships, and as restaurants continue to recover, there were also bright spots. By spring, diners could eat indoors again without major limitations. Ordering takeout keeps getting easier. Fortunately, many small, local restaurants also bounced back fairly quickly after lockdown rules lifted. Some even expanded!
There's certainly been no shortage of food-related news to cover this year, so let's recap some of what we ate, drank and wrote about in the Inlander's food section throughout 2021.
One of the earliest 2021 restaurant debuts was Adam Hegsted's BABA in Kendall Yards, the Mediterranean-inspired spot that replaced Wandering Table. Other new arrivals to the neighborhood are THE TEA boba bar, and, most recently, MOLÉ RESTAURANT where Central Food was. Nearby is another of the year's most-buzzed-about new food spots, VIEUX CARRÉ NOLA KITCHEN, serving Cajun and New Orleans-style eats.
Several places that closed for long periods due to the pandemic also saw welcomed returns. Downtown hangouts the BABY BAR and NEATO BURRITO reopened in May, and South Perry's Southern food eatery CASPER FRY came back in March. Chef Chad White's ceviche spot ZONA BLANCA celebrated moving to a bigger, fully renovated space in central downtown after several months closed. NORTH HILL ON GARLAND reopened under new ownership, while the formerly seasonal ramen and pho spot LITTLE NOODLE this fall moved permanently back into the space it initially borrowed to test out its concept. The neighborhood's beloved bar BON BON, attached to the historic Garland Theater, also reopened after closing for 18-plus months.
The Garland District also got its first-ever brewery when GARLAND BREW WERKS opened in August. And just down the hill, Spokane's first pop-up beer trailer, CAMP TAPS, set up seasonally in the North Monroe Business District at the vintage shop 1889 Salvage Co.
In late summer, DRY FLY DISTILLING debuted its new, state-of-the-art distillery in the heart of downtown Spokane.
Midyear also saw the downtown debut of Seattle-based Ethan Stowell Restaurants' TAVOLATA across from Riverfront Park, where housemade pasta, a super-affordable happy hour and a laid-back vibe have since stood out. Stowell's pasta and panini counter BOSCO also opened inside the historic Wonder Building.
Waffles, coffee and craft cocktails unite at two new, connected spots where the Observatory bar used to be, PEOPLE'S WAFFLE and EMMA RUE'S. Everything on both menus is gluten-free.
While prior owners closed it at the beginning of the year, a new owner since renamed and brought the SOUTH PERRY LANTERN back with a refreshed look and menu in midsummer. Located in a historic train car, KNIGHT'S DINER in East Spokane's Hillyard area also reopened with new owners after a recent closure.
Hillyard, meanwhile, is quickly becoming a hot new dining destination, with the fall debut of KISMET, serving a Latin-influenced menu, and THE BAD SEED, where Tex-Mex is served in a historic former library. (A couple other food-and-drink spots underway in the neighborhood aim to open in 2022.)
Also in the fall, diners and fans of chef Tony Brown's eateries were glad to learn that RUINS wasn't closing for good, just relocating and replacing the short-lived Eyvind on Riverside. Brown also moved around STELLA'S CAFE and McRUINS, the latter his take on fast food.
While our own INLANDER RESTAURANT WEEK in 2020 ended just weeks before COVID-19 hit the U.S., 2021's version was pushed out to summer when outdoor dining was possible, and virus transmission was a bit lower. (In 2022, the event returns Feb. 24 through March 5.) Earlier in the year, however, THE GREAT DINE OUT encouraged locals to support local restaurants via takeout while many dining restrictions were still in place. While the 85th annual GREEK FOOD FESTIVAL squeezed in a takeout-only run between summer's COVID case spikes, PIG OUT IN THE PARK just before then was once again postponed.
There were more openings than closings in North Idaho during the past year, including a few Washington originals now operating on both sides of the state line. STUPID COW CAFÉ opened in Hayden and STORMIN' NORMAN'S SHIPFACED SALOON opened in Coeur d'Alene.
The panhandle welcomed several startups, too. Athol got two new pizza places: IRON PIZZA and BEACON PIZZA TAP HOUSE. In Sandpoint, BREAD + BONES began offering scratch-made sourdough and broth in select markets and online. TETON HOUSE RESTAURANT opened in Post Falls and TAYSTY'S EATERY replaced Sandpoint's Cedar Street Bistro following a similar menu.
Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone complex bustled with activity this year. CRANBERRY ROAD WINERY brought its unique wines from Western Washington to occupy a prominent corner spot, while nearby TERRAZA WATERFRONT CAFÉ started serving Latin American cuisine with flair in May 2021. ROKKOS TERIYAKI moved to Sherman Avenue, and PHO LE took their Riverstone spot. Vine & Olive opened VICINO PIZZA.
Many businesses moved into permanent spots or upgraded their locations. TRAILS END BREWERY transitioned into a brick-and-mortar location in late 2020, while OLIVE'S PASTRY AT THE PIE BARN moved into the building next to Curley's Junction after functioning mostly as a pop-up. FLAME & CORK moved its wood-fired pizza oven into a newly constructed spot in Hayden and closed its former location.
Several Idaho faves grew with new locations. Serving wood-fired pizza, EMBERS BY THE GREEN at Highlands Golf Course is the second location for owners of Embers by the Lake in Hauser. PANHANDLE CONE & COFFEE, originally in Sandpoint and Moscow, added a spot in Coeur d'Alene, while BIRDIE'S PIE SHOP expanded to Hayden. Serving Mexican food since 2015, LA CABAÑA added a second Post Falls location in the Riverbend Commerce Park.
Sandpoint, meanwhile, saw several longtime eateries shutter, including IVANO'S RISTORANTE, which had occupied several spots since 1984. FORTY-ONE SOUTH at the Long Bridge and adjacent restaurant SHOGA SUSHI also both closed.
In Moscow, BLOOM recently closed up shop while SANGRIA GRILLE, which shuttered its Palouse Mall location in the spring, is moving forward with big plans for its downtown spot (look for news in late 2022).
Finally, Post Falls' acclaimed FLEUR DE SEL bid adieu to diners in 2021. ♦