UNION GAP, Wash. — Felipe Hernandez had never heard of a James Beard award until his tamale shop won one. An America’s choice award presented to restaurants "that have timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community."
“Somebody thinks a little bit more about us then maybe we thought of ourselves,” says Hernandez, who opened Los Hernandez with his wife on Union Gap’s Main Street in 1990.
Seven days a week they have worked, filling corn husks with masa and savory meat.
“The basic ingredients,” said Hernandez. “ We stick with that.”
Sixty dozen tamales a day. Some packed to go. Some ready to serve.
Over the years word of mouth has spread about the tiny shop in the Yakima Valley.
“There are a lot of affluent people coming here from all over the country,” noted Hernandez. “What we serve our food on, fortunately, and unfortunately, is a paper plate and a plastic fork. Our customers don't care. They are here for the food.”
The food may be extraordinary, but so is the story of Felipe Hernandez, who starts every day the same way, by posting an American flag outside his shop.
Every time somebody asks why, he gets choked up.
Hernandez came to this country from Mexico when he was five. His father was a U.S. citizen.
“We picked cotton, potatoes, vegetables right here in the valley,” Hernandez said.
From migrant camp to migrant camp, they roamed trying to save enough money for a house.
“I don't think there is anyone who is not trying to better themselves,” Hernandez said. “By bettering themselves, they are bettering the community. Obviously, that goes hand-in-hand you know?”
As a young man, Hernandez served in Vietnam.
“The flag for me says ‘I am here’. I don't need a special occasion to put the flag out. It is up all the time.”
On Main Street Hernandez's flag-- our flag -- has become a sign that Los Hernandez is open.
Katie Schneider stopped on her way to Walla Walla.
“These are probably the best tamales I have ever had. They're really moist. They're really delicious,” she said.
Felipe Hernandez came to this country. He fought for this country and now he has won the culinary equivalent of an Oscar.
If you want to know what the American dream tastes like, stop by the tamale shop with the flag flying outside.
“Being a family of migrants you know, I can't ask for more.”
Los Hernandez Tamales | 3706 Main St, Union Gap, Washington