Hermiston may have 58 different restaurants listed on the review website Yelp, but residents are still hungry for new dining experiences.

A recent post on Facebook asked what fast food restaurants Hermiston needs most and nearly 400 people chimed in. Wendy’s, Arby’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken were among the top choices.

Manny Gonzales, 18, said he made the post because he was interested in hearing what peoples’ favorite fast food restaurants were, but he thinks Hermiston could use another sit-down option, too.

“We need a Red Lobster or Olive Garden where someone can dress nice and take someone on a date,” he said.

Gonzales said his favorite fast food restaurant in town is Dairy Queen, because they have good service, “great prices, yummy ice cream and good fries.” But he could go for a Carl’s Jr., Panda Express or Zip’s Drive-In, too.

In 2011, consulting firm Pitney Bowes Business Insight estimated the Hermiston area could support another 5,800 to 6,400 square feet of full-service restaurants and another 1,500 to 1,750 square feet of fast food restaurants. Their report for the city stated there was demand for a “moderately priced sit-down restaurant” and recommended an Applebee’s, Country Kitchen, Sizzler or IHOP, as well as the addition of a Wendy’s or Arby’s in the fast food category.

Hermiston previously had an Arby’s and a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but Arby’s was replaced by Starbucks in 2005 and Kentucky Fried Chicken closed more than five years ago. The town has lost some sit-down restaurants too, including Stet’s Steakhouse, which closed in September.

Other Hermiston restaurants have found a niche and thrived, however.

Delish Bistro, which opened two years ago, has started leasing the larger and more visible Stet’s Steakhouse location at 1619 N. First St. and plans to move in sometime around February.

Most customers at the current location order on a takeout basis or eat in the tent-covered seating outside, but co-owner LaNae Hull said the move will allow for an expanded menu of entrées and a full liquor license in addition to more indoor seating.

Hull said one reason Delish Bistro has done well is likely that it offers some dishes that other restaurants in town don’t, particularly its Hawaiian-style plate lunches.

“Our number one seller is teriyaki chicken,” she said.

The bistro’s other most popular items are its burgers, and it also offers gelato and the rotating seasonal menu of options like the pear & bleu cheese sandwich and butternut squash soup. Hull said she often gets requests for types of fare people have trouble finding in Hermiston, like Italian.

“Someone was asking about fettuccine alfredo the other day,” Hull said. “The menu is pretty full for the fall but we are doing lasagna this winter.”

Greater Hermiston Area Chamber of Commerce director Debbie Pedro said people seem hungry for new dining experiences.

“Everyone is excited for something new, that’s what I’ve noticed about Hermiston,” she said.

She said restaurants that come in with a unique type of cuisine, like the Kobe Hibachi Sushi restaurant that opened last year or the Veg Out salad restaurant, seem to do particularly well. Pedro said over the last few years that Hermiston’s restaurant selection has diversified.

There are still niches to fill, however. Pedro said she hears a lot that Hermiston needs a sit-down Italian restaurant or a seafood restaurant.

She said there are other factors at play that help determine if a restaurant will last in Hermiston. Some establishments have adapted to the market by adding live entertainment on weekends, delivery services or other offerings to make them stand out from the competition.

“I think the biggest thing that makes a restaurant successful is great customer service, and great quality food,” she said.

Despite frequent complaints from locals on Facebook that Hermiston needs more restaurants or more variety, several of Hermiston’s eating establishments have gotten high marks on the business-reviewing site Yelp, often from non-Hermiston residents who said they were pleasantly surprised to find such good food in Hermiston.

“I am amazed that this high quality sushi was found in Hermiston! What a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant to have in Eastern Oregon,” Marissa B. of Las Vegas wrote of Kobe Hibachi Sushi in April.

“We drove off the beaten path because I spotted the Yelp reviews for Walkers while heading east from Portland and I can assure you, when we are driving east, we will never stop anywhere else again,” Heatherly O. of Lake Oswego wrote about Walker’s Farm Kitchen in January.

Top-rated Hermiston restaurants on the site, with 4.5 stars after more than 30 reviews, include Walker’s Farm Kitchen with 110 reviews, Lawan’s Thai Garden with 65, Kobe Hibachi Sushi with 36 and Delish Bistro with 31.

Hermiston has 58 restaurants with ratings on Yelp, approximately one restaurant per 298 people living within city limits, compared to 61 restaurants listed in Pendleton, at one restaurant per 276 residents. Four of Pendleton’s restaurants are listed as Mexican restaurants, compared to 16 of Hermiston’s.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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