Pacific Flyway: Mexican food for thought

Road Journals Blog—One of my favorite courses in college was cultural geography. In it we learned the dynamics of things like immigration, globalization, population growth, and why you so often find four gas stations at the same intersection.

The human-created landscape is worth thinking about. What makes one town charming and another an eyesore? Why does adding a freeway lane make traffic worse? Why do so many people want to live in places that don't have much water?

Just as important, is that really a Mexican restaurant in the grand old First National Bank building in downtown Klamath Falls, Ore.?


Old banks make the best restaurants. | Craig Neff

One of my favorite courses in college was cultural geography. In it we learned the dynamics of things like immigration, globalization, population growth, and why you so often find four gas stations at the same intersection.

The human-created landscape is worth thinking about. What makes one town charming and another an eyesore? Why does adding a freeway lane make traffic worse? Why do so many people want to live in places that don't have much water?

Just as important, is that really a Mexican restaurant in the grand old First National Bank building in downtown Klamath Falls, Ore.?

Hungry and tired after having driven more than 1,700 miles in seven days, I rolled on a Friday evening into Klamath Falls, the lodging hub for a group of six national wildlife refuges (some in Oregon, some across the border in California) at which half the Pacific Flyway's waterfowl stop during their spring and fall migrations. I would see birds here as part of preparation for the VIA story I was writing, but what about dinner? The check-in clerk at our motel suggested El Palacio.

I love old commercial buildings that, like an abandoned shell taken over by a hermit crab, find surprising and lively new tenants. Years ago, while I was living in New York, a vast but unrented space near my apartment in Greenwich Village was turned into an indoor (and, alas, short-lived) miniature golf course. In my travels I've seen nightclubs that were once churches, motels that have been made into condos, and a gas station that became a high-end glassware boutique.

The building that now houses El Palacio is such an old-school financial edifice that it could have been the bank in It's A Wonderful Life. It certainly appears to have been a cornerstone of the Klamath Falls downtown. Today, it's a successful—if unlikely—blend of architectural recycling and homemade guacamole.

As luck would have it, several days after leaving Klamath Falls, I found myself eating another excellent dinner, in Burlingame, Calif., at the Broadway Grill—a restaurant located in . . . a nearly century-old former downtown bank.

Craig Neff wrote the cover story for the September/October 2011 issue of VIA about the Pacific Flyway bird migration route.

This blog post was first published in September 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.