The Black Cypress, Pullman’s downtown fine dining establishment, was a finalist for the 2023 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Hospitality.

Twenty semifinalists were announced in January. The final five nominees were named in March.

Nick Pitsilionis stands in front of window at Black Cypress restaurant
Nick Pitsilionis at Black Cypress restaurant in Pullman (Photo Robert Hubner)

The Greek- and Italian-inspired Black Cypress, opened in downtown in 2009, draws much of its workforce from Washington State University. Many of its front-of-house staff are students.

Owner Nikiforos “Nick” Pitsilionis (x’07) is a former WSU employee and graduate student. Before opening his restaurant, he worked from 2004 to 2007 at the Writing Center, where he served as assistant director of tutorial services. He has also worked at the famed French Laundry in California and Nectar restaurant and lounge in Moscow, Idaho.

Pitsilionis, born in Greece, says his approach to hospitality is influenced by his heritage; the Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, means “love of strangers.” He says he wants customers to feel welcome, comfortable, connected, and restored by their experiences at the Black Cypress.

Graduation, Family Weekends, and Coug football game days are among the restaurant’s busiest nights. Governor Jay Inslee dined there earlier this year. WSU students and their parents, alumni, professors, and administrators are frequent customers.

The late Mike Leach, who coached WSU football from 2011 to 2019, was a regular. In fact, he offered this advice for dating in Pullman: “I would go to Black Cypress, if you really want to make a good impression … I’d talk to Nick beforehand because he has the menu and it’s all really good. He’s got some great appetizers and he’ll come by and keep hitting you up⁠—here’s this, try that⁠—and I think it should work out really well.”

Appetizers include the signature pork souvlakia and Cypriot cheese sandwiches.

The three top-selling mains are carbonara, a roasted half chicken atop bread salad with kale and herbed pan jus, and rib eye with béarnaise butter and mashed potatoes.