Buckle up, and strap on your bib. It’s time to explore the Pacific Northwest, taste buds first. Even if you’re a recent transplant to the upper left, no doubt you’ve already discovered what a mouth-watering place it is to call home. Take a ride with us to some of the region’s top dining destinations — from places in small towns, to big cities, to solitary hidden gems. We give you permission to plan an entire road trip dedicated to the pursuit of foodie bliss-dom.
Winemakers love to describe their wine as “food-friendly,” and in Walla Walla, there are ample ways to test that statement, thanks to a growing collection of great restaurants. Everyone in town will tell you to go to Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, an intimate dining room (reservations strongly recommended) serving Spanish- and Italian-inspired plates of gorgeous locally grown produce and proteins. An order of the sweet, succulent beef cheeks (aka meat candy) is an absolute must.
Newer to the dining scene, Passatempo Taverna has a lively atmosphere and quirky modern décor. A project between Seattle pasta guru chef Michael Easton and legendary cocktail genius Jim German, the restaurant is a complete reboot of the former Pastime Café that previously occupied the location. Order a pasta dish, of course, but don’t overlook the bistecca like I did. After a bite from a friendly neighbor, I was convinced to order that big hunk of juicy, herb-crusted beef on my next visit.
Walla Walla has a casual dress code no matter where you dine, but if yoga pants are your tuxedo, head to the nation’s best gas-station eatery. Andrae’s Kitchen, located in the Cenex Convenience Store, beckons with a smoky call. Chef Andrae Bopp’s custom-built smoker works overtime out back, while staff prepares everything else in-house from the beignets on Sunday morning, to the sandwich rolls, house-cured salmon, and pickled vegetables. Once a landscaper, Bopp earned top marks at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, interning at restaurants like the Michelin three-star Le Bernadin. He brings the flavor whether you’re grabbing tacos for lunch or soaking up last night’s “wine tasting” with some voodoo fries.
PUGET SOUND: PENINSULA & ISLANDS
A spa, wooded trails, a manicured lawn opening up to the shimmering waters of Hood Canal, and freshly harvested shore-to-table seafood make for the perfect weekend getaway at Alderbrook Resort. Chef Josh Delgado (formerly at Barking Frog in Woodinville) utilizes local seafood and property-grown items like mushrooms, maple buds, berries, and greens to produce a menu designed around “place.”
When island hopping through the San Juans, break open the piggy bank for a reservation at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Chef Blaine Wetzel’s multicourse tasting menu treats guests to the cream of the local crop. Shellfish, vegetables, herbs, even the wheat in the bread, are grown on-island, and Wetzel’s ingenuity at preparing them satiates more than just the creative appetite.
The new cool kid in town is Italian-leaning Osteria Savio Volpe where the menu is made with “groceries gathered in nearby lakes, oceans, farms, and fields.” Dishes are simply prepared but full of flavor, like the warm bath of anchovy-garlic bagna cauda; handmade tortelli pasta with dandelion, ricotta, and marjoram; fire-grilled half chicken with grilled lemons and rosemary. A favorite for more than 30 years, Le Crocodile steers guests through classic French cuisine guided by the deft hand of Chef Michel Jacob. If the extensive menu is too daunting, simply opt for the Chef’s Tasting Menu, and sit back to enjoy the evening.
Vancouver is a hub for Asian cuisine; here’s a rundown of some of the city’s best options. For Japanese cuisine and sushi, try Tojo’s or Miku. Dynasty is the standard-bearer for Chinese food, though Kirin offers a great menu and a lovely high-end setting downtown. Those looking for dim sum should head to Sun Sui Wah. The city is practically swimming in ramen from Santouka to Kintaro and Motomachi. For a chicken broth-only ramen, try Marutama, where lines are usually the shortest. Located in Chinatown but serving Cascadian cuisine, Juniper also has a great bar specializing in gin-based cocktails.
HOOD RIVER, OREGON
The scenic Columbia Gorge boasts a diverse climate traveling from rainforests in the west to arid desert in the east. At Celilo Restaurant, the town’s top farm-to-table eatery, located in the heart of downtown, Chef Ben Stenn’s commitment to sourcing both locally and organically pays off with amazing results. Down on the waterfront, Solstice Wood Fired Café delivers scorch-crusted pizzas topped with local goodies like pears, blue cheese, and caramelized onions or cherries, chorizo, and goat cheese. One block over, Pfriem pulls pints of its award-winning beers served alongside some truly elevated pub fare — sofrito-seared shrimp, creamy spaetzle, house-smoked pastrami burgers, shaved collard green salads. Head to Pine Street Kitchen for house-made pastas, pizzas, and fire-roasted vegetable dishes like the whole-roasted cauliflower with za’atar-spiced yogurt, tahini dressing, parsley oil, pomegranate seeds, and toasted pistachios.
The biggest challenge when dining in Portland is deciding where to eat. Some well-established favorites, including Beast, Le Pigeon, and Pok Pok, are still on the radar for a good reason — the food is consistently fantastic and crave-able (looking at you, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings ala Pok Pok).
For a condensed version of the Portland food scene, head to Pine Street Market downtown. Instead of a food-cart pod, these restaurant vendors have collected under one roof with a common dining area. Follow up a steaming bowl of Marukin Ramen Tonkotsu Red — spicy pork-bone broth with spinach, mushrooms, leeks, pork, and soft-boiled egg — with a sweet treat from Wiz Bang Bar, the soft-serve outpost of Salt and Straw.
At La Moule, rattling bowls of mussels are served seven ways. A side of crispy pommes frites and a sugar-dusted Belgian liege waffle complete the Parisian-style experience. Younger sibling of the elegant, high-end Le Pigeon, Little Bird also delivers French-inspired cuisine in its narrow dining room downtown. Whet your appetite with a roasted marrow bone or a foie gras torchon, and by all means order the seared duck breast with black garlic, blood orange marmalade, and sesame.
Tusk is a study in the unexpected — a light delicate interior, a giant black-and-white photo of Keith Richards floating “Jesus-style” above the bar, pink menus. At first glance, the cuisine appears Middle Eastern — feta with za’atar, rose petals, impossibly thin flax seed crackers; a whole section devoted to hummus and bread; lamb and beef skewers; pistachio, fennel. But executive chef Sam Smith likes to color outside of the lines when highlighting the best local produce available. Fish sauce sneaks into a pomelo-orange salad; sweet Delicata squash and crunchy Asian pear are finished with chilies and brown butter sauce. My advice is to order the Eastern Maid cocktail, jump on “The Magic Carpet Ride” ($50pp), and let the kitchen navigate your night through its tasty playground.
CANNON BEACH, OREGON
Obviously, seafood is king at restaurants on the Oregon Coast. Head to the Wayfarer, located right on the beach, with both indoor and outdoor seating plus a perfect view of Haystack Rock. Try the filler-free Dungeness crab cakes with shrimp mousse and lemon herb aioli for the quintessential Northwest bite. Kids under 10 eat free for guests staying at the Surfsand Resort. Ecola Seafood Restaurant is both a fish market and a restaurant. Everything on the menu is wild-caught and simply must be paired with a side of smoked mussels. Celebrate something special with a meal at The Stephanie Inn Dining Room. If you can’t make it for dinner, stop by for a fabulous smoked-salmon scramble the next morning. For a more casual night, bring the kids to one of the coast’s newest breweries, Public Coast Brewing. A pet-friendly patio sweetens the deal. Great beers go swell with a juicy burger or fish tacos.
Chef Thierry Rautureau’s signature hat isn’t the only thing that’s recognizable about this French expat. At Luc in the Madison Valley neighborhood, he delivers the best of the best — miraculously puffed potato soufflé that will have you swearing off fries forever; silky chicken liver mousse topped with a glistening sheet of seasonally flavored gelée to spread across baguette slices; tender trout almandine scattered with toasted almonds and perfectly pan-seared vegetables; creamy comforting cassoulet with duck confit, pork sausage, and white beans.
At Eden Hill on Queen Anne, Chef Maximillian Petty has been shortlisted for numerous prestigious awards like the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year two years running. His approach to food is intensely creative; his methods both classic and experimental. While some may argue that foie gras needs no improvement, his method of pickling this divine substance will have you wondering why no one else has thought to try it before. Ingredients are seasonal and locally sourced, unless he deems the quality subpar. Try a Puget Sound delicacy: geoduck with steamed leek, butter-poached wild ginger root, lime, and house-cultured buttermilk steeped in lemon thyme. Finish the meal with a round of Lick The Bowl — foie gras cake batter spreads like caramel over olive-oil cakes with strawberries to cut the richness and sprinkles (because SPRINKLES!).
When Chef Bruce Naftaly closed Le Gourmand in 2012, Seattle was deprived of a local legend whom some call the father of the farm-to-table movement in the Puget Sound region. Chef Naftaly’s deep grasp of French stock preparation is so elemental to his cooking, he named his newest project Marmite (mar MEET), the French term for stockpot. He coaxes more flavors into his soups than seems possible. Rich roasted Jerusalem artichoke, spinach, and cardoon with walnut pistou are served with a side of mesquite-flour sourdough bread baked next door at Amandine Bakeshop, run by Bruce’s other half, Sara. During lunch, the menu contains several sandwich and salad options; the dinner menu shows off Chef Naftaly’s flair for beautiful French cooking — blintzes filled with Kurt’s Farmhouse cheese and chive butter sauce, house-made pate, coq au vin with olives, Cipollini onions, and potato puree, duxelles-stuffed rabbit saddle wrapped in bacon with a dried plum sauce. Pair your meal with a selection from the excellently curated wine list. And don’t forget to pick up a box of the best macarons this side of Paris at Amandine for the ride home.