Eat Your Way through the Evergreen State: What to Eat in Washington

Washington state is known for its fresh coastal seafood, eastern vineyards and, of course, abundant coffee shops. But it’s also home to a diverse community of farmers and foragers that grow and harvest ingredients like lavender, asparagus, mushrooms and peated barley. Here are 26 especially iconic bites from the Evergreen State smorgasbord.

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What to Try in Washington

We can’t lay claim to championship sports teams or affordable rent, but we do often brag about our Dungeness crab, oysters on the half shell, and boutique coffee roasters. Ah, Washington! Where tech employees are only outnumbered by bowls of clam chowder, and rainstorms still spark short-term memory loss when it comes to driving. Here are just a few of the foods that make living in the Space Needle state totally worth it.

Smoked Sockeye Salmon

Chef Blaine Wetzel at The Willows Inn on Lummi Island has cracked the code to the perfect smoked salmon recipe. Using Sockeye caught off the shores of Lummi Island during the early stages of their spawning season (which makes them nice and fatty), Wetzel brines and then dries them to create a super flavorful fish. The salmon is then smoked lightly over a long period of time to give it a sashimi-like texture. Finished off with a glaze of brown sugar, butter and verjus, the result is a bright and clean taste with firm texture that has made this dish a textbook example of the type of seafood Washington is capable of.

Go to: The Willows Inn

Sauteed Geoduck

Shiro Kashiba began harvesting geoduck on the Washington coast and preparing them as nigiri when he immigrated to Seattle from Japan 50 years ago. Prior to that, it hadn’t been done — anywhere. He popularized geoduck as sushi, so you can bet any geoduck he touches at his eponymous Sushi Kashiba, in Pike Place Market, is pure gold. While the nigiri is seasonal, the sauteed geoduck with matsutake mushrooms is available year-round. Best part? There’s an excellent chance Shirosan will be behind the sushi bar during your visit. Now in his 70s, the man doesn’t know how to retire.

Go to: Sushi Kashiba

Oysters on the Half Shell

Since oysters will eat whatever nature brings their way, they’re a direct reflection of place. And Hama Hama oysters grow in a really great place. The watershed upstream from the oyster farm on the Hood Canal is all forestland, which means you can taste the pristine ecosystem in the oysters. Their sweet and crisp flavor makes them a popular choice for some of Seattle’s best restaurants, most notably Walrus and the Carpenter). Oysters can be purchased at the Hama Hama farm store In Lilliwaup or in the outside “saloon,” if you want yours paired with a cold beer and possibly colder weather.

Oyster Stew

Washington'€™s south sound is still mourning the loss of Xinh Dwelley's Shelton restaurant that shuttered in late 2016 after spoiling a long list of loyal patrons with incredible seafood for 20 years. Fortunately, her famous geoduck chowder and oyster stew can still be found at Taylor Shellfish oyster bars and markets. The oyster stew, made with baked oysters, is something to marvel at. After being cut in large chunks, the oysters are added to a base of butter, garlic, celery, onion and oregano and topped off with milk and cream. Long live Xinh'€™s Clam & Oyster House.

Beecher' s Mac & Cheese

The popularity of this iconic mac comes down to two things: a generous amount of Beecher’s signature Flagship cheese and the fact that there’s no actual macaroni involved. Flagship, Beecher’s signature cheese, melts smooth and creamy, while retaining its nutty, robust flavor. And using penne as the pasta gives the dish a chewier texture and helps hold the sauce better than standard macaroni. The recipe is rounded out with a hint of garlic and chile powder which, according to Beecher’s, makes it the World’s Best.

Go to: Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

Steamed Mussels & Clams

When longtime Pike Place Market fish thrower Dan Bugge bought popular dining spot Matt's in the Market, in an upstairs nook of an adjacent building, in 2006, he redirected his love of seafood into a full-fledged restaurant. It goes without saying that everything is intensely local at Matt’s and the shellfish is no exception, all sourced from coastal farms. And while the Washington seaboard is a main theme with this dish, the menu’s actually inspired by the flavors of Spain, starting with a broth made from Spanish Cava, garlic, shallot and pork stock. The shellfish is cooked with Matt’s housemade chorizo, corona beans and piquillo peppers — all topped with cilantro and olive oil croutons.

Go to: Matt's in the Market

Razor Clam Chowder

Kevin Davis has been making chowder his entire adult life. So it makes sense that when he opened his Pike Place Market restaurant, Steelhead Diner, a decade ago, he put chowder on the menu. Initially, he used manilla clams, but because he was selling so much chowder, it became an economical nightmare. His new recipe uses razor clams, and it’s no less flavorful. He follows a very specific recipe that includes fennel, leek, potatoes, apple wood-smoked bacon, cream, butter, thick-cut razor clams and razor clam juice. The entire dish is drizzled with truffle oil sourced from nearby La Buona Tavola truffle cafe.

Geoduck Crudo

As mega restaurateur Ethan Stowell continues to build his empire at an impressive speed, one of the classic dishes that helped put him on the map isn' t going anywhere. At Anchovies & Olives in Seattle, Stowell makes geoduck crudo by thinly slicing the saltwater clam's siphon and mixing it with radishes, fennel and chiles. It's a simple dish with a refined taste that magically makes you forget all about the hilarity of the geoduck's awkward appearance.

Salmon Sandwich

With just a smattering of stools surrounding a large grill smack dab in the middle of bustling Pike Place Market, Market Grill is an unassuming oasis where the locals go for one of the best sandwiches in the city. The salmon sandwich consisting of a simple grilled salmon fillet dressed with aioli, tomatoes, lettuce and onions on a fresh baguette from Le Panier bakery across the street. Everything is sourced from right inside the market. If Seattle could be summed up in a single sandwich, this would be it.

Morels on Toast

Morel season is something to celebrate in Washington. And at Matt Dillon’s flagship Seattle restaurant, Sitka & Spruce, the prized mushrooms are sauteed in a little bit of cream, garlic and shallots, then poured on top of grilled sourdough bread, which sops up all of the savory juices. The whole thing is topped off with an egg yolk to make it even more decadent. The dish is so popular that it’s sometimes made with chanterelles on toast when springtime morels run their course.

Saigon-Style Dungeness Crab

Monsoon's owner, Sophie Banh, has been working with the same suppliers for the past two decades, and that includes Wong Tung seafood market in Seattle'€™s International District, where she sources her live crab. The Saigon-style Dungeness crab is made to order —€” each crab is oil-blanched and finished off in the wok with shallots, garlic, butter, and five spice. This dish sells out immediately when it'€™s on the menu, which is only when Sophie gets a good deal on the crab. Even more rare is the fact that Sophie will not raise the price; she wants everyone to be able to afford to eat in her restaurant.

Penn Cove Mussels: à la Marinière

When your restaurant is down the road from the country's oldest and largest commercial mussel farm, your shellfish better be good. And at charming Prima Bistro on Whidbey Island, a stone's throwfrom Penn Cove, they are. Served à la marinière, which means in the style of the sea, the mussels are added to a mixture of shallots, celery and garlic, with a lot of butter, and white wine. Once they're steamed open, more butter is added. The bivalves are served in cast iron pots with lids removed tableside to ensure the meal is piping hot and as aromatic as possible.

Scrambled Egg

The ultimate symbol of a special occasion for many Seattleites is also one of the city’s smallest. Chef Thierry Rautureau’s most recognized dish in his 35-year culinary career: a scrambled egg served in its own shell, topped with a dollop of lime crème fraiche and white sturgeon caviar. It was the luxurious start to thousands of tasting menus at his beloved restaurant Rover’s, and now it’s come back to life with Thierry’s newest restaurant, Loulay. The eggs come from a woman named Alice on Vashon Island, whom Chef credits for raising very happy chickens, because of their vibrant, beautiful yolks.

Mangalitsa Pig Charcuterie

A short ferry ride away from Seattle on Bainbridge Island sits Hitchcock, a destination restaurant known for its compulsion towards local harvesting. Fortunately for diners, that extends to the animals. Chef-Owner Brendan McGill raises rare Mangalitsa pigs, feeding them organic Skagit Valley barley and tons of locally grown pumpkin, spent grain from regional breweries and distilleries, and vegetable waste from the restaurant. In return, the heritage hogs produce some of the best charcuterie in the state, supplying Hitchcock, as well as McGill's two delis and pizzeria, with outstanding salumi and a reputation that is well deserved.

Dungeness Crab Roll

Bar Harbor exists because of the New England crab roll, so it'€™s an obsession here. After finding a bakery that would make a traditional white bread roll, it was all smooth sailing from there. While a lot of great sandwiches are ruined by lousy bread, the rolls here are buttery and crispy and served in three different styles: Maine (with mayo), Connecticut (with butter) and New England (with mayo, celery and chive). This is probably the only place in the Seattle area where it'€™s safe to root for the Patriots!

Molten Chocolate Cake

Theo Chocolate sets a new level of chocolate devotion in the Pacific Northwest. Autumn Martin left her dream job as Head Chocolatier of Theo to open Hot Cakes — a sort of sugar shack that offers everything from boozy shakes to cookies, smoked chocolate chips, caramel sauces and her signature dessert, molten chocolate cakes. What started out as a DIY dessert business springboarded by her incredible calling-card recipe (Take-n-Bake Molten Chocolate Cake), is now a full-fledged store with multiple locations and a thriving retail business.

Etta's "Rub with Love" Salmon

Not only is this salmon dish one of the most iconic for celebrity chef Tom Douglas (Etta’s was his first seafood-driven restaurant), it inspired his entire “Rub with Love” product line. Here, the grilled Coho salmon is lovingly rubbed with a mixture of smoked paprika, brown sugar and thyme. The dish is served with sauteed green beans, cornbread pudding and a seasonal relish, made with local favorites such as shitake or Bing cherries.

Westland Peated Barley Praline

The only peated barley sourced outside of Scotland can be found at one of Seattle’s newest bars, No Anchor, on the dessert menu. Sourced from the Olympic Peninsula peat bogs, the barley is lightly toasted, creating a nice crunch against whatever seasonal sorbet or ice cream is on offer. While the flavor is muted, especially compared to peated whiskey, the barley lends a nice flavor. Mixed with hard-cracked sugar, the two are blitzed together to create a unique crumble that is hyper specific to Washington.

Honey Lavender Ice Cream

Molly Moon'€™s, Seattle'€™s O.G. scoop shop, has a handful of flavors on tap year-round, including Honey Lavender. It'€™s so popular, Purple Haze Lavender Farms in Sequim struggles to keep up with demand. Ground lavender, along with honey, is added straight into the mixer for refreshing ice cream with a relaxing kick of lavender.

Cold-Pressed Blueberry Juice

North of Seattle lies Skagit Valley’s oldest blueberry farm, Bow Hill Blueberries, run by a small family committed to preserving heirloom blueberries organically. In fact, the cold-pressed juice is pure blueberry. No filler. Once the juice is extracted, the skins are dried and macerated and made into a powder, which is ideal for smoothies, oatmeal, ice cream or nearly anything. The heirloom berries have a thicker skin and intense purple color, making the cold-pressed juice a glassware stunner that’s perfect for cocktails.

Charles Smith Wines

California may command more attention, but Washington has a strong wine-making scene. Arguably the most recognized winemaker in Washington, former rock band manager Charles Smith looms large in Washington’s wine industry, both in presence and production. In 2015, Charles expanded his Walla Walla operations and opened a sprawling tasting room in Seattle called Jet City, the largest urban winery on the west coast, offering a sample of his “everyday” wines that showcase the outspoken personality of the Washington grape. It’s a site to be seen and by far the only tasting room in the city that’s as large as its proprietor’s reputation.

Asparagus Tamales

During the summer, Horte Hernandez has a hard time keeping her asparagus tamales in stock. Sourced from Locati Farms, the asparagus is added to her grandmother’s traditional tamale recipe at Walla Walla Tamales by Horte and Mamita. As with all tamales, the trick is in the masa; you have to work it just right, with the right ingredients, and most importantly, you have to have patience. But Horte has a secret weapon to her perfectly fluffy and delicious tamales: her mother (aka Mamita), who helps bring to life the recipes she grew up on.

Cafe Nico

Seattle is probably the city most closely connected with coffee, along with coffeehouses. Espresso Vivace is undoubtedly a trailblazer in the city’s coffee culture, upping the game for all subsequent coffee operations since it launched as a coffee cart on Broadway in the late ’80s. There are now three locations, including the original cart, which morphed into a sidewalk bar serving coffee so superb that it lures long queues of people regardless of the weather. Order a Cafe Nico — a double shot of espresso with steamed milk, cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest — served in a four-ounce cup.

Clams Bucatini

When razor clam season hits the Long Beach Peninsula, The Depot restaurant is where you want to be. Clams Bucatini, which has been on the menu for more than a decade, is flavored with a generous amount of the pungent shellfish, which is tossed in a sauce of garlic, white wine, lemon juice, chile flakes and a helping of the razor clam'€™s more subtle, buttery counterpart, the Willapa Bay clam. The hollow build of the bucatini allows the juices to flow in and out. And by the time you run out of pasta, you'€™ll be left with spoonfuls of razor clams left to eat.

Steamed Spot Prawns

Known for using a lot of spot prawns when they'€™re in season, Chef Taichi Kitamura of Sushi Kappo Tamura in Seattle uses exclusively live prawns, which deliver a firm, lobster-like texture and intense sweetness. Kitamura steams the live shrimp (sourced from waters off the Hood Canal and San Juan Islands) in a bamboo steamer for about 10 minutes, lets them cool, and then splashes cold water on them to deshell. Delicately, he keeps the head and tomalley attached. The prawns are one of his most popular dishes, available late spring to early fall.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

Started in 2003 by Chuck and Sharon Podlich, Orondo Cider Works is their answer to the roadside stands that were abundant when they lived in New England, but oddly enough, not when they moved to Lake Chelan Valley. Not only does Cider Works sell fresh cider direct to consumers, they sell cider doughnuts, which are still a novelty here, despite the abundance of orchards. Because of this, people come in from all over the state for the cider and the doughnuts, made fresh daily from the apples they press and grow themselves.

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