With the Puget Sound, Pacific Ocean and agricultural regions of Central and Eastern Washington all close at hand, it’s a given that Washington State is known for its fresh and locally sourced produce and seafood. In cities from Seattle to Spokane, you’ll find plenty of evidence that this is a foodie kind of state, from delicious restaurant fare to tasty food trucks to grocery stores stocked with produce grown nearby.
While picking up some freshly caught salmon and a few veggie sides is always a fine way to go, there is more to Washington than its salmon (though make no mistake — the salmon is not to be missed).
From one corner of the Evergreen State to the next, here are dishes you should try whether you order them from a menu or make them yourself.
Almost Any Kind of Salmon
You will see a wide variety of salmon dishes in restaurants casual and fancy alike — some simple, some decadent. Washington natives not only like salmon, but they know their salmon, too… so menus will generally detail the type of salmon (watch for sockeye and king, when they’re in season) and whether it was wild caught or farmed. Most locals will skip farmed salmon altogether. When in Washington, you should too. As for specific salmon dishes to try, simplest is often best. Look for traditional favorites like cedar-planked salmon or smoked salmon (also called lox or gravlax).
The Pacific razor clam is only native to the upper Pacific Coast, which includes Washington’s coast. This tasty clam is most often caught and fried up or grilled in backyards, but if you spot it on a restaurant menu, jump at the chance to try it without the effort (but if you’re outdoorsy, going clamming is a unique way to catch a meal). Beaches up and down the Washington Coast offer times to go clamming, and restaurants in beach towns like Ocean Shores serve razor clams in a variety of ways. They’re especially popular when fried or in clam chowder.
Geoducks (pronounced "gooey-duck") are another large clam — bigger than razor clams — and are one of Washington’s strangest looking foods. In fact, geoduck “necks” are so big that these mollusks can’t even fit in their shells. But despite their perhaps off-putting appearance, geoducks are a local delicacy popular for their sweet taste and slightly crisp texture. Some of the most common places to find geoduck on Washington menus is at sushi restaurants, especially upscale sushi restaurants as geoduck is not usually cheap. Look to Shiro’s for their geoduck butter or Anchovies & Olives for their geoduck crudo — both restaurants are in Seattle.
Teriyaki is technically Japanese, but Western Washington has its own take on this dish and you’ll spot far more teriyaki joints in Seattle than you ever will in Tokyo.
Teriyaki took on its Washington-specific flavors in part due to Korean immigrants who upped the ante on the flavor palate of the teriyaki sauce used — and that sauce is part of what makes teriyaki amazing. Each restaurant tends to offer its own version of the sauce so it’s worth experimenting and finding your favorite. The meal almost always involves choosing chicken, beef or pork. The meat is grilled and basted in sauce and cut into strips then served with a salad and rice.
Beecher’s Mac and Cheese
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is located in Pike Place Market, but you’ll find Beecher’s Flagship in stores all throughout the state and all even throughout the country. The nutty and flavorful Flagship is one of the best things to come out of Seattle, but even better — they’ve made it into mac and cheese! Stop by Beecher’s at Pike Place Market, in SeaTac Airport or in Bellevue Square to order some for yourself. You can also find this dish frozen in many grocery stores.
Maryland is known for its blue crab and crab cakes, but it’s not the only state with crab cakes on the menu. Washington doesn’t have blue crabs, but instead, Dungeness crabs. The season runs from about December and into the spring and this is when it’s best to order these off the menus of the area’s many seafood restaurants. You can order your Dungeness crabs whole, steamed, in a pot of cioppino (seafood stew), in a salad or on a sandwich, in a crab cocktail, or in a crab cake. However you try it, this crab’s sweet and mild flavor is sure to be a hit.
Oysters on the Half Shell
Like many dishes on this list, oysters on the half shell take advantage of Washington’s waterfront. And while there is more than one way to eat an oyster, eating them raw and shucked in the perfect way to go if you really want to enjoy oysters as they are. Of course, this dish isn’t for everyone. Oysters are salty and slightly sweet and slip down your throat in a way that some don’t enjoy. Consider this advanced seafood.
Anything Made with Local Cherries or Apples
Save room for dessert! Especially if you’re in Eastern Washington, keep an eye out for desserts that incorporate some of the best of Washington’s produce — Bing or Rainier cherries or one of the many varieties of apples grown in the state. Cherry or apple pies from roadside restaurants along I-90 are sure to be winners.