Journey

Best Foods of the Pacific Northwest

8 Unique Delicious Specialties to Savor

Pacific Northwest foods delight locals and travelers alike.

Pacific Northwest natives know that almost any ecosystem in the region — flowing rivers and living estuaries, lush valleys and orchards, forests and sea — produces great food. Those who move away realize their mistake when they inevitably yearn for native delicacies like huckleberries, wine grapes and razor clams, and those who are just passing through want to keep coming back for more of these culinary treats. Read on for eight delicious specialties that will make you proud to call the Pacific Northwest home.

Apples at Finnriver Farm & Cidery. Photo by Jen Lee Light. 

Apples

Washington produces about two-thirds of the fresh consumption market for apples in the United States. In the fall, picking your own bushels of these juicy delights at a rustic u-pick farm in Washington’s apple country is a must. Take a road trip to the Wenatchee Valley, the heart of the state’s apple country, to visit beautiful waterfront orchards flourishing in volcanic soils. Don’t limit yourself to the old favorites like Red Delicious and Granny Smith. From crisp to sweet to tangy, Washington’s numerous apple varieties range in flavor and texture, some good for baking, others great for eating out of hand.

DON’T MISS

Cupping at Victrola Coffee. Photo courtesy of Victrola. 

Coffee

Sure, there’s a Starbucks on every corner, but visitors to Seattle and locals should consider upping their coffee game. Sampling specialty beans and taking part in educational experiences like cupping (a fancy word for expert coffee tasting) lessons is a great way to do so. Every week, Victrola Coffee’s Pine Street location offers a free cupping demo for small groups. Reserve ahead of time and learn how to sip and savor like a pro in their modernist 1920s auto-row building.

DON’T MISS

  • Small, independently owned coffee shops for interesting blends and personal service
  • Coffee experiments like pistachio lattes or whisky cold brews at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Capitol Hill

Cedar-planked salmon. Photo by Rez Art/Getty Images.

Salmon

The lower Columbia River, flowing between Washington and Oregon, draws thousands of sport-fishing enthusiasts each year when the sun comes out, as chinook and coho migrate up the river to their spawning grounds. If you don’t book a charter to catch your own there, visit the Kitsap Peninsula, a natural oasis on the west side of Puget Sound, where “salmon docents” in several locations lead creek-side educational programs during salmon spawning migration from October to November.

DON’T MISS

  • Cedar-planked salmon in restaurants
  • Salmon candy, sweet and succulent smoked fish at markets
  • Salmon culture, art and artifacts of the indigenous Coast Salish peoples at the Burke Museum in Seattle

Delicious oysters. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Farm Oyster Bar.

Shellfish

Western Washington’s waterways teem with marine creatures, including the wild bivalves and crustaceans that love salty and brackish water in Puget Sound, and cultivated shellfish in aquaculture operations in Hood Canal and elsewhere. Inlets and coves make great habitat for wild fresh clams like native littlenecks, butters, cockles and the huge and bizarre-looking geoduck, which averages about 2 pounds in weight. Dungeness crabs like both bays and the ocean floor.

Grab a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish permit and visit the Long Beach Peninsula to dig for the thin-shelled, elongated native razor clams that locals love to fry up. The annual Razor Clam Festival in spring coincides with dates that the beaches are open to razor clamming. While you’re there, pick feral oysters on the Nahcotta Tidelands on the Willapa Bay side of the peninsula, or travel inland to check out shellfish beaches on the lower part of the Sound.

DON’T MISS

  • The Olympia oyster, the tiny, metallic native oyster being brought back from near extinction at oyster bars like Chelsea Oyster Bar in Olympia
  • Fresh geoduck at Taylor Shellfish in Shelton
  • Penn Cove mussels on Whidbey Island
  • Puget Sound restoration projects of wild marine species

A wine-tasting room in Walla Walla. Photo by Lore Patterson/Alamy.

Wine

With thousands of acres dedicated to the fruit of the vine, the sunny and dry southeastern part of the state loves its wine. Explore the warmer reds such as merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon among grain and legume farms set in the undulating golden hills of the Palouse and surrounding area. Industry rising star Walla Walla, with dozens of wineries sporting outdoor patios in or close to town, is well worth a visit. For the inside scoop on the latest vintages and best places to sip a glass, book a private winery tour and allow experts to guide your group to the best choices based on your tastes.

DON’T MISS

  • A place to picnic on the Palouse, perhaps on 3,612-foot-high Steptoe Butte for some of the best views of the area, or closer to town
  • Specialty shops that sell not only wine but artisan meats, cheese and other goodies to accompany that bottle

Explore Washington’s 14 wine regions. 

Huckleberry lemon drop. Photo by Karyn Christner/Flicker

Huckleberries

Priest Lake boasts 70 miles of shoreline and outdoor activities galore just 30 miles from the Canadian border in North Idaho. This pristine wilderness is also some of the best habitat for foraging the state fruit of Idaho, the mountain huckleberry. Hint: The best ones are found along old logging roads in sunny areas. These fat, juicy, dark-purple berries
resemble a compact, intense blueberry and make excellent jams and syrup for pancakes.

DON’T MISS

  • Huckleberry milkshakes at a stop off the interstate, like the Red Light Garage in the old mining town of Wallace
  • 44° North Mountain Huckleberry Vodka, with local berries and distilled spirits made from russet potatoes, for a homegrown Idaho tipple

Find out how and where to hunt for the Pacific Northwest huckleberries.

Idaho’s Potato Hotel. Photo by John Sowell.

Potatoes

Those traveling in the potato-growing country between Idaho Falls and Pocatello might want to pay homage to the state’s favorite vegetable and visit the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, housed in an old shortline railroad depot. Call ahead to order a baked potato in the café if you haven’t eaten enough French fries already. Even when the museum is closed, stop by and take a selfie outside the front door.

DON’T MISS

  • You’ll almost certainly be the first of your friends to say they’ve spent the night in a giant manufactured potato. Want to spend a night in an unusual place, visit the Big Idaho Potato Hotel in Boise (pictured).
  • Two potato-shaped confections: ice cream potato, a sundae often found at outdoor festivals in Boise, and the classic Idaho spud candy, a marshmallow and coconut chocolate bar made since 1918

Fishing for trout. Photo by Zuma Wire/Alamy.

Trout

Idaho’s world-class trout streams and a robust, sustainable aquaculture industry stock freezers full of these mild, delicious finfish. Located about 45 minutes east of Coeur d’Alene or just about an hour from Spokane, the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River is a choice spot for flyfishing for native cutthroat trout, the state fish. Guided trips will ensure you’ve got a license and the right gear.

DON’T MISS

  • Aquaculture rainbow trout from the Hagerman Valley
  • Smoked trout to savor back home

–Written by Jennifer Burns Bright

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This