Washington is full of surprises and contrasts, both geographic and culinary. This makes the Evergreen state one of the most diverse in the country in terms of landscapes and foodscapes.
This is because the Cascade Mountains split the state in half, making Western Washington much greener, wetter, and milder than the semi-arid east side. The drier, warmer summers and fertile volcanic soils of the Cascade rain shadow in fact make Eastern Washington one of the top agricultural regions in the country.
An impressive variety of crops grows here from alfalfa, apples, onions and cherries, to enough potatoes to rival its spud-sprouting neighbor, Idaho! The culinary range in Washington is indeed unmatched. No matter your palate, your price, or your craving, there are endless delicious surprises to discover in Washington.
Here are among the best foods to eat in Washington, in no particular order:
Salmon is undeniably the most representative food of Washington. It has been a core food for Indigenous nations in the region for thousands of years. This fish used to be so abundant, healthy, and strong in the mighty glacial rivers of the Northwest they grew up to six feet and would swim dozens of miles inland to spawn each year.
Washington waters are home to five types of salmon: King, Silver, Pink, Sockeye, and Chum. While pink are the most common in the local waters, you will most likely see sockeye or chinook at the markets.
This latter is known as King salmon—and for a reason. The largest of the salmon, it grows up to 100 pounds and ranges through the entire northern Pacific. King is widely considered to be the most delicious—and healthiest— with the highest omega-3 fatty content of any salmon and a dense, creamy reddish-orange flesh perfect for sushi or grilling.
Smoked salmon is especially popular. Other common ways to find salmon is in poke, lox—a creamy pate for bagels—or in omelets like the salmon lox omelet with capers at Lowell’s in Pike Place.
You can’t say you’ve really been to Washington unless you’ve dug into one of the main seafood staples: clam chowder. Of course, plenty of states claim only theirs is worth trying, but with such abundant coastline and fresh seafood, Washington has a long history of ladling up some of the best.
Sourdough bread bowls are by far the most popular dish, though many Washingtonians have long since given up on all the bread and instead will chow down on a hearty bowl from a dive chowder shack. Award-winning places like Bennett’s Fish Shack (two locations in Ocean Shores and Westport) and Duke’s or Ivar’s throughout the Puget Sound are some of the best you’ll find.
Ivar’s can also be found frozen in supermarkets throughout the country. For something especially Northwest, a big bowl of salmon chowder is a great way to warm up from the inside on a particularly cold, wet winter day.
Love local: it’s what Washingtonians do. With the abovementioned fresh seafood, abundant produce, amenable growing seasons, mountains, islands, old-growth forests, glaciers, volcanoes, and endless peaks to climb, what’s not to love?
Care for the environment pulses strongly in Washingtonian blood—and so, eat local isn’t just a sentiment for a bumper sticker. It’s an entire way of life that marks a true Pacific Northwesterner. The hyperlocal food movement is exceptionally strong here, from communal neighborhood gardens to thriving year-round farmers’ markets and a burgeoning zero-waste, zero-food-mile community.
A popular summer past-time is to visit all-you-can-pick organic berry farms—just $5 or $10 a bucket and you’ll have more blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or huckleberries than you know what to do with!
You’ll also likely be invited to go blackberry picking on the side of the road behind your friend’s house. Or if your friend happens to be a mycologist you might find yourself in the lowland Cascades hunting for the best chanterelle.
The San Juans are a particularly popular place for hyperlocal restaurants, with everything on their menu grown and harvested exclusively on that island. Truly, Washington is synonymous with local.
Burgers, World’s Best Mac, and Mukilteo Mudd
Of course, as with all states, comfort foods and burgers are still at the top of the list. Despite its reputation for hyperlocal, environmentally- and health-conscious food, Washington has a few undeniable classics you simply won’t be able to avoid. Dick’s Burgers is one.
Whether you’re a fan of fast, cheap, and greasy or a steadfast vegan, you’re bound to hear about it simply because it’s so popular. In fact, the unsolvable philosophical dilemma you’re sure to face before long is: Dick’s, or In-N-Out Burger?
You’re also sure to hear about Beecher’s Handmade Cheese with its flagship location at Pike Place Market. Known unabashedly as the World’s Best mac and cheese, folks travel from around the world specifically to try this award-winning dish. It’s certainly famous for a reason—aside from being featured on Oprah.
The cheddar is made and aged right in the heart of Seattle with cows that are never more than 100 miles away, satisfying the insatiable Washington craving for fresh and local.
Of course, your sweet tooth will certainly speak up before long—and you’re in luck! There are several Washington creameries that have captured the Pacific Northwest in a pint. Mukilteo Mudd from Snoqualmie Creamery is an all-around favorite—or try their lavender, or seasonal favorites.
As always, with their love of small-scale farms, ice creams stand to abound on scenic county and island highways. You’ll even find vegan ice cream in places like Molly Moon’s or Full Tilt.
Of course, these are just the first few places on the long list of classic comfort food. So if you wouldn’t be caught in your grave eating a vegan meal, fear not! There are plenty of feel-good comfort options no matter where you are in Washington.
The Evergreen State could easily be renamed the Apple State. From the Sweetie to the Envy, the Tango to the Jazz, there are over 30+ varieties grown throughout the state. It’s not uncommon for locals to go into exquisite detail about the differences between a Cosmic Crisp and a Honeycrisp, right down to sweetness, texture, and uses in pies, tarts, or crisps.
This state fruit is a delight for millions around the world—Washington accounts for nearly half of domestically grown apples and 95% of US apple exports. Also, consumer studies reveal that more than half (56%) of US shoppers seek out apples specifically from Washington.
It’s not surprising that Washingtonians have a deeply-rooted passion for all things apple: cider, cideries, apple cider donuts (Orondo Cider Works in Lake Chelan arguably bakes the best in the state), fall festivals and harvest celebrations, you name it!
Cherries are another dearly beloved Washington classic. Though both California and Oregon are well-known for both their sweet and tart cherries, Washington is far above and beyond the country’s leading producer of sweet cherries.
You won’t go far in the summertime without seeing roadside stands of Bing, Rainier, or Chelan cherries for sale. The Bing is a state favorite and the most popular—its quality, sweetness, and relative hardiness make this the standard by which cherry-growers around the world compare their own crops.
Of course, cherries have a distinctly short fruiting season, so if you’re visiting Washington in summer be sure to time your trip so you don’t miss these sweet delights! Also, brush up on some cherry knowledge before you go.
With such a wide variety to offer from sweet to tart, and proud owners of much of the market, Washingtonians take their cherries quite seriously. (This is to say, mention your love of maraschinos at your own risk.)
Sweet Walla Walla Onion
Washington has one claim to fame that might bring tears to your eyes—the sweet Walla Walla onion. Simply nothing compares. The southeastern city of Walla Walla takes exceptional pride in ensuring Washington is an onion-lover’s haven. (In fact, the state vegetable itself is the sweet Walla Walla.)
The town’s name actually means “many waters” in the Umatilla/Walla Walla Indigenous languages. The area has for centuries been considered an oasis in the otherwise arid, harsh desert of southern Washington.
The fertile soil, abundant trees, and proximity to the forested Blue Mountains make this a textbook example of terroir: it is precisely this location and none other which makes Walla Walla onions so sweet.
Idaho may be much more famous for potatoes, but Washington produces nearly 25% of the US crop, making it a close second. This is a vital food source for the state’s economy, contributing over $7 billion annually and providing 36,000 jobs. This work isn’t just to get you your next plate of mashed potatoes.
Much of these jobs are in research and development—many Washington potato farmers have close ties with Washington universities to study, develop, and harvest the best crop. This includes how different types of potatoes react to different soils and climates—a vital field of research these days.
Next time you pick up a Washington potato, you can thank decades of science and research from some of the best food labs in the country.
Nothing is quite as Pacific Northwest as a cup of java. Seattle’s own Pike Place Market is home to the very first Starbucks—which now has nearly 34,000 locations worldwide since its flagship coffee shop opened in 1971.
The city has long held a reputation as the coffee capital of the world—so much so that people know their baristas like they know their hairdressers or their kids’ teachers (maybe even better?). But it’s not just the Emerald City that craves caffeine.
While Seattle is #2 in terms of coffee shops per capita—the first spot goes to San Francisco, with 1,062 per person. Washington as a whole has the most of any state.
Espresso drive-thrus abound, even on the much drier and warmer east side. The running joke is that if you sneeze, you’re bound to hit five coffee stands.
Though of course, your trip to Washington would be incomplete without hitting up the original Starbucks, any local would tell you it’s just as well to avoid the atrocious line at Pike Place and try one of the more local, “authentic” spots.
Blame it on the climate, but Washingtonians can be a bit nutty! Did you know this crunchy, buttery, hard toffee came right from Washington’s third-largest city? These iconic foil-wrapped toffee candies have been manufactured by Tacoma’s own Brown & Haley Company since 1914.
There are plenty of other varieties like peppermint roca, cashew, caramel and sea salt, macadamia nut, and mocha roca. You’ll also find Almond Roca flavored syrups in most coffee shops and stands, or perhaps their own adapted version.
For those who like the sweeter side of life, an almond rocha mocha is a perfect cozy cup of joe on a wet wintry day: dark chocolate sauce, almond roca syrup, espresso, milk, and whipped cream to top it off.
There’s much more to Washington and its culinary scene than you’d ever imagine, so go eat. Try some of the local famous foods and dishes to cap off your trip Pacific Northwest.