Kate GibbonsI peel back the tin foil, and take a giant bite of my Bibimbap Roll – A Mexicanstyle burrito bursting with spicy Korean insides. I tracked it down from the Bomba Fusion Food Truck that circles drizzling downtown Seattle routes on weekdays, causing lines of hungry office workers. “Delicious,” I think as I walk back to my office, chewing the entire way.
Known for its abundant salmon and crab, the Pacific Northwest’s culinary scene has expanded to global proportions making it a foodie wonderland, for locals and visitors alike. Sandwiched between Cascade Mountain peaks and brackish bays, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. are redefining northwest fare—mobile or otherwise.
While Seattle’s tech boom is driving hot lunch spots, like Bomba, plenty of brick and mortar establishments have made a name for themselves as well. Little Uncle, named one of Bon Appétit magazine’s top 50 restaurants in the U.S., sits quietly on Madison Avenue in the bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Celebrating Thai food, Little Uncle was founded by chefs PK and Wiley Frank, and focuses on traditional family-style cuisine—but also has a convenient walk up window. If you are willing to try something new order the Soi Gai (pronounced Soy Guy) an egg noodle bowl with chicken and coconut milk, or any of the curries. If it is pad Thai you crave, Little Uncle’s version is only vegetarian—don’t even ask for chicken—as it is traditionally served in Lopburi, Thailand, which is PK’s hometown. Reservations are not accepted.
Oysters are on nearly every menu in Seattle, but the Walrus and the Carpenter restaurant pulls them from surrounding bays daily. The menu reveals where the oysters are farmed: Flapjack Point, Wildcat Cove or Wolf Beach, to name a few. Each briny mollusk has a unique flavor, and is served with fresh horseradish, lemon or a house-made soy sauce. The approach of the restaurant is like a “backyard oyster bar,” with a friendly, casual feel and a bit of whimsy. As a great starting point while exploring the Emerald City’s Ballard neighborhood, follow your oyster selections with the pork tartine or steak tartare, indulge in the local cheeses, and pair your meal with a kitschy-named cocktail like the “Float Like a Bee” or “Going on a Bear Hunt”
A few hours north of Seattle, Vancouverites have a secret. Canada’s western star is a food town. One of its highlights is its extensive night markets. The largest outside of Asia, each Friday and Saturday night from May thru September, kiosks unfold around the southern part of the city for an aromatic symphony. With mostly Asian influences, prepare to eat powdered sugar mini doughnuts, fried noodles, shrimp rolls, oversized ice cream cones and more. With little seating, wear comfortable shoes for standing and strolling the literally miles of purveyors.
An homage to the formerly three Michelin star Au Crocodile in Chef Michel Jacob’s hometown of Strasbourg, France, Le Crocodile in Vancouver proves that French cuisine is not restricted to Europe. I recommend you choose the rotating 5-course “Chef’s Tasting Menu” that is rich with sauces and can include such traditional dishes as duck confi t and foie gras. A go-to for anniversaries and birthdays, expect impeccable service, but the volume has been known to interrupt romantic dates.
A visit to Vancouver is not complete without a stroll through Gastown, the city’s oldest neighborhood. Founded by John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, it grew from a single tavern and is now an eating and drinking hotspot. Look for Asian-inspired gastropubs, farm-to-table eats and more, and don’t pick just one, that wouldn’t do it justice.
Portland has received lots of welldeserved praise for its dining scene, almost so much that it is hard to choose where you want to go. You can slice it by cuisine, neighborhood or price, and satisfy any craving.
Serving food found in pubs, homes and the streets of Southeast Asia, Pok Pok PDX, is a “not to miss”. Basic—think vinyl chairs and black top tables—Pok Pok has spun off four other locations in Portland alone, each of which entice lines of patrons. Known for its chicken wings, sticky rice and barbeque pork, expect to leave satisfied. Pok Pok may sound familiar as Founder Andy Ricker has created pop-up shops in Los Angeles and New York too. Ordering online is also available.
Mother’s Bistro & Bar in downtown Portland is a homey café with a long wait time for Sunday brunch. Founded by Chef Lisa it’s a great place for “Mother Food” as she specializes in meat loaf, crab cakes, pot roast and dumplings. Don’t be afraid to go the next time you’re in town as the menu features a different Mother’s special, known as the M.O.M. menu, each month.
Portland and the rest of the Pacific Northwest is just a hop from Hawaii, and the island influence is found mostly with poke. Poke, a preparation technique to slice or cut, can be applied to tuna, salmon or many other fishes but is always served raw. Quickfish Poke Bar in the West End, serves a fleet of poke bowls and a few tasty treats like poke nachos. Described as good and fast, this new (opened in December 2016) restaurant is an easy choice for a healthy, yet hearty meal stop.
A visit to Portland is not complete without bellying up to one of the many food trucks or carts. An actual zone in downtown, the Alder Street Food Cart Pod, was established to house them all. With more than 600 vendors, a visit to the pod is a veritable United Nations trip for your taste buds. Gyros, perogies, vegan BBQ—yes, vegan—koi fusion and poutine are all within the first few rows. While they all have lines of people, trust the locals and queue up in the longest ones, you won’t be disappointed.