Whatever direction your away-from-Seattle road trip is taking you, the options for stopping when hungry can seem like a fast-food wasteland. Our food writers are here to help with a half-dozen places that they actually wish were located right here in Seattle, from an Olympia oyster bar to a Bellingham bakery and beyond.
If you’re heading north from Seattle,
Stop in Burlington, at …
Garden Path Fermentation
11653 Higgins Airport Way, Burlington; new location: 1319 Commercial St., Bellingham; 360-503-8956; gardenpathwa.com
The row of warehouses by the Burlington airport doesn’t jibe with most people’s idyllic image of a great drinking destination, especially when the roar of small jets taking off sometimes stalls conversations at the beer garden. But the sours and the barrel-aged ales brewed near the runway make for a great pit stop. Talented brewer Ron Extract sources ingredients within a 20-mile radius for his stellar sours.
For starters, try the beer named The Garden Paths Led to Flowered, a crisp, refreshing golden ale that tastes like a Belgian brew. The tasting room also doubles as a bottle shop with a well-curated bottle list that boasts arguably the state’s largest selection of the cult brand Jester King Brewery and the Gueuzerie Tilquin lambic ales. (The bottles go for $2-$3 cheaper than you would find retail in Seattle. Collectors, don’t you dare hoard all the good stuff!) More good news: the brewery just opened a second tasting room in downtown Bellingham. I’ll drink to that.
— Tan Vinh
Stop in Bellingham, at …
111 W. Holly St., Bellingham; 360-393-3111; saltadena.com
For me, a trip to (or through) Bellingham is not complete without stopping at Nancy Stuart’s adorable downtown bakery. Not only does she make the absolute best gluten-free brownie cookie I’ve ever eaten, her cakes are next-level good. My favorite flavors are the classic birthday cake and the salt and pepper. But that’s not all. Stuart fills the pastry case with even more cookies, a rotating menu of seasonal cream puffs (June flavors include German chocolate, passion-nut, Key lime and black sesame), a rainbow’s worth of macarons, pudding cups and her signature Lil’ Scrappies (a bowl filled with cake scraps, frosting and sprinkles). Stuart pops up every so often in Seattle, but her shop is the only place to experience the full range of her pastry talent. If there’s time, I love grabbing a burger at nearby Fiamma Burger (1309 Railroad Ave., Bellingham; 360-733-7374; fiammaburger.com) before or after picking up a whole bagful of treats.
— Jackie Varriano
If you’re heading east from Seattle,
Stop in Manson, at …
Blueberry Hills Restaurant & Farm
1315 Washington St., Manson; 509-687-2379; wildaboutberries.com
Manson is a quick 15-minute drive up the eastern shore of Lake Chelan through an incredibly picturesque landscape of rolling hills dotted with fruit trees. Go there in September and the branches of all those trees will be heavy with gorgeous fruit, a sight I find as beautiful as the golden leaves of Vermont’s fall foliage. Tucked into those hills is Blueberry Hills Farm, a sprawling, kitschy spot where you can pick your own berries on summer mornings. The menu centers on American classics: big breakfast platters, burgers and sandwiches. I have only been for breakfast and was charmed by both the little things (selecting my own mug from the wall) and big (the unbelievable cheese blintz with blueberry filling). Paired with the Egg Breakfast, consisting of a simple two eggs, two slices of glorious thick-cut crispy bacon and wheat toast, this is the perfect way to fuel up before any Lake Chelan adventure.
— Jackie Varriano
If you’re heading south from Seattle,
Stop in Lakewood, at …
Offered only after 5 p.m. Fridays to Sundays; 11109 Pacific Highway S.W., Lakewood; facebook.com/tacomixlakewood.wa
The cooks seduce passersby at this strip-mall taco shop by roasting a golden hive-shaped hunk of meat on a vertical spit out front every weekend. Once you step on the brakes to gawk at that glorious stack of pork shoulder and bacon, they know they’ve reeled you in. There’s no way you won’t buy the al pastor. It’s quite the mouthwatering display. The taquero waits until the pork drips with fat and the edges are singed and lacy before he carves shards off the trompo cylinder, a medley of juicy bits and burnt ends. Your charred al pastor will be served “planchado,” on downy corn tortillas made in-house.
— Tan Vinh
Stop in Olympia, at …
Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar
222 Capitol Way N., Olympia; 360-915-7784; chelseafarms.net
If you’re coming back to Seattle up I-5 and the traffic at Tacoma looks terrible, as usual, do yourself a favor and opt-out for a while in favor of the sheer delight of Olympia’s Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar. The soothing, spacious, lovely dining room and light-filled yet cozy bar each conspire in their own way to make you feel that all is right with the world, while the seafood served will make you wish you could bring this place home with you.
Oysters ($3.50-$4 each) come from Chelsea Farms’ own nearby beds as well as from local friends who grow them too, and appreciating a variety of the world’s best bivalves while ensconced on a cushy aquamarine-velvet-backed banquette is the glorious, perfect opposite of being trapped in a car on the backed-up freeway. Designate a driver, have some bubbles and explore the menu’s many other charms (including a hamburger, $18, in case you’re traveling with that person). The very lightly tempura-battered prawns ($15), super-fresh geoduck ceviche ($19), clam chowder enriched with pork belly ($14) and lots more are as marvelous as those you’ll find at the best seafood spots in the two bigger cities to the north and south. I’d drive to Oly just to eat here all the time, if the traffic wasn’t always so terrible.
— Bethany Jean Clement
Stop in Centralia (especially en route to or from Portland!), at …
1001 W. Main St., Centralia; 360-736-7756; on Facebook
Every great American road trip should include a stop at a place as charming and delicious as La Tarasca, off I-5 halfway from Seattle to Portland in the aptly named town of Centralia. On a sunny afternoon, a Little League team might be having lunch among the flowers and potted herbs on the patio along Main Street; inside, with more plants and cheerful, brightly colored everything, patrons may include wearers of impressive cowboy hats and/or what’s clearly a touring rock band.
Run by the Ayala family since 1997, La Tarasca’s bustling welcome makes you feel very happy to be there, and when big plates laden with homestyle greatness arrive, you’re even more so. The house specialty recipes — handed down generation to generation from the family’s region of origin in Michoacán, Mexico — include carnitas ($16.95), slow-cooked and subtly seasoned to let the porkiness shine, and a rich, reddish-brown pasilla-pepper-based mole made with 26 herbs and spices for nuanced smokiness and faint heat rather than anything close to sweet (with chicken $19.95 or three taquitos Tarascos $15.95). But it’s all good here, especially when enveloped in the uncommonly light and pliant handmade corn tortillas that come warm with every platter.
— Bethany Jean Clement