The Ultimate Road Trip for Oyster Lovers
Some of the best oysters in the world come out of the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest—no secret there. Also a well-known fact: There are many, very good restaurants throughout the region that will be happy to serve them to you, some of them celebrated far beyond the region.
Truth is, any restaurant, anywhere, can source good oysters, if so inclined—if you happen to find yourself in the Northwest, why not skip the middleman and go directly to the source? Whether you're in the mood for a waterside picnic at an oyster farm or a proper night out in Seattle or Vancouver, the Northwest's top suppliers can accommodate.
At this point, your options are diverse enough that anyone truly interested in the appreciation of (and consumption of) oysters might want to plan a little road trip through the region. Starting in Seattle and ending in Vancouver is a fine idea; or, you could do it in reverse, whatever works for you. Along the way, you'll experience two of the continent's most livable cities, as well as take in some incredible scenery—and make one very key stop—as you drive between them. (If done all at once, the trip takes about two and a half hours, border security and traffic permitting—remember to bring your passport.) Do it in a day, a weekend, or go even slower—just make sure to eat as many oysters as you can.
Stop #1: Pike Place Market
All visits to Seattle should begin (and middle, and end) with a visit to one of the country's best public markets. Right now, you're specifically here for Jack's Fish Spot, a long-running seafood vendor that sources Quilcene Oysters from a farm along the Hood Canal, a fjord-like arm of Puget Sound in the shadow of the mighty Olympic Mountains. Clean, clear and just a touch salty, Jack's will shuck a half-dozen for a mere $8.99. (They also do a great fried oyster and chips, for $7.99.)
Stop #2 Taylor Shellfish Farms
Five generations of Taylor's have been farming shellfish in Washington, now—the family tradition goes all the way back to the 1800's. Today, their oysters are a Seattle staple; they've got their own store and cafe on the same block as Capitol Hill's hip Melrose Market, as well as two terrific oyster bars (and a third coming soon). You can choose whichever location is most convenient—the Queen Anne location has a great, off-the-beaten-path vibe—but the Capitol Hill location is easy walking distance from Pike Place Market, and is the only one with a proper market on premises. Their 2-4 p.m. happy hour (Monday-Friday) offers up the oyster of the day for just $1.75 each, shucked and served with a champagne mignonette.
Stop #3 Chuckanut Drive
Any recreational drive from Seattle to Vancouver should include this twenty-mile highway that served as the original road link between Seattle and the border—ditch the faster, more crowded Interstate 5, sail across the fertile flats of the Skagit Valley and head along the shore and through the mountains for one of the most scenic drives on the West Coast—one that's over far too soon. Luckily, there are some great reasons to take it slow, starting with the two classic roadhouses—Chuckanut Manor and The Oyster Bar—known for their views and definitely their oysters. Better still, take the narrow side road down to the water that brings you to Taylor's famous farm stores, so close to Samish Bay it's practically in it—this is primarily a retail location, but they have a great, waterside picnic area where you can grill-your-own. (They'll provide the instruction; they also sell the necessary tools and accompaniments.)
#Stop 4 Fanny Bay Oyster Bar
Ideally, a proper oyster road trip would include the lengthy ferry ride to Vancouver Island and the additional, lengthy drive up to actual Fanny Bay—very few people will actually have time to journey to the actual source. Luckily, the source has now come to downtown Vancouver, BC, where Fanny Bay Oysters—at it for three decades now—has opened a popular bar and market with a fairly magnificent happy hour (3-6 p.m., daily) offering oysters for $1.50 a piece. That's in Canadian money; right now, that comes out to about $1.20 each. Talk about worth a drive.
Well worth a detour: Hama Hama Oyster Company
This Hood Canal institution has been around forever, but it's still something of a well-kept secret—to catch them, you've got to head to the Seattle area farmers markets they frequent. To taste the goods directly from the farm, you have two options—one is to catch their pop-up grill at the Sunday market in Seattle's Ballard district, the other is to actually go to the farm itself. Way out at the southwest corner of the Hood Canal (roughly a three-hour trek from downtown Seattle), Hama Hama's Oyster Saloon has become one of those pilgrimage-worthy spots, one worth planning around. Hours are limited—Thursday through Monday, noon to 5:30 p.m., but if you can get here and eat all the oysters you still have room for, do so.