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Westcott Bay Shellfish. Photo Credit: Lisette Wolter McKinley.

5 best ways to eat like a local in the San Juan Islands

One of the best things, hands down, about the San Juan Islands just off Washington’s northwest coast is … The. Food.

Once you’ve marveled at the beauty of the journey to this gourmet archipelago–by water aboard a Washington State Ferry, or by air in a seaplane–you’ll want to explore the island’s diverse culinary experiences.

Here are some super-secret San Juan foodie-insider tips:

1. Hit the farmers’ markets for brunch

Farmers’ markets are the ultimate way to go straight to the source for local food. And now, the prepared offerings at the Orcas and San Juan markets are amazing, from pastries made with love, locally roasted coffees at a pour-over bar, to just-picked grilled oysters and wood-fired pizza slices. Go hungry!

Shop the Orcas Island Farmers Market on the Village Green in Eastsound, with summer hours every Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The Lopez Farmers Market is in Lopez Village next to the Community Center, every Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in summer. The San Juan Island Farmers Market is at the historic Brickworks community center, two blocks from the ferry landing in Friday Harbor, and is open in summer every Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. All the markets have fall hours, too.

2. Taste tide-to-table

Sea farms are exactly what they sound like, and the San Juan Islands have one on each of the main islands where you will find some of the fattest, freshest oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, spot prawns, Dungeness crab and local finned fish around.

For a true tide-to-table experience, bring your own bottle of wine and shuck a few at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm and Shuck Shack on Orcas Island and Westcott Bay Shellfish Company on San Juan Island. Sweetwater Shellfish Farm on Lopez Island offers oysters, clams, mussels, spot prawns and scallops for sale.

3. Explore the hidden gems

With so many local eateries to choose from, you can’t go wrong. Some local favorites are:

  • New Leaf Café in Eastsound (overlooking East Sound) has a classic menu and wonderful food–the scallop crudo (well, anything scallop), octopus carpaccio, smoked salmon pasta and a perfect filet mignon are favorites.
  • The Kitchen on Orcas Island serves fast (-enough) Asian food (read: worth the wait) and buys organic from local producers. While waiting for the hand-rolled gyoza, sip an Island Hoppin’ beer from just down the road.
  • Doe Bay Café on Orcas Island overlooks the water and pulls most of their produce from their one-acre garden, as well as from foragers and fishers to keep dishes fresh, local and organic. Try the poached egg with house-smoked mushrooms and greens.
  • Catkin Café is just a year old in the old Café Olga spot in the Orcas Island Artworks. When you are done browsing local art, this is the place for brunch, where everything is made from scratch with local ingredients and a heaping dose of creativity.
  • The Barnacle Tea and Spirits in Eastsound is the coolest place for a drink and a snack, in a tiny old garage all kitted out with flotsam-and-jetsam chic. Unique spirits, local fruits and herbs in creative cocktails.
  • San Juan Island Cheese has the prettiest little patio where you can indulge in creative grilled cheese sandwiches made with local cheeses and vegetables, and sip from a delightful and ever growing cheese-friendly wine, cider and beer list.
  • Coho Restaurant on San Juan Island serves the freshest seafood and meat dishes with a Mediterranean flair, beautiful salads and a nice wine selection. For dessert, get the affogato–chocolate ice cream with an espresso pour-over–and a shot of amaretto. Heaven.
  • Tops’l Seafood & Sushi hidden away above Cask & Schooner Public House & Restaurant serves Westcott Bay and Buck Bay oysters, seaweed salads foraged from San Juan’s west side, and to-die-for black cod and salmon collars grilled to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Oh, and amazing sushi. And tempura. Don’t forget the tempura.
  • Ursa Minor is a new addition to Lopez Island. Chef Nick Coffey fell in love with Lopez ingredients at his Seattle cooking gigs, and decided to make it home. Now, local farmers, fishers and foragers show up at his kitchen door with everything from spot prawns to wild-leavened wood-oven baked bread, island-raised Kobe beef and freshly cut salad greens.

4. New offerings from winning chefs

One of the can’t-miss spots is Hogstone’s Wood Oven whose chef, Jay Blackinton, was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2017 and was highlighted for his commitment to local flavor, serving wood-fired pizza and stunning island-foraged tasting menus.

“Skipping the grid and living off the land is a fantasy indulged by every fatigued city dweller now and then. But it takes a punk kid with grit to actually do it,” Food & Wine writes about Blackinton. “... If it doesn’t thrive on Orcas, Jay doesn’t cook it, a choice that makes for the purest expression of Pacific Northwest cuisine we’ve ever encountered.”

Blackinton is adding to Hogstone with his new Aelder restaurant, opening July 7, which will be indoors and continue its dedication to local ingredients, with tasting menus featuring 4-12 courses.

5. Visit during Savor the San Juans

This festival is “a fall feast for the senses,” according to the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau. Taste the local liquid arts at 3 island wineries, the San Juan Island Distillery and Westcott Bay Cider, Island Hoppin’ Brewery on Orcas and Friday Harbor Oar House brewery.

Enjoy harvest dinners, shop farmers markets, watch the Orcas Island and Friday Harbor Film Festivals, bike on a brew tour and attend a day of TEDx talks. One of the highlights is the selection of farm tours on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan, which all have a different vibe, from sheep shearing demos to wood-oven baked pastries, from oyster-shucking parties and a behind-the-scenes peek at the lives of the islands’ pampered pigs, chickens and ducks.

The festival, which runs from September to November, offers events on every island.

Hungry yet? To plan your island getaway and start your flavorful excursion into the best of Pacific Northwestern cuisine, head to VisitSanJuans.com.

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