On my recent trip to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, I appreciated the mossy forest trails, wild log-strewn beaches, imaginative public art installations, and bold Native American carvings; but I think the most memorable experiences – those that have me craving another trip out there – involved food. I love to eat, especially when the offerings are relatively healthy as well as tasty, inexpensive but thoughtfully prepared, and when I can learn about where my food comes from.
Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver are all bursting with these exciting and sustainable food options. There are far too many to cover here, but I will mention some highlights.
Being in the Pacific Northwest, I felt obligated to try some fresh salmon. For some reason, I imagined I would be having a piece of pecan-encrusted fish topped with a garnish in a fancy, sit-down establishment with a long wine list. What I found instead – and many locals agree that it’s the best fish place in Vancouver – was quite the opposite:
On the waterfront, a small corrugated metal shack called Go Fish turns out stellar fish and chips and fish tacos. The line was pretty long, and the wait after ordering was almost unbearably long: it was Good Friday, one of the most popular days of the year to eat fish. But my unique salmon fish and chips, battered with ultra-local Granville Island beer (the brewery is literally a one-minute walk away), proved to be worth the wait.
Besides the taste and freshness, another great reason to rave about Go Fish is that it serves only local, line-caught seafood and complies with conservation guidelines. For more restaurants and vendors across Canada that meet sustainable fishing standards, visit the Ocean Wise website.
Right across the footbridge, on Granville Island, lies another destination for foodie visitors. The Public Market is a large space chock full of vendors offering fruits and vegetables, baked goods, coffee, wine, cheese, crafts, and more. If you’re looking for specialty Asian ingredients, organic in-season produce, or gourmet gifts to bring home, this market has what you need – though keep in mind that it’s like a smaller version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which I’ll get to next.
Pike Place Market is the most famous tourist attraction in Seattle, and it is one of those that’s actually worth a visit (or two, or three). A large complex of stalls and shops, it would take hours to see and taste it all. In the main part of the market, near the well-known fish and produce stands, my favorite vendor was Chukar Cherries, where I bought a bag of dried organic Rainier cherries with no added sugar, and sampled various chocolate-covered treats.
Across the street, the shop I enjoyed the most was Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, where I watched curds being shoveled and raked in large metal tanks right next to the retail space. Beecher’s uses organic ingredients whenever possible, and doesn’t add any artificial ingredients to its cheese.
For dinner or drinks, I’d recommend the Pike Brewing Company, also located in the Pike Place complex. A beer sampler got us six small drafts, arranged from light to dark, so we could savor and compare the flavors. My macaroni and cheese entrée featured local artisan cheeses and what happened to be my favorite beer on tap, the Pike Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale. Besides making use of local ingredients, the brewery strives for sustainability in other areas; for instance, it sends spent grains (from the brewing process) to local farms where they become feed for livestock.
Further away from downtown, in the fun neighborhood of Fremont, I went on a factory tour at Theo Chocolate, the only organic and fair trade bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the United States. (Not sure what all of that means? The tour guide does a great job explaining.) For just $6 each, our group learned all about how chocolate is made, from the trees cacao grows on, to the roasting of the beans, to the process of decorating truffles. Best of all, we got to sample several varieties of chocolate along the way.
Portland is densely packed with sustainable businesses, vegan and vegetarian options, and creative eateries. I have visited a few times, and I’m always impressed with the meals I eat out. This time, I experienced two new-to-me socially and environmentally conscious restaurants with very affordable menus.
¿Por Qué No? Taqueria is a whimsical Mexican joint with a serious commitment to sustainability. All meat is free of hormones and antibiotics, fish is local and line-caught, and produce is locally sourced whenever possible. They compost most food waste, use compostable garbage bags and to-go materials, and use a solar-powered hot water heater. The used oil from the kitchen even gets reused in the tank of the vehicle the restaurant uses for errands.
Vita Café is unique in that it is mostly vegetarian (and largely vegan), with just a few meat options—the inverse of a typical restaurant menu. All meat is hormone free, the tofu is made without pesticides or genetically modified organisms, and other ingredients are local and organic when possible. The restaurant purchases its electricity from renewable sources and composts all kitchen scraps. Another bonus is that it pledges to donate 1% of sales to local nonprofit organizations.
Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.