If you're looking for a great summer travel destination, head to Seattle and Vancouver for majestic mountain views, high-culture (the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle), outdoor adventure (Vancouver's Stanley Park on a bike personifies summer), and, above all, great food.
We ate our way through eight days. Here are a few highlights:
Anything by restaurateur Tom Douglas gets our vote. We enjoyed Pacific Northwestern fare at Dahlia Lounge (sockeye salmon on a bed of red kale, but there's Alaskan halibut and Dungeness crab cakes, too) and Sunday brunch at sister restaurant, Lola. (We sampled the house-cured gravlax with chive cream cheese, the house-made granola with Greek yogurt, and the homemade doughnuts with mascarpone and homemade strawberry jam.)
Sitka & Spruce: Acting on a tip from a friend, this was our favorite meal of the trip. Chef Matt Dillon takes simple ingredients (nettles, radishes, and hazelnuts) and elevates them to great culinary heights. We couldn't get enough of spring lettuces with roasted shallot dressing and hazelnuts, grilled green onions with anchovy breadcrumbs, local salmon with red currants, and homemade fig ice cream.
For the sake of novelty (and several special brew blends only available here), you may want to pay homage to the original Starbucks across from historic Pike Place Market.
Santouka Ramen: Even in a city with great Asian food, Santouka is legend for its classic Japanese ramen—from miso ramen with pork broth and a rich and hearty miso paste to shiro ramen with its mild and creamy broth and Japanese pickled plum. The line forms down the block, but it's well worth the wait.
Guu: Though Guu has spawned several offshoots, this charming hole-in-the-wall is said to offer the most authentic izakaya (small-plate Japanese cooking) outside of Japan. Reading Japanese comes in handy, but if not, you can't go wrong with anything you order from deep-fried octopus balls served with mustard mayo to chopped salmon with garlic sauce to a bowl of deep-fried chicken with egg, onion, and dashi broth on rice. Sit at the bar and watch the show as chefs slice, dice, and make culinary art of your plate.
Blue Water Cafe: No visit to Vancouver is complete without a seafood feast, and this is the place to have it. It's one of the pricier spots in town, but it's also first rate. Go for the gusto with a seafood tower for two, tiers of Dungeness crab salad, scallop ceviche, oysters, chilled lobster, and sushi. And if you like your seafood cooked, order the sablefish with a miso glaze, bok choy, and shiitake 'shrooms.
Also, not to be missed, are the public markets in both cities. At Seattle's famed Pike Place Market, founded in 1907, if it exists locally, you'll find it here—from huckleberries at Rick's to Alaskan King Cab at Pike Place Fish and, of course, Rainier cherries at Razey Orchards.
The Public Market on Granville Island is equally awesome. (Frommers calls it “one of the best all-around markets in North America") with fresh seafood, produce, and poultry, and food stalls of every conceivable kind.
It's also a great place to pick up a handmade local craft as a souvenir.
Some final tips on how to get there: Southwest files direct from Baltimore to Seattle. Amtrak offers daily service from Seattle to Vancouver. (The views up the Pacific coast line—we saw bald eagles in flight—can't be beat.)