The flavours of West Coast USA

West coast USA is a melting pot of flavours waiting to be delved into, from the craft beer culture of Oregon to the fresh seafood of Washington and beyond…

Team Wanderlust
16 January 2024
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All images: Shutterstock

The food and drink scene along America’s enchanting West Coast region is one of the most exciting in the country. At its heart, a bounty of fresh regional ingredients and plentiful Pacific Ocean seafood, which world-class chefs and makers concoct into memorable tastes to savour at food carts, farm-to-table restaurants, wineries and breweries the state over.

California

The Golden State is America’s most culturally diverse, reflected in its vibrant food scene, a rich mix of Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean influences and contrasting regional ingredients, spanning the sun-soaked south to the cooler north. It’s also a world-leading wine producer, too, with many restaurants across the state designing menus to complement local tipples.

What to eat

Spooling north from sunny San Diego to cosmopolitan Los Angeles, Southern California is big on Mexican flavours, thanks to its proximity to the border. Street food, available from taco trucks, burrito stands, and taquerias, takes centre stage. Fish tacos, a San Diego speciality, pair perfectly with elote, grilled corn on the cob slathered in mayonnaise, crema (sour cream), chilli powder, then topped with Cotija cheese. Fusion food – like Korean BBQ tacos, sushi burritos, or ramen burgers – is another SoCal staple alongside a health-conscious dining scene centred around LA and Greater Palm Springs. Moving into the cooler north, from San Louis Obispo Country to the border with Oregon, the focus is on local agriculture, fresh seafood and the farm-to-table movement. Key player, San Francisco, is a must-visit city for foodies. It’s home to more than 30 Michelin-starred restaurants and is renowned for its sourdough bread, a unique speciality of the region, that people travel cross country to sample.

What to drink

Some 4,000 wineries dot the Californian landscape, making it ripe for an adventure in wine. Napa in the north is the state’s most famous region, known for its rich cabernet sauvignons and boutique wineries that attract a well-heeled crowd. When it comes to craft beer, Highway 78 just north of San Diego, known as the Hops Highway, is the chance to sample the state’s famously hoppy, citrusy West Coast IPAs. For something unique, head to the Coachella Valley, known as the Date Capital of the World, to sample a regional date milkshake whipped with ice cream.

Oregon

The hallmark of Oregon’s food and drink scene is abundance, from the plentiful fresh fish and seafood and the bounty of locally grown and foraged ingredients, like black truffles, chanterelle mushrooms and earthy Marionberries, to the phenomenal number of culinary establishments across the city from food trucks to breweries.

What to eat

Portland, Oregon’s largest city, is the state’s undisputed culinary hub, often referred to as the USA’s best food city. Its culinary identity revolves around its food truck scene. There are 900 and counting, parked in pods around the city, many run by world-class chefs. The range of affordable, high-quality dishes is mind-blowing, from sushi made with Oregon Coast-caught fish to intricate Mexican tacos to beautifully presented Northern Chinese savoury crepes. Portland runs the gamut of incredible brick-and-mortar restaurants, too, but the city’s artisanal values spill out across the rest of the state. There are plenty more culinary experiences beyond Portland, such as atmospheric alfresco dinners on farms throughout the region, while the coastline is dotted with fish shacks selling generous oyster shooters, drizzled in chilli sauce. Oregon has been at the forefront of the USA’s cheese revolution and several creameries across the state offer you the chance to see the secrets behind their sumptuous cheesemaking. For dessert, don’t overlook the Marionberry pie. This state speciality is made with a type of blackberry named after Oregon’s Marion County where the berry first grew.

What to drink

Dubbed the world’s best beer city, Portland is home to around 70 breweries serving a selection of beer, from pilsners to IPAs, that are as impressive as the number of breweries. Much of the beer they serve is made using hops that grow tall up poles in yards set among the rows of grape vines in the state’s wine region. Fast becoming well-known for its exceptional West Coast wine, the tranquil Willamette Valley, less than an hour from Portland, is home to 500-plus wineries. The region is best known for producing, among others, superb pinot gris bottles and innovative sparkling wines. Also pocking the state are several craft distilleries producing whiskies, gins, vodkas and more, which in turn have led to a raft of creative local cocktails.

Washington

Home to a longstanding coffee scene, Washington also has an edge when it comes to seafood. Many call it the seafood capital of the west coast, thanks to the sheer variety available, from salmon and oysters to clams and crabs. But it’s also home to a diverse community of farmers and foragers who come together to grow and harvest ingredients like lavender, asparagus, mushrooms and apples.

What to eat

Washington is an agriculturally rich state, but seafood and shellfish are mainstays, while its diverse culinary scene is centred around the state’s biggest city, Seattle. Here, menu staples include oysters plucked from the inland waters of the Puget Sound; three of the five types of Pacific salmon ­– chinook (also known as king), coho, sockeye; the west coast’s famous Dungeness crab, named after the nearby Olympic Peninsula, and finally the geoduck pronounced ‘gooeyduck’, an odd-looking giant mollusc served as sashimi. When in Seattle, a visit to its iconic century-old, Pike Place Market, is a must for food lovers. It’s the city’s original farmers’ market which celebrates the best of the state’s locally sourced, artisan and speciality foods. A case in point is Chukar Cherries, a family-owned business whose orchard is at the heart of Washington’s Yakima Valley, a fruit-growing region known for its bounty of cherries, apples, grapes and pears. Their chocolate-smothered cherries have become a beloved treat across the state and their central location in Pike Place Market is a great place to try them. Come autumn in Washington, chefs create dishes using golden brown chanterelles, foraged locally in forests, loved for their versatility.

What to drink

Washington isn’t well known for its wine, but its languid eastern vineyards make up the second-largest wine-producing state in the country behind California. Its flavour-rich cabernet sauvignons rival those from world-class big hitter, Napa. As the birthplace of Starbucks, we can’t talk about Seattle without mentioning its coffee scene, which continues to thrive in time-worn hangouts and new-wave espresso spots. As Washington is the USA’s biggest apple producer, the state boasts a relatively young but undeniably thriving craft cider industry. Seattle is at the tasting epicentre, home to the likes of Capitol Cider, the largest independent cider bar in the country, with 20 rotating ciders on tap and more than 200 unique bottles.

Explore with the experts

Have we whet your appetite to take a bite out of west coast USA’s culinary scene? Enter American Holidays, a USA travel specialist with more than 35 years’ experience in creating tailor-made itineraries, from exciting city breaks to dreamy beach escapes and foodie adventures. Their expert team will help create a menu of appetising culinary experiences for your next trip.

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