On all of our adventures across the United States, we’ve enjoyed some great food. There’s nothing better than experiencing local culture, and there’s no better way to do that than eating at restaurants you may not find elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but part of the adventure of life is trying something new–and when we’ve tried something new, we’ve typically been blown away by the people, the food–the whole experience. Here are five of my favorites–stop by when you’re in these towns for a fantastic food experience!
Mother’s Bistro • Portland, Oregon
The city may want to keep itself weird, but there’s nothing weird about the food at this amazing restaurant. You may feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen, surrounded by crisp white cabinetry, white linens, and feeling of home. That’s because Chef Lisa Schroeder’s goal was to create a fantastic food experience around “Mother Food,” the kind of food she would cook for her family if she had the time. Each month, a different real-life mom’s meals are featured along with familiar favorites like pot roast, chicken and dumplings–comfort food created with a distinct flair and excellence. We discovered this place on accident while in Portland for a concert–and now go back every time we’re in the city. Stop by Mother’s, because you will not be disappointed.
Carver Brewing Company • Durango, Colorado
The town of Durango has a long history of cowboys, mines, and railroads, and when we were there last summer, we wanted to eat somewhere that would give us a chance to enjoy some of that history. Walking up Main Street, we found Carver’s, featuring some sidewalk dining. The chalkboard sign was filled with promising ideas for meals, so we walked in. As the hostess walked us through the labyrinthine maze, we were disappointed to find we wouldn’t be on the street, where the action was. Instead, we were back in a back patio area. Bummer, right? Right–until the little kids discovered the swings available for them to play on, and once the food started coming out. Our waiter was from Seattle, too, which was fun–but it was the food that really knocked it out of the park. We eventually found out that this is a local institution with a long history, and the second-oldest brewpub in Colorado. Enjoy some great food and drink while the kids play on the swings.
McGlinn’s Public House • Wenatchee, Washington
We decided to get away for a few days a couple summers ago and headed over the mountains into Washington’s apple country. Driving through the town of Wenatchee, we couldn’t find anywhere that appealed to us (well, the parents–the kids would have loved to eat at Sonic) until we saw the sign for this place, located in a historic building with a storied history. We couldn’t have made a better choice. The wait staff was fantastic, the decor was full of history and great personality, and the food was stellar. McGlinn’s was such a great experience because it was fun for adults to eat there, but also so good and that the kids liked it, too. A short walk from the riverfront, McGlinn’s is a winning combination of history and contemporary excellence.
Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue • Flagstaff, Arizona
When we arrived at our hotel in Flagstaff last summer, I asked the clerk about good local food. He said, “How do you feel about singing waiters?” That’s when I knew our family had to check out Black Bart’s. Of course, for someone out of town it can be a bit disconcerting, especially when it’s dark outside and you have to drive past a bunch of RV’s to find the restaurant. It’s a Flagstaff institution for more than 35 years, but it still looked totally sketchy. The inside looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1970’s (except for theatrical musical posters which featured more recent hits like Wicked and Hamilton). The menu was pretty impressive, though, and the portions were plentiful. Everything was cooked to perfection and we agreed it was a good choice. My theatre-loving daughter and I were enjoying the posters–and suddenly a waiter began singing “Be Our Guest.” This was where the experience went from good to great. The entire wait staff joined the song and eventually all of them had a chance to shine–along with a stellar accompanist. If you want a great experience beyond just good food, definitely check out Black Bart’s next time you’re on your way to the Grand Canyon.
El Gaucho • Bellevue, Washington
I have to put this local favorite in this list, because it’s our favorite place to go for an incredible steak dinner (served to perfection by the fantastic waitstaff) or even a quick bite on a Sunday evening. El Gaucho is a throwback to 1960’s steakhouses, with tableside preparation of flaming deserts or steaks, salads, jazz music, and a style that is both classic yet contemporary. There are four El Gaucho locations (the original in Seattle, a lesser one in Portland, one in Tacoma), all with their own flavor, but we really prefer the Bellevue restaurant for the quality of the servers, the high ceilings, and ease of parking. We have celebrated anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, and more here, and we have never been disappointed. While its multiplicity of locations may make it more of a “chain,” the specificity of its Northwest theme, commitment to local food and wines, and its long history wth the city of Seattle make it feel more like an original. Whether you want to eat steak served on a flaming sword or try bananas foster prepared en flambé as you watch, El Gaucho‘s Bellevue restaurant is a wonderful dining experience.
What about you? What great restaurants have you discovered on your family adventures? Share them with us–we can’t wait to try them out!