It’s hard for me to persuade many Seattle-area readers to head north to explore the drinking and eating scene in Skagit Valley — except when tulips are blooming in the field. Guess what’s blooming in the field soon?
One of the region’s biggest spring attractions, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival returns (April 1-30), with all the pageantries and walking tours for those ready to shed their cabin fever.
Most hit the tulip fields around La Conner first. I head straight to Cocina Sabores in Mount Vernon for a chile verde pork burrito, arguably the best Mexican bite you can get in Skagit Valley.
Or if you have an hour between tulip hopping, here are two itineraries to explore the culinary bounties of the valley.
Higgins Airport Way by the Skagit Regional Airport
The row of warehouses by the Burlington airport doesn’t jibe with some idyllic image of an eating and drinking destination, especially when the roar of small jets taking off sometimes stalls conversations at the beer gardens. But two stellar breweries plopped down tasting rooms near the runway. Nearby is an up-and-coming baker peeking her head out of her service window to greet you when you pull up into the warehouse lot and also a seafood market that specializes in lobster rolls.
Four miles west of downtown Burlington, this warehouse district has farm-to-table cred, with heavyweights such as Skagit Valley Malting, which sources much of our grains for craft beer and whiskey and Cairnspring Mills, where some of the nation’s best restaurants get their flour including the acclaimed Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.
Seattle’s storied fine dining institution Canlis runs a test kitchen inside the Washington State University-run Breadlab to experiment with different heirloom grains and food from Skagit farmers. One of the nation’s best single malts, Westland Distillery in Seattle, purchased 88 acres here partly to start an organic barley farm for its estate whiskey.
Start 4 miles east of the airport, on Highway 20, at the service window of Skagit’s Own Fish Market. Get its much-hyped lobster roll, justifiable at $26.99 when you consider its meat with little fillers. Or order the fiery play on the shrimp po’boy ($14.99), then grab your sandwich and high-tail to Garden Path Fermentation or Chuckanut Brewery’s South Nut Taproom. If you’ve never heard of Garden Path, it’s likely because beer geeks hoard all the bottles when Garden Path’s sours and barrel-aged brews are delivered to Seattle bottle shops. That’s not a problem if you go right to the source. Garden Path stocks dozens of its ales on tap and in bottles. Its Skagionian Lager Ale is one of the best beers I’ve had this year.
A half-mile southeast sits Chuckanut Brewery, which makes some of the region’s most acclaimed Pilsners. Around the corner from that taproom, you can grab some ginger-molasses spice cookies at the new Water Tank Bakery under talented baker Rachael Grace Sobczak. For a more substantial bite to fortify you between beer stops, wolf down a burger or cheesesteak at the new bistro Skagit Landing near the hangar.
This historical farming community, 7 miles north of the Skagit Regional Airport, has reinvented itself into a food tourist attraction. A new fine dining bistro, Cob + Cork has opened at the crossroads of Chuckanut Drive and Bow Hill Road. At the dead end of the street in this hamlet stands a collection of buildings that houses a pizza shed, distillery, brewery and recently a speakeasy-inspired cocktail den, all under the banner of Terramar Brewstillery, a sleek micro-hood that would feel right at home in the Ballard Brewery District or the Pike-Pine Corridor.
But the reason you might see a caravan of Subarus and SUVs with bike racks and RocketBoxes making a pit stop here is because, as one mountain biker announced, “Mariposa Taqueria is back, baby!” The much loved taco shack was sidelined last summer after an Audi rammed into the building, and it took much community fundraising to rebuild it before its masa cakes and duck-fat tamales could be served again by winter. Its spacious outdoor dining area fills up quickly on weekends. If you prefer a quiet or romantic hideaway, hit the back patio of Slough Food cafe.
But you shouldn’t leave without getting some potato bread and pastries from Scott Mangold and Renée Bourgault, the couple who helped put this tiny town on the map when they opened their acclaimed Breadfarm bakery in 2003. (If you’re not an early riser, reserve their pastries online. Otherwise, you might be staring at crumbs on empty shelves come 2 p.m.) Call dibs on a Cinnamon Snail — a croissant dough with the trappings of a cinnamon roll and the sugar caramelization of a kouign-amann — my vote for best pastry in Skagit Valley.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.