Vashon doesn’t have the culinary offerings of the mainland, but neither is it your typical small-town restaurant scene. There is a legit sushi joint (Red Bicycle Bistro, natch), a Chinese restaurant, two Mexican restaurants, a new Indian place, a farm-to-table establishment and the island’s most popular spot, the Hardware Store Restaurant, built in the 121-year-old building of Vashon’s former hardware store. Out front hangs a sign that reads, “Today’s special ... so is tomorrow.”
Inside, the northern walls are adorned with stained-glass transoms from the original building advertising, among other things, “Aladdin Lamps and Accessories” and “Guns and Ammo.” The cuisine is essentially upmarket comfort food, with signature dishes like buttermilk fried chicken and Dungeness crab cakes with roasted red pepper aioli.
So next time you’re in the Seattle area, take a day or so and get lost on Vashon’s backcountry roads. Have lunch Uptown and then get lost on the backcountry roads, stopping off to sample a tomato at one of the farm stands you’ll inevitably encounter before you rediscover the highway. Pull on a pair of rubber boots and go clamming in Tramp Harbor at low tide, then, still dressed like a longshoreman, stop in at the Blue Heron Art Center to see its latest exhibition. You’ll fit right in. Finally, get down to the Burton Coffee Stand before it closes at 3 and say hi to Kathy and all those island eccentrics who will treat you like their long-lost neighbor. And who knows? One of them could be me.
IF YOU GO
Vashon is accessible from the Kitsap Peninsula in the west and also Tacoma in the south, but most people will arrive from the east, via West Seattle. Ferries from West Seattle run every 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the time of day.
For lodging, think about what you’re seeking. Visitors looking to connect with Vashon’s arts scene will want to consider the Artist’s Studio Loft northeast of town (206-463-2583; vashonbedandbreakfast.com; $119 to $215 a night). Those most interested in Vashon’s small-town feel will do well staying in Burton, where the Quartermaster Inn is shutting down, but a new tenant should be opening doors to guests soon. (Call Vashon Chamber of Commerce, 206-463-6217, for details.) And people just looking for an escape to rural beauty should try the Swallow’s Nest Guest Cottages (206-463-2646; vashonislandcottages.com; $105 to $230) on Maury, where two of the cottages have great views of the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier.
The Hardware Store Restaurant (17601 Vashon Highway SW; 206-463-1800; thsrestaurant.com) is Vashon’s central hub, and for that reason it’s good to make reservations for a Friday or Saturday. Down the street, the Red Bicycle Bistro (17618 Vashon Highway SW; 206-463-1800; redbicyclebistro.com) has live music on Fridays and great sushi, but the chef gets overloaded fairly often, so you might think about going early or late.