Written By: Stacee Sledge
Delicious dining abounds in Thurston County. Whether you hanker for a perfectly seared steak, want a fresh seafood feast, or simply crave a creative salad – carnivorous or herbivorous, you’ll find sensational options at a variety of spectacular area eateries.
For a mouthwatering teaser of tantalizing tastes, we asked five Thurston County restaurants to share their best-loved bites.
An added bonus? The Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau sponsors a monthly Capital Getaway Giveaway, and September’s features a gift certificate to each of the restaurants below. For more information, please visit www.visitolympia.com.
Downtown Olympia’s Cascadia Grill pays homage to Olympia history with the interior design in its landmark Angelus Building and its respect for doing things the old-fashioned way: with a focus on local fare and do-it-themselves techniques.
Owners Jim and Nicole Butigan are no strangers to Olympia restaurant-ing – the couple previously owned and operated Plenty in the same Cascadia Grill space. Jim now runs Cascadia Grill, while Nicole is in charge at Swing Wine Bar and Café.
Cascadia Grill grinds its own beef and lamb burgers and makes all its sauces from scratch. Buns are baked fresh daily up the street at Wagner’s European Bakery & Café.
This attention to detail brings a new level of lovely to every burger-fries-and-shake meal.
“We try to keep the ingredients local and to the region, when possible,” says Jim. “And I don’t think there’s any other burger place in the area that grinds their own meat.”
Amidst a menu with 30 different takes on the burger, one stands head and shoulders above the rest in popularity: the “Louie Louie,” a freshly ground half-pound beef burger topped with bacon and blue cheese.
“For some reason – I don’t know if it’s the name, which comes from people trying to make it the state song way back when – it’s our most popular burger,” says Jim. “Really, it’s just a good combination of flavors.”
Sure, the downtown Olympia brewery has crafted some of the Northwest’s most popular ales since 1993. But its pub also sees upwards of 600 customers on any given day who clamor for its grub, served in a separate space across the street from the brewery that tripled in size six years ago to accommodate the crowds.
The brewery is also known for blowing its boiler-powered steam whistle at 5:00 p.m. every day to signal (and celebrate) the end of the workday.
Fish Tale Brewpub manager Max DeJarnatt is particularly proud of the house-cured and -smoked meats that the pub dishes up: three types of sausage, corned beef, and salmon. But hands down the most popular item on Fish Tale’s menu is the fish tacos.
The Arctic cod Fish Tale uses – included on the preferred list of fish to consume – is blackened, not deep-fried.
“Ours are a little different because we melt cheddar and jack cheese between two tortillas to add extra heft and make it real pub fare,” says Max. “It’s a pretty loaded fish taco, with freshly made pico de gallo, cabbage, and a cilantro sour cream sauce.”
“Those things sell like crazy,” he says. “People really seem to enjoy them.”
The Iron Rabbit Restaurant and Bar in West Olympia has been serving fine dining in a comfortable bistro setting since 2005. With an emphasis on local fare, owner and operator Christian Skilling has created a unique establishment that’s both perfect for date night and fit for the whole family.
Christian and his team take special pride in sourcing sustainably and from the Northwest, whenever possible.
Why local? “It just tastes better,” Christian says emphatically.
“I source all our beef from Painted Hills, which has no hormones and no antibiotics ever. They’re Northwest farmers, and it’s high quality, natural beef.”
Christian is convinced that Painted Hills tastes better than beef generically sourced from elsewhere. “It has a certain character that I really like.”
And although the Iron Rabbit serves up a variety of brunch, lunch and dinner items, from steaks and pastas, to salmon and pork loin, the most popular item, according to Christian, is its Sicilian Burger.
“I think it’s most popular because it’s very unique,” he explains. “It has wonderful flavors with the balsamic glaze, the Northwest beef, roasted garlic, red peppers, goat cheese – they combine really well.”
The hand-forged Angus burger is finished with a flavorful pesto aioli spread and topped with spring greens.
“There’s just something magic about goat cheese in a burger that really resonates,” he says.
Since it’s been on the menu, the Sicilian Burger has had an extremely loyal following.
“We do so much more than burgers,” says Christian, “but our gourmet burgers are kind of what we’ve become known for. It’s a good place to start.”
River’s Edge at Tumwater Valley Golf Course opened two years ago after buying, gutting, and remodeling its building, which had been home to several different eateries over the past 40 years.
“We turned it into more of a sports bar for people who aren’t just 21 years old,” says owner, operator, and managing partner Patrick Knutson, with a laugh. “I suppose we think of ourselves as more of a dinner house than a sports bar.”
One glance at the restaurant’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus and it’s clear hungry customers are in for more than the stereotypical, often mediocre sports bar fare. “When you think of a sports bar, you think hot dogs and hamburgers and that’s definitely not our style,” says Patrick.
Instead, choices range from chicken fried steak and eggs to steamer clams; French dip sandwiches to beef tenderloin stroganoff.
But, according to Patrick, the most popular item at River’s Edge pops up in dishes served morning, noon, and night.
“People love our chipotle-marinated flank steak,” says Patrick. “They love it on everything: chopped up and put on nachos, with steak and eggs in the morning, or as an entrée at dinner.”
The 7-ounce dinner steak is one of the eatery’s weekly $9.95 dinner specials, but it’s always available on the dinner menu, topped with pico de gallo and garnished with frizzled, or lightly battered, deep-fried onion strings. The steak is served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes or stuffed baked potato, vegetables, and a choice of soup or salad.
Rochester’s Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel offers not one or two but four restaurants, as well as appetizers and sandwiches in one of its two lounges. And the variety of fare is impressive. From grab-and-go sandwiches to full-on fine dining, Lucky Eagle has something for everyone no matter what type of cuisine they prefer.
Considering the veritable mountain of dining choices at Lucky Eagle, director of food and beverages Steve Schrader doesn’t miss a beat when asked to name the most popular menu item: prime rib.
Found in Lucky Eagle’s fine dining restaurant, Prime Rib & Steakhouse, the slow-roasted prime rib is, naturally, the star.
“It’s the number one item, absolutely,” says Schrader.
Using only the highest quality USDA choice cuts of corn-fed beef, the steak is served in 8-ounce, 12-ounce, or 16-ounce portions alongside a house garden salad, garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and Yorkshire pudding.
That alone is more than tempting, right? But what makes the steaks, aged 21 to 28 days, even more exceptional is the way in which each portion is served.
“What makes it different than other steakhouses in the area,” says Steve, “is that we have our prime rib cart. You actually have a chef there, and he cuts it right in front of you.”
So there you have it: the five most popular menu items from five much loved Thurston County restaurants. Check out each of them and discover your own preferred dishes.
200 4th Ave W.
Olympia WA 98501
2103 Harrison Ave. NW
Olympia WA 98502
Fish Tale Brew Pub
515 Jefferson St. SE
Olympia WA 98501
4611 Tumwater Valley Dr. SE
Tumwater WA 98501
Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel
12888 188th Ave. SW
Rochester WA 98579