written and photographed by Jackie Dodd
The absolute best beer I’ve had all year is the one I had at Hama Hama Oyster Saloon on a rainy spring afternoon. I would venture a guess it will be yours as well, no matter which beer you actually choose to drink on the bay while you eat oysters harvested just feet from where you sit.
When you work in beer, people always ask: “What’s your favorite beer?” The answer is always that a “favorite” beer has nothing to do with style, it has to do with the experience. Is it the airport beer? The first beer you have on vacation? The beer you drink as you float the river? Your favorite beer has much more to do with the experience you pair it with than it does with the beer itself. It’s why you have nostalgia goggles for the watery pale lager you drank in college.
Hama Hama, the location of the best beer in Washington, is not fine dining. In fact, there aren’t even walls. You’ll grab a beer from a small wooden kiosk as you enter the property and place your order. You’ll wander towards the water, taking a seat at an old, weathered, knotty pine picnic table nestled inside an A-frame hut on the banks of the bay. You’ll notice an almost absurdly gorgeous view of the tideflats on one side, and Douglas fir-lined mountains on the other. The oysters you will most definitely have ordered (after all, that’s the reason you came) were harvested from the very bay you gaze upon. You’ll sip your beer in anticipation, watching an oyster harvested happen just feet from your table but your eyes will dart back towards the kitchen, waiting for your delivery of goods.
The raw oysters are an obvious choice, the cold waters rendering them clean, bright and briny. But don’t overlook the roasted oysters with chipotle bourbon butter, “They’re so good. I want to frost my birthday cake with this butter,” said the woman who brought them to my table, and she’s not wrong. The flavor is bold and outstanding while still allowing the delicate oysters to shine. Which beer did I have with this feast that earned itself the title of “best beer of the year?” It was a Bodhizafa from Georgetown Brewing, which incidentally paired incredibly with the spread, but that doesn’t matter much. Any beer you would have served me in a cold pint glass, at table 16 along the Hama Hama banks would have made the cut.
Make no mistake, it’s a journey to make your way to this Oyster Saloon, it’s not on the way to anywhere and there are only a few modest accommodations nearby, but it’s a trek that every oyster-loving Washingtonian should make at least once, or better yet once a year, if you’re lucky. Sure, you could pull up to a Michelin-rated establishment in Seattle, but there is nothing more quintessential PNW than a picnic table on the bay, a cold local beer, and the best oysters you’ve ever had. It’s an experience that stays with you.
There’s a reverence here, a respect for the land, the oysters they harvest, the people who work alongside them. Hama Hama has been family run for six generations, the down-to-earth roots resonating across all aspects of what they do. Their mission of “utilize low-impact farming methods to grow world-class oysters, have fun, and leave something good for the next generation” is obvious; you can feel it walking past the oyster shell piles the size of a car, the unpretentious dining accommodations, the absolutely best-of-the-best oyster offerings, and the staff who seem genuinely happy to be there, even without a beer in their hands.
HAMA HAMA OYSTER SALOON
35846 N. U.S. HWY 101
What to Know:
- Rotating taps
- Kid- and dog-friendly
- Outdoor dining