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Ivar’s Famous Tartar Sauce

June 7, 2015

By Kath Dedon


People in Seattle have been enjoying Ivar’s Famous Tartar Sauce since 1938. That’s when Ivar Haglund opened a small fish and chips stand on the Seattle waterfront. By 1946 his business was doing well but he realized that people wanted a sit-down restaurant so he opened Ivar’s Acres of Clams. Ivar’s Acres of Clams is still on the waterfront, although it is temporarily closed for the city’s seawall restoration project. Ivar’s website advises to “Keep Clam”; they’re planning to reopen on July 1, 2015.

Fortunately for Ivar’s fans, people have been able to get their Ivar’s fix during this closure at one of their many other venues. There are two other restaurants, seafood bars, and seafood stands at the major sports venues in town.

Throughout his career, Ivar was one of the greatest cheerleaders for the Pacific Northwest. He was famous for his puns, wacky publicity stunts, and later for his television commercials. He was truly a beloved Seattle character. He died in 1985 at the age of 79 but his legacy lives on with his restaurants and seafood company.

In December 2013 I went to a Tom Douglas Cookbook Social with Joan, Laura, and Carrie. Bob Donegan, the current President of Ivar’s, Inc., was there with a newly published cookbook celebrating Ivar’s 75 years, Ivar’s Seafood Cookbook, the O-fish-al Guide to Cooking the Northwest Catch by “The Crew at Ivar’s” and Jess Thompson. He was also serving samples of Chris Garr’s House-Made Bacon-Wrapped Halibut which was delicious. I made a mental note that I wanted to check out the book. Laura secretly bought an autographed copy and surprised me with it for my birthday a few weeks later!

The cookbook is a delightful history of Ivar’s with lots of photos, historical information, cartoons, and trivia. It’s a fun look at the past for anyone who was in Seattle in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Jess Thompson is credited for all of the puns that are in the book. They really capture the spirit of Ivar Haglund.

I made Ivar’s Famous Tartar Sauce and it worked really well with my Homemade Dungeness Crab Cakes. Making your own tartar sauce means you get to control the ingredients. I wanted to make an egg-free version so I subbed a vegan mayonnaise for regular mayonnaise. Serious Eats did a taste test of 4 different brands of vegan mayonnaise and Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo came out on top. I have to say that it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between it and regular mayonnaise.

Ivar’s Famous Tartar Sauce is great with seafood, but it would also be a delicious dip for vegetables or French fries. The cookbook even suggests adding some lemon juice and using it as a dip for asparagus. If you like being in charge of the ingredients in your food, I think you’ll enjoy this one. And if you love seafood and would like a glimpse into mid-century Seattle, I highly recommend Ivar’s Seafood Cookbook!


Ivar's tartar sauce


Ivar’s Famous Tartar Sauce

(Adapted from the recipe in Ivar’s Seafood Cookbook)


(print the recipe)


Makes 2 cups


¼ cup chopped yellow onions

2 tablespoons chopped green bell pepper

2 tablespoons dill pickle relish

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1½ teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups mayonnaise  (Use a vegan mayonnaise for vegan or egg-free.)


Unsweetened pickle relish

pickle relish


1. Put everything except the mayonnaise in a food processor and process for 10 seconds. (A small 3-cup capacity food processor works fine.)

small food processor


2. Add the mayonnaise and process for an additional 15 seconds.


Finished tartar sauce made with egg-free (vegan) Just Mayo


Ivar's Famous Tartar Sauce


8 Comments leave one →
  1. roberta permalink
    August 28, 2016 4:28 pm

    Closest to Ivars I have had. To try new today adding 1/8 tsp capers

    • August 28, 2016 5:12 pm

      I like the idea of adding capers, Roberta! Thanks for your comment.

  2. November 19, 2017 3:27 pm

    Thank you, I’m trying this tonight. I would love to find out the ingredients for the coating on Ivar’s Salmon and chips. I bought the cookbook but that only shows the batter coating which is different.

    • November 19, 2017 3:57 pm

      Hi Dave, I hope you enjoy the tartar sauce as much as we do. I don’t have any other recipes for Ivar’s salmon other than what’s in the book.

      • Larry permalink
        May 26, 2018 10:29 pm

        Try Louisiana Fish Fry, regular not spicy. No Ivar’s in Arizona so I use this, pretty close. Ivar’s customer since ‘49.

        • Dave O permalink
          August 17, 2018 4:33 pm

          I do enjoy the Louisiana Fish Fry, but I guess I’ll have to get a job at Ivars at Sea Tac so can find out just what’s in their mix.

  3. Justin permalink
    July 2, 2018 4:44 am

    Thanks! I grew up in the Seattle area and that is one of the food items I miss a lot from the northwest. Along with maple bars and other stuff. 😦 Since moving to PA, every tartar sauce pales in comparison to Ivar’s(especially all the tartar sauces that use sweet pickles instead of dill!) and I have tried a LOT of them. I am bookmarking this to try making later.

    Ivar’s used to sell their tartar sauce on their website but apparently shut it down because of rising fedex costs. They were going to get me an estimate for shipping to the east coast but never got back to me once I gave them my address. So, I’ll try making it myself instead.

    • July 2, 2018 8:02 am

      I love your comment, Justin! I hope you enjoy this version. The ingredients are slightly different from the ones on the tartar sauce that Ivar’s sells commercially, but I think that’s because they have to include some things as preservatives. This recipe is the one they published in their “Ivar’s Seafood Cookbook” so it’s the real deal and it’s good.

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