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Wondering where to eat in Victoria, British Columbia? Here’s everything you need to know about what’s new and notable – the best restaurants, cafes, pubs and more – in one indispensable guide.
by Sue Campbell
Even for those who regularly visit Victoria, there’s a tendency to think of British Columbia’s capital city as a government town famous for its blossoms, beautiful Inner Harbour and the most consistently temperate climes in Canada. But a foodie destination? Not so much.
But my recent visits on the hunt for everything new and cool has revealed there’s been a quiet, yet powerful, revolution changing Victoria’s food and drink scene in a big way.
So, let’s go explore the top places to eat and drink in Victoria now…
The Courtney Room – New Elevated Dining
We begin at the lovely downtown luxury boutique Magnolia Hotel where- after 20 years of outsourcing their restaurant operations- they decided to create their own dining room. The result is The Courtney Room, an ethereal split-level space anchored by a bar/brasserie leading to an upper floor dedicated to upscale dining.
Barely over a year-old, it has already appeared on two prestigious best of Canada lists and garnered a major wine award. It’s a must visit spot to witness how the chefs wow discerning diners with a small, yet sensational menu of seasonal land and sea specialties and creative sides. The bar – manned by top-notch mixologists-is also an ideal spot to enjoy fresh oysters and killer cocktails.
The Farm to Fork Movement
The prime Pacific Coast location, fresh fish and seafood are a given in Victoria, but it’s only in the past few years that Victorians have been seriously looking to the land and sustainable farming to enhance menus.
Today, you’ll find scads of spots touting local lamb, duck, chicken, pork, organic greens, homegrown fruits and vegetables and seasonal specialties mined by local foragers.
New restaurants in Victoria like Sherwood are right on board offering fresh, healthy and farm-driven dishes while landmark, well-established spots like Zambri’s have been eager to incorporate free-range meats and locally grown organic veggies into their specialties as well.
Afternoon Tea & Teahouses
The Fairmont Empress Hotel is world-renowned for its Afternoon Tea at the Empress, they’ve been serving it in high style for over a century, and it’s a signature Victoria experience you don’t want to miss.
Related: Check out this review of the fancy Vegan Afternoon Tea served at the Empress for all the delicious details.
And tiny Venus Sophia TeaRoom is becoming well known for their elegant vegetarian tea service as well. But for EVERYTHING tea related, Silk Road in Chinatown is the absolute epicentre. The massive store and tasting bar boast hundreds of types, and lots of tea-related products, plus they also have a tea spa on site!
If maccha is more your cup of tea, them head to tiny little artisan boutique teabar Jagasilk, tucked away in an alley off Courtney St. They are masters of maccha, and they also serve tea lattes, kombucha, and offer tasting classes and in-depth tea education.
Reimagined and Inventive Menus
Olo Restaurant (meaning hungry in Chinook) goes a step further by proudly announcing their farm-to-table commitment right on their sign. It’s a tiny enclave tucked away in Chinatown that’s very big on rotating offerings depending on what’s in season, so your best bet is always the daily specialties. During our visit, that included Octopus & Pork Belly panisse, smoked paprika hummus and celery root.
Or visit The Public Market (a great spot for lunch in Victoria) to find The Very Good Butcher where they’ve completely reimagined how plant-based fare can taste exactly like, or better than, the carnivore equivalent. (They butcher beans!)
Related: Check out the Insider’s Guide to the Best Vegan Restaurants in Victoria by the Vegan Vacationista for more tips on plant-based dining in Victoria.
And for something completely different, seek out the Sult Pierogi Bar where they call their creative array of dumpling versions “New Canadian Cuisine.” They even have pierogi poutine!
Fresh Fish & Seafood Restaurants
Being set on the Pacific Coast of BC, almost all restaurants in Victoria will have some sort of catch-of-the-day such as halibut, cod, salmon and trout when it’s in season. It’s easy to figure out which spots specialize in the bounty of the sea by their names like: Nautical Nellies, Blue Crab Bar & Grill, Pescatores … you get the idea. Seriously, you can’t go wrong at most.
But the absolute best casual spot in town is Red Fish Blue Fish. Housed in an old cargo container right on the wharf, they are famous for their golden crispy fish and chips and deep-fried oysters.
They also make a mean fish taco, including a jerk style version, and eating outside in the salty air adds its own fresh-from-the-sea flavor.
Alluring Asian Influences
Though tiny, Victoria’s Asian quarter is the oldest Chinatown in Canada, and the ancient narrow lanes like famed Fan Tan Alley hold great allure for secrets shops and clandestine cafes. But you’ll find oodles of noodle houses, Vietnamese, Thai, and Japanese restaurants, scads of sushi spots, and of course Cantonese dining rooms and take-outs all over the city.
However, it’s Don Mee – an anchor of Chinatown since 1923 – that’s the place to be for the best and most extensive dim sum lunch in town. (Served until 2:30pm.) At night, they specialize in Cantonese and Sichuan specialties like Peking duck, and a huge selection of other classic favourites.
A Spirited Revolution
Purple gin? Yep, you heard right! Victoria Distillers makes this lovely shade of spirit they call Empress 1908 at their production facility out in Sidney by the Sea. What makes this gin such a lovely shade of deep violet is the butterfly pea blossom flower, just one of the eight different botanicals that gives it such a unique taste. Learn all about how they make their signature spirits in copper pot stills when you take a tour that ends with ample samplings.
You’ll also be able to sample many excellent certified organic local apple ciders as well if you visit The Sea Cider Farm on the Saanich Peninsula. Taste and rate a flight of six different types at their beautiful orchard on the sea. They make over two dozen different types from the 50 varieties of heritage apples grown on their 10-acre farm.
Craft Beer & Brew Pubs
Victoria is home to Canada’s very first brewpub – Spinnakers which opened in 1984. And today, brewpubs and artisan breweries are everywhere! The best way to discover them is with an outing from West Coast Brewery Tours who will shuttle you around to enjoy tastings.
From charming little boutique operations like Category 12 to the gargantuan Phillip’s Brewery, you’ll enjoy behind-the-scenes tours and lots of tastings without having to worry about driving.
Or wander what they call “the beer mile”- a stretch along the Upper Harbour region that includes four different brewpubs. And just about every dining spot in town has a decent selection of locally brewed beer – just ask!
Delicious Curated Cycling and Walking Tours
There’s so much new to discover when it comes to places to eat and drink in Victoria that you might need help figuring out where your time will be best spent. But for guests staying at the Magnolia Hotel, they have it all mapped out. Literally.
The Magnolia team has created an exciting collection of “Curated Trails”– hard copy maps on a theme like “Culinary Trailblazers”, “Tapa Trails”, “Tea-riffic Trails”, and the downtown grid is very walkable, so exploring on foot on a self-guided walking tour is a breeze.
The hotel also provide guests with complimentary Norco cruisers, helmets, and locks, should they wish to pedal to the cool spots identified on the maps . They’ve also created special cycle themed maps for their guests like the “Blooms, Beer and Bikes Trail”.
Travel Guide for Where to Eat in Victoria Now
Where to Stay in Victoria: The Magnolia Hotel & Spa is a warm and welcoming luxury boutique stay just steps away from the downtown Inner Harbour area of Victoria, BC. The 64 rooms range from comfortable studios to large corner rooms replete with fireplaces and deep soaking tubs. It’s an award-winning hotel with a deluxe spa on site, a small fitness center, and a few boardrooms for business meetings. Their on site restaurant The Courtney Room includes a large bar and brasserie style dining area apart from the more upscale level which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Check availability and rates at the Magnolia Hotel & Spa.
Official Tourism BC: Get visitor, maps and travel information www.hellobc.com
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