Located across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver, Vancouver Island is Canada’s friendly frontier. The adventurous isle is home to a wealth of top-notch restaurants worth exploring after a day salmon fishing, bear watching, or kayaking. From Victoria on the eastern end to Tofino to the west, chefs are utilizing the bounty of the surrounding seas, the forests, and the fields to create modern Canuck cuisine that has North American roots but takes plenty of inspiration from the rest of the world. Here are 10 top restaurants on Vancouver Island to try.
1909 Kitchen, Tofino
Executive chef Paul Moran crafts creative small plates that benefit from the bounty of the island and its surrounding waters. Think local snap peas lavished with soy sake dressing and topped with threads of dried seaweed, steamed clams, and mussels seasoned with herbs harvested from tidal pools, albacore tartare dressed with gochujang and sea asparagus, and an indulgent white pizza featuring golden chanterelles from the forests nearby. Bonus: If you go fishing and get lucky, the kitchen is happy to prepare your catch. Make a reservation at 1909 Kitchen.
Chef Robert Cassels’s tasting menu gives guests a deep dive into his French-minded cuisine with modernist twists. Expect plenty of local flavors. Dishes might feature halibut from the nearby Haida Gwaii archipelago, Cowichan Valley chicken, and wild elderberries and chanterelles from the island’s backwoods. Optional wine pairings come from the Old World and British Columbia, while the beverage program features local ciders by Lonetree, Tod Creek, and Merridale. Make a reservation at Saveur.
Sooke Harbour House, Sooke
The tasting menu experience (three, four, or seven courses) is the best way to lose yourself in this artful menu featuring a cascade of local ingredients. The restaurant’s three-acre certified organic garden is home to over 200 herbs, greens, vegetables, and edible flowers, which all figure prominently in the dishes. Wild edibles, fresh seafood, produce, and proteins from elsewhere on and around the island are given equal attention. Meals might include Fanny Bay Kusshi oysters, locally foraged golden chanterelles, and rhubarb from nearby Whiffin Spit Farm. As you eat, you get a real sense of the place since the dining room features expansive views of the ocean and the majestic property. Make a reservation at Sooke Harbour House.
Little Jumbo, Victoria
The Fernet Branca-stained bar and its offerings are the center of attention at this genteel watering hole, but there’s a lot to love about chef Gabriel Fayerman-Hansen’s elevated pub fare. There are plenty of small bites that go down well with a cocktail or two – truffled fries, smoked olives, and freshly shucked oysters – but stick around for dinner and you’ll be richly rewarded. The house burger topped with onion bacon jam and smoked Gouda is a winner, as are corn risotto and barbecue beef ribs glistening with rum-allspice glaze. Make a reservation at Little Jumbo.
The Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay
Put your pinky out, it’s time for high tea. With stunning views of Jennie Butchart’s private garden or the Italian Garden and the sea, this is a tea service to remember. The sprawling spreads feature savory and sweet bites – from sausage rolls, salmon chowder en croute, and dainty cucumber and pickled ginger cream cheese sandwiches to vanilla peach cake, Bergamot-infused chocolate mousse, and lemon tart. There’s something for everyone, and no one leaves hungry. Make a reservation at The Butchart Gardens.
Nestled in the woodlands of the Malahat ridge, the Italian inspired farm-to-table eatery looks down on the Instagram-worthy Saanich Inlet. Local elements are menu highlights –including plenty of seafood – while the wine list is rich with regional varietals. Overall, there’s a DIY attitude in the kitchen. Breads, pastas, and ricottas are made in-house. Desserts include creative sorbet and gelatos, such as daylily, and dense Black Forest cake that will send any chocolate lover into paroxysms of joy. Make a reservation at Summit.
Ice House Oyster Bar, Tofino
There’s more to this charming seaside shuck shack than just bivalves, though you should definitely order a dozen of the day’s featured oysters. Other standout options include local snapper frizzled golden in beer batter with a side of smoked chips, salt and pepper sidestripe shrimp, braised and grilled octopus with soubise sauce, poached halibut, a Cajun crab boil for two, and the Umami Tsunami Oyster topped with mushroom ragout, Marmite, and achiote mayonnaise. Don’t forget dessert, especially the butter tart elevated with maple syrup and pecans. Make a reservation at Ice House Oyster Bar.
10 Acres Kitchen, Victoria
This locavore’s haven takes sourcing seriously. At the top of the menu, there’s a list of what comes directly from the restaurant’s organic farm. Guests can choose to order a la carte or opt for the five-course tasting. The latter might include panzanella forged from their tomatoes, housemade sourdough bread, and local pork belly, spaghetti carbonara featuring pancetta made from their farm’s pigs, and their zucchinis transformed into a cake with cream cheese mousse and orange curd. Make a reservation at 10 Acres Kitchen.
By partnering with local farms and sustainable fisheries, this 36-seat organic restaurant works diligently to showcase the best of Vancouver Island. You’ll find clever vegetarian dishes – like mushroom pepperoni and chickpea tempeh – alongside lots for carnivores to sink their teeth into, such as housemade charcuterie, classic-minded beef tartare, and local pork belly blessed with sauerkraut, golden turnips, and apples. Make your way through the options by choosing a tasting menu or simply order a la carte. Make a reservation at Agrius.
Moxie’s Grill and Bar, Campbell River
Comfort food is the name of the game at this US-Canadian chain. They don’t mess around. Consider the nachos – which weigh in at one pound (!!!) – piled high with guac and jalapeños or the poutine laden with gravy and cheese curds. For main courses, guests can tackle a pound of baby back ribs, an array of steaks, hearty pastas – including shrimp linguine tossed in a rustic tomato sauce – burgers, tacos, and sandwiches. Save room for classic desserts, including flourless chocolate cake and sticky toffee pudding drenched with caramel sauce. Make a reservation at Moxie’s Grill and Bar.
What are your recommendations for the top restaurants on Vancouver Island? Let us know in the comments or over on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credit: Nevin Martell (1909).