Considered Canada’s most romantic city, Victoria is also popular with families — just ask Prince William and Kate, who recently visited with the royal kids in tow. It’s got everything you could possibly want for a getaway — a casual West coast vibe, mild weather, stunning access to nature, and a compact, pedestrian-friendly downtown. It’s also the birthplace of the 100-mile diet and is a place with an overabundance of fantastic local seafood, produce, cheese, and locally brewed beer. Find out where to dine like a local in Victoria, British Columbia, on your next visit.
Aura is the waterfront restaurant at the luxurious Inn at Laurel Point. It offers incredible views looking back on both the harbor and the city from a unique vantage point. The sleek and modern restaurant is a favorite among locals for a romantic meal. It’s known for creativity, showcasing local products with Japanese and French influences with great technical finesse. Signature dishes under award-winning chef Takashi Ito include playful Deep Fried Sushi, a deconstructed delight that combines torched albacore tuna with a dashi-poached side stripe shrimp, soy onion salad, togarashi mayo and seaweed salad with fried nori and rice crisps, and his luscious risotto made from local British Columbia brown rice, house smoked almond milk, chanterelles, shaved cauliflower, fennel pollen, orange crisp, truffle oil, and preserved egg yolk. Make a reservation at Aura.
Veneto Tapa Lounge
Veneto Tapa Lounge is a chic cocktail bar and small plate restaurant divided into two main parts — the front section by the bar is lively and the restaurant tables in back a bit more intimate. The whole place has a cool midcentury modern look. The menu includes a myriad of options from small shareable snacks to large plates with an appealing range of comfort food classics, from mac and cheese and fried chicken and waffles to more exotic options, such as crispy pork belly and pan-seared chili basil scallop or warm Indian chickpea salsa served with naan bread and cucumber raita. But the top draw here may just be the cocktails. The menu offers classics but also wildly inventive options that change up every six weeks or so. Undecided? Spin the wheel. Choose a spirit of choice and a flavor such as sweet, bitter, savory, or tart or a combination thereof and then let the bartenders take it from there. Make a reservation at Veneto Tapa Lounge.
Tea at the Empress Hotel
Taking tea in the bright and cheery tea lobby set against the picturesque backdrop of the Inner Harbor is a must for visitors to Victoria. Tea includes signature raisin scones with preserves and cream and savory and sweet treats prepared in-house daily to be enjoyed with a tea blend created specifically for The Fairmont Empress, served in dainty William Edwards china and a sterling silver service. Small tables and couches give the experience a cozy and intimate feel but with no lack of sophistication. From now until November 30 in conjunction with the royal visit, the Fairmont Empress will be serving their Royal Afternoon Tea, designed by former executive chef to the royals Darren McGrady. Each item on the menu was hand-selected as a favorite of a member of the Royal Family. Make a reservation for Tea at the Empress Hotel.
Q at The Empress
The newly renovated dining room and lounge Q at The Empress is another prime spot for relaxed service in a traditional and elegant — yet hip and modern — environment with splashy colorful contemporary murals of Queen Victoria. From the lounge, you can soak up stunning vistas of the Inner Harbor, and from the dining room reflections of the hotel through stained glass windows. In addition to the typical breakfast fare of oatmeal, eggs Benedict, and Belgian waffles, diners can choose from a luscious shrimp omelet with spinach and local brie or banana bread French toast with clotted cream and fresh blueberry and orange compote. Dinners offer an abundance of roast meats and local seafood including salmon, halibut, and Dungeness crab. Make a reservation for Q at the Empress Hotel.
Set back from the street in what was once a livery for horses, Little Jumbo has a cozy speakeasy vibe and is ideal for meeting locals at the bar. Named for the Little Jumbo Saloon in NYC, it serves some of the finests cocktails in town. The cocktail list changes every six weeks, but the most popular drink is the Spurs and Saddles made with Bulleit bourbon, Cointreau, housemade sarsaparilla, and sassafras syrup, lime juice, and Angostura bitters served in a glass with a flamed hickory-smoked bourbon rinse. The food is equally creative with selections such as Chili Garlic Prawns with avocado puree, watercress and papaya salad or seasonal favorite Seared Ling Cod, served with baby potato chips, mustard greens, brown butter, and cider vinaigrette. Make a reservation at Little Jumbo.
Located in an 1894 heritage landmark building on Victoria’s downtown waterfront right next to Chinatown, Canoe is known for award-winning, small batch handcrafted beers. They offer a range of ales and lagers, but also seasonal beers and must-try signature limited-release beers like their hibiscus witbier with lemon, orange, and coriander. Get up close and personal with locals on the patio as you dine on their fall menu, which offers everything from burgers and fish and chips to fresh seafood offered up with seasonal organic vegetables and sides. Don’t miss the beer pairings. Pro tip: They also offer a menu for those who are sensitive to gluten. Make a reservation at Canoe Brewpub.
The Pacific Restaurant
The Pacific Restaurant at the Hotel Grand Pacific serves up an Asian-inspired twist on high tea with their West Coast afternoon tea. The selections are both creative and unique. Savory bites include sake-compressed cucumber on okonomiyaki and mini Dungeness crab cake with preserved lemon aioli and smoked salmon on rye bread pudding. Sweet treats encompass more traditional baked goods, such as a pumpkin spice financier, the lemon raspberry mousse slice, and a salted caramel chocolate tart. In addition to classic black teas, they pour green teas, herbal teas, and wellness teas made with a blend of white tea, green tea, and botanicals. Service is gracious, and the restaurant is particularly accommodating to families, with a special kid’s menus (even for afternoon tea). Make a reservation at The Pacific Restaurant.
A family-run restaurant, Zambri’s is considered one of the best Italian restaurants in Victoria, if not all of British Columbia. Both the wine list and the restaurant have won numerous awards, and the Italian Chamber of Commerce also certified Zambri’s as Vancouver Island’s only “authentic Italian restaurant,” the sole restaurant to have earned that distinction in Victoria. Loved by locals and visitors alike, it’s known for housemade pizza, bread, and pasta. The “Cannoli” eggplant with Fior di Latte cheese on tomato sauce scented with cumin, mint, and chili is favorite as is the crispy pork shoulder served on a bed of greens, potatoes, grapes, and radish with chili mayonnaise and a touch of tomato sauce. The spot prawns served with pasta are a highly anticipated seasonal specialty. Make a reservation at Zambri’s.
Vista 18 Martini and Wine Bar
Vista 18 is perched at the top of the Chateau Victoria Hotel in downtown Victoria, and features breathtaking scenes of Victoria’s busy Inner Harbor, the snow-capped Olympic Mountain range, Mount Baker, and the Pacific’s Strait of Georgia not to mention beautiful downtown Victoria. The menu focuses on free range, organic, and local products. The small plate menu is available from 3 until midnight with specials served up from 3-5PM. Nibble on their signature root chips with local pepper aioli or “prawn-tons” with mango salt and cardamom yogurt. Whatever you choose, it’s a prefect spot to watch the sunset or enjoy a nightcap. Make a reservation at Vista 18 Martini and Wine Bar.
The Beach House
About halfway between the airport and downtown Victoria, you’ll find The Beach House in the heart of Cordova Bay with stellar views of the beach, ocean, and the Haro Straight. Choose a window seat and you might even catch a glimpse of otters and seals. The menu features classic seafood fare with locally grown ingredients. In addition to chowder and fish and chips, their West Coast paella is a house favorite. Dig in to indigenous selections – wild pacific salmon, Haida Gwaii halibut, Vancouver Island mussels, clams, and prawns with locally produced chorizo sausage combined with saffron rice and served in a hot iron skillet topped with a sprinkle of hot chili flakes. Make a reservation at The Beach House.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Yvonne Frizon de Lamotte (Zambri’s).