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.