From British Columbia’s capital city of Victoria to the Pacific Coast surf town of Tofino, we’ve got the scoop on where to eat this summer on Western Canada’s vacation island.
Little Jumbo, Victoria
At the end of a narrow hallway, this downtown Victoria bistro feels like a secret speakeasy, tucked into a snug space with exposed brick walls. Cocktail connoisseurs are glad that the Prohibition era is long past, though, with drinks like the Cascadia Cup (an island spin on the Pimm’s Cup with gin, Punt e Mes, Cointreau, berry Victoria tea syrup, lemon juice, cedar bitters and Fever-Tree bitter lemon) and local microbrews on tap. Pair your drinks with housemade charcuterie or imaginative small plates like albacore tuna poke topped with creamy avocado sorbet. Want something heartier? Try the duck breast with potato fondant and broccolini salad or the lamb duo, matching seared rack and pulled shank with a cannellini bean ragout.
OLO Restaurant, Victoria
For several years, chef Brad Holmes and his partner Sahara Tamarin operated Ulla, a fine-dining destination in Victoria’s Chinatown. Earlier this year, they closed that successful restaurant and reopened OLO, a more casual — but no less fine — eatery, in the same Fisgard Street space. Take a seat under the whimsical wooden light fixtures, woven like oversized birds’ nests, and order such seasonally specific dishes as spot prawn bisque with roasted peppers and sorrel, sea urchin and angel hair pasta, or even a simple fennel-cucumber salad that packs punches of flavor. If all of that sounds overwhelming, just put yourself in the competent kitchen’s hands with the “family meal,” a multi-course feast for the whole table.
The Pointe Restaurant, Tofino
When you want to woo a special someone or celebrate a significant event, there are few better dining destinations on Canada’s west coast than The Pointe Restaurant at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Wickaninnish Inn Tofino. Perched out over the sea, with wraparound views of the surf below, this rustically elegant eatery specializes in seafood and other regional ingredients. Starters range from rockfish ceviche with charred cucumber to local sweetbreads with nectarines and onion chutney. Mains might include slow-cooked salmon with a sunflower tapenade, sablefish paired with local chanterelles, or a grilled beef tenderloin served with kelp-baked island-grown vegetables. The lengthy wine list features both B.C. and international labels. Linger after dinner with a glass from the collection or the establishment’s extensive Scotch roster.
North 48, Victoria
When you’re looking for a laid-back lunch, happy-hour hangout or modern-diner meal, navigate your way to downtown Victoria for a tiki cocktail and a bite at this relaxed restaurant and bar. The kitchen takes pub grub up several notches, with its wings (duck, with housemade hot sauce), fried pickles in a tempura batter and cheese whiz (made in-house and served with a grilled baguette). You can also go for creative comfort fare like chicken and waffles, mussels and fries, or octopus tacos. For our money, the don’t-miss dish is the fried Brussels sprouts salad with pickled onions and maple-bacon vinaigrette.
The Bistro at Westwood Lake, Nanaimo
The Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo is a convenient ferry port and jumping-off point for excursions across the isle. It’s also home to one of the island’s most unexpected locations for an excellent lunch or dinner. Drive about 15 minutes west of downtown, pull up to the Westwood Tennis Club and — surprise! — you’ll find a top-notch lakeside bistro hidden behind the courts. You might lead off your meal with spot prawns simply sautéed with white wine and shallots, or a salad of endive, walnuts and Gorgonzola. When you want to amp up your game, try the pan-seared salmon served with warm potato and corn salad or pork tenderloin matched with wild mushroom risotto. For the win? The delicate lemon semifreddo topped with fresh berries or the rich, dark chocolate truffle tart.
Wolf in the Fog, Tofino
Critics across Canada have been lauding this informal dining spot in the west coast surfer town of Tofino as one of the country’s best new restaurants. And after sampling the contemporary regional fare that chef Nicholas Nutting and his team turn out in their window-lined, second-floor dining room, we have to agree. Start with the potato-crusted oyster, a briny bivalve wrapped in a delicate web of crisp potato threads. Then, order whatever fresh item you fancy, from the baked halibut with herbed gnocchi and radishes to the grilled Cornish hen with sunchokes and morels. Or, dig into feed-the-gang share plates like Szechuan Surf & Turf (a platter of braised shortribs, spicy grilled octopus, sweet potatoes and bok choy) or the Mighty Duck (an entire barbecued duck paired with beetroot and gorgonzola lasagna). Save room for the Tofino Blackout, a fantasia of chocolate served in a jar.