Vancouver Island, a 90-minute ferry ride from the city of Vancouver, is two-thirds the size of the UK but boasts a diverse landscape that ranges from mountains to beaches to rainforest, and locavore restaurants that span everything from food trucks to fine dining.Here’s our pick of the best restaurants on Vancouver Island to inspire your next culinary adventure.
Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city, is situated in the south of the island and is at the forefront of the region’s burgeoning cocktail scene. Once known for its gardens and afternoon teas; now trendy travellers are flocking here to check out cocktail bars like Little Jumbo, Bengal Lounge and Clive’s Classic Lounge.
Stop by the Inner Harbour to pick up some sustainable fish and chips from Red Fish Blue Fish, housed in a converted shipping container, or head to 10 Acres Bistro + Bar + Farm to sample meat and vegetables grown at their very own farm in the nearby Saanich Peninsula, which is 20 minutes north of Victoria.
Slightly further north of Victoria is the other agritourism area of the Cowichan Valley. Hidden amongst the lakeside forest you’ll find some great food spots such as Stone Soup Inn, a gourmet farm restaurant and B&B that uses locally-grown, fished, and foraged ingredients in their tasting menu; making the most of produce sourced by the chef from surrounding markets, farms and forests.
Many of the best restaurants on Vancouver Island can be found on farms and the Bistro at Merridale is a dining experience set in a working cider orchard with views of the apple trees from the patio. The menu utilizes the Cowichan Valley’s local producers from artisan cheese makers to vegetable-growers, and features pairings with the cider, which is distilled on the farm.
South of Victoria, on the tip of the Island, is Sooke Harbour House, an inn and restaurant that has been championing local food since 1979. A pioneer of the locavore movement, the restaurant is still a destination in itself 35 years later.
Mid-Island you’ll find Comox Valley, another region rich in agriculture. Restaurants such as Locals showcase wonderful game dishes, including rabbit, bison and duck, and delicious fresh-from-the-water seafood. If you’re arriving from Vancouver on the Nanaimo ferry, leave extra time to experience some local food at the Bistro at Westwood Lake – the waterside patio is a secret spot loved by locals and visitors alike.
From Nanaimo head west across the Island, passing ancient cedar trees and the whimsical grocery store Goats on the Roof (where you will indeed find some four-legged friends wandering around above the food store). A mountain pass and a two-hour drive will bring you out amongst the rainforest of Tofino, on the western edge of the Island.
Here, the edge-of-the-world town has a fast-growing food scene that showcases the abundance of fresh seafood – from Dungeness crab to Humbolt Squid and Bamfield seaweed. You’ll find everything from famed fish taco truck Tacofino, popular with surfers who come to hit the waves all year-round, and the rustic Wildside Grill, to fine dining establishments such as award-winning The Pointe Restaurant at The Wickaninnish Inn.
Chef-run restaurants such as Shelter, Spotted Bear and Sobo have brought attention to Tofino over the years and the recently opened Wolf in the Fog has put the tiny town on the culinary map. Headed up by Chef Nick Nutting, previously at The Pointe, the new restaurant focuses on sharing plates that present the best seafood the Island has to offer. Behind the bar you’ll find foraged cocktails that include local ingredients such as cedar bark and salmonberries.
Header image: Wolf in the Fog Spanish Picnic © Chris Pouget
What are your favourite restaurants on Vancouver Island? Have you visited any of the restaurants mentioned here? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Amy Watkins