Victoria has literally hundreds of restaurants, and rumour has it that the city has the greatest number of restaurants per capita of any city in North America behind San Francisco. But where are the best places to eat in Victoria? The challenge is to find a memorable place with excellent food, atmosphere and service. Locals have been frequenting a number of unique eateries for decades, and this staying power is usually an indication of quality, atmosphere, service and price. Victoria is home to most of the big chains, but the real culinary fun begins at the smaller locally owned establishments.
That being said, many of the established restaurants have fallen into the trap of serving the same-old-same-old for years, and the shine is starting to dull somewhat when eggs Benny and pan fries can be found absolutely everywhere in the same tired format. Some of the restaurants mentioned below—especially the breakfast joints—are trending in this direction, but they are Victoria classics and worth visiting for their iconic reputations. Equally frustrating is the trend of some higher-end establishments to provide all dazzle and little substance. We all like a creative presentation, but not at the expense of our taste buds—or wallets—which are the ultimate critics.
Best Places to Eat in Victoria: Breakfast
John’s Place has been a perennial favorite of locals and visitors for 27 years. The eggs Benedict is renowned as are the Belgian waffles with cream cheese syrup. Many photographs—including famous patrons—cover the knotty pine paneled walls, and the atmosphere is cozy with a selection of booth and table seating. You can expect a wait on weekends unless you get there early. For over 20 years, the Blue Fox Café has been serving up standard short-order brunch fare including—you guessed it—eggs Benny as well as omelet’s, breakfast quesadillas and fresh fruit. Décor is funky and off-beat with loud colours and artwork. Be prepared for lineups. Other restaurants to consider for breakfast or brunch are a newer favorite—Shine Cafe and Oswego Bistro in the Oswego Hotel.
Best Places to Eat in Victoria: Lunch
Lunch can be many things, but on the Island, seafood is a central theme. If you are on the move and the sun is shining, Red Fish Blue Fish may just be the ticket down on the pier at the foot of Wharf Street. The place seems tiny until you realize it is actually a converted shipping container. They serve up a full menu of sustainable seafood including thin batter fish and chips, a bevy of fish tacones, fish sandwiches, and BBQ salmon, tuna and oysters. Lineups can be long so get there prior to noon before the lunch crowd descends. A fixture at Fisherman’s Wharf, Barb’s Fish and Chips has been serving up good ol’ greasy battered cod and halibut for 28 years. Like Red Fish Blue Fish, you order at the window and take your food to the picnic tables along the wharf.
A relative newcomer to Fisherman’s Wharf called The Fish Store at Fisherman’s Wharf has upped the ante and is receiving rave reviews. In many cases The Fish Store compares more favourably to Barb’s by discerning diners. Carrying on the style of outdoor order-at-the-window dining, The Fish Store at Fisherman’s Wharf serves only Ocean Wise sustainable seafood. Because they are also a fish processor, during the fishing season your meal likely came directly to your plate from a fish boat tied out back. Now that is fresh!
I may be out to lunch, but be prepared for sticker shock—$20 is the standard fare for a two piece halibut and chips. I would expect this in a sit-down restaurant, but this is from a take-out shack on the wharf where, during high season, you are lucky to get a seat at a picnic table.
Vegetarians will appreciate the top rated Rebar Modern Food located in Bastion Square. Rebar features mostly vegetarian, gluten free, vegan organic food and a juice bar with a huge selection—try dozens—of juices and fruit smoothies. Well presented, the food is consistently delicious, and the menu features a full selection of salads, soups and main courses. Rebar has an outstanding cookbook called Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook that contains many of their recipes so you can cook your own favorites at home.
For westernized Mexican food, try Café Mexico at Market Square. This long time Victoria fixture has a fun atmosphere with vibrant coloured doors and beams, wood brick floor and adobe styled walls along with the paper mache parrots. Nachos are a snack favorite and the deep fried ice cream is a yummy treat. Authentic Mexican street-food can be had further out at la Taquisa on Cook Street or in Vic West, and at Hernande’z located downtown on Yates Street.
Italian Food Imports on Blanshard Street between View and Fort Street is tops for made-to-order sandwiches. Sam’s Deli at the bottom of Government Street works for sandwiches as well—just not the coffee. Head to the Tibetan Kitchen for delicious curries and Indian style food using local meats and seafood, and be sure to try the popular Tibetan pan-fried Momo. Grab a quick takeout Asian style at the popular Noodle Box with generous portions at reasonable prices and organic greens from local Haliburton Farm.
Best Places to Eat in Victoria: Dinner
Plenty of options exist for dinner, but a few stand out from the crowd. Usually packed, Il Terrazzo will satisfy your lunch or dinner appetite for tasty Italian food served in a comfortable, cozy atmosphere. Consistently ranked at or near the top of restaurants in Victoria, Il Terrazzo is a favorite for festive occasions. Well known for a good selection of pastas, pizza and excellent seafood including baked halibut, fire roasted salmon and steamed mussels, Il Terrazzo rarely disappoints. The warm brick and wood décor creates a cozy atmosphere, especially if you are in the terrazzo courtyard beside one of the six fireplaces.
Highly regarded Brasserie L’école serving French cuisine is located downtown in a former Chinese schoolhouse. A fine spot for couples to enjoy an intimate dinner, prices are on the high end for a family, with entrees ranging from $18 to over $30. The menu changes nightly to reflect local availability of seasonal products, and locals say the food is consistently delicious, and the casual yet elegant bistro ambience and service is top notch.
Heron Rock Bistro, a newer restaurant on the scene has been making a name for itself since 2005. Off the mainstream radar, this James Bay bistro makes its mission the provision of excellent food at reasonable prices. The owners support local business as much as possible including farmers, brewers, and musicians, and have created a laid back yet classy atmosphere where you can enjoy live blues and jazz several times a week. It would be unfortunate to discover this funky French bistro on your last day in Victoria when you couldn’t return for more.
In a town with stiff competition for diner dollars, Bon Rouge holds its own with an offbeat black, white and red décor contrasting with white linen service. Bon Rouge offers an elegant presentation of French classics such as onion soup, escargot and duck along with a medley of meats and seafood.
Not five star dining, but well priced comfort food for a family budget, The Old Spaghetti Factory is part of a Canadian restaurant chain centrally located at Douglas and Belleville Street. Kids will love the wide variety of pasta dishes including a full childrens menu. Located on the ground floor of the Crystal Garden on Belleville Street and Douglas Street, it is only a short walk from downtown hotels. They recommend reservations as waits are common in the summer. Another fun spot to grab a burger with the family is Red Robin Gourmet Burgers on Tolmie Ave. and Blanshard Street. The joint is usually crowded, the food unexceptional, and service can be sketchy at times, but the burger list—both chicken and beef—is long and kids can’t get enough.
Finally on our best places to eat in Victoria theme, several other restaurants to consider are Milestones on the Inner Harbour with casual dining, expansive views and a predictable menu. The Blue Crab Bar and Grill in the Coast Victoria Harbourside Hotel with great harbour views and good food, and Restaurant Matisse —award winning classic high end fine French dining. Another highly rated eatery for dinner is Ulla Restaurant serving contemporary dishes in west coast fashion. Prime Steakhouse in the Magnolia Hotel is also worth considering—steak dinner in a comfortable, quieter setting.