Named after a 19th-century British monarch, Victoria has long been known for such regal delights as colonial-era architecture, horse-drawn carriages, and hanging flower baskets. But did you know that the capital of BC also sports a markedly hip side, including swoon-worthy dining options along its cobblestone streets? From morning munchies through to nightfall noshing, here are some of the city’s long-established and up-and-coming culinary best bets.
Wake up with West Coast comfort food at Mo:Lé
Don’t worry about sleeping in and missing breakfast — or lunch, for that matter. A bright, homey cafe on the edge of Canada’s oldest Chinatown, Mo:Lé serves up creative, farm-to-table plates of eggs, hashes, sandwiches, burgers, and more all day. Make like a local — who’ve been flocking here since 2004 — and order menu favorites like the decadent Mo’s Biscuit, sweet-‘n‘-spicy Chinatown Ciabatta, and hearty Wild Smoked Salmon Scramble. Most items are available as vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. Then sit back to sip your Vegan Chi-chi brunch cocktail, locally brewed Phillips Blue Buck Ale, or loose-leaf Gunpowder Green tea while gazing at local art on the exposed-brick walls.
In the house at Nourish Kitchen & Cafe
Tucked inside a lovingly converted 1888 heritage home, Nourish Kitchen & Cafe delivers lovingly prepared healthy fare in its first floor dining room and cafe, second floor lounge, and outdoor garden patio. Amid floral touches and natural lighting, linger over a Benny’s Gone Nuts (perfectly poached eggs topped with turmeric cashew hollandaise), buckwheat seedy bread, or braised brisket, then head upstairs to nurse a warm Dandelion Delight (with almond milk) or Dirty Chai espresso in cushioned comfort. Return to this James Bay neighborhood gem (southwest of downtown) at night for pan-seared rockfish or rutabaga linguini, as well as handcrafted cocktails and organic wines in the lounge-turned-Botanical Bar.
Savor Middle Eastern flavors at Superbaba
For a casual lunch, happy hour, or dinner, step up to the counter at Superbaba in Victoria’s downtown business district. Opened in July 2017, the airy, minimalist diner-style space complements the simple but authentic Middle Eastern menu. Choose from falafel, shawarma-spiced grilled chicken, kebab-spiced grilled steak, or sabich (tempura eggplant and hard-boiled egg) — all served on house-baked pita, or in a grain or salad bowl. Can’t decide on a side? Ask for the Superbaba Sampler of hummus, baba ganoush, labneh, and pickles. Room for dessert? It’s back to the counter for a buttery turmeric cookie or flaky apple-pie baklava.
Bite into double-fried goodness at Chimac and Chicken 649
Victoria has been blessed with not one, but two new establishments dishing up what has become quite the food craze: Korean fried chicken. After all, what’s not to love about twice-fried, crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside chicken in a flavorful sauce? Downtown at the wood-paneled, LED-lit Chimac Korean Pub & Fried Chicken, try the original deep-fried breaded version or step it up with house-made spicy-sweet or garlic soy sauce. Branch out with grilled corn and cheese or a seasoned silkworm pupa hot pot, washed down with a Kloud Original Gravity or Sapporo imported beer. Meanwhile, laidback Chicken 649 offers half and full dinner portions of its 24-hour-marinated meat with various sauces and sides — ask for the pickled radish salad.
Good things come on small plates at Stage and Bodega
It’s nice — and fun — to share. Especially when it comes to tapas-style dining. A twice winner of Vancouver Magazine’s Best Victoria Restaurant award, Stage knows how to do it right. Signature dishes at this popular Fernwood room range from house gnocchi and Salt Spring Island mussels, to bison sirloin and braised lingcod cheek, best enjoyed with an inventive cocktail or glass of local BC wine from the centerpiece wooden bar.
At downtown’s comfortable-and-casual Bodega, make like you’re in Spain and nibble on pinchos (olives, stuffed peppers), tapas frías (halibut ceviche, roasted beet salad), and tapas calientes (lamb meatballs, garlic prawns) in between sips of sherry. Choose from more than 20 plates and just as many pours; mixed boards and three-glass flights make it easy.
Tap into the Drake Eatery
You can’t visit BC’s Craft Beer Capital without quenching your thirst along the way. The Drake Eatery (aka. “the Drake”) on Lower Pandora in the downtown core beckons with a vast selection of rotating Pacific Northwest taps — 29 in winter, 33 in summer when the patio opens — and a locally-sourced fresh food menu. Here, brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, local wood accents, and vintage velvet parlor furniture provide the backdrop to this decidedly chill space. Order at the counter à la British-pub style and try a local Swans ale with fig-and-brie toast, or a Tofino Brewing Company IPA with barbecue pork back ribs. Want to know more about your bevvy’s background? Just ask the friendly suds-savvy staff.
Slip into modern elegance at Q and the Courtney Room
Finish a walk around Victoria’s postcard-pretty, pedestrian-friendly Inner Harbour in fine dining fashion. After a $60-million grand-scale renovation at the city’s landmark hotel, Q at the Empress still exudes Old World charm (think Edwardian millwork and mahogany flooring) but with New World flourishes like the purple diamond-shaped reception desk and cloud-like ceiling lights. Graze Pacific Northwest plates like the chilled seafood tower for two or chargrilled Canadian beef rib eye, then pony up to Q Bar’s white quartzite counter for a local-gin-spiked Q 1908 anniversary cocktail, or share a slice of rich chocolate-crown-topped Empress torte on the summertime veranda with harbor views. And don’t skip the vino, which earned the restaurant a 2017 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
A couple blocks away, the Courtney Room at the Magnolia Hotel & Spa will be the newest lady in town when she opens in spring 2018. Local, seasonal items from land and sea will hail from a kitchen led by award-winning chef Sam Harris (formerly of Victoria’s lauded Agrius). Look forward to classic-French-bistro styling and Art Nouveau aspects in the central black granite bar with white-marble chevron detail, custom glass oyster station, glassed-in wine room, and velvet banquette seating. Leather and brass accents, bronze beaded curtains, and abstract works by local artist Blu Smith round out the Parisian aesthetic.
Much more than a city with a British bent, Victoria is now flush with cutting-edge dining experiences.
Find more food for thought on Victoria's restaurants, activities and sightseeing on the Destination BC website.