It was the variety of Victoria’s lively food scene that surprised me, with its devotion to farm to table local produce and the sheer range of multicultural flavours. This port city of Vancouver Island has over the centuries opened its arms to sailors, Chinese who came to work on the railway and in recent years to immigrants from all over the world. Canadian food these days seems to soak up world influences, and in Victoria I found everything from French patisseries to Korean bao buns and Indian street-food.
The downtown neighbourhoods around Chinatown and Lower Johnson Street (known as LoJo) are buzzing with independent cafés and craft breweries, and you only need to drive a little way out of the city to find vineyards and cider orchards. So if you are visiting the capital of British Columbia, here’s my foodie guide to some of the places that I can personally recommend to find great food in Victoria.
For a quick bite to eat in Victoria – Victoria Public Market
One of my favourite ways to quickly connect with the local food scene is to take a food tour. Not only is it a convivial way to eat, drink and make new friends, but you’ll generally come away with plenty of recommendations on where and what to eat during your stay. For my food tour in Victoria I joined a small group with our knowledgeable guide Mary Jo, from Off The Eaten Track. We started at the bustling Victoria Public Market, in the Hudson Building, which was built in 1913 as the leading department store – the Harrods of Victoria. Now it’s been converted into a mixture of luxury apartments, business offices and an indoor food court and market on the ground floor that’s perfect if you want a choice of different places to eat under one roof.
2% Jazz – Fresh brewed coffee in Victoria Public Market
On the edge of Victoria Public Market our food tour started at 2% Jazz for one of their famous $2 single origin Americanos. This popular local coffee shop started as a kiosk nearby, then moved to its current location and started roasting its own beans in 1996. It’s an unassuming looking place, but the smell of freshly roasted coffee wafts up from the open lower ground floor and the local office workers queue here in their coffee break. Coffee has become a bit like wine – it’s all about the terroir and knowing the exact plot of land those beans came from. 2% Jazz works with all its growers on a Direct Trade basis to ensure quality and fair prices for their suppliers.
If you go: 2% Jazz (1701 Douglas Street)
Victoria Pie Co – handmade pies in Victoria Public Market
Inside Victoria Public Market, our food tour guide Mary Jo led us to the Victoria Pie Company, where we could see the pies being prepared in the open kitchen. They looked a bit like a Cornish pasty, laid out in rows of different flavours with the filling seeping out of the flaky pastry, a little rough and ragged with no mistaking that they were handmade. We tried the daily special of spinach, feta and tomato ($8) with deliciously crumbly pastry. There are sweet pies too (key lime, apple-blueberry, chocolate cream to name a few) and many of the pies are available with a gluten free pastry.
If you go: Victoria Pie Co in Victoria Public Market
Vij’s Sutra – Indian street food in Victoria Public Market
Anyone who’s been to Canada must have heard of Poutine, the rib-sticking street-food dish of French fries, swimming in gravy and topped with curd cheese. I can’t say it’s ever been my favourite dish, but of course every local chef has their own version, so at Sutra we got to try the much more refined Indian equivalent, with crispy cassava topped with butter chicken sauce and paneer. This food stall in Victoria Market is part of the group of restaurants build up by local chef Vikram Vij and you’ll find a choice of curries and daily specials that are based on his home cooked family favourites. You can also take out or buy the dishes in pouches to warm through at home, should you be staying locally in an apartment.
If you go: Vij’s Sutra in Victoria Public Market
Chocolate Project – for the chocolate connoisseur in Victoria Market
Our final stop in Victoria Market was at the Chocolate Project who have a stall selling artisan chcolates from all over the world. We found a connoisseur’s library of chocolate bars where the expert owner David can tell you the story behind each single origin chocolate. His other business is Circle Canning and you’ll see jars of canned vegetables and preserves sourced from local farmers, lined up at one end of the stall.
If you go: Chocolate Project in Victoria Public Market
Great places to eat around Lo Jo and Chinatown in Victoria
From Victoria Public Market our food tour moved into the nearby Chinatown area, marked by lions on guard at the Gate of Harmonious Interest on Fisgard Street. Close to the port area of Victoria, this was once a rough and tough neighbourhood, full of gambling houses and brothels as well as the hub for schools and businesses that served the Chinese immigrants who first arrived to build the Canadian railways. Now of course it’s all been cleaned up, with gift shops and cafés, although you can get a flavour of the old Chinatown in Fan Tan Alley, a narrow passageway that could easily be closed off at each end if trouble came calling.
Bao – Casual Asian dining in Chinatown
For a taste of Asian street food in the Chinatown neighbourhood, we stopped at Bao for some spicy pork bao buns. Run by a husband and wife team, the restaurant serves dishes with flavours of Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam. It’s right beside the old Chinese public school that was founded to ensure an education for the children of Chinese residents, as they were often excluded from other schools. The bao are a favourite snack, with their soft steamed bun filled with meat and pickles, but you’ll also find dishes such as Ramen and Bimimbap on the menu. Bao is open 12-8pm, so a great lunchtime or early evening stop.
If you go: Bao (626 Fisgard Street)
La Roux – Pretty pastries in Victoria
The prize for the prettiest pastries in town had to go to French patisserie La Roux, where we tried some of the mouthwatering macarons in fruity flavours – mine was the watermelon. With elegant white wood furnishings and tiled floors there was a touch of the Parisian in La Roux that would make it a fun place to gossip with girlfriends over a coffee and cake.
If you go: La Roux Patisserie (519 Fisgard Street)
Hawk and Hen – Craft beer in LoJo, Victoria
Moving into the trendy Lo Jo neighbourhood around Lower Johnson Street, we stopped in at Hawk & Hen to try some of their craft beers. There are plenty of craft breweries around Victoria like the Phillips Brewery beers which are served here. We tried the Blue Buck Ale but if you want something soft there’s also an interesting range of Phillips sodas like Dare Devil Orange cream soda or Cucumber mint tonic.
If you go: Hawk and Hen (531 Yate Street)
Rebar – a veggie and vegan haven in Victoria
We dipped into Rebar for a sweet finish to our food tour and tried some of their cakes and energy balls. This funky little restaurant with retro styling is set down some steps in an airy basement and is the go-to eatery for veggies and vegans. They started life as a juice bar and with tubs of wheatgrass fringing the bar area, it’s all about superfresh salads, noodle bowls and world flavours, with some fish tacos and burgers who those who want a little extra with their greens.
If you go: Rebar (50 Bastion Square)
Food Tours in Victoria with Off the Eaten Track
I can highly recommend Off the Eaten Track who hosted my food tour of Victoria. I tried the Historic Downtown Food Tour which lasted 2 hours and costs $69.99 per person – it runs every Saturday through the winter and Tuesday-Saturday through the summer starting at 10.30am. The other tours available from Off the Eaten Track are Knife and Fort tour around Fort Street and Craft Beer and Culinary tour.
Where to eat in Victoria with a view of the harbour
One of the delights of being in Victoria is the action that happens around the harbour, with the cute and colourful water taxis buzzing around like insects on the water and the float planes that regularly take off and land. Here are a couple of places where I enjoyed lunch or dinner with a view of the harbour.
Aura Restaurant at the Inn at Laurel Point – elegant dining with a harbour view in Victoria
Aura Restaurant at the Inn at Laurel Point where I stayed and has a beautiful setting overlooking the inner harbour. If the weather is fine then be sure to get a table on their patio and watch the walkers and joggers passing by from nearby Fisherman’s Wharf. Executive Chef Takashi Ito creates beautifully presented dishes that marry local flavours with an oriental twist in perfect harmony. For a summer lunch I ate watermelon and sprout salad $10, Aura cheese plate of 3 local cheeses with tomato fennel jam, lavender honey and seasonal fruit $23 and Seacuterie plate, a selection of salmon pâté, spot prawns, octopus and other seafood delicacies $18
If you go: Aura Restaurat at the Inn at Laurel Point (680 Montreal Street)
Steamship Grill and Bar – casual dining with a harbour view in Victoria
This restaurant has one of the best harbourside location in Victoria and is set in the historic Steamship terminal building that was built in 1924 to welcome passangers arriving in Victoria. If the weather is fine be sure to book a waterfront table on their heated patio, with a birds eye view of all the boats coming and going in the harbour. The menu is mainly seafood with oysters, sharing plates, salads and some classic steaks and burgers. I ordered Seafood chopped salad $22.95 washed down with a local Phillips craft beer.
If you go: Steamship Grill & Bar (470 Belleville Street)
Fisherman’s Wharf – a colourful spot for a bite to eat in Victoria
Another great place to eat around the harbour is Fisherman’s Wharf, although it’s mostly a place for outdoor eating in summer or when the weather is fine. The marina is full of colourful houseboats, painted in rainbow shades and is quite the tourist attraction. You can easily get a water taxi here from the inner harbour or it’s a pleasant walk on the David Foster Way that winds around Laurel Point. There are quite a few places to eat, so look out for Barb’s Fish and Chips, oysters and crab at The Fish Store, sushi at Rock’n’Rolls and ice cream at Jackson’s Ice Cream Float.
If you go: Fisherman’s Wharf Website
Fun places to eat in the evening in Victoria
You won’t be short of great places to eat in the downtown area of Victoria and with so many food producers on Vancouver Island, there’s a big Farm to Table movement to support the local economy with the freshest of produce. Here are a couple of fun places I tried that would be a good choice to eat in the evening;
Nourish – Feed body and soul in Victoria
Set in a turn of the century house in James Bay, this informal café and dining room must be one of the prettiest and most instagrammable in Victoria. As the name suggests this is the place to feed body and soul, with veggie, vegan and gluten free options, steaming mugs of broth and everything free range and wholesome. If you are a steak and chips kind of eater this many not be for you, instead it’s more of a go-to for a date night or night out with the girls. I ordered Tomato broth $7 Island Organic Greens $9 Smashed nugget potatoes $8
If you go: Nourish Kitchen and Cafe (225 Quebec Street)
10 Acres Bistro – Farm to Table dining in Victoria
One place that espouses the Farm to Table concept is 10 Acres Bistro, serving food that is grown on their organic farm just north of the city or sourced from other nearby farms and local fishermen. I ate at the Bistro, which is one of 3 different locations of the restaurant, with warm orange walls and a vintage theme, perfect for a relaxed night out with friends. I ordered Fisherman’s Cioppino $25 with mussels, salmon, fennel and potatoes in a thick tomato broth.
If you go: 10 Acre Bistro (611 Courtney Street)
Read more: How to spend a great day in Victoria, BC
Wineries to visit around Victoria
The Saanich Peninsula to the north of Victoria is a big farming area and home to many small wineries set in the gently rolling landscape with water on all sides. I spent a day cycling around the area on a guided tour with Seawall Adventure, but you could just as easily hire a car and drive around the area, stopping for a bite to eat and a cider or wine tasting (be sure to have a designated driver). Of course the benefit of cycling is that you don’t have to worry about what you drink – apart from the fact that you’ll probably want to sleep the afternoon away rather than cycle back to Victoria!
De Vine Vineyards in the Saanich Peninsula, Victoria
Our first stop was the De Vine Vineyards, set on the high ground with wonderful views aross the south-facing vineyards towards the ocean. It’s a family run winery, and you’ll be guided through a tasting of their organic wines in the wood lined tasting room – they also distill gin, vodka and whiskey using local ingredients and flavourings.
If you go: De Vine Vineyards open daily 11am – 6pm for tastings
Church and State Winery in the Saanich Peninsula, Victoria
Not much further we stopped for lunch at the Church and State winery, with a large restaurant and events area – they also have vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. We sat in the bar area, tasting our way through the Lost Inhibitions range, with tongue in cheek labels like “I love it when you shut up” and “Too glam to give a damn” together with a lunch of gourmet pizza from the wood fired pizza oven.
If you go: Church and State Winery open 11am – 6pm for tastings and bistro open Weds-Sun 11am-3pm
Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse in the Saanich Peninsula near Victoria
The final stop was Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, with a beautiful café area where we sat at wooden tables overlooking the organic apple orchards, munching on an Artizan lunch plate of local cheese, dips and sausage and tasting the different cider styles, from the fruity Pippins to the refined and delicate Kings and Spies. For autumn celebrations you may like to try their Bramble Bubbly, flavoured with some of the blackberries that over-run the orchards for a blushing sparkling cider.
If you go: Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse open daily for tours and tastings 11am-4pm. Cider tasting flights from $9
Gourmet cycling tours of the Saanich Peninsula from Victoria
You can hire bikes from Seawall Adventure Centre from $40 for Adult bike for a full day, to make your own self-guided wine tour of the Saanich Peninsula. The guided full day Saanich Peninsula Wine Tour from Seawall Adventure is $139 including wine tastings, lunch and tasting plates at the wineries mentioned. It was an excellent day out and I was thankful that the company van was available to give me a lift back to Victoria after all the wine tastings, rather than face the long cycle back!
Wine tasting in the Cowichan Valley near Victoria
Another mecca for food and wine lovers is the beautiful Cowichan Valley which is just 45 minute drive from Victoria. It can easily be visited in a day trip if you have a hire car, or as a stop if you are driving west on Vancouver Island. This fertile farming area has also become well known for wine making since the first commercial vineyards were planted in the 1970s. There are plenty of cider makers, distilleries and craft breweries just off Highway 1, so perfect for a stop-off when you’re travelling between Nanaimo and Victoria. If you prefer not to worry about who’s driving, check out the tours that are available from Nanaimo, Victoria and Cowichan on the Cowichan Tourism Website.
The Unsworth Vineyards in the Cowichan Valley
This family owned winery has a light and airy tasting room overlooking the lake and a restaurant set in the 100 years old farmhouse. The knowledgeable staff will guide you through the many red, white and rose wines available, you can have a look into the winery and then retire for a lazy lunch in the restaurant overlooking the vineyards.
The old farmhouse makes a delightful setting, with restaurant tables set in different rooms of the house, creating a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. We ordered from the small plates menu, with dishes that were incredibly pretty as well as delicious. I especially enjoyed the seasonal Spot Prawns on a gazpacho sauce with watercress pesto, and the salad of yellow and red roasted beets with goats cheese and orange vinigarette. This is a relaxed but gourmet experience and the friendly and professional staff can advise you on the best wine pairings to try with each dish.
If you go: Unsworth Vineyards Website.
Read more in my article: Nanaimo – fun food and adventure in Vancouver Island
A special mention for the Nanaimo Bar
As I also visited the harbour city of Nanaimo, which is a couple of hour’s drive from Victoria, I can’t end without mentioning the Nanaimo Bar that is so popular there. Although it originated in Nanaimo, you’ll find this sweet treat in cafés around Vancouver Island, including Victoria. The cake has a biscuit base with layers of sweet vanilla custard and a chocolate ganache topping, originating in the 1950s when the cake was a popular choice for charity teas and fund-raisers. If you visit Nanaimo, you can pick up a leaflet for the Nanaimo Bar Trail, to guide you on where to find the many variations of the Nanaimo Bar, including Nanaimo Bar ice cream, fudge, cocktails and even a pedicure with Nanaimo bar scents of chocolate and vanilla.
If you go: More information about the Nanaimo Bar Trail
Read more in my article: Nanaimo – fun food and adventure in Vancouver Island
Where to stay in Victoria, Canada
The Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria
For most of my visit to Victoria, I stayed at The Inn at Laurel Point, which is beautifully located overlooking the harbour at Laurel Point, a short walk from all the main sights of the inner harbour and downtown area. From my balcony I was able to look across the landscaped gardens, to watch the float planes coming into land and the ferries crossing the harbour. The privately owned hotel maintains the community spirit and artistic interests of Paul and Artie Arsens, the couple who built up the hotel in the 1970s and whose portrait you’ll see hanging in the reception area. The hotel was BC’s first carbon neutral hotel and offers guests the “Key to the City” where your hotel keycard can be used to obtain discounts from some favourite local attractions and businesses. You may also see some of the artwork hanging around the hotel from one of the “artists in residence” who change each month or even see them at work in the lobby area.
My room was in the Erickson wing, which was built in the 1980s, designed by well known Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, where all the rooms overlook the gardens and harbour. My large bedroom and extremely spacious bathroom were elegantly modern in coffee shades, with a touch of Asian inspiration in the decor and artwork. My room was so spacious that I assumed I had been upgraded to one of the larger rooms, but later learned that all the rooms in this wing are this size, so I would certainly recommend that you try to book a room in the Erickson wing, as other rooms in the Laurel wing of the hotel are more traditional in style. As is typical with Canadian and US hotels, breakfast is not included in your room rate, but you can order breakfast separately in the Aura Restaurant where I had a delicious lunch, or take a short walk to one of the numerous downtown eateries.
More information and book here: Inn at Laurel Point Website | 680 Montreal Street
Victoria, BC, V8V 1Z8. There is free parking in the hotel’s underground car park.
Magnolia Hotel & Spa in Victoria
For my final night in Victoria, after I returned from exploring Vancouver Island I stayed at the lovely Magnolia Hotel & Spa, close to the Inner Harbour. This luxurious boutique hotel made a delightful end to my stay in Victoria and I felt very pampered in my bedroom with silky fabrics, neutral tones of cream and pearl and elegant dark wood furniture. The hotel is just a few minutes walk to the Inner Harbour and from my corner room I could watch the 3000 bulbs of the BC Parliament Building light up as dusk fell, creating a magical spectacle. My room included many luxurious touches; a marble bathroom, comfortable sofa with plenty of magazines to leaf through and a delicious treat of fruit and chocolates.
As someone who loves to get out and explore the city, I especially appreciated the information cards in my room, with maps and suggestions for curated trails around the city, covering everything from the best boutiques and craft breweries, to tea rooms and tapas stops. The Magnolia Hotel & Spa has bikes for guests to get around the city and experience some of the lesser known neighbourhoods and viewpoints. There’s also a spa and adjoining Catalano restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine and Cicchetti, the Venetian version of small plates or tapas. If you have a hire car, as I did, there is a valet parking service, or you can ask the helpful staff to advise you on nearby car parks or on street parking.
More information and book here: Magnolia Hotel & Spa website 625 Courtney Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 1V8
Visitor Information for Victoria, Canada
Heather flew from London Gatwick to Vancouver with Air Transat and onwards to Victoria. Air Transat flies daily from Gatwick to Vancouver from £407 return.
If you’re flying on Air Transat Economy Class, look out for the Option Plus Service which gives you additional benefits such as seat selection, priority check-in, a dedicated check-in counter, extra baggage allowance, priority boarding and a comfort kit for optimal comfort on board.
If you want an extra treat on board, you can order one of the special meals created in partnership with Quebec chef Daniel Vézina which are served free in Club Class and may be purchased in Economy for a supplement of £15 / €20, for one of the six special dishes plus a cheese plate, dessert and glass of wine.
If you’re considering a holiday that combines the cities of Vancouver and Victoria, check out the 7 night/8 day Vancouver and Victoria hopper package offered by Canadian Affair that includes 4 nights in Vancouver and 3 nights in Victoria with hotels, flights and transfers.
Remember that in addition to a valid passport, UK Citizens need to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) in advance. This can be obtained online for $7 CAD here but ensure that you do not leave it to the last moment in case of any problems.
From Vancouver there are several connecting flights each day to Victoria with West Jet.
On arrival at Victoria Airport, look out for the YYJ Airport Shuttle which runs a regular bus transfer to downtown Victoria, dropping off at your hotel or other convenient points in town. There is a check-in desk for the YYJ shuttle in the arrival hall of Victoria Airport and the service costs $25 per person one way. The transfer time takes around 30 minutes.
If you need to rent a car in the downtown area of Victoria, there is a convenient rental location with Avis at 1001 Douglas Street and also a desk at Victoria Airport. You won’t need a car to explore the downtown area of Victoria, as most of the sights are easy to reach on foot, although it’s useful to have a car for exploring attractions outside the city and around Vancouver Island.
I was hosted on this trip to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary by Destination Canada and Canadian Affair.