Business Examiner’s ‘Unofficial’ Vancouver Island Restaurant Guide

September 28, 2020

Mark MacDonald

VANCOUVER ISLAND – “Where should I eat when I’m in. . .”

It’s a question we get asked fairly frequently, as we have covered business across Vancouver Island for over 30 years now. We’ve had countless great meals in restaurants and cafes from Victoria to Port Hardy, so here are some recommendations for great eats. It’s been a number of years since we’ve done this, but to support our island establishments that have been so hard hit with COVID 19 restrictions, please find the latest installment of our “Business Examiner Restaurant Guide”.

We haven’t included franchise restaurants, which we frequent, as I remain heartbroken that Earls closed its doors in Nanaimo several years ago. Earls in Victoria is always great, and nobody beats their wings – and I have about eight favourites on their regular menu. And then there’s my all-time favourite, Japanese Village on Broughton in downtown Victoria. I used to hint that I liked their famous steak sauce so much I’d drink it through a straw. Unbelievably tasty, and the chef’s antics while cooking the meal in front of you is always entertaining. I always hope it’s my guest’s birthday so I can hear their staff sing their stirring rendition of “Happy Birthday”, with their own unique twist.

So, in alphabetical order of the city, here are our Business Examiner recommendations for good meals up and down Vancouver Island.

Campbell RiverThe Driftwood Restaurant. We love Chinese food, and this is the best Chinese food in the Campbell River area (it’s in Oyster River), hands down.

Comox ValleyLocals Restaurant in Courtenay is the unquestioned favourite Island restaurant of my wife Lise, and owner/head chef Ronald St. Pierre’s menu offerings never disappoint. I am constantly amazed by the creativity and thoughtfulness that goes into each dish. The Blackfin Pub is also a great place to eat with plenty of choice, and they must have the friendliest staff around.

Cowichan Valley – A trip to Merridale Cidery in Cobble Hill and its cozy mid-apple orchard ambience is worth it just for their strawberry-rhubarb pie. . .unparalleled excellence in dessert. In Duncan it has to be Brunch on 3rd, which has carved out a reputation for amazing eggs benedict dishes. Who can forget The Dog House, which has been on my radar since having a foot-long hot dog there as a kid. Portions so big you won’t have to eat again for two days, including breakfast served on a bed of Tater Tots. Amazing flavours. And in Chemainus, we’ve enjoyed a number of good meals at The Sawmill, which offers great fare in a unique lumber industry setting. The Chemainus Theatre buffet, combined with an evening at one of their amazing plays, is a great night out.

LadysmithThe Spice Hut Indian Cuisine is a must stop, some of our team members insist. And nobody, but nobody, makes better, bigger cinnamon buns than the Old Town Bakery. It’s the Island’s own “Cinnamon Bun Run” destination, and always worth the trip.

Nanaimo – Downtown, there’s The Firehouse Grill downtown presents unequalled Jambalaya, and if you want to put it over the edge, add the restaurant’s epic Firehouse sauce. I’ve been telling them for years they should bottle/sell it on its own. Greek food specialist Asteras presents the best lamb around and a spectacular Ekmek dessert. In North Nanaimo, Simonholt is always worth a visit, and they make an amazing seafood chowder. Nori Sushi has to be the Island’s best sushi restaurant. My personal favourite, created for a friend of ours, which I order every time we go, is the Damn Good Roll.

ParksvilleRealm Food Co is loved for their fresh, local ingredients. Ixim Bowl is a favourite as well as their Vegetarian Bliss Bowl. Tigh Na Mara Treetop Tapas is also a long time favourite.

Port AlberniThe Boomerang Café on Highway 4. Very generous portions, and a one-of-a-kind Steak Salad. I always ask for Caesar dressing, which pushes the limits.

TofinoThe Shelter has long been a favourite – especially their calamari with jalapenos, and SoBo Restaurant for its smoked fish chowder. A trip to the West Coast always includes a stop at the Tacofino food truck for a taste of Mexico.

UclueletPluvio Restaurant. High-end dining with exquisite presentation.

Victoria – Long lineups are a testament to the popularity of Red Fish Blue Fish on the downtown harbour, and other favourites are the Blue Crab Seafood House for its seafood, Il Terrazzo and Nourish. Café Brio features Italian entrees, famous for their charcuterie boards and own cured meats. Every meal we’ve ever had at The Union Club has been excellent, and it’s one of the rare places where if you ask for a medium rare steak, it actually arrives as medium rare, to perfection.

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