We are back with our first installment of Restaurant Roundup for 2014. This year, we're doing more in depth explorations of the restaurant scene in cities big and small across Canada. We're starting on the far west coast with Restaurant Roundup Crew Member Gwen Wright taking us on a tour of Vancouver Island. With eateries galore in BC's capitol, Victoria, and culinary festivals like Feast Tofino drawing some of Canada's most respected chefs, it's time this Pacific island got its fair share of culinary exposure.
Resting peacefully at the western edge of Canada, you might be surprised to learn that Vancouver Island has an exciting foodie scene simmering year-round. A natural paradise with old growth forests, sandy beaches and snow-covered mountains, Vancouver Island is known for its wide variety of restaurants focusing on local and seasonal ingredients, fresh Pacific seafood and eclectic eats. So let’s ease into laid-back ‘Island Time’ and take a virtual tour of a day of eating around the Island.
Breakfast in Port Alberni – Pescadores Bistro
Located in the middle of Vancouver Island between Parksville and Tofino, Port Alberni is the entry point for boat loads of West Coast seafood, hence the appropriately named Pescadores Bistro nestled by the water’s edge. Pescadores means ‘Fishermen’ in Spanish, and the bright and friendly décor celebrates everything marine with fish-themed paintings and sculptures at every turn, paired with a little bit of warm Mexican ‘Ole’ spirit.
The menu is filled with Mexican-inspired selections and breakfast is my favourite time of day to tuck into their generous portions and fresh flavours (and it’s served all day so there’s no rush). The Neptune Eggs Benedict is a seafood lover’s dream, with the classic poached eggs and hollandaise resting over fresh crab and shrimp, served on hot and crispy crab cakes.
For big appetites (or painful hangovers), go for the Huevos Rancheros, a behemoth of a breakfast burrito that’s crammed full of eggs, refried beans, cheddar & jack cheeses and seasoned pan-fried potatoes, then topped with enchilada sauce, fresh salsa, guacamole and sour cream. It satisfies all those Mexican brunch cravings and is so huge that you’ll be able to enjoy the leftovers all day long.
Ucluelet for lunch – Ukee Dogs Eatery
When thinking about Vancouver Island’s wild western shores, Tofino might be the first town to come to mind. But there is another outdoor adventurer’s paradise close by in Ucluelet, with friendly people, a laid-back atmosphere and happy-go-lucky West Coast vibe. This attitude is distilled into the eclectic and entertaining Ukee Dogs Eatery located in the heart of the tiny downtown core.
Named after the local’s nickname for Ucluelet, Ukee Dogs is a comfy and casual spot that dubs itself ‘an indoor hot dog stand’. The unique menu (written on a surf board, no less) features gourmet hot dogs, fresh baked pies, treats and espresso with wallet-friendly prices.
I try something different from the menu each time I go and love the very Canadian Mac & Cheese Hot Dog (yes, that is indeed a gourmet hot dog topped with creamy mac & cheese!). But my favourite choice is Ukee Dog’s sliders, made with in-house roasted pulled pork and BBQ sauce or smoked salmon and bacon. They pack up nicely with a side salad to take on a hike along the nearly Wild Pacific Trail and the sliders make the perfect picnic lunch to enjoy on the rocky shores at the very edge of Canada.
Dinner in Qualicum Beach – The Shady Waterfront Restaurant & Pub
Along the quiet Eastern shores of the Island is a spot that has been a welcome stop for weary travellers for over 90 years now. Affectionately dubbed ‘The Shady Rest’ by locals, the restaurant and pub sits just above the soft sand and peaceful expanse of Qualicum Beach, with panoramic views of the Salish Sea and distant coastal mountains on British Columbia’s mainland from every table.
Locally-sourced ingredients are a top priority for The Shady Rest and the menu is filled with local cheeses, Vancouver Island-raised pork, beef and bison, and fresh farmer’s market vegetables and fruit. There’s many seafood dishes available that vary by season, including fresh halibut, local spot prawns and scallops fished from the same ocean water that affords the restaurant and pub its spectacular views.
My favourite time of day to visit The Shady Rest is at sunset, with a frosty beverage, a bowl of their rich and thick seafood chowder and a steak sandwich topped with crispy onion rings and served with locally-grown Kennebec fries. The atmosphere at The Shady is upbeat and welcoming, and the pub features relaxed jazz nights, family-friendly music trivia and live music from Vancouver Island artists year-round.
The choices for culinary exploring around Vancouver Island are as endless as the spectacular views that come with them. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for fresh, local and wild West Coast flavours, waiting here for your next Vancouver Island adventure.
To learn more about Vancouver Island, visit the VI Tourism website.
A Culinary Exploration of Vancouver Island was written by FBC Restaurant Roundup Member, Gwen Wright. Gwen is a food and travel writer born and raised in rural Ontario, educated on the vast prairie in Saskatchewan, and now living on beautiful Vancouver Island, BC. A self-taught home cook who grows her own experimental kitchen garden, Gwen is also a world traveler who loves to bring home international ingredients and inspiration from her adventures to create new recipes with locally-sourced Vancouver Island ingredients.
When she's not laptop-deep in a writing project, knee-deep in garden dirt or elbow-deep in bread dough, Gwen is hiking around Vancouver Island learning about new things to eat and forage, or covered in sand playing beach volleyball of the shores of Parksville, British Columbia. You can follow her blog, Devour N Conquer or connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest or on Twitter at @devourNconquer.