My quest to conquer Victoria’s dining scene is never ending. While there are many spots still on my (constantly growing) to-try list, I’ve been busy exploring as much of it as possible over the 8 months I’ve lived here so far–from high end, to casual, from the well-known go-tos, to niche neighbourhood favourites.
The beauty of Victoria’s dining scene lies partially in it’s size. It’s big enough for there to always be a new restaurant, bar, or cafe worth checking out, yet small enough to allow you to develop a really solid grasp of the city’s best restaurants (if you stick around for a couple years, and make a point to do your research).
I’m still a newbie, but I do love lunch. So here is a small number of lunch spots you should add to your Victoria dining bucket list. While the term “off the beaten path” is subject to debate, I suppose you could clasify these under it. They aren’t obvious to everyone, but those who know, know, and those lucky enough to live nearby certainly work them into their regular circuit. With seasonal specialities, and creative creations, they’re the kind of places that are worth visiting again and again (even though I’ve only had time to visit most of them once so far…) But hey, I’ve got time.
Here are 8 “off the beaten path” places to grab a casual lunch in Victoria.
Cook & Pan Polish Delictassen & Cafe
Victoria’s brunch scene is competitive and there is no shortage of choices to get your fix. On weekends, you’ll find crowds of locals and visitors alike waiting for a seat at the city’s many brunch hot spots. Yet, there are a few gems where you’re still guaranteed little to no wait and a peaceful meal, despite their stellar food. Cook & Pan Polish Delictassen & Cafe is one of those places.
While they’ve been around for over 20 years, they more recently moved locations into a gorgeous heritage home on the edge of the downtown core. Dine downstairs by the espresso bar and storefront selling imported Polish goods and housemade frozen meals ready to take home, or head upstairs to an especially cozy space. They serve up creative west coast favourites with Polish inspiration–think breakfast hashes with handmade perogies, seasonal veg, and Polish sausage; egg’s benedict on latkes with a side of traditional soup; Placki Ziemniaczane potato pancakes with BC apple sauce and dill sourcream; or the reuben sandwich with housemade sauerkraut and Polish cheese. Breakfast and lunch are done all week with a special brunch menu–probably my favourite in the city–just on the weekends.
Charlotte and the Quail
Some places encourage you to release a sigh you didn’t even realize you were holding in. When you settle out on Charlotte and the Quail‘s patio overlooking the Gardens at HCP, you might find yourself feeling a little more relaxed. The original location of downtown’s favourite health-forward lunch and breakfast spot, Nourish, Charlotte and the Quail is the quieter, but just as delicious sister. With a focus on local and organic, Charlotte serves up the same happy animal products and creative vegan eats that can satisfy anyone–think vegan cashew hollandaise and cheese that’ll make you tear up, house-brewed flavourful bone broths, or homemade, organic spicy verde sausage and free range eggs with yolks gold as the sun. So cozy up in the beautifully desinged cafe or grab some sun with the resident cat, Charlotte, make your belly happy, then take a stroll through the Gardens (half off when you show your restaurant reciept). It’s kind of the perfect recipe for an improved mood.
Sometimes during an especially busy work week, certain restaurants have a recentring element to them. When that craving for fresh Japanese food hits and I just want something simple made with love and care, Uchida is where I head. This little gem buried in the courtyard off Courtney Street is only open Monday to Friday 11-2, so you’ve usually got to hurry if you want to try the daily specials. You won’t find maki and fancy sushi rolls here, but something closer to what many Japanese people eat on a regular basis – donburis with a selection of raw fish and greens, Japanese curries, grilled fish and seasonal veg specials, miso and daily soup, onsen eggs, and the like. Place your order, grab some tea and a stool, and enjoy a cozy lunch time escape.
I’ve only had the pleasure of visiting Part & Parcel once so far, but it left a lasting impression. It’s the kind of place you want to spend many lingering lunches with a friend, a loved one, or a good book. Just far enough from the middle of downtown to be quieter but still convenient, it looks like a simple cafe with counter service upon walking in. But, the dishes have an added element of thoughtfulness and creativity–seasonal and organic of course, in good Victoria fashion. The menu changes (at least slightly) almost daily, but after a difficult decision, we enjoyed tender pork belly with Thai-inspired flavours and seasonal greens with a broccoli couscous accented with nuts and sweet dates. Check their adorable Instagram for updates on the daily menu, broken down into salads and smaller things, sandwiches, and mains or just make the trip to the Quadra village, show up, and be pleasantly surprised.
Unfortunately, I was too busy eating and didn’t steal a photo here yet, so you’ll just have to go see for yourself.
Wheelie’s Motorcycles and Cafe is one of a kind–ideal for weekend brunch, lunch, drinks, live music, or motorcycle tune ups. Located in an old derelict automotive shop in the heart of Rock Bay, the shop is split into two with the restaurant on one side and the retail and workshop on the other. Biker or not, you feel right at home in the refurbished wood-accented shop, whether you come by to grab a coffee and get some work done, or chat over beers and gourmet food. The sandwiches (3-4 different kinds offered daily) are killer. You can’t order wrong.
House of Boateng won Yam Magazine’s Best New Restaurant and Best Chef awards for 2019 and for good reason. I don’t head into Langford often, but will definitely be planning a couple special trips so I can try more of what this spot has to offer. Inspired by Chef Castro Boateng’s West African roots and the bounty of Vancouver Island, it’s another casual counter service spot with memorable dishes you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere in Victoria. Try the jerk chicken bowl with bulgar wheat, and mango salsa, the yam and crab benny, the harissa halloumi cheese crepe–the hardest part, once again, is choosing.
Burgers. What the Hive lacks in seating, it makes up for in flavour. Whether you want one of the just-enough-over-the-top rotating specials (think holiday turkey, miso salmon and beyond) or a classic–like the fried to perfection cornflake chicken burger, The Hive Eatery doesn’t fail. They also change up its delicious veggie burger creation almost every week so, meat or no meat, you can’t get bored. This little blue spot is creative without screwing up a good thing and doesn’t sacrifice quality. Satsify your classic burger craving or venture out into all new territory, grab some take out, plant your butt at the picnic table if it’s not raining too hard, or scope out limited seating in the Cottage Bakery and Cafe next door, and enjoy as slowly as you can.
Wrap and Roll is unassuming from the outside. As VicFoodGuys put it, at first glance, it looks like it could be “some kind of Subway rip-off”, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This family-run Mediterranean and Lebanese joint will put a smile on your face each time and is reason enough for me to start plotting many more special trips that far up Fort Street. Enjoy authentic pita wraps–lamb kefta, shwarma chicken, falafel, beef kebab, babba ganoush, and beyond–plus other Lebanese specialites from dips, breads, and snacks, to desserts and salads. Oh and did I mention pizzas? Watch the regulars play backgammon out front, ask the staff about their favourites and grab some hummus or pickles to go. It’s everything you want in a hole-in-the-wall favourite.