Visitors and locals alike will find a good variety of dining options throughout BC. Our lively blend of cultures and modern heritage mean the choices are virtually endless… from street food to fine dining, from doughnuts to donair, and cuisine from most every corner of the globe for every pace and price.
Metropolitan BC cities are packed with pubs, fish & chip Shops, sushi restaurants, Chinese eateries, bubble tea bars, Korean BBQ, Greek and Middle Eastern "Tavernas", Indian buffets, American-style chains, fast food joints with drive-thru windows, and of course, BC's own interpretation of Pacific Northwest Cuisine. What, exactly, is that? Well, in one sentence, it's the flavours and influence of Pacific Northwest ––that is, southeast asian dishes and techniques fused with ingredients and flavours from Northern California and Oregon––but reinterpreted with distinct BC West Coast ingredients such as indigenous plants and animals and First Nations traditional fare. Some BC restaurants also like to add their own signature twist on familiar global fare. For example, in Victoria––a predominantly British-heritage city––the centuries-old classic battered Halibut and Chips is a staple, yet can also be found reinterpreted as Microbrewery Beer-Battered Salmon with Root Vegetable Fries from a nearby farmer's market. Also, in addition to cuisine specific restaurants, many BC eateries feature menus that incorporate a smattering of various ethnic dishes (pasta, curries, asian food, pizza, West Coast food), a sort of delicious one-stop-shop-on-a-single-menu.
Upscale Casual Dining, Fine Dining & Family Diners
Visitors to Canada might be curious about the style and atmosphere of the restaurants here in BC. As with menu options and culinary styles, there is also a broad range of atmospheres (and price ranges) for dining, from casual grab & go storefronts to classic fine dining restaurants with white tablecloths and formal dress codes. Many restaurants, especially in urban areas, offer Upscale Casual Dining; that is, high quality food with a more relaxed ambiance and dress code. In other words, there's no need to change out of your daytime clothes in order to experience the best of BC's dishes, unless you want to! Upscale Casual Dining may include a la carte restaurants, bistros, sushi bars, tapas or small-plates restaurants, and chains. To inquire about atmosphere or dress code, call or read more about the restaurant.
For those who love a fancy night out, starch that collar, polish up your shoes and make a reservation at a Fine Dining establishment…a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. These mouth-wateringly luxurious Fine Dining restaurants will be easier to find in the larger cities like Vancouver and Victoria; Upscale Casual Dining is a more widespread trend for us laid-back BC-ers who don't bother to stash high heels in our apres-yoga bags.
Those travelling with little ones will find there are plenty of eateries that welcome children, including many Upscale Casual Dining restaurants. Restaurants that are geared towards families will undoubtedly offer a children's menu, and have plenty of crayons and hi-chairs on hand. Gastropubs that possess a restaurant license (as opposed to a liquor primary license) often accommodate children as well, and may also have kid's menus on-hand or be able to provide half-orders of menu items upon request. On the topic of pubs with restaurant licenses, it's worth mentioning that many pubs, lounges and live-music venues also offer "small plate" menus for late-night dining.
Wine, Beer & Coffee Culture
BC Cuisine can't very well be described without making mention of what we like to drink. BC's burgeoning wine industry and the increase of vineyards and wineries throughout the province's five wine-growing regions have opened the doors for tasting menus and dishes created specifically to match our vino…mainly (but certainly not limited to!) german-style whites and lighter reds. Many restaurants like to feature BC wines on their menus in addition to wines from around the world such as Europe, South America, The USA, South Africa, and Australia.
We also have beer, lots of it. Microbreweries are extremely popular in British Columbia, with many locals preferring the small-batch, craft beers over the larger domestic and international brands, though these varieties are usually also available by bottle or on tap. Brewpubs, like winery restaurants, focus on food menus that complement the drinkable delights.
Finally, BC is also known for its Cafe Culture. Though we still have plenty of the well-known corporate cafe chains around, the rise of the independent cafe has won over many converts in recent years. Drawing influence from the Third Wave Coffee movement, which focuses on artisanal expertise using high-quality and ethically sourced beans, caffeine addicts from far and wide will never be hard-pressed to find french press here. If you like a perfect espresso, or prefer your latte to be finished with a foam fern frond, elephant face, or heart, you'll fit right in. Most independent coffee shops take their craft very seriously, sending their staff to compete in Barista Championships and offering in house "cupping"––the coffee shop's version of wine tasting. Locally made goodies catering to a variety of specialized diets (vegan, gluten-free, dairy free) as well as the traditional companions like biscotti and croissant are usually within handy reach of the cash register. With all this talk of coffee, it's easy to overlook tea––but wrongly so! In fact, Victoria is lovingly known as Canada's Tea Capital, and more and more tea bars and local tea merchants are appearing in cities across the province. Likewise, virtually all restaurants who offer a decent after-dinner cappuccino also have a variety of specialty teas on hand.
With all these choices, you may be loosening your belt a couple of notches in anticipation of your trip. However, there's no need to panic. BC has been called the "Healthiest province in Canada"… likely due to the endless opportunities for home-grown food, exercise and recreation our geography and climate afford. So wear a comfy pair of shoes to your restaurant of choice, then hop on a rented bicycle and tour the town or stroll a seaside path––we promise, the calories won't follow you home.
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Photo credits: Octopus, bacon wrapped scallop canape courtesy Tourism Vancouver/C Restaurant; Couple dining in the Golf Clubhouse at Nicklaus North Golf Course in Whistler courtesy Tourism BC/Randy Lincks; A young child eats fresh fruit at the Farmers Market in Whistler Village courtesy Tourism BC/Toshi Kawano; Wine tasting at Red Rooster Winery in Penticton, Thompson Okanagan courtesy Tourism BC/Don Weixl
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"I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them" - Twain