A foodie’s tour of Victoria

From morning breakfast to an evening at the pub, here are five places to check out

by Sandra Albers
The Bard and Banker in Victoria, BC.

The last time I was in Victoria, I took a shuttle bus from the airport to the downtown. Which would normally be of no consequence, but this time, the bus driver presented a very entertaining running commentary about the history as well as the contemporary culture of British Columbia's capital city, located on Vancouver Island.

He also recommended a number of locally owned and operated eating establishments. So I thought to myself, "Well, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it." I decided to personally sample every single eatery on the bus driver's recommended list. My husband, a history buff, assured me that the loquacious driver's historical tidbits were accurate. As for myself, someone who is heavily into café culture, I wanted to find out if the shuttle driver's restaurant picks were as good as they sounded.

They were, and now I can recommend them too. So here's a foodie's tour of downtown Victoria. Bon appetit!

The Pink Bicycle—best of the burgers

My first stop was The Pink Bicycle on Blanshard Street, which Mr. Shuttle Bus Driver said was famous for its gourmet burgers. There are halibut burgers, and mutton burgers, and vegetarian burgers, and a bunch more besides. I chose the swine burger which, despite the slightly unappealing name, was delicious. According to the menu, the pork in it came direct from a Vancouver Island farm; mixed with green onion, ginger and teriyaki sauce, it had a spicy kick. The potato bacon soup that came with the burger was superb. I also liked that the waitress brought cold water without being asked—in a recycled wine bottle! The decor is plain—nothing fancy about The Pink Bicycle—but the food makes up for the hole-in-the-wall ambience of this restaurant.

Shine Café—eggs bennie with a Victoria twist

For breakfast one morning, I checked out The Shine Café on Fort Street; my friendly bus driver said its claim to fame is the variety of eggs Benedict items on the menu. I tried the Nemo, which is eggs Benedict topped with smoked salmon and a potato scone on the side. Victoria is a harbour city, so it seemed logical to try the local seafood. I wasn't disappointed. The Shine Café is another unprepossessing café, set in a strip mall, though the decor does feature a cheerful colour scheme in oranges, yellows and greens. Like The Pink Bicycle, it's mostly about the food, and that's a good thing. Whether you eat here for breakfast or brunch, you'll be set for the day.

The Bard and Banker—for what "ales" you

I didn't sample a full meal at the Bard and Banker Scottish Pub on Government Street, but judging by the appetizers (fish bites, yam fries), the food is excellent here too. The restaurant is ensconced in a former CIBC bank building where famous Canadian poet Robert Service once held a day job. (Bard and Banker, get it?) This restaurant had, by far, the loveliest decor of all the places I tried. It is all dark wood and chandeliers, no expense spared, and the walls are adorned with historical photographs and samples of Robert Service's poetry. You might say the Bard and Banker offers sustenance for the soul as well as the stomach. Wash it all down with a pint or two of Robert Service ale and it's all good.

Red Fish, Blue Fish—a harbour delight

Red Fish, Blue Fish is a fish and chip truck permanently parked on the wharf in downtown Victoria—just off Wharf Street, naturally. Seating consists of bar stools at an outdoor counter overlooking the harbour. I tried the halibut and shrimp tacone (basically a wrap) and it, too, was yummy. It's a great place for a quick lunch or snack and eating outdoors is an excellent way to whet the appetite.

The Soda Shoppe—the tradition lives on

Finally, I'll mention The Soda Shoppe on Humboldt Street, just round the corner from Victoria's storied Fairmont Empress Hotel. The Soda Shoppe features an old-fashioned soda fountain, one of a very few that are still operating today. It's worth a visit to rekindle memories of those days when every town, large or small, had a soda fountain. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.

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