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Looking for those "hidden gems" in Vancouver and Victoria

I have been researching my upcoming trip to Vancouver and Victoria for some time and there seems to be some consistency with the restaurants that have been recommended. That is great. I have a list of places I really want to try (like Murchie's for Afternoon Tea and Vij's for a great dinner ... and I'll be going back to the awesome Maple Delights Bistro I found on my last trip to Vancouver.)

I just have a hunch that there are some really great places that aren't being mentioned. I am on a tight budget, so I am in search of those hole-in-the-wall, divey kind of places that a true Chowhound loves. - I think the reason I haven't seen many threads on here about those places is because it is mainly tourists asking where to go eat ... and maybe one would think someone doesn't want to eat so casually on vacation. (Just a thought)

I am in search of great inexpensive food! I don't care if it is a street vendor or a 5 seat shack (I do care that it is clean though. I don't need botulism on vacation!)

Please, someone point me in the right direction ...

I think I saw someone on the Internet mention a Jamaican place in Market Square (Victoria) does anyone know anything about this?

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  1. I really like Cafe Vieux Montreal on Government Street (Victoria).

    6 Replies
    1. re: twinkienic

      Hidden Gems:

      I can't speak to Vancouver, as I do not live there, but I know of a few hidden gems in Victoria.

      1) Hernandez. It is very hidden (but very popular with locals) and serves what the owner describes as "Mayan" food; that is, hand made corn tortillas, authentic Mexican drinks like Horchatas, you get the picture. It is in a walkway between Yates Street and View Street INSIDE A BUILDING. I think the building is called St. Anthony's Square, but I could be wrong. If you can, go at 11 or 1:30 for lunch because the place gets insane with downtown office workers at noon-1:30. Anyway, the building is on the south side of Yates St in the block that runs between Douglas and Blanshard.
      2) Estevan Fish and Chips--aka "Willow's Galley." These are the best fish 'n' chips in town, IMHO. Really dense but moist halibut, a lighter batter, fresh-cut fries. The place, like Hernandez, is very small, but there are stools, and if the weather is nice, you can take the meal down to the beach. This is in Oak Bay, not downtown.
      3) Zambri's. Not cheap, but if you go for lunch, not too bad either. Dinner isn't so expensive (entrees around $25). It used to be a lot cheaper for Americans to eat here before your dollar tanked. Anyway, Peter Zambri is an Italian fellow who cooks rustic Italian food using almost exclusively local ingredients. I remember a server telling me once that everything on my plate was produced within a 30 km (20 mile) radius of the restaurant, excepting the durum semolina used in the pasta. Anyway, Zambri is a good spot, almost all locals would agree, and although well known is off the beaten path (downtown, but in a strip mall with London Drugs. Corner or Yates and Vancouver streets).
      4) The Superior Cafe. In James Bay, on Superior St, just a short walk from downtown. Dinners-only, I think. They use mostly BC ingredients and serve BC beers and wines. A fun place that often has live entertainment (esp. music).
      5) Choux Choux Charcuterie. The ultimate foodie hole-in-the-wall. These guys are serious about their charcuterie and make their own delicious sausages and pates. They have an excellent selection of cheeses (mostly European) and cured meats. They sell a lot of interesting imported condiments, and they also have a daily lunch special for about $10 that is generous in portion-size and invariably good quality food. This would be a good place to amass ingredients for a picnic in Beacon Hill Park. By the way, they are on Fort ST between Blanshard and Quadra. They are easy to miss because they are so small (it is the North side of Fort ST, but that might not help if you are from out of town).
      6) The Parsonnage. In Fernwood (a 20 minute walk from downtown), hidden on a little side st (North Park, I believe). A hole-in-the-wall neighbourhood cafe that makes great soups and terrific scones, sandwiches, and other lunch items. Not too expensive, and the emphasis is on healthy food, although they do use cheese and non-vegan ingredients (not any meat, though, as far as I can recall).
      7) PIg. This is a tiny hole-in-the-wall that does three things: pulled pork sandwich, beef brisket on a bun, and smoked chicken on a bun. You're from Atlanta and can doubtlessly get way better and more authentic BBQ; however, these guys charge just $5 a sandwich. And you know what? It's a very tasty sandwich. I find their sauce leans more toward a spicy vinegar flavour rather than a sweet or smokey flavour. They have good sides for $1.50 each, especially the baked beans or the kosher pickle on a stick. I've yet to try the cornbread with the thyme and honey drizzle.
      8) Italian Food Imports: This is on Blanshard, I believe between View and Fort. This is an extremely popular lunch spot. They do a $5 pasta on a paper-plate, and the type of pasta and sauce changes daily. I'm particularly fond of their rose sauce on serpentini. They also do tasty grilled panini.
      9) Ottavio's: On Oak Bay Avenue, in "the village." They are a bakery/cheese shop extraodinaire, but they also sell grilled panini, salads, and light lunch items. I wouldn't make a trip to Oak Bay just for this place, unless you were assembling a picnic basket (they have an amazing cheese selection and a great selection of imported cured meats, olives, and all manner of olive oils, organic butters, you name it...).
      10) I think the Jamaican place you have heard about is the "Jamaican Jerk House" which is acutally across the street from Market Sq, on Pandora at Government (actually in the same building but around the corner from a large strip club called "Monty's"). I have not eaten there since they moved away from their Esquimalt location. The food is not as good as some of the Jamaican I used to get when I lived in Toronto, which has a large Jamaican population, but it's not bad either, and it's reasonably priced. Tasty jerk chicken, good housemade ginger beer (they'll add a shot of Appleton's rum if you ask for it), fried plantains; the usual suspects for a West Indian restaurant. The service can be very slow.

      Well, that's a start for you. There are many other great hidden gems in Victoria, and an even larger number of tourist traps that serve garbage on a plate for exorbitant prices. As with all tourist destinations, beware the guide books. I am always alarmed when I see the shlock that the major guidebooks recommend in the cities in which I have lived. Shameful.

      Have a great trip!

      (And by the way, while Murchies is not bad for afternoon tea, their baked goods are pretty skanky and it is a tourist trap, much like the Empress. You'd be way better off at the White Heather tea room on Oak Bay Avenuen [again, not downtown]. This was discussed in an earlier forum on this site, and nearly every poster who had been to the White Heather gave it rave reviews).

      1. re: anewton

        WOW! What a list!! Thank you so much -exactly what I was looking for.

        I have to say, I am really surprised about Murchies. I was under the impression that it was the anti-tourist trap. Thank you for letting me know. I guess the idea of Afternoon Tea is touristy in itself, but I LOVE it. (Ever since my first time in England ... back then I called it "High Tea" like the rest of those people who don't have tea in their culture, but they set me straight. HaHa) I know I don't want the Empress (Even Harrod's doesn't charge those prices for what they give you!)... I will try the White Heather.

        1. re: anewton

          All of those suggestions are excellent, anewton. I would also add to the list the very hidden (in Colwood) Smoken Bones Cookshack.

          I have to disagree on Murchies. I think it's the anti-tourist trap at least compared to the Empress, and I've never had a cake or cookie there I didn't like. But to each his own.

          1. re: anewton

            The suggestions above are great however, I would specifcally disagree with the 'Parsonnage' characterization. I have been turned off each time I have been there.

            The first time I couldn't find a seat and nobody seemed interested in helping me. When I did find a little corner it was covered in newspapers and magazines which I cleared away as all the hippies dining there glared at me.

            The second time I met a bunch of middle aged new-age ladies there with my small child. I thought surely I can feel welcome this time, not so. I got the passive aggressive treatment from the 50 something waitress. Firstly my meal wasn't delivered with everyone else's. Upon inquiring the server played dumb with nairy a wince of embarrassment. My meal then arrived without my drink. I decided to let that slide, but when I went to pay they still tried to charge me. I got the same shameless "too bad" look from the server.

            I would have overlooked everything had the food been remarkable. It wasn't. Perhaps there is some special appeal for vegetarians that I just don't get. I did have a very nice soup and that's about it.

            I personally wouldn't endorse the Parsonnage as representative of a great Victoria eatery soley based on those experiences. Your experiences may be better.

            A few other really great places I can recommend are Smokin' Bones Cafe in Colwood/Langford. BBQ in the style of the American South, a little upscale but quite authentic flavours mmm.

            Also Baan Thai on Blanshard and View (downtown) for wicked Thai food.

            There a a few places at the Ocean Pointe resort/hotel (ie. The Boardwalk) that are surprising for hotel venues.

            Zap Thai in Esquimalt is a true hole in the wall treasure.

            The Mint on Douglas (Nepalese/Indian - downtown), great martinis.

            San Pan (Quadra and McKenzie in Saanich) for white glove Chinese (Cantonese). The Lemon chicken is a stand out.

            And Tacquitos (Mexican) which has moved and possibly changed names?

            Good eating.

            1. re: John Folse

              Just to add to what you've said, John, Baan Thai now has a second location at Fort & Foul Bay, and Las Taquitos has moved to lower Yates St. and changed its name to Casa Tequila.

            2. re: anewton

              BANG ON, BABY! The White Heather is the way to go. Couldn't agree more with your other reccomendations..

          2. Victoria - I love the Mint for late night eats
            And For a FUN lunch in Vic I love Japanese Village. I know it's not true Japanese but it's tasty, lots of food, fun, and a wonderful deal (I eat for about 9 bucks when I go for lunch)
            One tip - You HAVE to get the steak sauce on your rice (soooooo not japanese, but I don't care). They expect it, everyone (almost) does it. The sauce is to die for. I have come up with a reasonable copy of it. The chef holds the recipe very close. I have know him for about 7 years and he STILL refuses to give it up LOL.

            Vancouver (where I live now)
            Slickety Jim's Chat and Chew for brekky. Expect a wait, but usually not long. The last thing I ate there - "If Stalin had a Rubber Ducky" Cross between Huevos and a benny. Very tasty. Main street and Broadway

            Aurora - Nice place, not a dive but casual and not SUPER expensive ( I can afford to eat there about once a month). Extremely fresh food, and BC only Wine list.

            Water street Cafe - Gastown right across from the water clock. Good food, good prices, great atmosphere and people watching.

            Salt - In Blood Alley (yes I spelled it correctly) Wine list, charcuterie and cheese

            I can name some other upscale places but those there are my faves for affordability

            2 Replies
            1. re: starlady

              I don't suppose you could be enticed to reveal your version?

            2. Vancouver:

              One of my new favs is Jules Bistro in Gastown. Casual French bistro. My French friends (living in Vancouver) always go there and close the place down. Their Filet de boeuf with morel cream sauce is to die for!

              http://www.julesbistro.ca

              Hapa Izakaya or Kitanoya Guu is a local fav for izakaya - Japanese tapas.

              1. If you're on a really tight budget a person can dine for around $10 or less at most of the places below (except Rex as noted)

                1. If you're adventurous check out the Richmond Night Market - Asian street food galore!
                2. The Kolachy Shop 888 Beatty St near BC Place. Kolachies for breakfast.
                3. Gyoza King on Robson Street.
                4. Au Petite Cafe 4851 Main Street for excellent banh mi.
                5. The 3 course table d'hote at Rex in Bentall Centre downtown for $25 is excellent value
                6. Go Fish near Granville Island next to the fisherman’s wharf for good fish and chips and fish tacos.
                7. Phnom Penh Restaurant, 244 E Georgia St.
                8. Dona Cata, 5438 Victoria Drive tacos/Mexican on Victoria Drive. One of the more authentic Mexican places in Vancouver.

                You can get basic contact info, map and a sense of what people have to say about these places at dinehere.ca. Note that you have to take many of the reviews with a grain of salt. Note also that a few of these places - Dona Cata, Au Petite and Richmond of course - are some distance from downtown and would be best accessed if you have a car.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Wonder

                  Go Fish is absolutely incredible. It is very hard to find if you don't know where you are going, and I made my family chase around a lot looking for it when we were there, and they were pretty annoyed until they tasted the food. These are the best fish and chips in the known world.

                  1. re: Anne H

                    Ok, How do I find it? - I don't want to get lost ;-)

                    1. re: rachelfromatlanta

                      Search "Go Fish Ocean Emporium" in Google Maps.

                      1. re: Wonder

                        Some of the folks from Go Fish have just opened up "Red Fish Blue Fish" in Victoria

                      2. re: rachelfromatlanta

                        I assume this is way too late, but-- it is across the bridge from Granville Island, on the mainland (my first mistake in trying to find it) along the water, right next to a fishing dock-- turn right off the bridge and walk along the water, I believe. There is also a street you can drive along-- mapquest it! Just don't do what I did the first time, which is assume I could find it, and leave the directions in the hotel room!

                        1. re: Anne H

                          During the summer, all you had to look for was the large, 1-2 hour lineup.

                  2. Rachel, I was in Victoria about three weeks ago and can offer the following comments

                    I'm not sure Choux Choux Charcuterie can be described as a hole in the wall place. Yes, it's small but you can easily spend some $$ there. If you can swing it, they will pack a great picnic lunch for two for $45.

                    I did not get to Estevan Fish and Chips but I've heard it's good. I can personally recommend Haultain Fish and Chips, a very simple place on Haultain near Cook Street. The food was outstanding and the service very friendly. I'm told this place has been around for almost 50 years so they must be doing something right. I would choose Haultain over Barb's Place which is at Fisherman's Wharf on the Inner Harbour. The latter is good but it's always swarming with tourists. It is so busy that there are two lines - one to order and one to pick up your order. Then you have to find a place to sit at several communal picnic tables.

                    For tea, also consider Point Ellice House though it can also be touristy. Another good tea room in Oak Bay Village is The Blethering Place at the corner of Oak Bay Avenue and Monterey - www.theBletheringPlace.com

                    For breakfasts, check out this recent link for some good spots: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/418704