Going to Victoria this weekend from Seattle, with my wife's parents from Trenton/Princeton, NJ. We will have two, possibly three dinners, two breakfast/brunch and/or lunches (depending on timing and portion size), plus an afternoon for tea and/or beer/pub food/small plates. Would probably avoid Italian, pizza or Indian food unless it is truly exceptional given the availability in central NJ.
Zambri's (Italian, lunch or dinner)
Red Fish Blue Fish (fish and chips)
Empress Room OR White Heather (afternoon tea)
Jade Fountain in Red Lion hotel (dim sum)
L'ecole Brasserie (french bistro, lunch or dinner)
Cafe Brio (Medd., lunch or dinner)
Stage Wine Bar (small plates, wine, etc.)
Ferris Oyster Bar (beer, bivalves)
Spinnaker's (pub food)
Niche (NW/organic, brunch or dinner)
Willie's Bakery (breakfast, pastries)
Please comment and make any suggestions if I have overlooked something important.
I know you didn't mention it at all in your original post but if you need coffee at any point, check out Habit (just west of Government on Pandora), 2% Jazz (just north of Kings on Douglas) or Discovery (on Discovery just west of Douglas). All are a significant cut above your average shop.
Zambri's--Very good choice. The pasta dishes are excellent (i.e. very good duck ragu). The food is prepared properly. The produce is primarily local. The prices are fair. The service is good. The only drawback is the no reservation policy. And the stripmall surroundings. However, the restaurant is downtown...easy to get to.
Red Fish Blue Fish--Great choice. Not only good fish and chips, also excellent sandwiches featuring tuna, scallops, oysters, etc...Good chips, too! Expect long line-ups at lunch, though. Plus, it is outdoor eating only, so it is sort of weather-dependent.
White Heather offers a much better deal than the Empress for afternoon tea.
I'd skip dim sum. You can do much better in Seattle.
Brasserie L'Ecole--Best overall restaurant in Victoria IMO, if you factor in value. You will absolutely need a reservation. Probably at this point you are looking at a 9 pm seating for Friday or Saturday dinner. My favourite: their NY striploin (10 oz) served with red wine/shallot reduction and pat of roquefort butter, along with frites (which can also be tossed with garlic, parsley, parmesan, and truffle oil at your request). The sour cherry chocolate tart is fantastic. Great starters, too. And don't ignore the wine policy--you can order from any bottle on their list (sparling wines excluded) if you order a minimum of two glasses.
Cafe Brio--So-so, IMO. Good wine list, good wine service, but the food is not consistent.
Stage Wine Bar--Only been there once. It is a fun place. Good for sharing. It is a young restaurant, and some of the service kinks are still being ironed out, but not a bad choice at all. Will fulfill the 'small plates' requirement for your trip (might be nice for an afternoon snack).
Ferris Oyster Bar--Not bad for comfort food. Decent burgers and sandwiches. Friendly atmosphere. Reasonably priced. A good choice for your pub meal, even though it is not a pub.
Spinnakers--good beer, but the food is and has always been a let-down. I have eaten there countless times over the years (it is a short walk from my house) and am almost always disappointed in the food. Nice place for a beer.
Niche--Great reputation thus far. I have not eaten there yet. Supposed to have more modern food than many places in stuffy ole Victoria.
Willie's Bakery--Decent coffee; okay baked goods.
May I make a few suggestions?
1) Mo:Le for breakfast. Right downtown on Pandora Ave. This always busy breakfast joint has great egg dishes (their eggs benny and their Mo's Biscuit are my two favs). The fun thing to do is to get on their 'waitlist' to be seated, tell them you'll be next door drinking your morning coffees at Habit, and the server from Mo:Le will come to get you when your table is ready. A local tradition!
2) May I second the recommendation for Paprika as a dinner option? This Oak Bay area restaurant has excellent food with a real emphasis on local produce. In fact, the owners grow much of the produce they serve in their own garden! I had a flawless birthday dinner at Paprika earlier this year.
3) There are some good French places in Victoria, such as Matisse and Chez Michel, but Brasserie L'ecole is the most consistent IMO.
4) There are a few 'hole-in-the-wall' places for lunch that are fun and reasonably priced. 'Pig' has good sandwiches (pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken) and good sides (good slaw, BBQ beans, cornbread, kosher pickles).
'Choux-Choux' Charcuterie has great lunch specials. Usually they have a soup, a good sandwich (grilled), a nice charcuterie plate, and a plats du jour, which might be something like duck confit served with seasonal vegetables. Lunch only. Very consistent and featuring only top-notch ingredients.
the Moss Street Market, Saturdays from 10 AM to 2 PM, has WONDERFUL fresh local fruit and veggies, light lunch options, and in general is a festive atmosphere. Most of the good produce sells by 10:30 AM, so get there early if you want the blueberries, strawberries, or other organic local produce!
Good luck. Looking forward to your report.