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In Vancouver, where several thousand eateries represent almost every cuisine on the planet, deciding what to eat is as important as deciding what to see and do. Vancouverites are a health-conscious lot, so light, organic, and vegetarian meals are easy to find, and every restaurant and even most pubs ban smoking indoors and out. Good coffee is everywhere—downtown you'll never have to walk more than half a block for a cup of high-test cappuccino.
On-the-go dining, served from mobile trucks, is a relatively new phenomenon and is giving mundane hot-dog vendors a run for their money. Street eats are so good that many locals choose them over sit-down restaurants, especially when they're short on time. Neighborhood pubs, both in and outside cities, are another good bet for casual meals. Many have a separate restaurant section where you can take kids.
In Victoria and on Vancouver Island, the farm-to-fork ethos is particularly strong, in part because the island's bounty is so accessible. Many chefs work directly with organic farmers when they are creating their distinctive regional dishes. You'll be please to find that in addition to top-draw destinations such as Whistler, you'll find excellent food even in the most out-of-the-way places in the province.
Although the Canadian dollar is no longer the steal it once was, dining in British Columbia is still one of North America's great bargains. To be sure, high-end entrées, especially where seafood is involved, can top C$35, but C$20 to C$25 is more the norm. Bargains abound: the densest cluster of cheap eats in Vancouver is along Denman Street in the West End. Another budget option is to check out the lunch specials at any of the small Asian restaurants lining the streets in both Vancouver and Victoria. They serve healthy hot meals for about the same cost as a take-out burger and fries. But beware: alcohol is pricey in B.C., and bottle of wine can easily double your bill.
Despite dwindling stocks, wild Pacific salmon—fresh, smoked, dried, candied, barbecued, or grilled on an alder wood plank in the First Nations fashion—remains British Columbia's signature dish. Other local delicacies served at B.C.'s upmarket restaurants include Fanny Bay or Long Beach oysters and Salt Spring Island lamb. Another homegrown treat is the Nanaimo Bar. Once a Christmas bake-sale standard, this chocolate-and-icing concoction has made its way to trendy city cafés.
Most upscale restaurants in Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler observe standard North American mealtimes: 5:30 to 9 or so for dinner, roughly noon to 2 if open for lunch. Casual places like pubs typically serve food all afternoon and into the evening. Restaurants that stay open late (meaning midnight or 1 am) usually morph into bars after about 9 pm, but the kitchen stays open. In Vancouver, the West End and Kitsilano have the most late-night choices. In Victoria, pubs and a couple of jazz clubs are your best bet.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed in this guide are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but a few smaller restaurants accept only cash. Discover cards are little known in Canada, and many restaurants outside of Vancouver do not accept American Express.
Regardless of where you are, it's a good idea to make a reservation if you can. In some places, it's expected. In British Columbia, smart casual dress is acceptable everywhere.
At the hottest restaurants in Vancouver, Victoria, and Whistler, you need to make reservations at least two weeks in advance, perhaps more if you want to dine between 7 and 9, or on a Friday or Saturday night. On weeknights or outside of the peak tourist season, you can usually secure a table by calling the same day.
If you want to dine, but not sleep, at one of B.C.'s better-known country inns, such as the Sooke Harbour House or the Wickaninnish Inn, make your reservation as far ahead as possible. Six months ahead is not unreasonable. Guests staying at these inns are given first choice for dining reservations, which means spaces for nonguests are limited. Remember to call the restaurant should you need to cancel your reservation—it's only courteous.
Though little known outside the province, British Columbia wines have beaten those from many more established regions in international competitions. A tasting tour of B.C.'s Okanagan wine region is a scenic way to experience some of these vintages, many of which are made in smallish batches and rarely find their way into liquor stores.
British Columbians are also choosy about their beer, brewing and drinking (per capita) more microbrewed ales and lagers than anyone else in the country. You'll find a daunting selection of oddly named brews, since many cottage breweries produce only enough for their local pubs. It's always worth asking what's on draft.