I’ll never forget the classic Yellow Pages TV ad. It showed a school bus labelled “Vegetarians of Victoria” arriving at a restaurant whose interior turned out to be festooned with stuffed animal heads. Horrified exclamations and fainting ensued. This demonstrated a failure to use the old-fashioned telephone directory properly.
Fortunately, in our age of search engines and social media, it’s easy to find good vegetarian restaurants. And for green, sustainable cuisine, it’s tough to beat Victoria. The BC provincial capital has a longstanding culture of environmentally friendly eateries that deliver amazing flavours – whether you’re a committed vegetarian or a well-intentioned omnivore. Here are five superb sustainable vegetarian restaurants in Victoria.
Founded in the heart of Victoria in 1988, this Bastion Square institution is famous for its classic almond burger and juice smoothies, served on colourful oilcloth tablecloths. The mission statement is clear: “Rebar proves that exotic flavours don’t need to traverse the globe to reach your plate, especially since there is a wealth of culinary treasures in our own backyards.”
Owner and enthusiastic juicer Anil Dangra explained: “We focus on raw ingredients and avoid prepping anything in advance or using processed or packaged ingredients.”
I enjoyed a hot Winter Zinger drink, blending apple, lemon, and ginger juice with cinnamon. In my (edible, non-NFL) Super Bowl, grilled sesame-marinated tofu, steamed vegetables, and avocado with ginger-tahini sauce delightfully complemented the brown rice and spiced chickpeas. After that healthy main course, I couldn’t resist the salted caramel chocolate ganache tart for dessert.
Fern Cafe and Bakery
If you’re feeling sporty, why not start your day off on a healthy, sustainable note? Before checking out the Vancouver Canucks’ training camp at the nearby Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre recently, I ventured off the beaten path to Fern Cafe and Bakery.
Located on the edge of artsy Fernwood, Victoria’s only 100% vegan cafe and bakery opened in 2018. “We called it Fern because we’re outdoorsy and like to forage for mushrooms and be in nature,” said chef Braden Parks, who owns and operates the funky space with his wife Tamara. A mural featuring a happy-looking pig with a carrot in its mouth overlooks the communal tables.
I breakfasted on the signature tofu scrambler with peppers and onions, plus vegan sausage, hash browns, and toasted focaccia on the side. Next time, I’m planning to try Fern’s popular mac and cheese and a ginger cream latte.
At this beautifully restored, 1888-built heritage house on Quebec Street in the lovely James Bay neighbourhood, the seasonally based menu isn’t exclusively vegetarian, but the vegetarian dishes are unique and compelling.
I went wild for Nourish’s smoked carrot lox – a mouthwatering reinvention of smoked salmon – on buckwheat seed toast with cashew cheese. It was served on a wooden board with pickled zucchini and golden beets, among other veggies.
That was an ideal prelude to my hearty rooted grain bowl, including French lentils and farm greens with apple Dijon dressing. I washed it all down with a hot Dandelion Friends drink (dandelions, chicory, maple syrup and oatmeal milk) and a cold Unity Jun drink (green tea, honey, rose, tulsi, lavender). Cashew cheesecake for dessert? We have a winner!
Nourish sources ingredients from the nearby Saanich Peninsula, and grows mint, basil, and rosemary in its garden for garnishes and drink syrups. The relaxing, homey ambiance features a brick fireplace and local abstract artwork. And do pick up the housemade pancake mix for sale in the foyer.
As a sustainable alternative to traditional afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, Venus Sophia stands out in Victoria’s Chinatown. You can enjoy freshly baked scones and raspberry jam cookies made with organic flour, and choose from more than 20 organic, fair-trade loose leaf tea flavours at this elegant tea room. Venus Sophia also offers vegetarian dishes paired with tea, from zucchini feta quiche to foccaccia panini with Brie and artichokes.
Very Good Butchers
The fried, battered cauliflower wings tossed in maple sriracha at Very Good Butchers might be the single tastiest vegetarian appetizer I had in 2019. Washing down my Very Good Burger – featuring a spicy, BBQ-flavoured bean patty – with peach mint kombucha made this a lunch to remember.
You can also devour a seitan bacon (made with gluten) and deli fowl (chicken flavour without actual chicken) charcuterie board at this hotspot in the bustling Victoria Public Market on Douglas Street.
Very Good Butchers specializes in organic, vegan, and handcrafted meat substitutes. On a Saturday afternoon, it’s packed with a casual crowd, wearing flannel shirts and jeans and pushing baby carriages. I bobbed my head when Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” came on. As we move into the 2020’s, vegetarian dining is undeniably on point.
Header image: Avocado, tofu, and steamed veggies grace Rebar’s Super Bowl.
All photos by Lucas Aykroyd