Forget that idea of old imperial Victoria. Yes, you can have high tea at the regal Fairmont Empress, but also spicy salmon tacones at Red Fish, Blue Fish - a converted shipping container on the dock. The new Victoria is a port of call for foodies of all ages and persuasions. Here are the culinary destinations, old and new, that have the city buzzing, with a few stops in between to help you regain your appetite.
Red Fish, Blue Fish Approach this takeout joint from behind, and you'll see two cargo containers sitting on the dock alongside big recycling and composting bins. Get closer and you'll see people - not seagulls - buzzing around, placing orders, downing first servings and ordering more to take home. The most popular item is the barbecued wild salmon tacones . One bite and you'll see why. The taste of the grill on the wrap and the unexpected flavours inside (sweet-smoked chili adobo, pea shoots and lemon pickled onions) will have you wishing you could stay and soak up the view of kayakers, float planes, sailboats and old-fashioned tour boats in the inner harbour, while testing all the fare on the sustainable Ocean Wise menu. (The Fanny Bay Oyster Sandwich, with golden shallot aioli, tartar, tempura dill pickle and lemon pickled onions, comes highly recommended.) But the harbour is beautiful, the autumn sun is shining, twentysomethings are singing on the breakwall, and the next food stop is calling your name. 1006 Wharf St. (on the pier); 250-298-6877; www.redfish-bluefish.com.
Café Bliss Next is the restaurant granola foodies rave about. Everything here is organic, raw, as locally sourced as possible - and, if my small sampling is an indication, surprisingly delicious. The corn salad with avocado, shredded carrot and greens packs an unannounced heat that gives depth and strength. Salad for dinner? After a day of travel, it does a body good. But do pick up unbaked sweet treats for a pre-breakfast nibble - the coconut-mango balls are especially fortifying. 556 Pandora Ave.; 250-590-5733; www.cafebliss.ca.
An evening coffee Instead of a Starbucks on every corner, Victoria has its share of London-like, long-countered cafés. Get a strong coffee to go and stumble into what has to be one of Canada's best bookstores: Munro's Books. Owned by Jim Munro, ex-husband of author Alice Munro, this independent carries a terrific selection and the ambience makes time and other customers disappear. 1108 Government St.; 888-243-2464; www.munrosbooks.com.
ReBar Start your second day with a fortifying breakfast at ReBar. On a Friday morning, this local institution is hopping. Even the reduced serving of whole wheat, buttermilk and blueberry hotcakes with a side of hash browns is enough to feed a small family. You can modify your order even further - at least with the pancakes, ordering just one or two. And that's a good idea, because the bakery counter will call your name with deep-dish peach or coconut cream pies, cookies and squares. The popular downstairs restaurant is open through dinner, and has local brews in the fridge. 50 Bastion Sq.; 250-361-9223; www.rebarmodernfood.com.
Silk Road Poke around the shops (try Roberta's Hats, 1318 Government St., just for fun) before heading in to the Silk Road tea company for a tasting - a Victoria tradition that reaches fever peak before Christmas. The friendly staff will help you identify your favourite smells and tastes and then brew up samples of various teas for you to compare. Love the smell of toasted raisin bread? Try the Velvet Potion. Can't decide what to take home? The sample tins, at $3.99 each, brew up as many as 10 pots of tea, and are an affordable way to bring home a basket of flavours. 1624 Government St.; 250-704-2688; www.silkroadtea.com.
Fairmont Empress After trying tea samples, you should be ready for the real deal. There are many ways to take your tea in Victoria, but if you have an ounce of affection for tradition, indulge in afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress. It's the grand old dame of Victoria, and grand it is - in stature, architecture and price. But it's worth it. You're partaking in a time-honoured tradition: The Fairmont has been offering high tea with its signature blend since 1908. The stately yet comfortable lounge has changed little since the hotel's opening, and for those dining alone, reading the history of the Empress - from the incentives offered to lure the Canadian Pacific (municipal politics hasn't changed in a century) to the design of the rooms - is as pleasant as people-watching in these elegant environs. The tables, set with heavy silverware, fill to capacity with couples young and old, gay and straight, families, business acquaintances, locals and tourists, and groups of twentysomething girlfriends. The dainty sandwiches and decadent desserts (including the requisite scone with strawberry preserves and heavy cream) are surprisingly filling, so pace yourself and save room for the checkerboard cake wrapped in marzipan. 721 Government St.; 250-389-2727; www.fairmont.com/empress/guestservices/restaurants/afternoontea.
Cook Village Walk off the high tea by heading through nearby Cook Village, a bustling neighbourhood where you'll see Victorians walking dogs and children walking stuffed animals; where busking means a kid playing his cello in front of a coffee shop. Stroll through Beacon Hill Park (stopping at the public washroom near the tennis courts if need be after all that tea), where you may stroll by peacocks and ducks, hot guys and old couples playing croquet, twentysomethings kissing in a tree, and a family soccer game before arriving at Dallas Street for a walk on the path along the beach.
Zambri's After that brisk and none-too-short walk, you're ready for dinner and your final culinary destination. And where better in Victoria than Zambri's? Victorians who know food know that this unassuming strip-mall Italian place is actually one of the city's hottest restaurants. They don't take reservations, and even if you try to time it for the wave of openings as one seating leaves, you may join the curling lineup and face a 40-minute wait. But it's worth it: Have a glass of wine and watch Chef Peter Zambri and his crew in the open kitchen before indulging in dishes made with seasonal ingredients. A move to a bigger space is under way, so try it now so you can say, "I ate there when…" 110-911 Yates St.; 250-360-1171; www.zambris.ca.Report Typo/Error