In nearly every respect, 2020 was an unprecedented year. And that holds true in the restaurant industry as much as any other — perhaps even more so, with eateries struck particularly hard by stay-at-home orders and general public apprehension.
So when Yelp set out to conduct their annual Best Restaurants of the Year list, they needed a unique strategy to match this unique year. Instead of crunching the numbers as normal, for the first time they reached out to their community, asking users to nominate local favourites. The result is a much more diverse list, filled with hidden gems that might otherwise be missed.
But little Vancouver Island really knocked it out of the park, with an impressive five local eateries making the cut. The Shirley Delicious Cafe, Fishhook, Jam Cafe, Little Yunnan Restaurant, and Il Terrazzo all wowed Yelp users this year.
Keep reading to find out what makes them all worthy of acclaim — and our insider’s pick for the must-try dish at each.
Tucked away in Shirley, BC, midway between Sooke and Jordan River, no. 13 on the list, the Shirley Delicious Cafe is a truly hidden hidden gem. As a perfect stop on the way to or from one of the West Coast’s stunning hikes, it has long been a favourite of locals and visitors alike, with one Yelp reviewer saying, “My wife and I have eaten breakfast here for three days in a row while on vacation in the area. The food is great and so are the employees! By the number of regular customers we saw coming in during our visits, it was clear that they felt the same.”
The food is the classic breakfast and lunch fare done right — fresh, housemade, local, organic. You’ll enjoy dishes like soups, sandwiches, burritos, and baked goods, including an impressive collection of gluten free options. Perhaps even better than the food, though, is the atmosphere. The unique A-frame design is stocked with local art and staffed with a friendly bunch that make you feel like family.
Our must-try dish: The Brekkie Bun - A classic breakfast sandwich done right with egg, bacon, fresh lettuce, tomato, and cheddar, all on a housemade cheese bun.
@shirley.delicious 2794 Sheringham Point Rd, Shirley
No. 24, Fishhook is the latest venture from the owner of the incredibly popular Red Fish Blue Fish, and its blend of West Coast seafood, French, and Indian cuisines is the fusion food you never knew you needed. The eclectic menu perfectly rides the line between upscale and approachable, with dishes like seafood chowder, hotpot, koftas, and sandwiches.
One Yelp reviewer raved, “Seafood with an Indian twist? YES PLEASE! This fast-casual Victoria spot stole our hearts and filled our stomachs. I had never tried a seafood kofta before, but this fusion of a flavorful, spicy saag with fresh seafood and a lemony baguette was the perfect shared appetizer.”
Our must-try dish: The Tuna Melt - Like no tuna melt you’ve ever tried, this open-faced tartine features caramelized broccoli, local cheese, creamy tonatta sauce, and cold-smoked albacore tuna. It’s a far cry from the standard diner fare.
Victorians know brunch, so the lines snaking out the front of Jam Cafe every weekend reveal it as something truly special. Coming in at no. 44, this downtown spot has a fun and easy-going atmosphere with a Southern-inspired menu to match. The owners rely on old family recipes to churn out perfectly flaky biscuits, tender cornbread, and crispy fried chicken, all served with a bit of a West Coast twist.
Reviewers love the quality flavours and ample portions. “The food was insane. I loved every bite. The portions are also huge enough to feed 4 people.” Prepare to get more than your money’s worth.
Our must-try dish: Fried Chicken - At Jam, they know fried bird. It’s offered in many formats, on eggs benny, on waffles, on French toast, and every one is delicious.
A surprise entry on the list, no. 76 is Chinatown’s Little Yunnan Restaurant, which has built an incredible reputation almost entirely by word of mouth, as more and more diners are seeking an authentic experience. This family-run restaurant showcases the cuisine of China’s Yunnan region, known for spicy and umami-rich dishes.
As one reviewer puts it, “How cool! This is such an unusual and fun little place. I knew nothing about Yunnan cuisine before hopping in here, and ended up having one of the most unique meals I've had in a very long time.”
The prices are low, especially given the huge portion sizes, and the menu provides detailed descriptions and photos of each dish. You’re even served a binder of information about the Yunnan region, which is useful because after eating here, you’re sure to want to plan a visit.
Our must-try dish: Crossing the Bridge Noodles - Don’t miss this house specialty featuring steaming hot broth, rice noodles, and a collection of fillings, each in an individual tiny dish. Half the fun is composing it yourself following instructions on the table.
Just squeaking in at no. 93 is Il Terrazzo, a classic date-night spot for over 25 years. It offers a wide-ranging menu with a focus on Northern Italian cuisine, but with a West Coast vibe. You’ll get expected favourites like pizzas, pastas, soups, and salads, but with a high-end twist and often leaning heavily on local ingredients.
The atmosphere is begging for a romantic evening, with brick fireplaces, abundant candles, and a flower-filled courtyard for dining al fresco.
Said one local reviewer, “Had a staycation in Victoria and wanted to go to our favourite restaurant, Il Terrazzo. Super impressed with their COVID-19 strategies and felt totally comfortable. As always, the food was superb, and the service by lovely Marissa was top notch.”
Our must-try dish: Paella - Sure, paella is a Spanish dish, but this Italian restaurant does it right. Flavoured traditionally with saffron and white wine, it’s overflowing with seafood, and a topping of crispy fried squid adds perfect textural contrast.
ilterrazzo.com 555 Johnson St.
What do you think of Yelp’s list? Did your favourite make the cut, or is it still waiting to be discovered? Let us know!