Driving Vancouver Island

While in the city I adhere, for the most part, to a diet of refinement and good ethics. That is, I seek out good quality food that more or less honours the trifecta standard of organic, fair trade, and local. But when I’m on the road these rules can admittedly slacken a little —sometimes a lot— in the name of quick service, and finding something that’s easy to eat on the go and completely novel from my daily Victoria grind. While I love finding a hidden gem of culinary excellence by serendipitous accident, the exceptions to the rule are often my favourite part of the trip.

Heading up island from Victoria towards Tofino, there’s a mixed bag of quick stops you can be proud of and others that are sheer road trip indulgence. Before I split the city, I usually fill a bag with some fruit from the Market on Yates and my all star pick-me-up, a bar of dark chocolate, preferably Organic Fair from Cobble Hill. Once on the highway heading North, you can swerve off Highway 1 into the Drumroaster in Duncan at #24-1400 Cowichan Bay Road for a superb Americano to fuel you up for the drive ahead. Rolling along into Nanaimo, you may want to pull over for a quick bite at Mon Petit Choux Bakery at 101-120 Commercial Street. Take a break and sit down for their roasted chicken breast with rosemary aioli and cranberry compote sandwich or Halibut Blanquette en Croute; or keep on truckin’ and grab a house made baguette to go. A little further up, Parksville’s Real Food (152 Morrison St.) offers take-out meals like their Torta Rustica, fresh bread, and fresh salads featuring local ingredients. Grab a couple forks, jump back in the car, and you’re good to go.

When heading West toward Tofino, I usually pull into Coombs Old Country Market. It’s admittedly touristy and the pastries are piled obscenely high with multiple layers of sugar, but it’s an entertaining place to peruse and grab some candied salmon, coffee candies, or an ice cream cone (sugar in many forms is a real theme here). The big gimmick is the goats on the roof and several signs as you approach it make absolutely sure you know about them. I haven’t met the goats yet, but the service here is always friendly and helpful, the restrooms are always clean, and the coffee is always, well, hot.

Driving on through to Port Alberni, I must confess the J&L Drive-In pulls me in like a magnet. My parents used to seek out shiny fifties-era diners on our cross country road trips through the U.S. as a kid, and I hold a nostalgic soft spot for any place that refuses to glorify the classic burger and fries. The food is nothing to get too excited about here, but it’s a fun stop and hits the spot. And nothing says road trip like a root beer float and a greasy basket of onion rings.

When doing the trip in reverse, be sure to hit the Tofitian on the Pacific Rim Highway on your way out of Tofino. They serve impressive coffee and are sandwiched between the Wildside Grill, a fish and chip wagon that gets that classic just right, and Beaches Grocery, a tiny supermarket jam packed with excellent produce and semi-healthy snacks of the salty and crunchy variety for the long ride home. – by Katie Zdybel

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