Just because almost anything tastes good after a long day slaloming through the snow in Whistler, British Columbia, doesn't mean you have to settle for subpar supper in this mountainside resort town. Whistler's restaurant scene has blossomed in recent years, offering the opportunity to slip off the slopes and into the bar for oyster happy hour before moving on to traditional Japanese udon noodles or local elk tartar.
Whistler has a distinct advantage among ski towns, located just an hour and half north of one of the world's best cities for eating, Vancouver, BC. Fresh seafood, local meats and produce, and well-honed technique are easy to find at many of the Whistler's restaurants—if you know were to look and how to avoid the tourist traps. Here's a cheat sheet for finding great meals in Whistler:
Ciao Thyme BistroA tiny Upper Village bistro that does a fabulous impression a small neighborhood brunch spot—an impressive feat in a resort town full of tourists. BC specialties are integrated into traditional dishes—think eggs Benedict with crab cakes—at brunch. Lunch is worth walking the extra hundred yards from the bottom of Blackcomb Mountain to get to for freshly-made, full-flavored sandwiches. In winter Ciao offers dinner, missing no beats from the classic bistro style, letting diners cozy up to roasted chicken, acorn squash gnocchi, or short-rib ravioli.
Ciao Thyme Bistro: 4573 Chateau Blvd, V0N 1B4; 604-932-7051; website
Pure BreadI've heard Vancouverites debate the drive up to Whistler just for a bite of Pure Bread's baked goods, and it's hard to argue with that. Big, crusty breads mingle with rich desserts and delicate baked goods, both sweet and savory. The huge variety that this shop is able to put out—from ultra-fluffu scones to a "Seriously Seedy" loaf that's seriously good—is impressive, and makes for some great loaf-ogling as you sip a cup of Stumptown coffee (the best cuppa you'll find in these parts).
Due to a fire, Pure Bread is in a temporary location in the Whistler Marketplace for the Winter 2013-4 season. Their Function Junction location also remains open.
Pure Bread: Marketplace, 129-4340 Lorimer Rd, V0N 1B4;
1-1040 Millar Creek Road, Function Junction, V0N 1B1; 604-938-3013; website
Bearfoot BistroThe most eye-catching thing about Bearfoot Bistro is the price tag on their prix fixe, but where you should really be looking is the oyster happy hour. The cold waters of BC's coast are prime oyster habitat, and Bearfoot brings in some of the region's finest, serving them alongside their fancy champagne service as part of the dinner. The smart slurper, however, comes by from 3-5 p.m. any day (prime après ski time), when Bearfoot serves them up for $9.95 a dozen at the bar.
Bearfoot Bistro: 4121 Village Green, V0N 1B4; 604-932-3433; website
Rimrock CaféThe Rimrock captures old-school, ski-town coziness impeccably, with a log-cabin warmth and lived-in feel rubbing shoulders with the candlelit-classiness and impeccable service. The menu is filled with fish and game classics (the venison is always a good choice), with just a few forays into updated dishes, like the scallop and pork belly appetizer with ancho chili sauce. Nearing its third decade in a town that has seen exponential growth in that time, the Rimrock is the elder statesman of Whistler dining. Consider it an elegant, dependable old man, full of (culinary) wisdom to dispense at a leisurely pace.
Rimrock Café: 2117 Whistler Rd, V0N 1B2; 604-932-5565; website
Sushi VillageFull disclosure: this has been my favorite restaurant in the world since I could still count my age on my fingers. At that time, my parents would limit our options to non-sushi items to keep the budget under control, so bowls of udon noodle soup (still just $5.45), sometimes loaded up with tempura ($9.25), were good choices from the full menu of Japanese offerings (spinach gomae, sukiyaki, plus locally-inspired items like avocado and Dungeness crab salad). As an employed adult, I feel free to spoil myself at their sushi bar, choosing from fresh uni, 'box' style sushi, and whatever else the specials menu has featured. The no-reservations policy means that waits are de rigueur on the comfy couches of the bar area, except for larger parties, who would be smart to call ahead about one of the private tatami rooms.
Sushi Village: 4272 Mountain Square, V0N 1B4; 604-932-3330; website
Alta BistroSince opening in late 2010, Alta Bistro has evolved from a simple bistro with exceptional food to a true high-end, modern restaurant experience (the kind where you'd be wise to reserve way in advance). While those who may have gone in the past will mourn the relegation of the terrific-value prix-fixe menu to off-season only, the beautifully presented plates feature the kind of modern technique you'd expect at a multiple-Michelin-starred restaurant: Alberta elk tartar and duck liver parfait arrives in a little jar, with cocoa nibs and molasses rye bread crumbs spilling onto the wood board below, wowing customers as they admire the newly expanded space.
Alta Bistro: 4319 Main St, V0N 1B4; 604-932-2582; website
AraxiThis sibling restaurant of some of Vancouver's finest (West, Blue Water Café) brings a bit of big city swank up to Whistler's main square. The newly-installed oyster bar gleams, refreshing the long-standing restaurant. Fresh seafood is a star here, including the multi-tiered seafood towers. Alongside the urban shine, Araxi offers a little ski town warmth, like the après-ski bar special fondue. The most important thing that Araxi has to offer, however, is the one thing that nobody else in Whistler seems to have been able to master: a decent cocktail (try the barrel-aged boulevardier).
Araxi: 4222 Village Square, V0N 1B4; 604-932-4540; website
Zog's Dogs/Beaver TailsThis Village window is brave, featuring no indoor seating, even in the height of ski season. It has reason to be confident, though, serving up two uniquely Canadian foods: poutine, and large, flat pieces of fried dough called Beaver Tails. The tails really aren't that different from the elephant ears served at state fairs, except for the toppings, which start with the familiar (cinnamon and sugar), but expand to a variety that includes chocolate hazelnut, apple cinnamon, and, for the full Canadian experience, maple butter. The budget-snack stop by window does brisk business in hot dogs at lunchtime, but it really comes alive for prime poutine time—it's open until 1 a.m. on Saturdays.
Zog's Dogs/Beaver Tails: 4340 Sundial Crescent, V0N 1B4; 604-938-6644; Google+
About the author: Naomi Bishop is a Seattle based food and travel writer. Find her wandering through words and worlds on her blog, TheGastroGnome, where she claims that being a GastroGnome is not about sitting idly on the front lawn of culinary cottages. Follow her explorations of cooking and culture around the world at @GastroGnome. Get restaurant suggestions and locate local eats in the Northwest from her app, Unique Eats of the Northwest.