From refined fine dining to small independents dishing up international flavours, Victoria’s restaurant scene has never been so exciting. Keep reading to discover the winners of the fifth annual YAM Best Restaurant Awards — and start planning your next dining adventure! 

BY CINDA CHAVICH  |  PHOTOS BY JEFFREY BOSDET (unless otherwise noted)

Victoria has long been known for its rich and creative restaurant scene — independent operators and passionate sole proprietors on the cutting edge of trends, in what might be called the “small but mighty” genre.

Upscale dining on the Island usually translates to fresh, local, carefully curated ingredients presented with a professional yet laidback vibe. It’s small-city dining, where a business lunch might be a really good handmade taco or a brunch meeting at one of the city’s famed breakfast spots.

But this year, as we celebrate YAM’s fifth restaurant awards, the highly anticipated (and long, long awaited) opening of Marilena Cafe & Raw Bar added something new to the mix — a major investment from Vancouver’s Toptable Group, creating what can only be called a big splash in this small pond.

It represents a new rung on the local fine-dining ladder, a big-city-style culinary experience with some serious sophistication that Victoria diners have enthusiastically embraced. Like Toptable’s other celebrated restaurants in Vancouver, Whistler and New York, there’s a high level of service and design, a well-stocked wine cellar and commitment to top-quality ingredients, including the best fish and seafood from the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

But there have been other exciting new openings, too, with more to come.

Jess Taylor settled his popular shellfish catering business, the Wandering Mollusk, into a permanent space called Shuck Taylor’s, where you can slurp an array of freshly shucked West Coast bivalves or indulge in a big, buttery lobster roll.

The team from Wind Cries Mary expanded operations to open Rudi, with a vintage European-inspired menu. Taisho Japanese Grill & Bar, the latest offering from the Nubo restaurant group, opened in Cook Street Village.

Tombo is a new downtown bakery café featuring sourdough breads, pastries, casual lunch fare and takeout from former Crust Bakery owner Tom Moore. And the classic Neapolitan pizza from tiny Seal Point Pizza in Fairfield is worth the drive, wherever you live.

We’re also enjoying authentic fare from around the world, thanks to an influx of passionate people sharing their flavours from home.

Try a taste of the Philippines with a modern twist from Jonna Deutscher and Keem Herrera at Ate *A Restaurant or explore chef Ervin Maliwanag’s traditional Filipino menu at Benjamin’s Cafe. Have a bowl of homestyle Asian noodles at JiangYun Noodle House or beautiful Syrian food at Syriana. The chefs at Cafe Malabar are offering some delicious South Indian dishes that reflect their shared roots in Kerala. And at Zambri’s, Argentinian-born chef Matias Sallaberry wows with his pop-up asado experience, a long-table, South American-style barbecue feast.

And there are even more exciting new tastes to come in 2024. For instance, we can’t wait to see the beloved Sooke Harbour House reopen later this year with managing partners chef Melissa Craig and Andre Saint-Jacques — the seasoned team that led Whistler’s iconic Bearfoot Bistro for more than 20 years — at the helm.

Meanwhile, dig into our 2024 YAM Best Restaurant Awards, and celebrate the world of delicious new flavours in this beautiful city we all call home.

Restaurant of the Year:

The Courtney Room

Cafe Brio,
Nowhere *A Restaurant

Best New Restaurant:

Marilena Cafe & Raw Bar

Block Kitchen + Bar,
Cafe Malabar

Kimberley Vy, Best Pastry Chef, Inn at Laurel Point, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Best Pastry Chef:

Kimberley Vy, Inn at Laurel Point

Haley Landa and Curtis Helm of Goodside Pastry House,
Dominique Laurencelle, Marilena Cafe & Raw Bar

House of Boateng, Best Brunch, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Best Brunch:

House of Boateng

John’s Place
The Ruby

Brasserie L'Ecole, Best European, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Best European:

Brasserie l’Ecole

Cafe Brio,

Cafe Malabar, Best South or Southeast Asian, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Best Latin:

MAiiZ Nixtamal

Benjo’s Tacos,
Bodega Bar

Maiiz Nixtamal, Best Latin, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Best South or Southeast Asian:

Cafe Malabar

Ate *A Restaurant,
Green Leaf Vietnamese Bistro

Syriana, Best Middle Eastern or North African, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Best Middle Eastern or North African:


Yalla Middle Eastern Street Eats

The Courtney Room, Best Sommelier and/or Wine Program, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Best Sommelier and/or Wine Program:

The Courtney Room

Marilena Cafe & Raw Bar
Tourist Wine Bar

Best Cocktail Bar or Lounge:

Humboldt Bar

Citrus & Cane
Clive’s Classic Lounge

Producer of the Year:

Finest at Sea

The Whole Beast
Ultimate Micro Greens

Outstanding Service:

Marilena Cafe & Raw Bar

Cafe Brio,
Nowhere *A Restaurant

Greg Hays, Cafe Brio, Tastemaker of the Year, YAM Best Restaurants 2024

Tastemaker(s) of the Year:

Greg Hays & Silvia Marcolini,

Cafe Brio

About the Judging

First and foremost, the awards are proudly independent. The YAM Best Restaurant Awards are open to establishments in Greater Victoria, from Sooke to Swartz Bay. Restaurateurs do not pay for the awards, nor do they apply to enter, nor are they informed that they are under consideration for an award. In addition, the judges may not vote for any restaurant with which they have a personal or professional affiliation. Any conflicts of interest are promptly disqualified.

The judges come from different areas of the food community. Some are food writers and bloggers; others work as chefs or sommeliers or in other aspects of the hospitality industry.

In each of the 21 categories, they are asked to nominate their top three candidates. We crunch the numbers in house, with input from our head judge, YAM’s food writer Cinda Chavich. Sometimes there is a clear winner. Sometimes every judge has a completely different opinion. In that case, we go back for a second round of voting. Or a third, or fourth, if we need to.

We know that winning a YAM Best Restaurant Award can make a world of difference to a small, independent business, so we take the process very seriously. And we are very grateful to our judges for their time and their thoughtful contributions.

Every restaurant awards process is slightly different; here is how the YAM Best Restaurant Awards are decided.

Thank you to our judges

Awards facilitator Joanne Sasvari is the editor of YAM magazine and a longtime food, drink and travel writer. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Virtuoso The Magazine, and Vancouver Sun, and she is the editor of the drinks publications Vitis and The Alchemist. She is also the author of several cookbooks, including the IACP finalist Wickaninnish Cookbook, bestselling Island Eats and recently published Okanagan Eats (Figure 1 Publishing).

Janine Boom is a local foodie, business owner and the creator of the Instagram account @besteatsvictoria. She has lived in Victoria most of her life, and she loves exploring the local food scene in search of the best eats in town.

Chef Robert Cassels grew up cooking in his godparents’ Victoria restaurant and held his first chef position by the age of 19. After staging in Paris and Chicago, he opened the French-inspired, multi-award-winning Saveur, YAM’s Restaurant of the Year (2019) and in 2023, was named YAM’s Chef of the Year. A member of the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame, Chef Cassels is working on his next project.

Don Genova is an award-winning freelance writer and broadcaster specializing in food and travel. He has written for the Globe and Mail, National Post, enRoute and many other publications. He is also a cooking instructor and the author of Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, and is currently working on a second edition.

Dallas Harwood is a co-founder and the current operator of @VicFoodGuys. He has been helping shine a light on people doing awesome things with food for the last seven years in and around Victoria.

Jenny Leung is an avid food enthusiast who enjoys sharing her culinary passion on Instagram as @i_am_miss_jen. Alongside managing her boutique marketing agency that specializes in the restaurant industry, she also contributes to Edible Vancouver Island magazine. In her downtime, she enjoys sipping on London Fogs and exploring the local food scene.

Madone Pelan is the general manager of the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and part owner of the Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria. She also serves on the BC Hotel Association’s board of directors, Destination Greater Victoria’s board of directors and is the chair of the District of Oak Bay’s tourism committee.

Since 2012, Bonnie Todd has been the founder and owner of Off The Eaten Track Tours, a foodie walking tour company that showcases her passion for the culinary culture of Victoria and Vancouver Island. She also writes for various local publications including Edible Vancouver Island and the MicCHEK podcast.

YAM’s food writer and YAM Best Restaurants Head Judge Cinda Chavich is an award-winning freelance journalist and author whose work has appeared in Cooking Light, Wine Spectator, the Globe and Mail, Canadian Living and Maclean’s. She produces the website and is the author of six cookbooks including the 2016 IACP finalist The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook (TouchWood Editions).

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