When I first moved to Whistler, many of my Vancouver friends believed I’d become some sort of all-knowing Whistler guru. I’d often get texts saying, “Where’s a good place to get lunch in Whistler?” or “I’m in Whistler, where should we go for dinner?”
These friends did not realize that my newfound ski bum lifestyle (and budget) did not afford me the luxury of sampling each and every one of Whistler’s fine dining establishments (of which there are many). But over my Whistler career, I eventually got the chance to eat at many of Whistler’s restaurants, largely thanks to visits from my parents and the off-season specials. I now confidently have a response to just about any Whistler gastronomic inquiry. Here are my unqualified recommendations for dining in Whistler.
Best All Around Restaurant: Creekbread
Creekbread is my favourite Whistler restaurant, period. It’s got everything a dream restaurant ought to have: excellent food, good service, a cozy atmosphere, and a lack of the pretentiousness that seems to infiltrate many Whistler restaurants. Creekbread mainly does one thing – wood-fired pizzas – and they do it perfectly, concocting unique combinations with local sourced ingredients, like the Pemberton Potato pie and my all-time favourite, Mopsy’s Kahlua Pork. (They also do a KILLER salad – it was my go-to take out option for many years. Order the No Boundaries salad with all the veggies.)
I always recommend Creekbread for families, big group gatherings (make a recommendation ahead of time), or friends looking for a good meal without having to drop $50 on an entree. The caveat: it is located in Creekside. I promise it’s worth the short drive (or cab ride).
Best Fancy Dinner: Alta Bistro
Fancy is arguably what Whistler does best, and everyone seems to have an opinion on which restaurant is the creme de la creme. My vote goes to Alta Bistro. Some people think the food is a little too “out there”. I disagree – there are plenty of options for people wanting to try something a little different, but there are lots of more familiar choices, too.
Alta Bistro has a smaller dining room, and they don’t really have a schtick. They just make excellent food (and excellent drinks, too). I’ve never, ever had a bad experience at Alta Bistro.
Best Drinks: Bearfoot Bistro
Bearfoot Bistro is arguably the fanciest, most over the top restaurant in Whistler. If you’re familiar with the establishment, you may be thinking, “Okay, moneybags, I’m not going to Bearfoot Bistro for a casual drink with a friend.”
I used to think that, too, until I realized that the drinks at Bearfoot Bistro aren’t THAT much more expensive than drinks at mid-range places (think Earls). If you’re planning on an all-night bender, you may be better off at Three Below (cheap drinks, never any wait to get in). But if you’re after a finely crafted cocktail or two, Bearfoot Bistro is just a couple of extra bucks – and it’s well worth it.
The bartenders are excellent – really, the service is over the top wow. The ambiance is most entertaining, not just because of the live pianist, but the rich city people sitting across the bar often put on quite the display. And if you’re looking for a next level drink activity, the Bearfoot has two: sabering bubbly in their wine cellar and vodka tasting in the ice bar. Both are expensive, but worth doing at least once (I’ve linked to two articles I’ve written about these experiences).
Best Brunch: Elements
It’s worth the wait – and there is always a wait – for brunch at Elements. I don’t know what it is about Elements, but I have yet to have a better brunch anywhere else. The potato stack (replacing your typical hash browns) is to die for, the stuffed French Toast is a life changer, and each meal comes with a shot of smoothie. It’s brunch, taken to the next level.
Best Place to Meet for Coffee: Purebread
Whenever someone wants to meet me for coffee, I steer them towards Purebread. They actually don’t have many coffee options – just the basics (and a good hot chocolate) – but the real reason I want to go is to ogle at the overflowing display of baked goods and to make the agonizing decision of which treat to pick. “Going for coffee” is basically code for “going for baked goods”.
Sitting room is a little scarce, so don’t be that guy who sets up shop with his laptop for two hours. As for what treat to pick, well, half the fun is figuring that out for yourself – but my go to is the outrageous brownie or any brownie variant.
Most Underrated Lunch: Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
The day Cedric and I discovered the Thunderbird Cafe at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre was a pivotal day in my Whistler eating career. The mains are delicious (venison chili, anyone?) and affordable, but the real star of the show is the BANNOCK. Oh, the bannock. It’s like a non-sweet donut and it is sooooooo good with some strawberry jam. Since it’s a little under the radar, finding a seat is never a problem. You need to discover this cafe.
Best Off-Season Special
Spring (i.e., right now) and fall are the best times to try Whistler’s fancy restaurants because they offer amazing deals on multi-course menus. I have tried just about all of them – some several times – but Araxi always comes out on top. They usually offer the best value (something like 5 courses for $35) – and yes, the courses are small, but there are five of them and they’re usually rich as all heck, so you’ll leave feeling plenty satiated.
Best Cheap & Quick Bite to Eat: La Cantina
When I am starving, unwilling to wait for too long, and wanting to preserve my funds, I head to La Cantina in Marketplace. I used to order the tacos, but I have since discovered that the burritos are the way to go. They offer incredible bang for your buck and are FAR tastier than your typical burrito.
(La Cantina’s fancier sister restaurant, The Mexican Corner, is worth a mention – it’s not inexpensive, but it offers something different from your typical pub fare or West Coast inspired menu – and the quality is top notch).
Best Cold Thing on a Hot Day: Smoothies at Olives
They’re a little pricey as far as smoothies go, but they’re ridiculously, wonderfully filling. Olives Market in Function Junction whips up a mean smoothie, custom ordered. The peanut butter one is the PERFECT treat after a day at the lake, playing frolf, or mountain biking (I imagine, anyway).
Disclaimer: While I have tried numerous Whistler restaurants, there are still some on my to-try list. Chief among them are the Red Door Bistro and Southside Diner (I know, I can’t believe I’ve never been there either!)