December 31, 2015 Features & Images » Feature Story

Best of Whistler 2015 - Restaurants and Cafés 


Best Coffee

Mount Currie Coffee Co.

Mount Currie Coffee Co. may have started in Pemberton, but there's no doubt Whistler has embraced this independent coffee shop with open arms and empty mugs since it opened its Main Street location in 2012.

Recognized for Best Coffee for the third year running, co-owner Chris Ankeny says it's the shop's local focus that keeps java lovers coming back. "We always aim to cater to the Whistler locals first and foremost with our location and service," he says. "We know they are the ones who will keep us in business."

Of course, serving up an exquisite cup of joe, sourced from one of two Vancouver roasters, Pallet Coffee and Elysian Coffee, doesn't hurt either.

"We put a lot of effort into making sure we serve the best coffee possible," says Ankeny. "We train our baristas well and are very particular with the process of creating a great beverage. We're really lucky in that we have had so many amazing employees that really are so passionate about coffee."

Rounding out the list were two Wayne Katz-run cafés, The Lift and Moguls, which tied for second place, while Blenz grabbed the third spot.

click to enlarge Best hot chocolate Blenz - P: COASTPHOTO.COM / BRAD KASSELMAN

Best Hot Chocolate


If there's a lesson to be learned from Blenz's continued dominance of the hot chocolate category it's that in cocoa beverages, as in life, cutting corners is never the answer.

Taking home the top spot the last four years, Blenz uses honest-to-goodness real Belgian chocolate chips — no gloopy syrups or chalky powders around these parts. "I don't think anyone else in Whistler has real Belgian chocolate chips," explains barista Justine Gillard. "It's completely different than what you'd find at another chain."

Because variety (and, let's be honest, chocolate) is the spice of life, Blenz also offers complete customization of your cocoa, with milk, dark and white chocolate options. Coming in second this year was Moguls Coffee House, while Starbucks earned third.

Best Breakfast

Wild Wood

Whether rising early to cut some fresh tracks or nursing a debilitating hangover, Whistler is a town that loves — needs — a good breakfast. Thankfully, Brian Dixon is here to help. For the third year in a row, both of the local haunts he manages, Wild Wood and Elements, claimed top spots in the breakfast category.

"We provide a very good product at a fair price in an environment people want to be in, and that's supremely important," he says.

Reclaiming the throne this year was something of an anniversary present for Wild Wood, which opened its new Crystal Lodge location on Dec. 15, 2014.

Bringing up the rear was perennial locals' favourite Southside Diner.

Best Quick Lunch

Ingrid's Village Café

If the service industry is the engine that drives the resort, than Ingrid's Village Café is the fuel that fills the tank.

"We always see people in here (for lunch) who work in kitchens at other restaurants and we're thinking, 'Can't they just make themselves a sandwich?'" laughs Ingrid's co-owner Nancy MacConnachie of Ingrid's typical lunch crowd. "But maybe they just want to get out, have a bit of chatter and get something different from what they're making all day." Nabbing the victory for Best Quick Lunch for the fourth straight year, Ingrid's is where you go when you're looking for a fast, affordable meal made with healthy, natural ingredients that tastes like it came fresh out of mom's kitchen.

Gone Village Eatery claimed second and Samurai Sushi placed third.

Best Dessert Purebread - P: COASTPHOTO.COM / SCOTT BRAMMER

Best Dessert


In the first year of our Best Dessert category, there was never really any doubt about who was taking home the win. Purebread has been satiating Whistler's sweet tooths for years now, and the shop's delightfully delectable and wide-ranging selection of baked treats is what sets them apart from the crowd.

"We do things that aren't traditional," says co-owner Mark Lamming. "It's a matter of keeping people coming back through innovative and creative products and not just doing the same old, same old."

It's been a tumultuous but fulfilling year for the Purebread crew dealing with the aftermath of the 2013 Tyndall Stone fire that burnt down the Lammings' second location shortly after it opened in the village. It reopened in December of last year.

"We've always says from the word go that opening in a small town means having an incredible amount of support both in good times and bad and that certainly showed when we had our fire," Lamming adds. "To win something like this is such a vote of confidence from the community."

The good news for the city-dwelling dessert fiend is that Purebread has spread its chocolatey wings to Vancouver, with its Hastings Street location doing gangbusters since opening in October 2014.

Creekside staple Rimrock Café —with its sticky toffee pudding earning special mention from readers — narrowly missing out on first place, while Araxi took the third spot.

Best Wine List


You've got to wonder where Araxi's Samantha Rahn finds the time. Between updating the restaurant's selection of a thousand-plus vintages, creating a reserve wine list for Whistler Blackcomb, and helping launch Araxi's sister restaurant, Bar Oso, the award-winning sommelier hasn't had many moments to herself in 2015. "This award means we've been working really hard and we've been really busy," Rahn says. "Whistler had an incredible summer this year, not just weather-wise but business was awesome ... and it's opened up a world of possibilities for keeping our wine list awesome, replenishing supplies with new great wines and always trying to find great things for the people to enjoy. Bringing joy to the people, that's my theme."

Bearfoot Bistro and its 20,000-bottle-strong cellar was voted No. 2, with Rimrock rounding out the winners.

Best Patio

Garibaldi Lift Company

We all know the GLC patio is the place to go in the summer for a front-row view to all the guts and glory on display in the bike park. But surely the appeal of the beloved après haunt has more to do than just location.

"We have a great staff that cares about service but also the customers and the people they work with," says GLC manager Mike Wilson. "Location can be a great asset, but if you walk in and don't get the experience to match the proximity to the ski hill, then people won't come back."

Proving you can never have too much of a good thing, the GLC is also working on expanding its already massive patio with a permanent structure that will offer a covered and heated respite in less than ideal weather.

The Longhorn Saloon's village patio narrowly beat out Nicklaus North by two votes for second place.

Best Burger

Splitz Grill

Splitz Grill has won the award for Best Burger so many damn times (dating back to 1997, in case you're wondering) that co-owner Cathy McGeough has almost run out of ways to thank the community. "I think we can just recycle (my quote) from last year," she laughed.

But even though Splitz has never had much competition in this category, there's always a worry that lingers in the back of McGeough's mind. "Every year I wonder who's going to beat us ... so it's always a shock and a pleasant surprise when we win."

Nita Lake Lodge made its first appearance on this list with its knockout organic beef burger, while Earls snatched the final spot. Notably, Whistlerites loved Mile One Eating House's two-fisters so much that it earned enough votes for third, but alas, the Pemberton eatery was not eligible.

Best Pizza


The last time Creekbread didn't appear on this list, Barack Obama was entering his first year in office and pop party girl Ke$ha ruled the charts.

And according to the restaurant's manager, Creekbread isn't quite ready to hand away the crown for Best Pizza anytime soon.

"Never. It's impossible," says Cameron Taylor. "You're going to have to stir up some fierce competition if that's going to happen."

Using mostly local and organic ingredients, Creekbread prides itself on dishing out unique, all-natural 'za baked in a wood-fired oven. But more than just a tasty pizza pie, the Creekside eatery also takes care of its own with a weekly community fundraiser.

"It's about way more than just food for us, but trying to help out our local community and anyone that's in need," says Taylor. "We don't do that just to try and bring in business, but because we truly do care about our local organizations, community and people in need."

Fat Tony's once again grabbed the silver, while Pizzaria Antico was the newcomer in third.

Best Steak Hy's Steak House - P: COASTPHOTO.COM / SCOTT BRAMMER

Best Steak

Hy's Steakhouse

There's no name more trusted in steak than Hy's. The upscale chain opened its first location in 1955, and since then has embodied old-school luxury that starts and finishes with its high-quality cuts of beef.

Undefeated in the five years this category has been around, Hy's can serve up any kind of steak your meat-loving heart could desire, whether a succulent filet mignon, the classic New York strip, or the hearty 22-oz. Porterhouse.

Another long-running steak chain, The Keg, beat out the Four Seasons' Sidecut for the No. 2 spot.

Best Sushi

Sushi Village

Longtime locals' favourite Sushi Village couldn't have asked for a better 30th birthday present, claiming Best Sushi honours once again.

"Thirty years in business, we've got to be doing something right," says an ecstatic Amy Huddle, the restaurant's manager. Along with their diverse menu of traditional and modern Japanese cuisine, Huddle believes the key to Sushi Village's continued success is it's fierce commitment "to having a good time."

"The staff has a great time every night and the owners are still around and they've always been great advocates of a good time," she adds. "I think that really means a lot to the community."

Sachi Sushi earned enough votes for second, while Nagomi Sushi in the Upper Village was third.

Best Vegetarian Food

The Green Moustache

When Nicolette Richer was drafting the business plan for Whistler's favourite vegetarian spot, she envisioned eventually having 12 locations in her green empire. Two years later, with a location in Vancouver up and running and one in Squamish on the horizon, Richer's ambitious vision for The Green Moustache is moving closer to reality. "Now it feels like it's real, not like I'm living in a dream world anymore," Richer says with a laugh.

A certified dietician, Richer has given health-conscious Whistlerites a vegetarian and vegan-friendly alternative that feels as good to eat as it tastes. Serving up nourishing salads, hearty soups and stews, invigorating smoothies and juices to go along with its surprisingly delicious raw vegan treats, Green Moustache is helping the resort live well one plate at a time.

"It's amazing that people still value healthy, plant-based foods," says Richer. "We very much appreciate that people are choosing to put healthy ingredients into their bodies and coming to Whistler. It's good for the planet, it's good for local business."

Ingrid's Village Café nabbed second again this year, with Naked Sprout joining the Top 3.

Best Take out Samurai Sushi - P: COASTPHOTO.COM / BRAD KASSELMAN

Best Takeout

Samurai Sushi

Samurai Sushi owner Ru Mehta admits he doesn't always give the best soundbites. But when you take top nods for Best Takeout as much as his casual sushi spot does, you can be forgiven for not having the choicest quote on the tip of your tongue. "Hopefully the community likes us because we're fast, friendly and affordable," he says. "How's that for a slogan?"

That pretty much sums up what keeps locals coming back to Mehta's Nesters and Creekside locations — it's good food served quick that won't break the bank. Like many of the winners in this poll, Samurai Sushi also goes to extra lengths to show the locals' love.

"We're just a good locals' place ... and we love being part of the community," Mehta added.

Voters put Pasta Lupino in second, with Sushi to Go in the Whistler Visitor Centre taking third.

Best overall Experience Rimrock Café - P: COASTPHOTO.COM / BRAD KASSELMAN
  • P: / Brad Kasselman
  • Best overall Experience Rimrock Café

Best Overall Experience

Rimrock Café

Rimrock Café reclaimed this category in 2015 from another long-time local fixture in fine dining, Araxi. Not that owner Bob Dawson minds a little friendly competition. "We're all important to the Whistler scene," he says, ever the diplomat. "Without the Araxis, the Bearfoots and the Quattros, Whistler wouldn't be the great place that it is with all these great restaurant options."

When you're talking about the dining experience at Rimrock, you can't ignore the ambience created by the fish and game restaurant's rustic setting.

"From the highway it looks like a building built in the '60s, but when you come upstairs and you see all the wood and the two fireplaces, it's got that mountain feel people really expect when they come to a ski resort. It feels like it belongs in Whistler," Dawson says. Consistency is another thing you often hear about Rimrock, with an astonishingly low turnover rate on staff, and the same chef — co-owner Rolf Gunther — in the kitchen for nearly 30 years.

Araxi took second this year, while the Red Door Bistro's modern spin on French cuisine was third.

Best Value

El Furniture Warehouse

There's no denying El Furniture Warehouse drives a hard bargain.

With every meal on the menu coming in at a whopping $4.95, it's been the go-to place for Whistler's penny pinchers since opening the doors in 2012. But great value isn't the only reason El Furni is packed to the gills practically every night of the week.

"We don't want to be known as just that $4.95 restaurant," says GM Luke Evans. "What we want is to put out a really good product at a cheap price, but we also want it to be a place where people can come out and have a beer."

It's a formula that has paid dividends for the pro boarders who own the pub, with over a dozen locations across the country. Evans says Whistler can also look forward to a slightly revamped menu in the New Year with even more options to fill your bellies and keep your wallets full.

Samurai Sushi offers plenty of bang for your buck in second, while Pasta Lupino nabbed third.


Best Chef

James Walt, Araxi

Araxi's James Walt has been named Best Chef four times before, but he'd be just as pleased, if not more, to hand over this title to one of his kitchen disciples.

"My team has been with me a long time," Walt says. "Jorge (Muñoz Santos), who's moved over to Bar Oso, has been with me for almost five years, and I'd love to see him win it someday."

Helping launch Araxi's Mediterranean-inspired sister restaurant this fall has allowed Walt to step outside his comfort zone — an opportunity he relishes after so many years behind the lines at Whistler's first fine-dining restaurant.

"It's a lot of fun because it's a different style," he says. "I like the informal aspect of it where it's kind of pure, and that's not to take away from Araxi, but there's more of a formality to everything with the plating and the dishes. But over (at Bar Oso), it's really fun and the interaction with the guests is great. I think I'm enjoying it even more than I thought I would."

RD Stewart and his much buzzed about Red Door Bistro just missed out on top honours this year by two votes. Third on the podium was Bearfoot Bistro Executive Chef Melissa Craig.

Best Server

Katie Bechtel at Rosie's House

Historically Araxi has dominated Pique's Best Server category, but this year's winner just goes to show stellar service isn't relegated to Whistler's fine-dining realm.

"I don't think just because you work at a fine dining restaurant, it should automatically make you win," says first-time winner Katie Bechtel, who has worked at Rosie's House in Creekside for just over two years. "It should be all servers accounted for no matter what atmosphere we're in."

Full disclosure here: Like a lot of hardworking folks in town, Bechtel works a few different jobs, including circulation and accounts at this fine publication. But she's no stranger to the Best Server designation, having won it in the Best of Pemberton readers' poll a few years ago before her gig at Pique.

In second was Araxi server Mike Wheaton, with Tanya Ziyone grabbing the bronze.

Best Service

Rimrock Café

Here's a mind-boggling statistic for you: No server at Rimrock has been on staff for less than 12 years. In a town that's still in the grips of one of the worst labour shortages Whistler has ever seen, that kind of employee retention is absolutely remarkable. It also goes to show how much Rimrock's wait team adores its job, which unsurprisingly translates to customer service that consistently goes above and beyond.

"We don't have a lot of turnover and all our staff is very knowledgeable and passionate about how great the food is," says restaurant co-owner Bob Dawson. "I've always said if the staff likes the product, it's very easy to give great service because they stand behind it and they know we stand behind it too."

Araxi narrowly missed out on second place this year, while four resort restaurants — Bearfoot, Red Door Bistro, Sidecut and Rosie's House  — all tied for the third and final spot.

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