It seems like everything in our lives will be divided by covid -- pre and post. The lockdown, the case counts, the death counts. Quarantining our groceries. Masks. Vaccines. Hand sanitizer. The anti-maskers.
Back in 2019, the beforetime, I listed all the decent restaurants in our town and the nearest neighbouring town (40 minutes away). Now the whole restaurant landscape has changed.
Update: For some additional context, I'm adding this, copied and edited from comments.
The population of the two towns: Port Hardy 4200, Port McNeill 2100. This list covers restaurants in both towns.
Port Hardy is a regional hub. The next population centre is in Campbell River, a 2.5-hour drive away, or 2 hours from McNeill. All the other communities in the region are tiny (less than 500 people) and have no restaurants at all.
Hardy is also a hub for campers, hikers, boaters, and nature-lover tourism.
Breakfast/lunch places are plentiful because many people drive and boat long distances to work. Contractors, loggers, fishers, mine work, all picking up breakfast and/or lunch before they head "into the bush".
So tourism + regional hub + workers traveling great distances = a few more restaurants and cafes in the two towns than might be available in other towns of similar sizes.
Fire Chefs, the most amazing fish and chips place, also home to a truly great grilled halibut burger: gone.
The (mediocre) restaurant that replaced them: gone.
Ha'me, the dining room at the Kwa'lilas Hotel -- the best year-round food in town -- never reopened post-covid. If you ask, staff still says they are closed for renovations, but it appears to be permanent. This is another big loss.
Most disappointing of all, the late, great Cluxewe Waterfront Bistro is no more. This was the only place in the North Island with truly outstanding food and very good wine. It was also in a beautiful secluded location, right on the water. I used to say, only on the North Island do you drive down a dirt road to a four-star restaurant.
Our first summer, 2019, we went there a handful of times. In 2020, they were the first restaurant to re-open, and we went as often as possible, usually every-other week. And thank goodness we did, because that autumn, they lost their lease and left the area. Such a loss.
Now, the current list, updated after summer 2022
This is not a list of the best restaurants in Port Hardy and Port McNeill: it's a list of all of them. Fortunately they are all at least decent.
Glen Lyon Inn
This place has a huge and strangely eclectic menu. Some of the food is quite good -- crab cakes that are fresh and not full of breading, nachos with seriously good toppings, excellent burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches. Other items are good enough -- lasagna, fresh salads, steaks, ribs. Nothing is awful.
What is awful, for me, is the atmosphere -- despite its beautiful location right on the water. Everything is dingy and run-down. I know renovations are expensive, but how much would it cost to sand and re-paint the wooden chairs? Allan thinks I exaggerate, but I just find the atmosphere depressing. I prefer this food for take-out.
Interesting note: I've heard that diners have seen whales in the inlet right outside the restaurant. I'm skeptical but folks swear it's true.
At the beautiful Kwa'lilas Hotel, the dining room, Ha'me, never re-opened after covid, so now the pub/lounge Nax'id is their only dining option. The food is consistently good. Everything is made with fresh ingredients and care, and the wait staff is always friendly and helpful.
The menu is annoyingly inconsistent, probably a function of high turnover in the kitchen. Sometimes there are delicious specials available. Other times, not. So although the food is good, many of my favourite things on their old menu are gone.
Another plus: Kwal'lilas and Nax'id are Indigenous-owned, and have a hiring arrangement with North Island College's hospitality program.
Seto's Wok and Grill
Our local Chinese restaurant continues to have consistently good food, although with a frustratingly limited menu. The food is especially good eaten in their dining room, as opposed to takeout.
This was the last restaurant to return to eat-in dining, and the community is very happy they're back. They are open Wednesday through Saturday -- which is weird, and annoying.
Sporty Bar and Grill
Here's a happy story: a place that improved post-covid! Sporty updated its menu and added weekly specials, giving us many more choices. The food is consistently good.
Sporty is close Sunday and Monday, even when there are festivals or a market in the park across the street. Also annoying!
The Japanese restaurant moved from its odd location at an airport hotel to the town's main drag (in the spot where Fire Chefs used to be). All the food here is good, and business seems to be off-the-charts busy since they moved into town. I am so grateful there is sushi in Port Hardy!
This is a fish-and-chips food truck. It doesn't match the quality of the late, great Fire Chefs, but the fish, burgers, fish tacos, and fries are quite good.
They're closed in the winter, and everyone's very happy when they reopen.
The same family owns a seafood store that sells freshly caught-and-canned tuna, salmon, and halibut. I haven't tried this yet, as I fear it would be deliciously addictive, and it's super expensive.
Other food in Port Hardy, not open for dinner
Café Guido has great coffee, baked goods, and simple lunch choices. It's also home to a small book- and gift shop, and a co-op selling the work of local artists and artisans. It's unique on the North Island, and it's mobbed during the summer.
Copper & Kelp is Café Guido's newer store. In the local lingo, it is "at the beach," as opposed to "in town". Besides sandwiches, coffee, and baked goods, they sell local artisan products of all types, plus dinners to go. We were really surprised that Guido's opened a second place in this location, and our fingers are crossed that it will succeed.
Taif's Kitchen is an exciting new option. A family of Syrian refugees opened a food truck! The food is really good and it's a popular choice.
Market Street Cafe has really good -- and ridiculously inexpensive -- breakfasts. They are the only place in town that bakes their own bread and muffins.
Mo's is a pizza, fried chicken, and gyros joint. The food is not bad.
U Cafe sells Chinese takeout with a limited menu in the mall. (Don't think suburban mall with dozens of stores and a food court. It's a one-story, T-shaped building with the town's only supermarket, a pharmacy, and a fast-food joint.) U Cafe's food is fair, and it extends our Chinese-food options. The big drawback is that it's cash only.
Port Hardy also has a Subway and an A&W.
Devil's Bath Brewery
This is the most exciting new opening in our area: a spacious, hip-looking restaurant specializing in thin-crust pizza and their own microbrews. They serve a variety of interesting pizzas and pastas, plus a few nightly specials, in a lovely relaxing space. Big thumbs up.
Despite its name, this is actually a diner. The food is consistently good food and there are some interesting options on the menu: along with the usual burgers and sandwiches, there are a variety of pastas, risottos, and poutines. They make a salad with figs, roasted pear, and gorgonzola cheese that I cannot resist.
Sportsman Steak and Pizza House
This place renovated and revamped post-covid, and has a steak, seafood, and pizza menu. The food is good, the atmosphere is very nice, and it's in a nice setting directly across from the marina.
Gus's serves sports-bar standards in a semi- sports bar atmosphere. We've never had bad food here, but I'm bored with these menus.
Good food, but not dinner
Tia's Cafe has great coffee, breakfasts, and slightly Mexican-themed lunches. This is my top choice if I need to meet someone in Port McNeill for work.
Mugz 2.0 is a cafe serving freshly baked pastries, muffins, and bread. They use fresh, local ingredients and they know what they're doing. Mugz was closed for years, pre-covid, and we're all rooting for it to survive.
Port McNeill also has a Subway. There is also a Chinese takeout place with an ancient, greasy storefront that does not inspire confidence.