the north island report: where to eat in port hardy and port mcneill, updated for 2022

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.

Sad changes

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.

Port Hardy

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!

Karai Sushi

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!

Macy's Place

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

Port McNeill

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. 

Archipelago's Bistro

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 Pub

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.


Amy said...

Remind me---what is the population of Port Hardy? It seems like a pretty large list for a small town. Longmeadow has a population of about 15,000, and there are not nearly as many restaurants (and most aren't worth going to). There are two Asian restaurants---one decent, one not. Two Italian restaurants---one decent, one not. A hamburger/salad type place that is fairly good. An okay breakfast lunch place. And another restaurant that has nothing on the menu we eat.

laura k said...

Your list includes 6 restaurants and one breakfast/lunch place. There are 6 restaurants in Port Hardy and 4 in Port McNeill. The rest are breakfast/lunch places. Those are big options because many people drive and boat long distances to work. Contractors, loggers, fishers, miners -- lots of people pick up breakfast and/or lunch before they head "into the bush".

Port Hardy has around 4200 people, Port McNeill around 2100. The list covers restaurants in both towns.

Port Hardy is a regional hub. The next population centre is a 2.5-hour drive away (2 hours from McNeill). All the other communities are tiny (less than 500 people) and have no restaurants at all.

There is also tourism here. PH is a hub for campers, hikers, boaters, and nature-lover tourism.

Tourism + regional hub + workers traveling great distances = a few more restaurants and cafes in the two towns.

By our previous standards, most of these are not really worth going to either. There is nothing particularly special about the food.

But when it comes to food, variety is very important to me, and cycling through these choices gives me more variety. I am also the principal cook and do a ton of food prep for all my meals, so I like a break. Those are my two incentives -- variety and less work.

When you are in Longmeadow, where is the next nearest town? I have no sense of what that area is like.

Amy said...

Sorry for taking so long to respond. We moved out of our house in East Longmeadow on Thursday and to the Cape, so I've not had time to breathe, let alone go online.

Longmeadow is a suburb of Springfield, but we almost never went to Springfield to eat in recent years. There were a few okay places, but not special enough to deal with the hassles of parking, etc. East Longmeadow, where we lived for the last 13 years is right next to Longmeadow (surprise, surprise!) and also has several restaurants, but just one that we went to with any regularity. If we wanted a good restaurant meal---something original and fresh and not just pizza or sushi---we'd go to Northampton, which was 20 miles north of Longmeadow.

Now we are in Brewster, MA, and we are fortunate to be within 15-20 minutes of many restaurants, most of which we haven't tried yet!

laura k said...

Congratulaions on the move! So exciting!

Therein lies the difference -- the proximity of neighbouring towns. It's not so much the population of the town as the remoteness of the region.

Sometimes when Allan and I were looking at potential places to live on Vancouver Island, he would mention that town X had a population size similar to Port Hardy. But town X would be one of many other small towns nearby -- a population centre.

Where we live, neighbouring communities are at least a half-hour drive away, usually much longer, and there are no suburbs. Between towns, there is forest, inlets, logging roads, mines, beaches.

Amy said...

That sounds idyllic to me. Moving here took me out of the traditional suburbs for the first time in my life, but we are still close enough to stores and restaurants and other people to keep Harvey from going insane!

laura k said...

That sounds kind of perfect! Beautiful.

It is idyllic here in many ways. Sometimes its inconvenient, but if it weren't, it wouldn't be the quiet, beautiful place it is.