We’ve been coming to the Okanagan for summer vacation for a long time. We love the heat, the scenery, the water activities, the lake, the food, and the wine. My father-in-law lives in Summerland, and we generally stay across the lake in a gorgeous little hippy town called Naramata. It is off the highway, at the end of the road north of Penticton. It is a special place, complete with a little general store, an inn/spa, a clothing store, a stand up paddle place, and two restaurants. It reminds me of the Canadian version of our beloved Hanalei in Kaua’i.
We had a glorious three weeks in our little cottage rental. We swing this by working in the mornings during the week, and then shoving work in a compartment in the back of our minds and enjoying the afternoon/evening at the beach, on the riverfloat, jumping off the dock, visiting wineries, and eating. It is a sweet life.
Here are some classic and new recommendations in Penticton and area:
1. Il Vecchio Deli – you have to be brave to order a sandwich here. But put aside your Canadian timidness, and be definitive as you decide on two meats, one cheese, sweet/hot mustard and various accoutrements. These sandwiches are made to order (including slicing the meat and cheese) and they are soft and scrumptious. Perfect for a picnic on the beach or boat.
2. Buy the Sea – the staff here are soooo very nice. You can order fish and chips for lunch and then pick up a beautiful pink salmon for your dinner. In an inconspicuous strip mall on Main Street.
3. Salty’s – others may dismiss Salty’s as a tourist trap, but we go here every year. It is the only restaurant on the Penticton beach strip that has a line-up waiting to get in. That is a good sign, folks. Friendly staff, awesome fish tacos and sangrias. It is a loud, clattering rowdy place, but it is totally kid-friendly, and enthusiastic in service. This is a fine Robins-Waddingham-Horne tradition. The tourists go here for good reason.
4. Burger 55 – things are moving up for Burger 55. They have moved to a more substantial setting across the parking lot in downtown Penticton. The selection of burger possibilities is dizzying, and the portions are massive. A kid’s burger will probably do ya.
5. Taco Del Norte – in the little shack that was formerly Burger 55, this place works hard to serve tacos with fillings from slow cookers simmering in the tiny kitchen.
6. Wouda Bakery – the substantial line-up moved quickly, and I purchased fresh sourdough bread for my morning poached eggs, and florentine cookies just like my grandma used to make.
7. Vanilla Pod – formerly housed on Main Street in sleepy Summerland, this eatery’s setting now matches its food. The Vanilla Pod is perched above shimmering Lake Okanagan in the Poplar Grove Winery. I met one of my favourite people there for lunch on our last day in the Okanagan. We shared three tapas offerings, and were impressed with the chickpea salad, meat & salmon plate, and prawn and chorizo appetizer. Everything was fresh and brightly flavoured. Want to lunch at a winery with a view? This is the best view in Penticton area.
1. Grape Leaf – newly opened on the main street in Naramata. My husband declared his breakfast the ‘best in BC’ which is quite the proclamation. I had half a salmon salad sandwich and it was fluffy and moist and tasty indeed. Our server was the co-owner, freshly transplanted from the Grape Leaf in White Rock. White Rock’s loss was Naramata’s gain.
2. Real Things Pizza – I love the sense of humour of this pizza joint – from their famous quotes on their sign, to the decorated kid’s pizza boxes. Oh, and the pizza is really really good – creative, generous toppings and crunchy crust. I liked the Never Matter Pizza best – a combo of Hawaiian and pepperoni and mushroom.
3. Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa – my daughter Ella and I spa’ed here for a luxurious massage. We arrived, smelling of Aveda products, to have lunch on the steamy patio – this is a fancy, old school place.
1. Joy Road’s Winery Dinner at God’s Mountain – looking for a magical Okanagan evening? This dinner is worth the investment. This was my third time attending, and I’m still awed by the view, the table setting, the twinkly lights, the rice paper lanterns, and the long table of attendees. The food is prepared and served by the infectious duo of Dana and Cam from Joy Road. We chose an event co-hosted by La Stella Wineries…both the chef and the winemakers gave talks before each course, and we had fun getting to know our Vancouver, New Jersey and Palm Springs table mates. My favourite courses were the main – lamb loin with fingerling potato salad and dessert – almond cake with orange blossom creme and raspberries. As the sun fell behind the mountain, we indulged in a very special meal.
2. Jen & Mike’s House – our best dinner came at a friends’ house on Naramata Bench. Gorgeous view of the lake, fabulous local food and super company – this cannot be beat by any restaurant experience. We drank chilled rose and ate homemade hummus, charred vegetables, salmon and goat cheese with basil and strawberry rhubarb crumble, and laughed and chatted around their fire pit. How lovely. Lucky us.
Similarly, my best dish came from the elderly lady who lived next door to our vacation home in Naramata Village. She knocked on the door one afteroon with two handfuls of the final raspberries from the bush. ‘These are only for you,’ she said. ‘I know how it is to be the mom.’ My eyes welled up at such a lovely sentiment. I ate those little jewels of raspberry with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and a sprinkle of granola and maple syrup on top. Best bowl of fruit I’ve ever eaten.
3. Finally, on a rare rainy day, we ventured down to the OTHER Okanagan (spelled Okanogan) in Washington State, and ate massive burritos and drank freely poured margaritas at Rancho Chico in Omak. This restaurant is so eccentrically decorated that it is hard to know where to look: the murals on the walls? The brightly painted chairs? The display of horse saddles in the front? Just keep your head down and enjoy the spirited Mexican accordion music and the burritos that are bigger than your head.