Top Notch Burgers Review

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Another notch on our bellies

And here we expected menus on grease-stained newsprint…

When you open a new burger joint in Nanaimo, you have our attention. When you then win the Bulletin’s Best of the City award in your first year, you will also have our attendance. We were really excited to try out Top Notch Burgers because its reputation so far has been downright sterling.

We honestly weren’t sure exactly what to expect. We thought it might be a bit like a BBQ joint, with cheap furniture and grungy floors, or maybe like a country-western atmosphere, like Montana’s. Given the fact that we knew the location was downtown inside the Dorchester hotel, both of those were hard to imagine.

We were instead quite surprised to find that the place was actually somewhat elegant. The fixtures and furnishings were modern and clean, and the staff (men and women) were stylishly dressed. We were promptly seated and our server was quickly out to take a drinks order and and to offer answers for any questions about the menu. We really like that. Being encouraged to ask any questions always makes you feel like less of a dunce if you don’t know what a crudités is. But we digress. The service during our visit was great overall. Our server was prompt, friendly, and even willing to share some personal stuff. We did find her a bit overbearing and loud for such a quiet venue, though.

The restaurant has a cocktail menu and wine/beer list, but also has a full service bar right there to take advantage of too. (We did.)

Now go take a look at the burger menu. There are a lot of creative options on offer, and we were particularly impressed by the variety of menu items. There are multiple beef, bison, chicken and fish burgers, but also three different veggie burgers, including bean-based, tofu, and portobello. You can order your burger on a bun, wrap, lettuce stack, and other options. There something here even for those with ultra-restrictive diets.

If you look carefully you can see the chorizo between the beef and the cheese. Mmm-mmm!

For our visit we skipped an appetizer and went straight to the dinner mains: for him the Black and Blue burger with a side of poutine and for her the Mi-Soo Tuna with a side garden salad. The Black and Blue is a beef burger with chorizo sausage and cambozola cheese, which is a combination of brie and blue cheese – nom. Both meats were perfectly cooked (side note – the patty was not served rare like in some ultra-trendy places, so if that weirds you out, you’re good here) and the cheese was generous and delightfully melty. As with most burgers this hearty, the bun was barely able to maintain structural integrity but we did get through it without total disintegration. Delicious. The poutine was good if not great, and scored extra points for the nice green onion garnish and pleasant presentation. It was overall a bit salty for our taste but this was only a minor concern. More on this when we continue looking at poutines around town.

Perhaps not for everyone, but this kind of thing is what we love.

The tuna burger was a sesame-crusted seared yellowfin served rare with energetic toppings like mango and cilantro aioli. We quite enjoyed this fusion of Asian with western and it was sophisticated counterprogramming to the sloppy beef burger. Sophisticated or not though, the tuna burger was still difficult to eat. It might not have been as juicy and sloppy, but rare fish doesn’t come apart easily. This burger requires making tactical bites, lest the whole thing fall apart on your plate, or you wind up with 3 ounces of fish in your mouth at once. The restaurant knows you’ll be a mess and they bring ample napkins, but we thought finger bowls or wet wipes might actually have been more helpful. The side salad the burger came with was a let down. It was a bog standard bag-o-greens with a a few veggies chopped into it and a basic balsamic vinaigrette.

We were so full from our mains we skipped dessert.

Our bill came out almost as soon as we put our napkins down – too soon actually. We hate to nitpick, especially since it’s really annoying when the opposite happens and you can’t seem to get anyone to take your money, but we’d like at least a few minutes to digest and chat before the server shows up with the card machine in hand. Our bill was $72 including taxes and a reasonable tip for your two mains and one drink each. We consider this to be ok value. Take the drinks out and you’d be looking at $50 for two people to eat, which for the quality of food provided, isn’t unreasonable.


We found very little to complain about at Top Notch. The restaurant and staff were pleasant, and the food was great. There were plenty of drink and menu options that just beg another visit. The restaurant claims they have excellent martinis, so we’ll have to go back and give them a try too. It’s not a super-affordable place to eat, but it walks the line nicely between pig-out place, and perfectly acceptable date night place. We recommend it. Go check them out and let them know we sent you!

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