The Cabot Trail is home to some of the best Cape Breton restaurants. Some are much better than others, and my favourites are where you’ll find locals.
This summer has been an interesting one. Instead of thinking about how all my plans have changed, I am embracing new opportunities.
With an Atlantic bubble we have been able to safely travel within our corner of the world. And yet exploring Cape Breton food is something I feel truly lucky to do.
I was born in North Sydney, but when my father died we moved to the Annapolis Valley.
Other than a high school volleyball tournament I haven’t stepped on the island for almost 40 years.
And so coming back to travel the Cabot Trail and new communities in my home province has been so special.
CAPE BRETON ROOKIE TIP: before you go download the Google map of Cape Breton on your phone.
There are plenty of spots where I had no cell service. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to find the right way with road signs and friendly islanders.
This trip exploring Cape Breton restaurants was in partnership with Tourism Nova Scotia. They provided accommodations so I could travel as I would on my own and choose where I wanted to eat.
I am so thankful to them for supporting local content creators during this time.
Traditional Cape Breton Food
Before we talk about the best Cape Breton restaurants, I think it is important to talk about the food landscape to appreciate the island.
Although the Maritimes has a similar food culture different from overall Canadian food, each province has its own regional variances.
And within Nova Scotia, the Island can be different from the mainland.
The culture is different, the language is different (whether it is Gaelic, Acadian or just Cape Breton slang) and the food is different!
While most travelers come to the Island for seafood, do not miss the bakeries.
The quality of baked goods, from bread to pastries, is incredible on Cape Breton Island.
This is not the time to go on a keto, whole 30 or low carb diet.
Although there are Acadian villages in Cape Breton you aren’t going to find rappie pie like you would on the mainland.
Instead look for meat pie!
A classic Acadian dish that you’ll find throughout Nova Scotia.
You’ll find it on most menus, sometimes for breakfast with a side of beans.
And of course you need to have it with green tomato chow.
When we told our server we were going to split the butterscotch pie she cut it in half and put it on two plates!
I grew up eating butterscotch pie in the Valley, but people have told me it’s a traditional Cape Breton food…is that true?
There are lots of great pickles and condiments in Cape Breton.
Mustard pickles are made by pickling cucumbers with cauliflower and red pepper and/or onion along with dry mustard and tumeric.
I didn’t grow up eating oat cakes…I know I’m a bad Nova Scotian. So the first few I had on the Island I didn’t LOVE.
But oat cakes are different everywhere you go. Some people use butter, others lard. Some use white sugar others use brown sugar and some people use a combination of both.
And some are thin and crispy and others thicker. The shapes also change from square to rectangle to circular.
My cousin’s wife and sister told me the best oat cakes are in their grandmother’s home.
And their mother bought a can of Spam and threw out the meat. She just wanted to use the can to cut the cookies in the same shape her mother makes.
During this trip I realized if you don’t like them to just keep trying more.
Finally I tried them at Cedar House in Baddeck and it turns out the other ones just needed lard and sugar for me to like them.
Don’t get excited about the possibility of a pie made from pork. Pork pies are a dessert more similar to butter tarts.
They are a shortbread crust with a date filling topped with a maple icing.
I have no idea why they are called pork pies!
Snow crab doesn’t make reference to its geography in snowy Cape Breton Canada, but instead the snowy white colour of its meat when cooked.
Unlike King Crab, snow crab shells are easy to break open.
Some say you can do it with your hands. Technically this is true, but I prefer lobster crackers.
The flavour is delicate, sweet and also briny like the sea. It pairs beautifully with Nova Scotia wine.
FAT ARCHIES COOKIES
Although much of the world stopped using molasses when white sugar was mass produced, it is still a common ingredient in Nova Scotia.
You can find these soft molasses cookies in Cape Breton.
They may be called Fat Archies because they are sometimes cooked in bacon fat – yum!
It’s also common to have cinnamon and raisins in them.
PAUL’S PIZZA BURGER
A local junk food favourite found in gas stations and convenience stores.
A pizza burger is a hamburger bun filled with a couple pepperoni slices, junky cheese and tomato sauce.
A common hack is to add potato chips and throw it in the microwave…most likely after the bars close.
There are lots of other kinds of pizza burger, others are probably better quality.
But Paul’s Food Factory started selling it in 1982 and I think it’s good to start with the original.
A traditional Acadian stew, most often with chicken and dumplings, carrots and potatoes.
Like hodge podge, this is a traditional Acadian dish most often made at home.
So if you can find it in a restaurant be sure to get it. If you go to Cheticamp, L’Abri has it on the menu.
Ceilidh Trail Restaurants
If you drive the Cabot Trail clockwise you’ll enter the Island into Port Hastings and then first head up Route 19, also known as the Ceilidh Trail.
Do not miss these Cape Breton restaurants and brewery on the trail.
Glenora Inn & Distillery is home to North America’s oldest single malt whisky.
Also known as Glen Breton, the name of its whisky, I had a fantastic time on the private tour. I learned so much about the history, process, and of course tasting.
We decided to make it a day on site and had dinner at the Washback Pub for the Fiddler’s Fish & Chips and the dessert with whisky caramel sauce.
Most popular items on the menu for a very good reason!
ROUTE 19 BREWEING
I stopped in to try a flight of beer. I loved the peanut butter and jam ale, which tastes exactly like PB&J on toast.
I could also easily drink a pint of the Supernova.
And although I didn’t eat there I saw locals packing the sunny patio for lunch and that is always a good sign.
INVERNESS BEACH HUT
We were so lucky to get a beautiful day while visiting Inverness. The sun was strong and the wind made it a perfect beach day.
I wish we could have spent the day laying on the beach, but a girl’s gotta work – thankfully it was to follow a local tip to eat seafood at the beach hut.
And it was AMAZING.
Nothing fancy, it’s just a little food hut at one end of the beach serving great food.
As we’re in Cape Breton I got the crab cake sandwich, and I’m pretty sure it was the best crab cake I’ve ever had.
Full of flavour and a bit spicy, we had onion rings on the side with sriracha mayo.
They told me the lobster roll is the most popular item as it is only $16.
DANCING GOAT BAKERY
One of the most recommended restaurants in Cape Breton was The Dancing Goat Cafe & Bakery.
Heads up, there are NO goats there!
However, there is a great cafe that is so busy with locals stopping in for take out or buying a package of baked goods.
We stopped in for coffee, a chai latte, cranberry almond scone and cinnamon roll.
But I heard the real star is the breakfast sandwich…and really ALL of the sandwiches.
Our only regret was another table who bought a package of cookies told us they were amazing and we didn’t pick some up.
Spots I Missed
Unfortunately the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou was closed for the season.
Cheticamp is an Acadian village. There are lots of families named Aucoin here! Seriously.
It is also the largest fishing village in Cape Breton so there are some fantastic seafood joints.
Cheticamp is the entry point to the Cape Breton National Highlands Park so it’s a common stopping point before entering this beautiful park.
Without a doubt the most popular bakery in Cheticamp. You’ll find lots of locals stopping in, and you can find their baked goods sold all around Cape Breton Island.
Aucoin Bakery is known for its bread, meat pies, oat cakes and cinnamon rolls.
I think was the best cinnamon roll I’ve ever had.
People say Mr. Chicken has the best fried chicken in Cape Breton, if not all of Canada.
It’s a no frills fried chicken spot where you can also get ice cream. The fried chicken is moist, crisp and full of flavour.
And unlike most fast food chains that sell fried chicken they manage to make it tasty without being overwhelmed with salt.
There are lots of picnic tables outside, although I noticed many locals getting lunch to go.
One of the Cape Breton restaurants I was looking forward to visiting the most was L’Abri café, restaurant et bar in Cheticamp.
It has a gorgeous interior filled with locals, many having wine with lunch on a Tuesday – my kind of people.
It has a diverse menu with classic local Acadian dishes like fricot mixed with vegan options, cafe favourites like fish tacos and of course there’s chowder, mussels, fish and chips and a lobster roll.
We tried beef tartare with cured egg yolk, cajun haddock cakes and lobster wonton tacos with mango salsa and a gochujang sauce – who knew mango and gochujang would be a perfect match.
It was so good we took two doughnuts to go.
If you’re traveling the Cabot Trail I would highly recommend stopping here.
Ingonish is such a scenic part of Cape Breton. Drive from Cheticamp through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and it may be the best part of your visit.
But give yourself enough time to stop often. There are plenty of designated look out points where you can safely pull over to the side of the road.
COASTAL RESTAURANT AND PUB
The Ringer Burger at Coastal Restaurant & Pub was featured on You Gotta Eat Here on the Food Network.
It is a 6oz burger with smokey “ringer sauce” topped with onion rings, two slices of bacon and melted mozzarella cheese.
But I was a bit hesitant to order it.
Would it live up to this hype? Well it did.
It was the best burger I’ve had in a while! And alongside it they serve the best kind of crispy fries.
Portion sides are LARGE, so you may want to split a burger. They make it easy by serving it with a serrated knife.
And I also have to say the service was fantastic. Just friendly people in a friendly place with happy locals eating great food.
THE BEAN BARN
We stopped into Bean Barn Cafe for tea and an afternoon sweet.
The carrot cake is so decadent and the service was fantastic.
It is take out only at the moment. And Javier was happy to answer all our questions through the window and dig through the decaf teas to see if he had anything we’d like.
Although I don’t usually eat breakfast we couldn’t pass up the The Dancing Moose Cafe Cottage and Camping Cabins on the way to Baddeck.
A Dutch inspired cafe with an all day breakfast option, it is famous for its pannenkoek, a Dutch pancake that has ingredients baked in.
We opted for the apple, raisin and bacon option – which was like a delicious apple pie breakfast laced with bacon…why don’t we add bacon to apple pie?
Ingonish Restaurants I Missed
I was crushed that the Periwinkle Cafe wasn’t open the day we drove to Baddeck.
But it’s understandable that Cape Breton restaurants are operating differently this summer.
Yet, so many truly love the Periwinkle Cafe I feel confident recommending it.
HERRING CHOKER DELI
Herring Choker Deli is one of the most popular spots to eat in Baddeck for good reason.
I was surprised so many people recommended the veggie special sandwich, until I tried it.
Sandwiches need good bread. So they make their own.
I ordered the veggie special on oatmeal bread. It was just what I needed after a week of eating so much (in the name of work of course!).
You could put anything between their gorgeous bread and it would be incredible.
If veggies aren’t your thing I’ve heard the breakfast sandwich is killer.
CEDAR HOUSE BAKERY
My favourite spots to visit are never high end restaurants but instead the small local businesses that have been around forever.
Cedar House is a stellar bakery and has a great diner menu, If you crave a hot hamburger sandwich and old school classics THIS is where to go.
It also converted me into liking oat cakes! Apparently the secret is lard and sugar.
We also had the butterscotch pie and took a chocolate cake with boiled icing to go.
If you’ve ever had boiled icing as a kid you know this deliciousness is hard to find.
….and I keep saying I don’t like desserts.
BIG SPRUCE BREWING
I love everything about Big Spruce Brewing. The owners are a couple who bought a farm, started growing organically, first hops then decided to open a brewery.
It is also home to one of the most popular Cape Breton food trucks. So many people told me I had to try the lobster wontons with thai dipping sauce.
I’m a lobster purist so I prefer to eat it plain, not even with garlic butter.
But this was delicious. It was creamy like a crab rangoon. We could have ordered more if I didn’t need to check out more food.
It has a great view, lots of picnic tables, good music, a great food truck and staff that are warm and knowledgeable.
If I lived in Baddeck I’d be here all the time.
Restaurants in Baddeck I Missed
I heard wonderful things about Tom’s Pizza (by the slice), Yello Cello and the Freight Shed.
And unfortunately Baddeck Lobster Suppers and the Bite House are closed for the season.
Best Chowder in Cape Breton
To be fair, we only had seafood chowder in two spots so I can’t claim with complete confidence that THIS is the best chowder in Cape Breton.
But I could not leave Cape Breton without a stop in Whycocomagh.
Locals insisted it was home to the BEST chowder in Cape Breton. People were so insistent I went in with skepticism.
CHARLENE’S BAYSIDE RESTAURANT
This Whycocomagh restaurant is so popular with locals, and has also been featured on the Food Network.
We could not leave Cape Breton without trying their chowder. So at 10am we stopped in.
While the outdoor dining was packed with people eating breakfast I ate chowder.
It has a light flavourful broth with seven types of seafood including a whole lobster claw.
It was the best chowder we have had all summer in Nova Scotia.
Charlene’s definitely lives up to the hype.
If you think there’s a better spot let me know in the comments below.
Cape Breton Accommodations
I was able to stay at four fantastic resorts, inns and hotels in Cape Breton.
Each had their own character but all had the typical Cape Breton sense of hospitality.
GLENORA INN AND DISTILLERY
Two nights at the Glenora Inn were great to explore the region, we ate at the pub THREE times!
They play music twice a day at the pub but we ate outside as it was so lovely to spend time next to the river. These buildings were once part of a farm and have been maintained for the inn and distillery.
I highly recommend the private whisky tour. Although it is a splurge at $125, you see much more than the $7 tour (obviously!) and you end it with a whisky tasting.
It can take 2-3 hours depending how many questions you ask.
I asked MANY and I really appreciate the history of how and why they make single malt whisky.
SILVER LINING INN
We stayed overnight at the Silver Lining Inn and I had that wow moment when I walked in the suite and saw how large my bed was!
They have a contactless check in. You simply pick up your key at a lock box to check in and check out.
Centrally located with such great value. Everything in the room was new, modern and spotless.
With so much room you can’t ask for much more.
KELTIC LODGE AT THE HIGHLANDS
An iconic spot in a gorgeous part of Cape Breton Island. Lots of golfers come here but as I don’t golf I went to the spa for a massage and then spent my time taking too many photos and videos.
It is beautiful here!
My aunt Margaret, an avid golfer, describes the course as “Challenging even for good golfers with the most incredible views. Well groomed course surrounded by nature and beauty!”
My cousin also recently got married here and the views were amazing. The Keltic Lodge recommended a photographer that took stunning photos.
A family owned resort that had a terrible fire a few years ago, fortunately they are now rebuilding.
Service is excellent from the moment you check in to check out. My room was standard and the washroom needed updating, but it’s very central to everything in Baddeck and has a great breakfast included.
I would recommend when booking to specify for a room that faces the gorgeous grounds instead of the parking lot with construction.
On the grounds there are lots of Adirondack chairs and tables to have a picnic.
The resort restaurant has recently changed with some more upscale offerings such as Champagne poached oysters and Meat, Cheese, Honey, which is a fun play on a charcuterie board.
The new chef is sourcing 95% of ingredients from Cape Breton Island. And you can also book dinner to be on a floating picnic table.
It was a bit too windy for us to do it but I think it would be lots of fun.