Tofino Fish Tacos
Thanks to this song, reminiscent of my high school taste in music, my bucket list demanded that I take surfing lessons in Tofino, Canada’s surf capital, located on Vancouver Island. So there I was, last Spring, on the rainy Pacific coast, riding a rental bike in the rain to the beach where I would proceed to get knocked over by giant waves, attacked by my own surfboard, and trapped inside an obstinate wetsuit. It was so worth it!
The whole time I was in Tofino I ate nothing but fish tacos, most notably from a little orange truck called Tacofino that has famously expanded to include two mobile food trucks in Vancouver. The original truck is always stationed in the “Live to Surf” complex, between tsunami country and the bustling metropolis of Tofino (pop. 1,876).
If you are unfamiliar with fish tacos, I will provide some explanation. Authentic Baja-style fish tacos originated in Baja, Mexico when Japanese fishermen wrapped their tempura fried fish in the local tortillas. Or so I’m told. Nowadays they are typically composed of deep fried white fish, finely shredded cabbage, and a creamy white sauce. Other common toppings are fresh tomato salsa, avocado, and cilantro. Of course, there are further deviations. For example…
Tacofino’s tuna taco ($6.50): Lightly seared sesame-soy albacore tuna with wasabi-ginger mayo, shredded cabbage, mango salsa and seaweed salad on a fire toasted flour tortilla. Seaweed salad is certainly a strange taco topping, but it seems to work with this Asian-inspired concoction. I do prefer flour tortillas for fish tacos, and I love how they torch this one! It’s a bit pricey, but that’s fairly typical of the touristy Tofino price-scale.
Tacofino also has an amazing and more affordable fish taco of tempura battered ling cod with chipotle mayo, shredded cabbage and salsa fresca ($4.50). Since I am a registered bean paste enthusiast, I also ordered the refried black bean taco ($3.50). This one is on a corn tortilla and topped with feta cheese and cilantro. Quite lovely.
I could seriously survive on these tacos alone, not to mention Tacofino’s Lime-Mint slushy drinks and their Chocolate Diablo Cookie ($2.50)! BEST.COOKIE.EVER: Fudgy chocolate cookie with fresh ginger and chili, milk chocolate chunks, and salty sprinkles. It is all you could ever imagine and more.
If it was even possible to get sick of Tacofino, there is the Wildside Grill right next door which also makes some pretty mean fish tacos: 3 for $13 or $5 each. They use lettuce and cilantro instead of cabbage, as well as cheese, avocado, and a corn tortilla. Wildside has more variety than Tacofino, serving up things like fish ‘n’ chips, oyster burgers, breakfast tacos, and a cod clubhouse with bacon, avocado and chilli mayo! Unfortunately I was limited to one lonely (albeit tasty) taco.
In downtown Tofino I tried the fish taco from Big Daddy’s Fish Fry. What a mess. Thick sliced purple cabbage and what looks like tartar sauce = Fail. Well, the fish itself was very nice and the tartar sauce was pleasant. The fish ‘n’ chips at Big Daddy’s are probably stellar. It was mainly the giant cabbage tentacles that ruined this for me.
Before travelling to Tofino, I read a blog about a salmon taco on a crispy blue taco shell, topped with fruit salsa. For some reason, I was led to believe that Tofino was this sunny surfer’s paradise with everyone eating blue tacos on the beach. Was I ever wrong! There are no taco vendors at the beach, and your taco would probably be soggy from the rain (if you think I’m exaggerating the rainfall, please note that this part of BC is a temperate rainforest. July and August are the driest months. You’ve been advised). This fruity blue taco is served right in town at SoBo and it was a huge disappointment. The fish wanted seasoning and the salsa wanted freshness. I didn’t find the flavours compatible, and the novelty of the blue taco shell wears off quickly when you realize it’s no different than an Old El Paso taco kit.
My favourite fish taco in Tofino is probably non-existent by now, but it was a $5 happy hour special alongside buck ‘a shuck oysters at The Schooner. The blackened fish was topped with deep fried calamari rings, jalapeno slices, cilantro, fruit salsa and creamy sauce in a grilled flour tortilla. Now THIS was killer! I think I ate two or three of these in the 2 days I spent in Tofino.
If anyone is swinging by Tofino, you should tell the kitchen to put this on the permanent menu! In the meantime, Tacofino is more than satisfying.
1184 Pacific Rim Hwy
1180 Pacific Rim Hwy (Live to Surf Complex)
1850 Pacific Rim Hwy (Long Beach Golf Course)
311 Neill Street
250 725 2341
Big Daddy’s Fish Fry
411 Campbell St
The Schooner Restaurant
331 Cambpell St.