How many places can you say you’ve been to where you didn’t experience the disappointment of one unsatisfactory meal?
Chances are that Tofino, a small town on the edge of Vancouver Island, will be one of those destinations. Mark my word: there’s no shortage of great eats here, especially coastal seafood of the highest quality from the very waters that surround this fishing town. And they’ll suit budgets of all sizes; during my one-week stay, I went from spending $70 for a meal one day to $5 the next.
Here’s my round-up of Tofino restaurants, cafés and food trucks that won’t disappoint:
Known for their generously sized lattes, Caffe Vincente, a tiny, modest joint, also serves up quick breakfasts and lunches in an atmosphere that made me feel like a local, even though I had just arrived in town. Served with a side of fresh fruit, the breakfast croissant ($9.95) was absolutely scrumptious — stuffed with a free-range egg, ham, Swiss cheese, spinach, tomatoes and chipotle mayo.
Bonus: Catch up on emails or post your next Facebook status update by taking advantage of the complimentary wifi.
Rustic yet sophisticated, Shelter Restaurant offers more than a roof over your head: local, organic ingredients; all-natural meats; and seafood caught by Tofino’s own fishermen. Add to that a gorgeous view and first-rate hospitality, and you have an outstanding culinary experience — certainly one of my most memorable. I mean, how often are you served chunks of beet and squash still warm in your salad?
As a member of the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild (TUCG), Shelter proudly partners with local providers and remains at the forefront of sustainability initiatives.
The Pointe Restaurant
The Wickaninnish Inn is the legendary, luxury resort with an award-winning restaurant (also a TUCG member) on the ocean’s edge. Apart from its exceptional service and superb cuisine, guests enjoy a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s as if all the stars were aligned for my brunch and dinner here. Read more about my meals and The Wickaninnish Inn here.
You may not associate the Best Western brand with quality cuisine, but the Beachfront Bistro in the Tin Wis Resort Lodge will surprise you. This property is owned and operated by the First Nations, so you can expect unique dishes influenced by the Nuu Chah Nulth people. While peering through the floor-to-ceiling windows at Mackenzie Beach one morning, I devoured my Wildman Skillet ($14) — a hearty stack of sautéed sausage, ham and vegetables with hash browns, cheese, egg and toast.
Do walk out to the beach afterwards. On the way, visit the totem pole dedicated to the many children forced to attend Indian residential schools from 1906 to 1986 — a moving, sobering reminder of a dark chapter in our country’s history.
I was elated to find Tacofino, a Mexican food truck with a menu of affordable burritos, tacos and gringas.
The seared Albacore tuna tacos ($4.50) and Baja fish tacos ($6.50) were so delicious, I couldn’t help but order the exact same thing on my second visit.
Short for “Sophisticated Bohemian”, Sobo collaborates with the TUCG to showcase the freshness and quality of Vancouver Island ingredients. How fresh, you ask? My “Left Coast” seafood stew featured wild fish, scallops, mussels and clams caught just a short distance away, straight out of the Pacific.
Common Loaf Bake Shop
This breakfast and lunch eatery has the feel of your beloved aunt’s kitchen.
The Common Loaf is a local favourite famous for its baked goods, but something needs to be said about the breakfast sandwich with eggs, local ham, spinach, mozzarella and tomato ($6.95). Just look at this! It’s quite possibly the most amazing breakfast sandwich on this side of Canada. If I had space left in my stomach, I would’ve sampled the breakfast pizza too ($5.50).
Located in an industrial area of town, RedCan Gourmet offers gourmet take-out for the days you just want to hibernate inside your hotel room after your beach combing or hiking plans get rained out. Executive Chef Tim May sources food locally and works closely with First Nations communities to prepare delectable meals that are reasonably priced by Tofino standards.
The artisan pizza ($12-$22) is a local favourite, but I loved my house fettuccine with beef tender tips, mushrooms, red pepper and pesto sauce ($18.95). My friend ordered the jerk chicken with rice, black beans, vegetables and mango salsa ($16.95).
Call ahead to find out what’s on the weekly menu and place your order.
Spotted Bear Bistro
France meets the Canadian west coast at the Spotted Bear Bistro, where classic, upscale comfort food is showcased in an intimate setting.
As part of the TUCG collective, this bistro offers a seasonal menu dependent on the current availability of local and the freshest seafood. The white bean chowder ($10) and fish of the day (market price) were full of flavour, and the braised octopus ($14) couldn’t have been more tender and succulent.
After days of eating out, you may want to head to the local supermarket for some economical, ready-made meals. From breakfast sandwiches ($2.99) to whole barbecue chickens ($10.99), you and your friends will find something at Tofino Co-op to suit your tastes.
Your wallet will thank you.
Eat Seafood, and Lots of It
There are a myriad of reasons to visit Tofino — and the food scene is unmistakably one of them. My first piece of advice: indulge in the coastal, fresh-as-can-be seafood (and lots of it) because, if you live in a land-locked city as I do, you’ll quickly learn that the salmon, shellfish and octopus at home don’t come remotely close to Vancouver Island quality.
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Most of the Tofino restaurants and smaller establishments listed above came recommended to me by both visitors and locals themselves but, if you have your own recommendations, I (and my readers) would love to read them, so feel free to leave a comment below.
Disclosures: my meal at RedCan Gourmet was discounted and dinner at The Pointe Restaurant complimentary but rest assured all opinions expressed in this post are my own. I also earn a modest commission from Booking.com if you click on their link and make a reservation through their site (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support!