I have to confess that for years I shied away from the Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn. Tofino’s highest-profile and most renowned establishment was too expensive and fancy for me, I always thought. Then one evening a friend took me there for dinner and I was blown away. The service, the friendliness and the quality of the food were all fantastic. It was an amazing experience, worth every penny – though definitely priced in the fine dining range. And as you’d expect the setting is amazing, right on Chesterman Beach, complete with surf, seabirds and the ocean’s eternal thrum. Wine lovers will also know right away that they’ve come to the right place. The Pointe’s very capable sommelier will take you through their long list of exceptional wines to make sure you won’t be disappointed. The locally caught seafood is a favourite, of course. In fact, almost all the ingredients, including meat, game and produce, are locally sourced and lovingly prepared. Also just a five-minute walk from Tofino Hummingbird Cottage via Chesterman beach. Highly recommended for those special occasions.
Driftwood Café/On The Rocks bar
These two sub-establishments at the Wickaninnish have the same seaside cachet and excellent service as The Pointe. The Driftwood is right on the beach and offers excellent cappuccinos, lattes or other caffeinated (or non-caffeinated) beverages of your choice. And they have an area for dogs, so I can bring my Jack Russell terrier, Kando. Great place to have a coffee! For a glass of wine, craft brew or creative cocktail, the Wickaninnish’s On The Rocks licensed lounge is a classy retreat for appies and reconnecting.
As you might guess, the Tacofino name – so well known today in Vancouver and the BC Lower Mainland – started right here in Tofino. Their original food truck is still the spot for tacos, burritos and gringas filled with seared albacore, beans, tempura ling cod and pork. The food is delicious, and the company’s success is well deserved. On the other hand, it also means they simply can’t keep up with the strong demand in most busy seasons – mainly summer – when the lineups can be up to two hours long. But if you’re hungry enough or patient or both, the food is consistently great, and the truck is only five minutes’ walk from Tofino Hummingbird Cottage. In the off-season, I typically phone in my orders and pick them up 10 or 15 minutes later.
When I’m looking for a light breakfast with top-quality coffee (voted best in Tofino, many times), loose-leaf tea, Matcha or “gourmet chocolate frothy delight” as their website calls it, I head for the Tofitian. Located right on the Pacific Rim Hwy, next to Beaches Grocery and Wildside Grill. Gluten-free and vegan options are available in the array of breakfast sandwiches, sausage rolls, cookies, muffins, cakes and other treats that emerge daily from their in-house bakery.
Another place I frequent is the Wildside Grill, also five minutes’ walk from the Cottage, and located in the same complex as the Tacofino truck. Its two partners, Jeff Mikus and Jesse Blake, are a commercial fisherman and chef respectively. Seating is outdoor or takeout (my usual choice), and while the emphasis is on seafood, they also offer yummy pulled pork, chicken and even poutine. Even the salads (green and Caesar) are good. And if you’re not into deep-fried, they will happily grill your fish for you instead. The ingredients are carefully selected from local suppliers – beef, pork and elk from an ethical farm in Pemberton, BC, MSC-certified tuna from a supplier near Parksville, MSC-certified ling cod from a fisherman in Port Alberni, and chicken from an award-winning, fourth-generation farm in nearby Duncan, BC.
Wolf in the Fog
A fine dining establishment with a casual twist is the relatively new (2013) Wolf in the Fog. With what it calls its ‘hip-meets-chill vibe,’ and located right in town, it specializes in local, naturally sourced ingredients – salmon, chanterelle mushrooms harvested from nearby forests, squid, tuna, halibut. Lots of cocktails, local brews and BC wines to choose from as well. Chef Nicholas Nutting has a simple approach which he says honours local ingredients from the Island’s fishers and farmers, as well as foraged goods from Tofino’s forests and shores. Says the website: ‘We’re proud to be a part of this culinary community in such a quirky corner of Canada, right at the end of the road.’ The prices lean toward the haute side of cuisine, but if you can afford them and want to treat yourself to a classic Tofino lunch or dinner, the Wolf is calling.
Tofino’s only waterfront resort and marina has its own restaurant, and it’s a good one. Situated right on the inner harbour with a postcard backdrop of forested mountains, scrap-scrounging eagles and the occasional departing float plane or schooner, the 1909 Kitchen is a great choice for breakfast or dinner. I’d recommend the 1909 for atmosphere alone, but the meals, designed by executive chef Terry Somerville, earn equal billing, with such seafood delights as bouillabaisse (fish stew) and escabeche (side stripe prawns in chili and basil) –– or non-seafood dishes ranging from a 7 oz. burger with Monterey Jack cheese, to a juicy half chicken with oregano, patatas bravas and root vegetables. Ingredients are mostly sourced and foraged from Tofino’s oceans, shoreline and forests, or you can bring your own catch and have them prepare and cook it for you in their 1000-degree wood-fired Mugnaini oven.
According to its website, SoBo started as a humble mom-and-pop food truck in 2003 and has since risen to the award-winning full service restaurant that it is today. Situated proudly in Tofino’s downtown core, and short for ‘sophisticated Bohemian,’ SoBo embodies the grassroots gourmet cuisine of Chef Lisa Ahier, who previously worked at the upscale Wickaninnish Inn. Her dishes highlight wild, foraged, and local seasonal ingredients, and are complemented by the region’s best biodynamic wines and craft brews. The ethic of local, organic, wild foraged sourcing has become a huge part of SoBo’s identity. If you like to support local, this is the restaurant to visit. We are all looking forward to the day when sufficient staffing means they can open again for dinners. Prices are reasonable – just $12 for a bowl of yummy smoked salmon chowder, for example, or $15 for a serving of buckwheat soba (Japanese noodle) salad, or $18 for a Margherita pizza with San Marzano sauce and fresh basil. Let’s hope the end of the pandemic will bring a new beginning for SoBo. If you’d rather eat in to enjoy their cuisine, there’s a copy of SoBo’s recipe book in the Cottage just waiting to challenge your cooking skills.