On the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is well known for its long stretches of sandy beaches, big waves and surfer dudes. And it's the place to go to if you dream of watching the black bears that scour the shores at low tide, flipping over great rocks as if they were made of papier-mâché in their hunt for crabs and clams. Being on the shores of Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, Tofino is also a great base from which to go whale-watching and enjoy the myriad of sea life that can be spotted there. But there's another side to Tofino that shouldn't be overlooked and that is its gastronomy, as I recently discovered for myself in this wild and windy corner of British Columbia.
Where to eat in downtown Tofino
After a morning's wildlife watching out at sea, you are sure to be hungry and when it comes to eateries in Tofino you really are spoilt for choice. We had so many recommendations on our first day here, that we didn't know which way to turn. In the end the promise of great views and the equally good food of the Sea Shanty won out and we were soon tucking into tasty fish 'n' chips, washed down with an excellent local cider with a view across Clayoquot Sound.
If you are after breakfast then the cute red and green Common Loaf Bakery on First Street is a favourite with the locals. Alternatively try the Crab Benedict at The Schooner Restaurant on Campbell Street. This restaurant is somewhat of a local legend, as is its resident ghost, Morris. Now in its 67th year Schooners has been in the Bruce family since 1968. We popped by for lunch, after another appetite-inducing morning out on the water, and devoured their Baked Brie Platter - the cheese is topped with crushed hazelnuts and brown sugar, then baked to perfection and served with oven roasted garlic, winter fruit coulis and warm bread. So good. We followed this up with the Schooner Burger topped with crispy bacon and jack cheese, crunchy lettuce, raspberry-pickled red onions, juicy tomatoes, a pickle and their secret sauce. Again excellent and I have no idea how we managed to finish it all. But we did.
A very tasty industrial estate
Next stop, a rather unassuming and quite frankly uninviting industrial estate just off the Pacific Rim Highway, the main road into town. It felt so unlikely that we'd find the brewery we were seeking here that we were about to give up when, just around the corner, we heard music and saw the open shutters of Tofino Brewing Company, one of many excellent craft breweries that seem to be popping up all over the place these days. And I'm certainly not complaining. I'm a relatively new convert to beer as I've discovered, one brewery at a time, that there is a lot more on offer these days than the indifferent lager found at my local. Craft beers bursting with flavour abound throughout BC and Tofino is no exception. I hop on a bar stool, order a flight of 4 mini glasses of their finest, from their Tuff Session Ale made with Pacific Northwest Hops to their Kelp Stout, made with local seaweed (well I do like a beer with character) and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of the Tofino Brewing Company.
It's while here that I learn about some other hidden gems in the estate. It is very much a community where businesses support each other. The brewery recommend RedCan Gourmet, just across the road, as the perfect take-away to accompany their beer for a cosy night in. Serving excellent pizzas, seafood and burgers made with the best fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, all elegantly presented, they take take-out to another level without raising the prices. They also have a limited number of seats inside, if you can't wait to tuck-in long enough to get home.
Tucked away behind RedCan is another delightful surprise, Picnic Charcuterie. In a small room out back, Tina Windsor, ages and smokes such delights as ham cured with a kelp stout from the Tofino brewery. She brings with her many years’ experience in livestock husbandry, charcuterie and cheese production. Using locally sourced and ethical raised produce she provides a plethora of edible goodies perfect for any picnic. We stocked up and headed back to our motor home looking forward to a tasty picnic-style evening meal.
My favourite car park in the world
We were staying at Crystal Cove Beach Resort which was rather handily just a short walk from the brewery but even closer still, also just off the road into town, another collection of edible wonders can be found clustered around the parking lot of Live to Surf. At the far end of the car park is one of the best food trucks I've ever come across, Tacofino. Serving, what they term as slow, fast food, their goal is to offer fresh, healthy and environmentally conscious Mexican cuisine. Despite the queues - always a good sign - we didn't have to wait long to tuck into a kick-ass burrito. A return visit that week was inevitable. Be sure not to miss their chilli chocolate cookie. Spot on. Another little gem, on the left as you enter the car park, is Chocolate Tofino. They make delectable homemade chocolates and gelato, while if you're seeking a burger or some traditional Canadian poutine - chips topped with cheese curds and gravy - then the excellent Wildside Grill, just next door, is a must. Their Panko Fried Oysters also come highly recommended, as does their Smoked Salmon Chowder with local salmon smoked in house, mixed vegetables and seafood in a creamy broth. To burn off some of those calories there are some great hiking routes in the area. You can also rent a bike, book surf lessons and even yoga in this unique and very special car park.
We felt extremely lucky that the resort we were staying in was slap bang between Tofino's industrial estate, with its craft beers and gourmet take-away and what has to be my favourite car park in the world, with its gelatos and burritos. And it was just a short drive or cycle ride into town for a further plethora of excellent eateries. As you can imagine, neither our motor home's kitchen or our fire pit (when it came to cooking at least) saw much action that week, as we munched our way through the flavours of Tofino.
While the wildlife, in particular the beautiful black bears, first drew me to this corner of British Columbia, the culinary discoveries I made here, all embracing an ethos of fresh, local, quality food, will no doubt hasten my return.