The most remote, picturesque regions of North America are rarely touted for outstanding, innovative cuisine. When pristine natural surroundings are a major draw, food often takes a backseat to stunning vistas and incomparable outdoor experiences. But a visit to Tofino will prove that it is indeed possible to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, this small British Columbian town is only reachable from mainland Vancouver by car and ferry (a minimum six-hour trek) or by air taxi from Vancouver International Airport’s South terminal (a jaunt made much faster by Orca Airway’s addition of a 15-seat Beechcraft Model 99).
After a breathtakingly scenic flight across the misty island-studded Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, you will reach this verdant coastal gem that’s home to over 2,000 residents, one million visitors a year and a number of the tastiest restaurants and epicurean events in Canada.
Check in at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Wickaninnish Inn Tofino, a three-story, cedar rustic-chic oceanside retreat which celebrates its 20th anniversary this August. The inn’s Pointe Restaurant put Tofino on the culinary map, and many of its alums now run their own operations around town. Visit the dynamic establishment for exquisite views of Chesterman Beach paired with a seafood-focused tasting menu and BC’s finest wines. The hotel’s bar, appropriately called On the Rocks Lounge, also boasts one of the finest selections of single malt scotch in the province.
Securing transportation, be it a car or a bike, is necessary in Tofino, as the entire town is serviced by a single taxicab. However, the downtown area and all the hotels and beaches along the way are easily accessible via a bike path along the highway. Be sure to stop for lunch at the wildly popular Tacofino, a bright orange trailer set back from the road that serves some of the town’s best fish tacos.
Just next door, chef Jesse Blake and commercial fisherman Jeff Mikus have a delicious partnership in Wildside Grill, where they offer fresh local salmon, tuna, cod, halibut and wild prawns.
The owners of Wildside Grill will soon open another concept called Surfside Grill — featuring dishes like seafood gumbo, prawn burgers and oysters — at the nearby Pacific Sands Beach Resort, a beautiful getaway situated along Cox Bay at the edge of Pacific Rim National Park. The all-suite resort is the perfect retreat for couples or groups of friends, with luxurious beach houses featuring ocean-facing hot tubs and fully equipped kitchens.
After a day of catching fresh waves with the on-site surf school, Surf Sister, peel out of your wetsuit and settle in for a home-cooked meal in front of the flickering fire.
Pick up a fresh catch at The Fish Store and Oyster Bar for dinner and stock up on groceries from Tofino’s co-op grocery store, including local products like treats from Chocolate Tofino (started by a former Wickaninnish pastry chef) and bombers of craft beer from Tofino Brewing Company.
Downtown Tofino offers some stellar dining options that would easily stand the test of much larger, more cosmopolitan food cities. Kuma serves Japanese comfort food like shio ramen, okonomiyaki and tako yakitori in a warm, inviting dining room.
The aptly named Shelter, set in a modern cabin along Campbell Street, is ideal for expertly prepared local seafood and masterful cocktails that can be enjoyed around the patio fire pit.
SoBo, which started as a food truck, was propelled by quick success to a brick-and-mortar restaurant with its own cookbook. If you find yourself fresh off a whale-watching excursion or boat ride to nearby Hot Springs Cove, nothing can cap the outing like a bowl of SoBo chef Lisa Ahier’s spicy salmon chowder followed by house-made tagliatelle or island-raised lamb.
After being named “Canada’s Best New Restaurant” by Air Canada, Wolf in the Fog has certainly become a destination of its own, attracting chefs and foodies from across the country to experience chef (and another Wickaninnish alum) Nick Nutting’s thoughtful local cuisine. Situated above a surf shop and filled with local art, the restaurant exudes Tofino’s charming bohemian aesthetic while showcasing the best products the land and sea have to offer.
Begin with a signature cedar-infused rye sour at Wolf in the Fog before moving onto dishes such as a delicate potato-crusted oyster; multi-layered Moroccan-spiced octopus; or cod cheeks with clams, saffron and sofrito. Bigger groups can choose from a menu of large format options, like the playful Block Party — fried chicken, barbecue ribs, pulled pork, cornbread and greens — which feels like even more of a celebration paired with the restaurant’s typical reggae soundscape.
For such a small town, Tofino enjoys a surprising number of food-focused events throughout the year. Each Saturday from May to October, Tofino Public Market comes to life with artisan wares, entertainment and local food and drink.
For the month of May, Feast Tofino attracts guest chefs from across Canada to collaborate with local toques on special events and menus, foraging and fishing together in their spare time.
The start of June marks the Tofino Food & Wine Festival, an annual celebration of the area’s thriving culinary scene held at the lush botanical gardens.
The Clayoquot Oyster Festival (November 20 to 21), now in its 19th year, commemorates the beginning of the bivalve harvest with a series of dinners, farm tours and a gala chef competition.