Tofino is a bohemian surf town with a surprisingly good culinary scene on Vancouver Island’s south shore. According to A Brief Tofino History, Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations people have lived along beautiful Clayoquot Sound for over 5000 years. MUCH later, in 1774, Captain Juan Pérez claimed the region for Spain, and soon after, Captain James Cook claimed the area for Great Britain. The town of Tofino formed in 1909, named for bygone Spanish explorer Vincente Tofiño. In 1972, logging roads were finally paved, and the Trans Canada Highway allowed for far easier navigation across the island. The drive from Victoria takes about five hours. Now Tofino gets approximately 750,000 visitors per year to surf, hike, fish, whale (and bear) watch. Learn about 10 of my favorite places to eat or drink, based on a trip from August 2-5, 2017.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Kim Shaw and husband Cam have run Chocolate Tofino since 2003. Their chocolate and gelato shop resides in a bohemian village with neighbors like the Tofitian, a yoga studio, and surf shop. Depending on the time of year, gelato flavors might include summer strawberry and maple pecan praline, which are both rich, creamy, and distinct. Hammerhead is a mysterious blue-grey flavor that will keep you guessing. Cups are fine, but since they make waffle cones in-house, go that route. Their showstopping chocolate creation is a detailed bear filled with tiny chocolate sea creatures.
MUST ORDER: Maple Pecan Praline Gelato, Summer Strawberry Ice Gelato, Waffle Cone
Lewis and Cathy George are a First Nations family who also run Himwitsa Lodge and Himwitsa Native Art Gallery on Tofino’s waterfront. Dockside Smoked Fish Store dates to 2010 and sells 19 varieties of hot- and cold-smoke sockeye, Chinook, and chum. Salmon availability varies with the seasons. Dockside Smoked Fish Store also sells canned local seafood and sockeye salmon in gift-ready cedar boxes. During my visit, they only had sockeye salmon in the display case, which was just fine. Silky lox, pepper smoked salmon, plain smoked salmon, and chewy chunks of maple salmon candy were all very good.
MUST ORDER: Lox, Pepper Smoked Salmon, Smoked Salmon
Kuma is a modern Japanese restaurant from Mitsumi Kawai, her family, and Rob Leadley that opened downtown in 2014 with chef Simon Burch. Kuma means bear in Japanese, which accounts for the blue wall showcasing an amazing bear portrait. The sharp looking space features wood tables, bar, and patio. The Kawai family contributed many recipes, but they credit Burch with Kuma’s well-balanced ramen. Their House Ramen features a rich, double strength pork broth seasoned with soy sauce and touting toothsome noodles, tender braised pork belly, medium-boiled egg, hearty kale, a blizzard of scallions, and single sheet of nori. Other comforting Japanese dishes include juicy chicken karaage served with house-made spicy mayo and yuzu infused salt; and local jig-caught albacore tuna tataki that’s seared and dressed with ponzu, ginger, garlic, and scallions.
MUST ORDER: Chicken Karaage, House Ramen, Tuna Tataki
Picnic is located in an industrial park south of town and specializes in house-made charcuterie, a well-curated cheese selection, and accouterments like elderflower jelly and Tofino Blonde Ale mustard. I enjoyed their summer sausage and porcini salami. Picnic is a great option for snacks and party platters. They also make sandwiches, which are available starting at 10:15 a.m. and frequently sell out by 2 p.m.
MUST ORDER: Porcini Salami, Summer Sausage
Rhino Coffee House is your best bet for specialty coffee in downtown Tofino, featuring their own roasted beans. The cafe resides in The Campbell House complex and features tree slab, worn corrugated metal, and surfboards built into the design. A red two-group La Marzocco espresso machine does the heavy lifting on the brewing process. Solid house-made donuts might include tangy sour cream beer glaze or chocolate espresso Bailey’s.
MUST ORDER: Coffee, Sour Cream Beer Glazed Donut