Remember the diner scene from Five Easy Pieces, where Jack Nicholson’s character wants a plain omelette and a side of toast? A recent trip to Tacofino Commissary brought to mind that classic clip.
In the movie, the waitress tells him in no uncertain terms that there are no substitutions and certainly no side orders of toast. He ends up ordering a plain omelette anyway (no potatoes) and a chicken-salad sandwich on toast minus the mayonnaise, butter, lettuce—and chicken.
At Tacofino, four of us wanted to share some nachos to start. One of us asked if we could get the salsa on the side. Our server had told us it contains roasted jalapeños, and our pal has had a lifelong aversion to the little peppers.
“We can’t do that,” the server said, pointing to the line at the bottom of the menu that says “menu substitutions politely declined”.
I had to make sure I was hearing correctly: “You can’t put the salsa on the side?” She was adamant that this was impossible but said we could order the nachos without the salsa.
So we ordered a plate of nachos without salsa, plus a side of salsa that we were willing to pay for.
It seemed ridiculous. But things ended up working out far more civilly for us than they did for Nicholson’s character. The server came back saying we could in fact get the salsa on the side at no charge—but only because it wasn’t busy. We’d arrived before 6 p.m. for a pre-hockey-game bite, and by 6:30 there was a lineup. (It moves quickly, though; this is not a place to linger.) And the crisp, house-made tortilla chips were terrific, topped with Cheddar, mozzarella, and feta cheese and drizzled with chipotle mayo. The salsa was chunky and lively.
After getting over that little bump, the meal ran a course that mirrored a road trip to Tofino, where Tacofino got its start as a food truck: rough in places but worth the trek. And with so many people about to hit Mexico for spring break, now’s a good time to visit the restaurant if you have a hankering for a tuna taco but aren’t flying south anytime soon.
In addition to the restaurant and the original truck that’s still running in Tofino, two mobile eateries operate in downtown Vancouver. (They’re currently closed for winter.) The décor inside Tacofino offers a sharp contrast to the trucks’ trademark bright orange and blue paint jobs: walls are stark white. But artist Omer Arbel’s hanging light installation is gorgeous.
The dinner menu is straightforward: there are eight tacos to choose from, as well as seven appetizers and four desserts. The prices are unbeatable, with most tacos costing just $6. The most expensive item (the aforementioned nachos) is $12. A single taco won’t cut it if you’re here for dinner, but it doesn’t take much more than that to feel satisfied.
Skirt steak lifts the conventional beef taco to new heights, the tender meat cooked to a perfectly pink medium- rare, punched up with pickled veggies, huge cilantro leaves, and a black-garlic mayo. Albacore tuna makes for another standout taco, with a generous handful of wakame (seaweed) and hits of ginger and wasabi. Ginger also sings in the chicken karaage taco, a Japan-meets-Baja pocket of flavour.
The fish taco disappoints. The lingcod doesn’t stand a chance when it’s got such a thick layer of tempura batter and so much chipotle mayo on top—I would have liked to taste the fish. Tossed with crispy rice and fish sauce, the cauliflower starter is drenched in Serrano chili oil. Tortilla soup would hit the spot if you had a cold, but this one lacked a wow factor. It was missing lime, too, which seemed to be a consistent issue: most tacos came with only tiny pieces of the fruit, which is as essential to Mexican dining as salsa.
Same went for the Dark N’ Stormy, a cocktail that’s getting more play around town—made with house-made ginger beer, it’s served with a strip of raw ginger but, sadly, no citrus.
Fortunately, lime came through vibrantly in the lime-curd vaso, a lovely dessert with a graham-cracker-crumb base, topped with fluffy whipped cream and served in a little Mason jar. The churros were unremarkable, but the banana sriracha ice cream that came with them was not. Made with that chili-laced sauce, it was the spiciest item we had all night—unforgettably good.
Dinner for four with a cocktail and a beer was $99 before tax and tip.