Tacofino's new Taco Bar is bustling in Gastown

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      It didn't take long for word to spread. When I visited Tacofino in late January, the new Gastown Taco Bar had only been open for mere weeks, yet it was packed with diners on a random Monday night.

      Perhaps that's because Tacofino already had a loyal following. It started as a Tofino-based food truck in 2009 and opened as a restaurant in Vancouver in 2013. This downtown location, however, is a bit different, with an 80-seat dining room and an expanded menu.

      As part of a media group that night, I had a chance to sample some of the restaurant's menu. But first, I checked out the space.

      The building has two distinct areas: the Taco Bar facing Blood Alley, and the Burrito Bar, which faces West Cordova Street. The latter is a small takeout space that focuses on...you guessed it, burritos. Here's the menu, with options for everyone from chorizo lovers to vegans.

      Our group didn't try the burritos but focused on the menu at the sit-down taco bar.

      Squash and cauliflower tostada
      Carolyn Ali

      One of my favourite dishes of the night was this squash and cauliflower tostada. The kabocha squash and pickled cauliflower gave it a substantial bite, and the crispy tostada and creamy queso fresca a nice texture.

      For meat lovers, the lamb birria (opening photo) is also worth ordering for its succulent braised meat. That's complemented by arbol chili, pickled nopales, and preserved lemon zest.

      Oaxaan corn fritters
      Carolyn Ali

      There's plenty more than just tacos at the Taco Bar. In fact, the dishes are far from traditional, with snacking favourites like shishito peppers adding to the small-plate mix. (Dishes are meant for sharing.)

      Above, these Oaxacan corn fritters have a zingy chili-lime sauce and cotija cheese.

      Carolyn Ali

      For pork-belly lovers, the chicharones offer a puffy, crispy version over more pork and a tangy slaw.

      Glazed beef ribs with chilaquiles
      Carolyn Ali

      A larger dish, the glazed beef ribs are seasoned with a flavourful mix of lemongrass and habanero and topped with peanuts. They come with chilaquiles topped with kale—because kale cancels out all deep-fried evil, right?

      Carolyn Ali

      While you might be tempted to order a margarita, I suggest you try a Michelada. I was skeptical—the combination of beer, clamato juice, and tequila didn't sound appealing, but I tried it anyways.

      Wow! The flavours really worked, and the drink was refreshing and not too strong on the clamato. The high-quality ingredients are likely part of the reason it was so good: local Red Truck lager, ancho-infused El Jimador tequila, and house-made clamato juice.

      Give one a try. You can always move on to a margarita after that.

      Even if it is a Monday night, you'll be in good company.