For such a small town, Tofino has some pretty great food.
I don't get to this West Coast outpost (pop. 1,600) very often, so when I visited for a recent learn-to-surf trip, I made sure to check out SoBo. I've heard about this place for years but never managed to get there myself. One of my colleagues, who visits Tofino frequently to surf, raves about SoBo's smoked wild fish chowder.
Sitting down for lunch with co-owner and chef Lisa Ahier, I sampled a range of Sobo's dishes and got a rundown on the restaurant's history and philosphy. SoBo famously started as a food truck back in 2003 and moved to its current location at 311 Neill St. in 2007. The place is bright, airy, and clearly popular amongst the locals.
The name SoBo is short for sophisticated bohemian, and it aptly describes not only the restaurant but Ahier herself, who runs the place with husband Artie Ahier. A lively, down-to-earth chef, Lisa Ahier believes in using local, sustainable ingredients but not getting all uppity about it. She makes food that people want to eat, not just food that shows well. "If it doesn't serve a purpose and it doesn't taste good, it's not going on a plate," she says.
Ahier founded the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild in 2010 to use group buying power to make local, sustainable B.C. ingredients more accessible to people in Tofino. "We were getting rock-hard peaches from Florida when they were in season in the Okanagan," she explains. The group now has 200 members ranging from private individuals to bed-and-breakfasts owners to restaurant chefs who order collectively from the region's farmers, fishers, and foragers.
Ahier is currently working on The Sobo Cookbook with recipes from the restaurant, set for a spring publication.
Here's a look at what I tried as Ahier's guest when I visited in October, keeping in mind that menu changes with the seasons. The dishes are globally inspired, with many Asian-influenced items. Ahier's Texan roots show up dishes like her Killer Fish Taco.
Ahier says she didn't know about inari sushi when she was inspired to stuff these tofu pockets with sushi rice, avocado, wasabi mayo, sesame seeds, and soy and sunflower sprouts. Organic shitake mushrooms or smoked salmon top it all off.
This delicious tomato, bread, and cheese salad was a special on the day I visited.
Similar to a Japanese oyster motoyaki, this local beach oyster is topped with house-made salmon bacon and miso mayo, and then broiled till bubbly.
Ahier uses local humpback shrimp for her Cibolo shrimp starter, a play on buffalo wings made with cayenne tequila sauce and wrapped in gem lettuce with a side of blue cheese for dipping. She buys humpback shrimp from local fishers because she believes this shrimp is underutilized.
A dinner starter of seared Qualicum scallops comes with sweet pea risotto cake, fromage à la crème, lemon mint sauce, and watercress.