Tacofino requires no press from me. It’s the single place every Tofino native and tourist alike can agree to eat for lunch. It’s grown from a single taco truck parked behind a surf shop at the edge of the world to a multi-location empire stretching it’s delicious octopus-like tendrils all over the island and mainland. It’s food is always on point, so there is no reason to review it…
…Except it changed my life!
That’s a pretty bold phrase right there. I heard it once before years ago when my wife and I lived in the East end of Vancouver. A rather skittish, dreadlocked and quasi-homeless acquaintance of our once claimed in all seriousness that the falafel served by a restaurant on Commercial Drive would, “change your life!”
It did no such thing and it became one of our favourite running jokes. To this day we still roll our eyes and laugh, “change your life maaaaaaaaaaan.” every time someone passionately recommends some place to eat. From falafel to ramen stands, gourmet hot dogs to burritos, our jaded sneers are always lying just under the surface, waiting to spring out and condemn highbrow/lowbrow fad food like Tacofino for it’s crime of trying to be popular.
…Except it actually changed my life!
There we were, three ‘o clock in the middle of a torrential winter downpour and only just pulling into town. Dinner was supposed to be something fancy that I could cross off some list, take a gang of pictures and prove what erudite food enthusiasts we were but our tummies were empty since eight and not having it. We needed fuel pronto and the rocky Tofino parking lot looming on the right promised tacos.
The truck looks exactly like it looks on their website, in fact it looks just like the pictures from when the founder and his family started the business. I can picture them now, touring neo-Bohemia gaining surfer cred and walking the jedi path, picking cilantro fronds and learning how to stir beans at the feet of some cantankerous Abuela. I figure the only difference now is the fact that the wheels probably don’t work and nearly every inch of the truck is covered in stickers.
We ran through the sleeting, sub-zero rain to the Tacofino canopy and placed our orders: Two chicken burritos with everything. There was a team of four on – 4 ‘o clock on a Friday in December! Business must be damn good! – so the wait time was pleasantly short. We loitered, bobbed our heads to Brazilian hip hop, sipped on Jarritos and listened to the kitchen crew decide if it was too rainy to surf. They agreed it was not. Order up and back to the car to unwrap our tasty treasures.
…Hold up, how could a burrito even change your life?
Fellow Canucks, remember the last time you walked down the line at your local Taco Del Disappointment and think about the end result of your “Taco Artiste’s” hand rolled work. It was inevitably thick, starchy and mostly tasteless. Sure, they have a fine array of mild to less-mild sauces to jazz up your last bite full of white rice, thickly-sliced cabbage and supermarket tortilla but it never really woke up your taste buds like they promised.
We’ve been told that the fabled cuisine from the land down south, beyond the ye-has is filled with spice and grease and bold, bold goodness. We are deprived of the kind of authentic Mexican hot damn our Californian friends eat every Tuesday, but I was about to learn that we are not without our own oasis of flavour! That little pocket of perfection, wrapped in butchers paper and almost exploding into my lap was about to re-arrange the way I understood food.
…So yeah, this is where it gets life changing!
The Tortilla was hand-pressed, slightly burnt and redolent with the greasy perfume of the last taco’s chorizo. The chicken, stabbing out through the top of the hastily-wrapped football was crispy and deeply savoury in the way that only a really good marinade, a hard ‘n quick sear and a pretty killer sense of timing can create.
The rice was great! Stop. What? Yes! The rice, that most dismissed part of any North American-Mexican endeavour was perfect and had a clean yet savoury beat to it that played nicely with our next guest: The beans!!! I can’t even express how being a white dude in the great white north how much a truly, perfectly seasoned wad of beans can be a revelation. They were funky, savoury and earthy in ways my oh-so-anglo taste buds hadn’t encountered since our last trip waaaaaay south of the border.
I know I sound crazy, like I’ve never had a good croc of beans or salsa fresca before, but I’m being completely serious about this burrito’s level of quality and attention to detail. It wasn’t just the best burrito of my life, the beans were the best I’ve eaten, the chicken may just be the best fried chicken I’ve tasted… on and on, ingredients after ingredient stunned and amazed.
The creamy guac, a sharp hit of tomato and cilantro, that chicken again then back to the cilantro and another hit of those obscenely juicy beans. I was making noises now, loud enough for my wife to look over with every cartoonish “Mmmmmmm” or “Daaaaamn” as each and every bite rocked me back, bobbing my head to a chorus of piercing flavours in a beautiful choir.
…I ate the hell out of that burrito and it changed me!
Did it open my mind to the cosmic unconscious? No. Did it strengthen my connection to my fellow man? Not really, in fact I ate it with a pretty self-centred zeal. What about making me healthier. Sadly no, I’m still a complete grease-hungry reprobate… Still, it was the best damn burrito I ever ate and did make me think a little harder about the things I stuff into my face at any eatery and how each little bit could be better.
Now that I’m at home I’m making that extra effort to infuse each step of my cooking with the same attention to detail that made my time in that passenger seat so exquisite. I’ve been schooled as a cook, shown what care and control of technique, even in the humblest of circumstances can yield a truly magnificent product. And I may have shed quite a bit of that attitude that made me used to laugh and snarl, “change your life maaaaaaaaaaan.”
Have you heard the good word? Have you been to Tacofino?
…It’ll change your life.