First a foodtruck in Tofino, then on wheels in downtown Vancouver, and now a restaurant, Tacofino has helped fill a gaping hole in local cuisine: where to find a tasty taco. We’ve often marvelled at the dearth of Mexican options locally while just south of the border they abound. While Tacofino’s menu definitely takes inspiration from its West Coast surrounds and isn’t religious in its commitment to Mexican cuisine, this is not a shortcoming, just a nod to its environment. We were pleasantly surprised by this latest addition to the Hastings-Sunrise area, which is quickly being gentrified with restaurants like Campagnolo Roma staking claim to the neighbourhood. When we visited Tacofino Commissary, it was so fresh it didn’t even have a sign. With rustic, no frills décor, and mostly outfitted with large, communal tables it’s a casual room with the only decorative extravagance in the form of a playful light installation that incorporates greenery by local designer Omer Arbel.
Tacofino Commissary’s eclectic wine list includes derivations from France, Germany, Argentina, as well as local options, but its creative cocktail menu, many of them tequila-based, is more focused and pays homage to its Mexican theme. The Mexican Mule was a festive way to start the dining experience – with tequila, home-made ginger beer, lime and mint it was refreshing, tart and very slightly spiced from the ginger beer. We had a sip of The Unexpected crafted from gin, watermelon brine and lime – don’t be too wary of the watermelon brine, The Unexpected was essentially a dirty gin martini in disguise. The first item on the menu, The Pickle Jar, arrives quite literally as described but instead of the traditional cucumber being brined they have applied this treatment to a range of vegetables including carrot, cabbage and cauliflower, infusing them with salt and vinegar. Between our group we shared the roasted Cauliflower which was tossed with roasted Serrano chillies, turmeric, and topped with crispy rice for texture; the caramelized cauliflower soaked up the delicious spicy fish sauce dressing making it practically addictive. The roasted Eggplant – cubed, charred and succulent – was laced with burnt scallion vinaigrette, peanuts and jalapeno xo sauce and equally tasty. There are four tacos on offer: fish, pork cheek, squash and beef and we sampled the crispy ling cod. Battered, deep-fried and wonderfully moist, the fish taco arrived with its usual accompaniments of cabbage, salsa fresca and mayo which was given some gentle heat with the addition of chipotle. The combination of these simple ingredients was so pleasing we weren’t even bothered that the tacos are on flour, rather than traditional corn tortillas. Finally, for dessert we sampled the house-made Peanut Butter and Pretzel Ice Cream which was, simply put, amazing. The unusual flavour profile was an exact match for the real thing and an unexpected but heavenly combination.
As a forewarning, the menu items arrive as they are ready, conducive to diners who wish to sample and share, so if you want your nachos as your appie and your tacos to follow, make sure to specify this or simply order your tacos after your nachos have found their way to your table. While definitely a casual atmosphere, I was pleasantly surprised by our attentive waiter who happily gave his opinion on the cocktail menu, explained portion sizes (most people would be satisfied by two tacos, or an appetizer and a taco or two), and offered to let us sample from two bottles of wine when we had difficulty choosing. As the latest addition to an area without an overwhelming number of dining options, we predict Tacofino Commissary will quickly become a neighbourhood favourite and with good reason – it offers a tasty and relaxed dining experience at a reasonable price point. It was already packed just a week after opening.