The Taco Bar is rocking,
with Mexican flare.
Originating in Baja California, Mexico and beloved in Southern California, the humble but delicious fish taco has lifted some Tofino locals to lofty heights. The Tacofino empire has expanded again with a new brick and mortar location in Gastown.
Unlike the Commissary in the East Village neighbourhood where the focus is more Vancouver Westcoast (they serve tater tots and there are lots of Asian influences), the new Tacofino Taco Bar’s menu has a more Mexican bent to it.
It’s more fun to dine out with friends, so I was happy to be in the company of Dennis from dennisthefood.com and his lovely wife.
Either by subconscious group think or by coincidence, our merry band selected some of the more Mexican inspired and/or “off the beaten path” dishes from the menu.
To start some Mexican soda, my diabetes inducer of choice is Mango Jarritos. The soda was florescent orange, super sweet and didn’t taste at all like mango – perfect. As a side note, I’m sure my high school ripped off the made in Mexico logo.
The shishito peppers, whole, blistered and soft, were mildly spicy. From my POV, when the capsicum was eaten with the sour tamarind salt, the heat quotient kicked up a bit. The dish was simple and a bit boring.
The Oaxaxan Corn Fritters plate was an explosion of flavor and texture in comparison to the peppers. The fritter was crispy on the outside with soft centre studded with nibs of toothsome sweet corn. The cotija (kind of like Mexican parmesan) and white sauce added a creamy tangy flavor to each bite.
A great plate and something I would order again in large quantities because you only get 3 fritters per order.
The Chinook salmon ceviche served with crispy tortilla chips was average. The fish dish was primarily tart. The salmon was fresh but had a dull taste. I felt like the dish needed another flavor to brighten and contrast the sour taste, as the herb salad was not doing it. Perhaps a little bit of red onion or maybe some mini cubes of sweet fruit.
The showstopper dish of the night was the chicharones. Look at that voluminous and glorious pork rind.
Puffed and airy, the chicharones created a thunderous and satisfying crunch. With a just chew or two, the pork rind melted away so that you can take another deafening bite of the chicharones. The yucca wedge fries, crispy pork belly cubes and slaw were good but bit players to give the dish some substance. The chicharone was the star.
I selected the lamb birria taco because it featured pickled cactus. The preserved nopales added the desired sourness to the taco. The shredded salad added a nice crunchy texture to the other wise soft lamb filling.
I was impressed with how generous the amount of filling was; it was chocked full of shredded, slightly gamey and well-seasoned lamb. Since I was with company, I actually had to eat some of the filling with a fork to create a neater taco eating experience. I didn’t want my tasty filling to dribble out of the taco and create a mess all over the table.
I didn’t sample any of the octopus tostada, so I’m not commenting on it. Since it was Dennis’ pick, you can read his thoughts here, along with his take on our meal. As always, he’s got better pictures on his site.
The glazed beef rib with chilaquiles was an attempted Asian Mexican fusion. The beef rib reminded me of Korean barbeque. The medium rare rib was beefy, sweet, had a distinct lemon grass taste and had a slight spiciness towards the end from the habanero.
The chilaquiles is classic Mexican dish of fried corn tortilla strips soften with salsa and topped with onions, avocado and sometimes chicken. I didn’t have too much of this as I was full from the beef rib. Too be honest the chilaquiles didn’t really register with me.
I liked the beef rib but the dish was a mess in terms of how to practically eat it. The whole beef rib was not a fork and knife situation while the chilaquiles was. Ideally, you like to get both elements into one bite but that was very hard to do with the Taco Bar’s dish.
Finally to conclude our meal, we ordered the churros for desert. With my first bite, the flavours reminded me of those little donuts from the PNE with spicy twist.
Much like those summertime favourites, the churros served at the Taco bar are mini and delicious. Super soft on the inside and sweeten with an agave glaze. This was a hit. Making this dish even better was the spicy aftertaste. Our server told us the secret was chili powder was mixed in the cinnamon mixture.
I’m not going to hide the fact, that I’m a fan of Tacofino in all its forms. However that also means I have high expectations for the new Gastown spot to deliver a great meal.
The Taco Bar for the most part hit all the right notes. There were many great dishes – the corn fritters, chicharones, lamb taco, and churros – that would make me a frequent visitor to Tacofino’s new Gastown outpost.