Restaurant: SoBo Restaurant
Cuisine: West Coast/Seafood/Eclectic/Tapas/Pizza
Last visited: May 26, 2013
Location: Tofino, BC
Address: 311 Neill St
Phone: (250) 725-2341
Price Range: $30-50
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Husband and wife team
- Chef-Owner Lisa Ahier
- Since 2003
- Award winning
- Seasonal menus
- Wood-fired pizzas
- Local ingredients
- Local favourite
- Casual/lively ambiance
- Family friendly
- Moderately priced
- Reservations recommended
- Wine/cocktail program
- Walk-ins are welcome
- Soups/Desserts/Pies to-go
- 7 days a week
11am – 9.30pm
Dinner 5.30 – 9.30pm
**Recommendations: Lime Margaritas, Broiled Oyster, Humpback Shrimp (lettuce wraps), Key Lime Pie, House Made Ice Cream Sandwiches
This was probably the most highly recommended restaurant by locals in Tofino, BC and I knew I couldn’t miss it. I had about 48 hours of eating to do in Follow Me Foodie to Tofino and the itinerary was pretty set besides one precious dinner time. I had a lovely dinner at The Point Restaurant at The Wickaninnash Inn the night before and I had one more dinner left. I had researched the restaurants in the area and narrowed it down to three, but after talking to local foodies, SoBo seemed to be the general consensus and “must try”.
I had started my day with Feast Tofino events including a 5 course meal at an Introduction to Indian Cuisine, A Cooking Class with Khalil Akhtar and West Coast Paella on the Beach (which featured the biggest paella I’ve seen), but I had to make room for SoBo.
It opened in 2003 and was named one of Canada’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants by EnRoute Magazine and it’s apparently still as busy as ever. Considering the locals are still recommending it (signs of consistency and longevity), the menu manages to stay seasonal and refreshed. It seemed to be a sure bet.
SoBo stands for “sophisticated Bohemian” and their website describes it as “A combination of boldly imaginative, world wide dishes expertly prepared with simple, fresh, locally produced-often wild-ingredients and served in an environment that is somehow both elegant and rustic.” That’s a lot of adjectives and things going on at once, but I get where they’re coming from. It was a special place locals hold close to their heart and it had a quirky charm I found rather endearing.
The restaurant was a lot more casual than I was expecting, but perhaps this is considered somewhat “formal” in the laid back town of Tofino. It is a sit down restaurant open for lunch and dinner, but they also have a small take out area featuring ready to-go baked goods, and frozen soups and desserts. It seemed like a large scale production, so I questioned their promise to “locally produced and wild-ingredients”, but I was eager to try their menu nonetheless.
The menu had a range of cafe to restaurant style items which was again unexpected. It was family friendly with options for every taste and age, but the starters seemed more innovative so I decided to stick to those. That’s what a lot of people recommended as well, although their wood-fired oven pizzas are supposed to be great too.
It is not a tapas style restaurant, but it would succeed as one. Chef Lisa Ahier has a natural talent for flavours and while some items were a bit “Asian fusion” or bordering on older food trends, the majority of it was creative and funky. It had the approachability of say a Cactus Club, but the personal touch and flavours of Tofino. The food was fun, casual and unpretentious, but slightly hit and miss, which is likely due to the size of the menu. The “hits” were toe-curling good and I would come back for those alone… heck, I would even come back just for their Lime Margaritas!
I came here for dinner, but if you have limited time in Tofino then I would recommend coming for lunch and having dinner at The Pointe. SoBo is a great choice for families, but it is modern and lively enough to attract an urban clientele on any given weeknight or end. Next time I’m in Tofino I’m more than likely to revisit, but until then I’ll have to hold onto memories.
On the table:
**Lime Margaritas – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- With Premium Sauza Silver Tequila and triple sec $12 (Photo is one split in two glasses)
- OMFG. I was recommended to order this and honestly I wouldn’t have ordered it otherwise because “a margarita is a margarita,” right? Wrong!
- This was amazing… and very dangerous.
- On the menu it says “limit 2 per person” which I thought was unusual, but then I understood why after downing half within minutes and feeling “fine”. The heat and giggles caught up quickly.
- These are deceivingly strong and it went down way too easily.
- It was 2 ounces of Triple Sec and 1 ounce tequila so that’s 3 ounces of liquor in one margarita and I could barely taste any alcohol.
- It was made with freshly hand squeezed key limes; and on that note, try their key lime pie too!
- The orange flavour from the Triple Sec came through without much bitterness.
- It wasn’t too sweet or sour and just well balanced with a bright pop of flavour. It was tangy and well sweetened, but not syrupy.
- The drink had viscous texture too and it was almost like it was made with a creamy fruit puree.
- The margarita was super smooth and the salted rim could have been better executed, but really it was good enough I didn’t care.
- I wanted to sip on these all day long on a patio, but I would likely never wake up again.
Albacore Tuna Spring Roll – 3/6 (Good)
- Shredded vegetables, peanut sauce $5
- I normally wouldn’t be tempted to order anything “spring roll” unless I was at an authentic dim sum restaurant, but here it was recommended.
- The tuna was near fully cooked, which is overcooked for me, so it was almost coming off as chicken.
- When I think of albacore tuna I think of something fresh and light, but here it was a bit covered up.
- There was also some shrimp in it too and I thought it was a bit of a waste to use albacore tuna in this.
- To control cooking time I would have preferred seared albacore tuna with spring roll wrapper chips on top if I was going with the same idea.
- There were also carrots, scallions and I think shredded cabbage in it as well.
- The spring roll wrapper was thin and crisp which I like, and it was well stuffed with the majority of it being tuna, so I was pleased with that.
- It came with a tangy, spicy, and smooth Asian inspired peanut sauce for dipping, which was good, but also further masked the tuna. A vinaigrette might have been nicer.
- It was good, but not something I would have to re-order and the idea was a bit dated or reminiscent of “Asian fusion” days.
**Broiled Oyster – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- Medium beach oyster, salmon bacon, miso mayo $4
- Holy umami bomb! UMAMI BOMB! This had so much flavour I’m salivating just thinking about it.
- This is not for the oyster purist, this was a very eclectic way of enjoying an oyster.
- It was really not about enjoying the fresh and natural flavours of the oyster, but about the incredible toppings and sauces baked on top with it.
- I love raw oysters, but I appreciated this on another level. It was original.
- This is a signature and it never leaves the menu – thank goodness too.
- Squeeze the key lime on top before eating it because it cuts through the heaviness and brightens up the flavours.
- It reminded me of a West Coast version of oyster motoyaki, but I liked it even better.
- It was super rich and pretty salty and savoury with intense umami, some might find it salty, but I have a high tolerance for salt.
- From the oyster to the miso, each ingredient had a natural umami, so this was a huge flavour bomb.
- It was very rich with a creamy and semi-crispy baked miso mayo sauce, and semi-crisp and chewy salmon bacon bits on top.
- The salmon bacon bits were sweet and savoury and it was such a nice change from expected pork bacon bits.
- This had Tofino flair and 1-2 would be enough, but I would highly recommend them and come back just for these.
- $4 for one broiled oyster might sound like highway robbery, but it was totally worth it. The delicious factor made it worth it.
- NOLA is famous for broiled oysters and this would have them jealous.
- Sushi rice, avocado, wasabi mayo, sunflower sprouts, sesame seeds, smoked salmon or shiitake mushrooms $4.50
- This was very “Cactus Club” for me and it reminded me of Rob Feenie’s West Coast Pockets which I enjoy.
- I would have loved more smoked salmon, although the stuff used tasted pretty good and it was wild salmon too.
- The sushi rice wasn’t authentic or anything, but I didn’t expect it to be which is fine. It was okay, but there was more of it than salmon.
- I couldn’t taste the wasabi mayo and I just wanted a better ratio of ingredients.
- The idea was good, albeit something you could attempt at home, but the assembly lacked a bit of care so I felt like I was eating it in parts.
- I also wish the sunflower sprouts side salad was dressed with ponzu vinaigrette, or even better if they were pea shoots (like Rob Feenie’s) or wasabi sprouts to go on top of the pocket.
- Sauteed spicy wild fish, crisp corn tortilla, fruit salsa $6.50
- This was the only real “miss” out of the things I tried.
- I had high hopes for it too since fish tacos are a big deal in Tofino. Every restaurant seems to have their own version.
- It was loaded with cooked wild fish and chunky fresh fruit salsa, but it just never came together.
- The sauteed spicy wild fish was fully cooked and quite dry, but there was a fair amount.
- The tuna or halibut (? or mix?) was all chopped up and flaked so it was almost like a flaked tuna salad taco.
- I would have preferred grilled or deep fried fish in a soft taco, but this was what it was.
- The fruit salsa included big chunks of kiwi, honey dew, green apple, blueberries, pineapple, red pepper and onion.
- While I enjoy fruit salsa with savoury, this one was a bit too chunky for the taco and it was more like a fruit salad to be enjoyed separately.
- The hard taco shell got soft and a bit soggy from the sauteed fish and fruit salsa, so overall the execution was a bit rough for this.
**Cibolo Shrimp – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- Six side stripe shrimp, cayenne tequila sauce, blue cheese, blue claire sauce, gem lettuce, dill $11
- WOW! Another umami bomb. This is a signature, but sometimes the shrimp might change to another local and seasonal variety.
- I loved these! I was recommended by several people to try these and I could have the whole plate to myself.
- It was a blue cheese salad, meets a lettuce wrap, meets a shrimp scampi.
- This had a ton of flavour and it was super savoury and some might find it too salty again, but I have a high tolerance for salt so I loved it.
- The shrimp was crusted in I think a thin batter of cornmeal before being deep fried to a crisp.
- The shrimp itself still had a bite and it was cooked well with a sprinkle of dill to finish.
- It was dressed with a spicy, sweet, salty and tangy cayenne tequila sauce which had a nice kick and bright pop of acidity and flavour.
- The tequila was cooked out and it was an amazing sauce for the shrimp. This sauce really made it.
- The lettuce cups had so much flavour that I didn’t find the blue claire sauce even necessary.
- I think blue claire sauce is just their own blue cheese salad dressing, but the lettuce cups already had a sprinkle of blue cheese crumbles on top so it was a bit redundant.
- I could taste lots of sauteed garlic and it would leave you with garlic breath, but it was so worth it.
- The blue cheese was salty and savoury, but it wasn’t a super strong blue cheese either.
- If you know someone who hates salad, this is a great way to get them to eat one. Divine!
Polenta Fries – 4/6 (Very good)
- This is comfort food.
- These were recommended and they only serve them for lunch, but they were kind enough to make an exception and served them for dinner.
- They were crisp with a crust of corn meal and I liked them, but they were as good as polenta fries I’ve had before too.
- It’s made from a polenta and bechamel like dough which is then crusted in cornmeal and then deep fried. They’re substantial.
- The inside was creamy and cheesy from perhaps some melted cheddar in the polenta and it was a bit like mac and cheese without the mac.
- It was served with a tangy chipotle Caesar dressing like dipping sauce.
- If you’ve never had polenta fries than this is a great place to try them and love them, but if you’ve tried them before than I’m not sure how floored you’ll be.
I was much more floored when I used the leftover drippings from my Broiled miso mayo oyster shell as dipping sauce for my polenta fries! Try eating them like this!
I also had fun making my own vegetarian lettuce wrap!
Key Lime Pie, Peanut Butter Ice Cream, Flourless Chocolate Bomb
**Key Lime Pie – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Fresh whipped cream $7
- This is their signature dessert. I like key lime pie, but I’m not obsessed with it, but I really loved this one.
- It was comparable to the Cactus Club one though (at least from my recollection) and I enjoyed both a lot.
- This is made from freshly squeezed key limes and the custard was super thick, smooth and creamy.
- It was not sour, but a bit sweet for me although the generous amount of whipped cream helped even things out.
- The graham cracker crust was normal and overall it was a solid key lime pie any key lime pie lover would appreciate.
Flourless Chocolate Bomb – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Flourless cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, fleur de sel, fiery berry compote, house made sorbet $10
- This was another signature, but I wasn’t feeling it as much.
- The chocolate cake was very light and mild and basically like a frozen milk chocolate mousse.
- It was a lot of one thing so I would have loved some layers and textures in the cake.
- I usually prefer ice cream over fruit sorbets with anything chocolate, and it was the same case here.
- I found the chocolate cake better with the peanut butter ice cream and I also could have used more fleur de sel.
- I think the fleur de sel was used so sparingly just on top in case people don’t like it. I would have loved it in the ganache as well.
- The berry compote was fresh, but I enjoyed it more with the key lime pie.
- The berry sorbet and berry compote together with the chocolate cake and peanut butter ice cream was like peanut butter and jelly.
**Peanut Butter Ice Cream – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Please ask your server for selection of house made ice cream and sorbets $6
- I love ice cream, so I had to try theirs since they offer a nice selection of large ice cream sandwiches and house made ice creams in their to-go freezer section.
- It was very creamy ice cream, but I would have liked it harder with less air.
- It wasn’t stick to your mouth peanutty, but I could taste the peanut flavour.
- I could have used little peanut bits or more of a roasted nutty flavour and a touch of salt, but it was still excellent ice cream and I finished it.
- My favourite peanut butter ice cream at the moment is from Secret Location – see their peanut butter ice cream.
- This was even better with the flourless chocolate cake and I would ask to have it with this instead of the fruit sorbet.
Remember to hit up their ice cream sandwich section on the way out. Their house baked cookies looked delicious!