March 16, 2006

Eating Toronto

by psu and peterb

Why do we go to Toronto? Mostly to eat. Sure, there are other attractions and cultural activities. But we go there to eat. And we've been there enough to develop some favorites.

Bonjour Brioche (psu and peterb)

This is a French breakfast and pastry place which is a couple of miles to the east of downtown on Queen. The neighborhood is a bit iffy, but the croissant and baguette are not. Their tarts and other fancy breakfast items are also excellent. Somehow I have never managed to try their potato pacakes. Also, they are always closed on Monday when you want to get there on Monday for one last pastry orgy. This makes us bitter.

Despite the name, their brioche is only so-so. But their croissant can kill you with how good it is.

King's Noodle House (psu)

This is a Chinese breakfast and noodle joint at Spadina and Dundas. Excellent congee of all types. They also do the long rolled rice noodles stuffed with beef or shrimp or roast duck or roast pork. They have the deep fried dough that I like, but apparently you have to have grown up Chinese to like those. In the morning you can also watch the guy hang the whole roast pigs, ducks and duck parts in window. That rules.


Simply put, this is among the best, if not the best, regional Chinese food and Dim Sum that I have had in North America. Yank Sing in SF might be as good. Nothing I've had recently in NYC or Boston even comes close.

There are no carts, which will keep the purist snobs away, and it is on the expensive side, but you cannot deny the excellence of the food. They serve up a wonderous assortment of dim sum standards and original dishes that are all perfectly prepared and wonderfully presented. The Shanghai soup dumplings have a tasty meatball and magical soup inside. The crab dumplings are shaped like crabs, and have tiny little fish roe eyeballs. There are dozens of different kinds of steamed dumplings. This is probably one of two restaurants at which I'll order pot stickers.

To go along with this, they also serve huge fancy multi-course banquets with a range of dishes that is too large to even start listing here. We always get stuck on the dim sum, and the last two times we had dinner there, we ordered Peking Duck for two, which, while luxuriously excellent, is too much food. So we've never managed a proper exploration of the rest of the menu.

When we told them we were from Pittsburgh, they said "Oh, no good food there." Given the level at which this place works, I think that's a fair statement.

Wanda's Pie in the Sky (psu)

This place is a few blocks north of Bloor in a little gentrified retail area. They have, as you might expect, really good pie. I don't know who Wanda is or how she got started in pies, but you can pick up her cookbook and find all that out if you want. Good crust, good fillings, good pie. I like the Lemon Meringue.

The Hot Dog Guy Near Sam the Record Man (peterb and psu)

This guy is grumpy and Russian, but his sausages are nicely grilled to a slightly burnt crust. This gives them a nice texture and character. He even has sriracha chili sauce to put on your dog. Avoid the similarly grumpy Russian guy on Bloor street. His hot dogs are lukewarm and have no character.

Nami and Hiro Sushi (peterb)

We've raved about Hiro Sushi before. Hiro's sushi is the best I've ever had in my life. But I eat there less than I like: this is because every time I come to town, Hiro goes on vacation back to Japan, and when he's not there the food isn't as good. Nami on Adelaide is an excellent alternative. The sushi is very good (although not on the transcendent level of Hiro), but the appetizers and the grilled dishes are what you should focus on here. Their "robata" menu offers various fishes and vegetables grilled to order: the black cod saikyo-style, marinated in miso, was particularly superb. So if you want sushi, go to Hiro. If you want a non-sushi Japanese meal, go to Nami.

Yummy BBQ (peterb)

On Yonge, a few blocks north of College, is a completely boring storefront that looks like every other vaguely asian eatery on Yonge, of which there are 8,315. Yummy BBQ is better than at least 8,310 of those. This place serves Korean food, specializing in barbecue. I don't really have the words to describe how wonderful it is. It is inexpensive, tasty, and every dish comes with a few banchan, or side dishes, that are great. One of the side dishes is inevitably kim-chee, of course, but as often as not you'll also get a little dish of macaroni salad that is disarmingly good. And the rice is great. This is one of those places where most of the clientele is Korean, so it's always a good strategy to just go in, sit down, and say "We'll have what they're having."

Ambassador (psu)

Strictly speaking, this isn't fair because Ambassador is out in Richmond Hill, a huge Chinese suburb of Toronto. But, you want to come out here to go to the surreal Pacific Heritage Town Shopping Mall and Food Paradise, and also to the Ontario Science Center.

Ambassador has dim sum on the level of Lai Wah Heen for much less money. All the standards are here. Ethereal dumplings, soup, seafood, rice noodles, and some simple kitchen dishes too. What's missing are the extra signature dishes that Lai Wah Heen has, and the huge fancy multi-regional menu of the more expensive place. Sadly, they didn't have the Shanghai Soup dumplings when we went this time, but the egg custard tarts made up for it. They were warm.

Oh. There are also no carts here. But that lets them pack more people into the place.

There are, to be fair, some problems with Toronto, too. Here are some things to avoid while you're there.

Every Restaurant in Little Italy (peterb)

After three separate trips, we have concluded that there is no good food in Little Italy in Toronto. How this is possible mystifies us, but it's true. If you ever think you might want to go to Little Italy, just go to the hotdog guy on Yonge and pay him $20 for your hot dog. It'll still cost less than a trip down College St., and the food will be better, too.

Don't Drink the Coffee (peterb)

We were just on the verge of writing an entire article about how consistently undrinkable the coffee in Toronto is. The lack of good espresso, in particular, is becoming somewhat infamous. As we were sharpening our pens, however, we found one place that makes an espresso (and cappucino, and so on) that is almost good (by which we mean: it didn't taste great, but they got the texture just right): Bulldog Coffee, just off Church St. about a block south of College. Unless you can get to this place, just don't bother with coffee at all, if you can help it. If you absolutely must have coffee somewhere else, your best bet is to just go to Coffee Time, or (gasp!) Starbucks. Everything else is undrinkable swill. Bonjour Brioche's coffee is OK too, but they don't count, since they're never open.

If you think we're wrong, please feel free to tell us where in town we should go for coffee, and we'll be glad to visit the next time we're there and find out that it sucks.

Posted by psu and peterb at March 16, 2006 10:44 PM | Bookmark This

It's funny; my family and I -tried- to eat in the Toronto Little Italy, and not for lack of waiting 40 minutes at a table wondering where the hell the waitress was, and if we were ever going to get any water, let alone menus. We ended up at the magical Thai place after some wandering.

Anyway, the only useful coffee I found was from this little hole in the wall Italian Cafe/Gelato shop on the south side of Dundas, somewhere around York, smack in the middle of a pile of shawarma places. The guy who ran the place was a hoot.

While I'm at it: the fried dough at King's was very, very bad. In that I ate all of it. And then thought about buying more. And eating all of it.

Posted by Goob at March 17, 2006 12:11 AM

I recommend Babur's - best Indian food in town - and Kowloon for their chili salt baked shrimp.

Oh, and beer at the Duke of York or any of its sister "Duke of..." taverns.

I miss Toronto every day.

Posted by Troy Goodfellow at March 17, 2006 07:47 PM

Oh, and the Greek lady on St. George street across from Knox College has great polish sausages.

Posted by Troy Goodfellow at March 17, 2006 07:51 PM

Does Toronto have good Italian food? Yes! Next time you are in hogtown, check out "Da Gianni and Maria Trattoria" on St. Clair West. Absolutely fantastic food, and excellent service. I went there on a whim over New Year's vacation, and was completely blown away.

Posted by Chris C. at March 19, 2006 09:16 PM

so many suggestions...just about everything below has its own website BTW...

general: _Terra_ is my favourite (up near Richmond Hill). _Susur_ is excellent, _Perigee_ is awesome if you love your food, both are downtown. I think I've mentioned _Starfish_ and _Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar_ here before. If you want steak, _Harbour Sixty_ or _Barberian's_ (the former is stuffy but worth it).

Italian: Personally I like _Romagnia Mia_. Also try _Mistura_. I've heard good things about _Da Gianni e Maria_ too.

ghetto Chinese: try _Swatow_ which is across Spadina from _King's Noodle_ (which I hate -- I hate any place where they refuse to speak Chinese to the younger generation). It's open late (2 on weeknights, who knows when on weekends) but if you go around 2am, it's packed with drunks.

coffee: I like Second Cup as a chain (I despise Tim Horton's and Timothy's isn't that great either, and I don't drink Starbucks). The only non-restaurant espresso I've liked is at _Frangipane_ (a patisserie that's worth checking out for their non-coffee items too).

sushi: along with _Hiro_, _Sushi Kaji_ is supposed to be one of the top 2 in town. Prices to match, though.

Posted by Weiguo at March 22, 2006 02:22 AM

Lai Wah Heen has a website as part of the Metropolitan hotel.

Wow. All I have to say is thank goodness there are no pictures or my head would have exploded at the frustration of being stuck with out dim sum in PIT. As far as their "Oh, no good food there.", I don't blame them. I mean, if you were living in YYZ (Toronto), would you travel to PIT to eat?

I have only visited Toronto once several years ago to play poker at the two Indian casino west of YYZ and add their chips to my collection. Since then numerous poker rooms have opened across the Falls.

When I was there I made a bee line for Vietnamese food. I did not notice how bad the coffee was because I was gettting my caffiene fix with the vietnamese chicory coffee, and tapioca ball laiden thai iced coffee.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at March 24, 2006 03:32 PM

For Korean food, my recommendation is Sejong Restaurant at 658 Bloor St. W. Unbeatable charcoal barbecue Korean meat!

I reviewed the place briefly at my blog, and there is a more detailed review to come.

Posted by Dave at April 4, 2006 05:50 PM

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