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Jun 1, 2006 10:23 AM

A prodigal chowhound's report

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Dear Toronto Hounds: Many thanks for your advice in making this trip an excellent chow adventure. You should be very proud of the diversity and quality of the small mom and pop places throughout your fair city. I had an epiphany on this trip: the strip mall is the choowhound’s best friend. These obsolete low rent complexes are an unoccupied ecological niche that allows small ethnic places to survive while catering to their own culture, thus maintaining food that is not diluted to fit western tastes. My best eating was to be found in multi-cultural strip malls (Roti, baklava amd Pho in the same set of storefronts) that dot your otherwise dull suburbs. Here is a list from my three-day trip. Happy to elaborate on any of them. Of note is that I managed to eat in most of the cities that make up metropolitan Toronto. All in all, great eating and loads of fun. Now, back on the diet.

B&B Roti (Steeles near MacCowan): excellent goat Roti, Trinidadian-Guyanaese style

Carnevale (Hwy7 near Beaver Creek): large variety of OK Brazilian BBQ. highlights were the lamb and grilled pineapple.

Al’s Fish and Chips (Village by the Grange), excellent fried cod but only so-so chips.

Island Foods (same) Channa double nice and very inexpensive)

Blue truck near City Hall poutine with excellent fries (much better than Al’s)

Hot dog cart (southwest corner University and College) polish sausage, wonderful as always

Fillipino foods (Eglinton at Dufferin) cheap chicken satay.

Osgoode Hall (Queen at University) excellent value French prix fixe for lunch ($14/$18).

Hong Fatt: (Dundas near Beverly) great soy sauce chicken wings ($2 for two large wings).

Armenian Bakery (Victoria Park near Lawrence) light perfect baklava.

Johnny’s (Victoria Park at Sheppard) Very good thin patty burger (much better than Harveys).

Embassy Samosa King (Finch at Middlemarch) superb samosas (5 for $1!) trip highlight.

Paul Kee (Birchmount at Finch): Lobster Yee Mein, beef chow fun, preserved duck egg congee. OK and a bargain ($25 for 3 with leftovers).

Elegant View (Victoria park at MacCowan) former favourite, was only so-so.

Mary Brown (Dufferin near Wilson) decent fried chicken thigh but not worth the calories

European Deli (Wilson near Keele) meat croquette and Polish dount (good and very cheap).

Dosa Darbar (Albion at Islington) Excellent masala dosa for $5 (eaten at the airport).

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  1. Brilliant report! Thank you so much - this is exactly the kind of thing I love to hear about. I mean, it's nice to get reviews of the high end places, but these lower end gems are what I have a hope in hell of ever trying on a regular basis.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Nyleve

      Thanks. It was fun doing it. Toronto is such a greta city for the ethnic diversity of cuisine. Carribean, Indian and Chinese are particularly strong (given the local demographics). I didn't get to try Korean, Middle Eastern, or Latin but there's always next time.

      1. re: gourmaniac

        Right - for Middle Eastern, just hit that strip of Lawrence Ave. east of the Don Valley Parkway. It's unbelievable. I wish I could try every single one of those strip mall places - there are treasures there I'm sure.

    2. Can you clarify the location of Elegant View? Vic Park and McCowan don't meet.....

      3 Replies
      1. re: jill

        Oops. I meant Victoria Park and MacNicoll. Since you asked, we had dim sum and it is a favourite of my parents (we are Cantonese). They have a special before 11 and after 2:30, all plates are $2 each. I found that the steamed shrimp dishes were overcooked (or otherwise tough and without flavour) but the pork dishes and the fried items were good.

        1. re: gourmaniac

          Elegantview was one of my favourites.
          The food has gone downhill in the last year, and it is also looking a bit shabby.
          It is only open about 5 years or less, and was wonderful.
          It is a restaurant where they will willingly translate the Chinese menu.
          As a matter of fact,(if anyone remembers my recent post re:Oriental Kitchen) I once asked at Elegantview, why they didn't write the daily specials in English.
          The answer was "If the menu was in English, I wouldn't have the pleasure of translating for you".
          The food is good, but no longer excellent, and we still go,if we don't feel like going to Markham.

          1. re: erly

            I completely agree about the food. Elegantview has been there about 10 years though (we had our wedding banquet there so i can date it precisely). There are probably many better choices now but in most cities, Elegantview would be high on the list. Count your blessings in Toronto.

      2. Hi, Gourmaniac. :)

        Can you tell me more about the one called 'Osgoode Hall'? I know there's the Osgoode Hall building there, but are you talking about a restaurant with the same name, or like the restaurant/cafeteria inside the building?

        1 Reply
        1. re: jennjen

          There is dining hall inside the building operated by the Law Society of Upper Canada that is open to the public from 12-2. They have a two fixed price much menus (3 courses) for either 14 or 1 8 dollars. The large dining room is oak paneled and beautifully lit by stained glass windows. The chef is Yasser Qahawish, an excellent French chef with a good contemporary sense (i.e not classic or oversauced). On Tuesday we had the following: $14 menu, gazpacho, filet of Beef with delicious fried matchstick potatoes and lavender ice cream with strawberry coulis. $18 menu Salda of lamb with coucous, fresh vegetables and a parsley infused oil, Hake with an olive tapenade, artichokes and a tomato sauce and passion fruit tropical sorbet served on a meringue. While not at the highest end of haute cuisine, it was delicious, good value and decidedly not stuffy though you will be surrounded by magistrates in black robes (I wore shorts with a jacket). The cool and elegant setting made even more heavenly by comparison to the oppressive heat that day.

        2. Embassy Samosa King (Finch at Middlemarch) superb samosas (5 for $1!) trip highlight.

          Awesome. I love this place. The owner is a dear friend of mine and my parents. I used to stop by there quite often for the Gulabjamun, Rasmalai and of course the samosas. The Channa from his place is unbelievable, very raw indian flavours. nothing like the watery/buttery kind you get downtown.

          That's finch and Middlefield by the way. Glad you loved it!


          1 Reply
          1. re: Suresh

            Thanks for the correction. I only tried tthe samosas but it was clearly filled filled all sorts of culinary treasures. The indian sweets looked fantastic. Any of the other entree items you can recommend beyond the Channa (which i love)?

          2. p
            peppermint pate

            Great report - I've printed off your list and put it on my bulletin board. I was recently praised on the Manhattan board for having trekked out to Queens for an awesome Thai dinner but then 'fessed up to not always doing that in my own city. As a downtowner, I've resolved to do a bit more exploring of the many treats the GTA has to offer - thanks for adding new inspiration. So, for starters, where is Middlefield????

            1 Reply
            1. re: peppermint pate

              I'm happy to say that I ate in Toronto, York, Scarborough, East York, Etobicoke, Unionville, Markham and Richmond Hill on the same 3-day trip. Middlefield is the next major street beyond Brimley. Embassy will be on your left and has a large storefront sign. Rather far out for a downtowner but well worth it (see Suresh's response). The people in front of me were getting 40 or 50 samosas each and the samosas were clearly selling as fast as they were coming out of the fryer.