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Mar 28, 2001 10:42 AM

Toronto - Top 10 Chowhound Picks

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I seem to be posting on fine and expensive restaurants, so thought I’d do a list of my ‘Top 10 Chowhound Restaurants’. Arbitrarily set a limit of $50US for two ($75 Cdn), all-in including taxes and tip, (most are much lower) and including a couple of glasses of wine/beers as appropriate. As my favourite depends on mood, I’ll list alphabetically. I encourage all others to put up their list too.

A mixture of Caribbean and Thai food. Wonderful outside dining area for warm days. Consistently serves the best Pad Thai in Toronto. Also serves Burgers for those Chowhounds who travel with the unconverted. BUT at night becomes a Reggae club (after 9:30) so there’s sometimes a cover charge. About $40 with beer. Location Queen St east of Spadina, north side. 15 minute walk from downtown.

My favourite lunch place. Serves gourmet Panini sandwiches, which I usually have warmed on their Panini Grill. Take-out or sit-down, the price is the same. Cappuccino is under $2. Around $20, more expensive with wine. Location Yonge south of St Clair, west side.

Café Pleiades
A neighbourhood Bistro-style place with a chef who used to work the fine cuisine circuit and now runs this small place (30 seats) with one waiter and one other kitchen helper. Continental with Greek touches in the evening, typical medium-fast food at lunch. The prix-fixe at $19.95 (two courses plus tea/coffee) is a bargain, but splurge for the asparagus appetizer (best preparation I’ve ever had). $75 including wine. Location Mount Pleasant south of Manor Road, east side (next to the cinema).

Harbord Fish & Chips
Toronto’s best fish and chips. Huge portions and almost tempura-like batter. Really a take-out, but has 4 stools inside and picnic tables outside. $20 including soft drinks (not licensed). Location Harbord west of Spadina, south side.

Jing Peking
Unbelievably low prices and open until 2 am. The menu is patchy (too many choices) but the Hot and Sour Soup is the best in town (I know I’ll get competition on that!). And another must is the sesame biscuit (it’s a northern dim sum item, but you can order it anytime). Make sure you ask for the sesame biscuit to come at the same time as the soup, and eat them together. I usually order the Moo-Shu pork here as they have 6 pancakes (other restaurants typically give you 4). Although I’m not an eggplant fan, others rave about their eggplant. If you’re down to your last $5 the hot and sour noodle soup here is nutritious, filling and tasty. Around $20 including beer! Location College east of Bathurst, north side.

My favourite Indian. Often line-ups, but usually moves quickly. Mildly offputting as owners appear to be Chinese, but they were born in India. Tandoori Grill, but many of the dishes are cooked in a cashew paste, which is a little different. Very respectable – tablecloths – and always crowded. Best Onion Bhajia in town too (share one order between two, it’s huge). Around $45 with beer. Location Bloor at Brunswick, north side.

Peter’s Chung King
All around the most versatile Chinese in town. Predominantly Szechuan, but all dishes are well prepared. For a first visit, stick with their specials, then experiment. Wonderful green beans. Kids (of all ages) love the crispy rice dishes. Definitely the venue for groups as there’s something for everyone. Even has tablecloths so Mum will feel comfortable. If it’s not the best on any dish (see Jing Peking), then it’s still in the top 5. Great choices include szechuan shredded beef, spiced chicken with peanuts, orange shrimp etc etc. $30-35 including beer. College just west of Spadina, south side.

Sri Lankan food at bargain prices. Excellent choice for vegetarians, but good selection for meat lovers too. Excellent dhosas. Go exotic with String Hoppers. More conventionally try the Thali. Décor is minimal. No tablecloths but all food is freshly prepared. Outside patio in summer. Lunch is a buffet. $20-25 with beer. Wellesley east of Parliament, south side.

Salad Garden
Quite simply a University (Ryerson) hang-out. Packed all the time. Great Thai food at bargain prices. Line-up to order and they cook it fresh and call your number. In and out in 30 mins (plus line-up time). Unless you are very brave don’t go above *** (they really ration their hotness stars). Orders include rice. Closest recommendation to downtown, being close to Eaton Centre. $20, including pop (small selection of beer). Although it has a Yonge St address, the entrance is around the corner on Gould (1 block north of Dundas, east of Yonge).

Thai Shan Inn
Noted for the worst décor in town – and that was after the repainting. Plastic table covers. You’ll probably have to share a table. Pretty good Thai food, but notable for the best Tom Yum Goong (Spicy shrimp/mushroom lemongrass soup) in town. Make a pretty good green mango salad too, although a little sweet for some, and always serve orange segments to finish up. Bargain priced for the quality, but dress very casual for this one. Or, even better, call and order the Tom Yum Goong as a take-out (large size essential, no delivery). $20-25. Located on Eglinton West a few blocks west of Dufferin (south side).

Also a limited-time offer #11 for those staying downtown. The Red Tomato wouldn’t normally qualify, but they have a special ‘off-peak’ menu that is nearly all appetizers. Think non-chinese dim-sum and you’ll get the idea. At these off-times the prices are cut around 30% and you can have a great meal for $50-60 depending on selection (3 appetizers per person is plenty). Location (in the theatre district) King St between John and Peter, south side. Offered late afternoon daily and mid-afternoon on Sunday.

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  1. Great idea for a post, Alan!
    Here are some of my favourite lower-priced hangouts, in no particular order:

    1. Flava (formerly Nice & Nuff - Yonge St., just north of Wellesley): Kind of a dive, but really good Caribbean food. Well, I should say, really good goat roti - which is the only thing I have ever eaten there. I love it! If you like spice, ask for their homemade hot sauce (when available). It all goes GREAT with a cold beer..

    2. Golden Thai: For the money, it is excellent Thai food (my favourite). Nice looking restaurant, kind of noisy when busy. Good service (the same waiters have been there for the many years that I've been going). Excellent pad thai, excellent calamari, excellent spring rolls. I also love the fish dishes, but others I have gone with aren't so crazy...

    3. Hornero Pizzeria (Yonge, just south of Wellesley): Cute little place, with excellent pizza from the wood-burning oven. They serve a nice quaffable red wine by the glass. Cheap, yet decadent (they serve olive oil to accompany the pizza, in case there wasn't enough oil in it already)...very satisfying. BUT, a problem in the cold winter months if you are a non-smoker -- they sit you at the front of the restaurant and you get a shot of cold Canadian winter whenever someone opens the door!

    4. Eureka Continuum - RIP: It is now closed, but I had to mention my favourite restaurant for about 6 months. It was in the clubbing district and served Native Canadian inspired food. It was cheap, had a beautiful romantic ambiance, and the food was superb! It closed in January or February I think..I still regret that..

    5. Patriot (Bloor, just east of Avenue): I went once, but was very impressed by the $25 3-course prix fixe. Excellent Canadiana fare, done by a chef who is pretty innovative. I have not been in several months, so I can't comment on it recently...

    6. Mr. Maharajah (on Balmuto, just south of Bloor): A good, cheap Indian lunch buffet. Makes an attempt to serve slightly different fare than most places, which I appreciate, being of South Asian descent myself!

    7. Groucho's (Bayview, south of Eglington): A contender for 2nd best burger in town (see #8 for my pick as #1). Never really impressed me that much (except for the exceptional toppings selection), but my friends swear by it...

    OK, now some chain restaurants that I have to mention! I hate myself for doing this - do I lose Chowhound points for this? These, however, I think are worth consideraton:

    8. Lick's Burger: It is simply the best burger in town (the best that I've had, at least). I still mourn the day that their downtown location closed..Now I have to venture to Scarborough for my burger fix!

    9. Popeyes (Yonge, just south of Dundas): A fast-food chain with the best spicy fried-chicken I've had in Toronto. If I'm ever feeling down...a hefty Popeye's dinner always makes things look brighter!!!

    That's all I have at the moment..I'll probably remember a few more later!

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chili
      Alan Gardner

      Thanks for the new suggestions - I'll check them out.
      But I have to repost - my 'former' #1 pick was omitted as it had disappeared, BUT NOW IT'S BACK.

      It's the 'Yummy Yummy Kitchen' and it's mobile! A truck that serves great Chinese food - all cooked fresh while you wait (OK the rice is in a steamer). It parks outside #1 Edward St (where it joins Yonge 1 block north of dundas on west side of Yonge). It serves the best Singapore Noodles I've found ($4.25 up from $4 when it disappeared a year ago) and a number of other dishes. And you'll recognize it by 'Fresh Cut Chunky Fries' painted on the front (the real name is on the traffic side of the truck so that nobody can read it!).
      Of course there's no seating, so you'll have to find somewhere to sit - and the portions are huge for one - fine for two moderate appetites. It's parked there approx 10:30 am -4:30 pm. Worth a detour.

      1. re: Alan Gardner

        Thanks for the recommendation. I must have passed the Yummy Yummy Kitchen hundreds of times during my life, but always ignored it. I think it reminded me too much of my undergrad university days when I used to live off of the food served from the trucks on St. George Street! Today, however, I tried Yummy Yummy's Shanghai noodles (I couldn't remember whether you had recommended the Shanghai or the Singapore). It was really excellent, especially considering the $4.25 price (including taxes!). The portions, as you said, are really substantial and very filling.
        I had a chuckle when you said the Yummy Yummy Kitchen was "worth a detour". In Europe, that is what qualifies a restaurant for 2 Michelin stars! (2 stars = "Excellent cooking, worth a detour" according to Michelin)
        By the way, Alan, in case you haven't seen it yet, I posted a link to Susur's chili-mint chutney lamb recipe on the earlier Susur thread.

        1. re: Chili
          Alan Gardner

          Drove past on Monday at 6:30p.m. and it was still parked there, so may be available even later than 4:30. And 2 of us had lunch today - one serving fed both of us (hint - ask for chopsticks AFTER you get the food, then you have a fork in the bag too, so each of you has implements). Two people for $4.25 - that's worth a detour in my book!
          And thanks for the chili-chutney link - haven't tried it yet.

      2. re: Chili

        Although not a burger person, am slowly trying these out.

        Only one dissent so far - Patriot (not for the food).
        The food was pretty good in fact, and reasonably priced, but the markups on the wine were extortionate. I definitely matched a couple of wines to Susur's list and Patriot was more expensive. I resent a 'limited' release wine being marked up to triple the cost the same week it was released (even more so when I couldn't buy any).

        It's probably worth another try, but I won't be ordering wine.

        1. re: Chili
          Alan Gardner

          Agree that the goat roti is the best dish (tried 3 others so far). But their refurbishing seems to be the slowest in Toronto - haven't seen any progress at all since the sign went up.

          1. re: Chili

            The chef at Patriot is David Chrystian.

          2. Hi Alan,

            Thanks for the recommendations! We were in Toronto this week and tried a couple of your picks. Peter's Chung King we went to twice, for lunch on Monday and again for lunch on Wednesday. Their noodle soup blew my mind -- the first time I had Shredded Pork and Pickled Radish in Noodles Soup; the second time I had Szechuan Mustard and Sliced Chicken Soup, and Ellen had Wonton Soup which she described as the freshest she had ever eaten. And yes, the spiced chicken with peanuts rocks.

            For dinner on Monday we went to Salad Garden (or anyway the restaurant in that location, I think the sign said Salad Planet) -- it was real nice if not mind-blowing, and I liked the owner quite a lot.

            Other places... Tuesday dinner was at the Hungarian restaurant on Bloor east of University. Chicken Paprikash was eh -- good meat but too-gloppy sauce -- but the dumplings that came with it were enough to make my day. They were definitive comfort food. Breakfast at Fran's Diner on College east of Yonge was, well, better than Golden Griddle but that isn't saying much.

            I wished we had had a kitchen while there, the selection of great fresh food is amazing -- particularly in the St. Lawrence Market and the Kensington Market. Also in the Kensington Market is a bakery called My Market Bakery, it's on Baldwin(?) between Spodina and Augusta -- their croissants and bread looked wonderful though I never got a chance to try them. I did try their date cookies, which are kind of like Dutch Apple Pie with dates where the apples should be. Tasty but you have to really like dates, I do. And a cool little hole-in-the-wall cafe down the street on the corner of Augusta.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Jeremy Osner

              Glad you liked Peter's Chung King - it's always consistent and is my most visited restaurant in Toronto. Not sure if Salad Planet is the same place - don't recall that sign.

              If you revisit and go to the markets, one tradition at St Lawrence market is 'Peameal Bacon On A Bun' - a great snack (hint: add honey mustard). My favourite is at the Carousel Bakery in the south market (there's only a north market on Saturday, where out of town farmers attend and set up tables). The Carousel also serves a smoked arctic char sandwich which impresses out-of-town visitors (but not as good as the peameal bacon IMO). Each is around $4 Cdn.

              Hungarian is 'comfort food'. There are several more on Bloor, West of University (actually west of Spadina). They've been there for decades.

              For breakfast - I'm still searching too! The bacon on a bun at the market is still my favourite - but eat it before shopping, otherwise you have to juggle the shopping bags.

              1. re: Jeremy Osner

                I checked it out, from the street it says SALAD KING - so you were at the right place!. Not sure why I got it wrong - it's such an obvious name for a Thai Restaurant.

                1. re: Jeremy Osner

                  Hi Jeremy,

                  It was great to meet you on your visit. I just clicked onto this site at your recommendation, this is WILD!!

                  Thanks for giving me the lead,

                  take care,

                  1. re: Jim Shaver
                    Jeremy Osner

                    Hi Jim,

                    You're welcome! Have fun

                2. For my family, no visit to Peter's Chun King is complete without a plate (or two) of their dumplings. We usually have them fried, and ask for them to be well done.

                  Dumplings are very common in Asian food (gyoza in japan, momos in Tibet), but these are the geratest I have ever eaten.