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Dec 27, 2006 03:54 PM

Looking for the absolute BEST restarant in Chinatown


I have a foodie colleague coming in from NYC. We'll be downtown for the Raptors game on Friday and he wants to have Chinese in Chinatown.

So, forget about ambience and the like...what do you experts feel is the absolute best restaurant in Chinatown judging only by quality of food?

Thanks, in advance, from Oakville.

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  1. The best (IMHO), and where Sursur Lee supposedly eats, is Lah Wah Hen in the Metropolitan Hotel. It is Dundas and Elisabeth street, just a little off the traditional Chinatown path. It won't provide the Chinatown experience as the decor is upscale, as are the prices. But, IMHO, they have the best dim sum in town. I haven't had dinner there, but by all reports, it is also very good. It will definitely catch your NY friend off guard if he/she is expecting the usual Chinatown decor and ambiance.

    I'm still looking for a great Chinatown dinner spot, so I will be watching your post for other suggestions.

    4 Replies
    1. re: dinin and dishin

      Lai Wah Heen is only expensive and presentable, with fancy trappings. I wouldn't say it is representative or the best.

      1. re: dinin and dishin

        For purely Cantonese food, go to King's Noodles at the corner of Dundas and Spadina. There are excellent noodles and congee, BBQ meats, made-to-order rice-flour rolls, different dishes, etc.

        Since you say you are coming from the Raptors game, I wouldn't think you will be driving up north to Hwy 7 where the best Chinese food is.

        However, I have lived in NYC for 8 yrs and I can tell you only in Flushing would you find really good Chinese food. But as a Manhattanite, I rarely got on the subway for the 50-60 mins it takes to get out there except on occasional weekends. So if your friend is like most Manhattanites, then Toronto's Chinese food - even in Chinatown - will impress him since here and Vancouver has the best and largest variety of Chinese food in North America. Most Chinese food in Manhattan and NYC in general is tacky take-out joints serving moo shu pork, chicken broccoli, eggrolls, and fried rice.

        1. re: dinin and dishin

          You want good Chinese food in Toronto, forget Chinatown.

          1. re: dinin and dishin

            Has the board ever tried to assemble a list of all the places Susur Lee eats in Chinatown :-) ?

          2. Wherever you go, you need to make it clear that the best Chinese food is no longer in downtown Chinatown. Just like the best Chinese food in NYC is no longer in Manhattan's LES Chinatown and is now in Flushing.

            Rol San has the best downtown dim sum. I'm also partial to Mother's Dumplings.

            At supper, I'd go to New Sky or King's Noodle House.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Atahualpa

              New Sky and E-Pan and both very good. They never disappoint. E-Pan is new and tries very hard to accomodate.

              1. re: deelicious

                E-Pan was great on the both occasions I was there. The food was hot and quite tasty. We had a 10 course dinner both times for 8 people and it only came to around $120 with tax and tip!:)

              2. re: Atahualpa

                I second King's Noodle. It looks clean and modern from the (recent-enough) reno and it has all the usual Chinatown menu items (made better than others), a "in-Chinese-only" menu and great BBQ.

              3. taste of china hands down.

                1. I say Sang Ho for traditional Cantonese seafood, great service, good selection of live fish and seafood. It's on Dundas just west of Spadina.

                  Lee Garden is a great choice too. It has its critics for being overpriced, but I've never had a bad meal there and their ingredients tend to be higher quality and fresh compared to other chinatown restaurants.
                  Also Asian Legend on Dundas near McCaul for non-Cantonese dumplings and northern-type dim sum and noodles in a more elegant setting. I've been to a majority of Chinese restaurants downtown (I live/work downtown, as do my Chinese parents) and these are our standards for dinners out.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: sway

                    Cant disagree more about Lee Garden AND Asian Legend. Especialy AL. These are The Kegs of Chinatown in my opinion. Boring and safe. Nothing exciting at all about the food compared to New Sky, E-Pan, Happy Seven. After that I would reco Goldstone.

                    1. re: deelicious

                      Asian Legend is not the "boring and safe" choice you portray it to be. A lot of Chinese people actually eat there and like it so it is unfair to label it a "Keg" like it is some second-rate chain restaurant. If that is the case, Congee Queen is "one of the Kegs," too.

                      On the contrary, AL has good northern/Shanghainese dishes. The beef sandwich wrapped in onion pancake is absolutely to die for!

                      Small, independent restaurants like New Sky is only as good as its chef. Chinese joints are notorious for changing management and cooks behind the scenes as quickly as one would change a shirt. New Sky's current chef apparently came from another competitor nearby until the Globe and Mail's rave review brought the crowds in that otherwise may not have even ventured to it. And with his new found fame, maybe he would want his own place and move somewhere for more money.

                      1. re: ah123

                        Thanks for defending my (and Asian Legend's) honour : )
                        I've probably been to New Sky as many times as the others, as it was one of my parents favourites. I think it's fine, I'd say that was more of a safe, traditional choice than the others, I don't remember having anything bad there, but nothing really stands out as really good in my memory either. Maybe shrimp flowers, but I think they were better at Lee Gardens anyway. In any case, if service matters, Sang Ho has the friendliest, most heartfelt welcome and service I've found in chinatown, and really good beef brisket hotpot, beef with rice noodles, razor clams and steamed oysters.

                        1. re: sway

                          May I suggest you try E Pan just a few doors up, my family found it better than New Sky.

                          We stopped going to Lee Gardens when "pan fried fish" (in Cantonese "jin fung" fish) came with a batter an inch thick.

                          1. re: Teep

                            Yes E Pan is very good too. I have my absolute faves at NS, but enjoy EP very much. Its a tough call for me when I park my car.

                        2. re: ah123

                          A lot of chinese people eat at the chinese outlets found in food courts. Chinese people eating at AL doesnt say anything about the food; good or bad. It is your personal experiences that matter. My personal experience is that the Green Beans in XO sauce and a chicken hot pot of some kind were the only things consistently great there. The food is often oily, bland and some dishes use only the cheapest vegetables. We once asked them to prepare something a little different from the menu and we were told they are not allowed to do that. That was my final visit.

                          I have never been to Congee Queen, so maybe it is one of the the Kegs too, I dont know, you may be right, but there is room for more than one.

                          I have been going to NS for many years, it has always been busy. The review made it even busier with longer line ups. The increase is by mostly non-chinese. Who cares about management or salaries.

                          1. re: deelicious

                            If you are talking subjective experience, then there is nothing to argue. I've taken people to try really good Chinese food and they didn't like it. Not because the food wasn't good, but because they simply did not like it. What can you do?

                            And yes, having lots of Chinese people eat at a restaurant is not the proof that the food is good. But I can bet you it's a pretty good indication. We Chinese people here in Toronto have pretty finicky palates when it comes to Chinese food.

                            As for Congee Queen, if you haven't been there then don't give these "may be" comments. Try it first then speak.

                            Getting back to subjective experience, it seems to me you wanted something and they didn't accommodate. Hence the bitterness toward AL. As you say, subjective doesn't make the food good or bad. But I can tell you, objectively, AL has good food. Not all dishes are great. Not even your precious NS has across the board marvelous dishes from my own experience there. But AL is a solid Chinese restaurant that isn't some gimmicky "pan-Asian" place like Saigon Sister, regardless of your subjective bad experience.

                            And by the way, AL and NS have different focus on cuisines so try to be fair and take that into account when comparing dishes. A lot of Northern Chinese food is greasy and oily. And many authentic Szechuan dishes are dripping in chili oil. If you don't like that - and I don't blame you on this - then say you don't like that instead of attacking an individual restaurant serving it. Besides, not all AL dishes are oily. In fact, I've been surprised at the moderate amount they used - judging from a pretty "dry" plate after the food has been eaten - for some things that could have been much oilier, like Shanghainese fried noodles.

                            Finally, just because a Chinese restaurant has more than one branch only shows the Chinese owners are successful, and have decided they are opening one downtown and up north. That has nothing to do with being a "Keg," as you so derisively put it. I only wish more Chinese restaurants up north would do the same for those of us without a car.

                            And management and chef has everything to do with a restaurant. If NS's chef goes some place else - and he has before coming from somewhere else to NS - you may not be so gung ho about NS's food by whomever is at the helm.

                    2. Susur Lee eats at Taste of China at least twice a week. Usually by himself...late at night after service. Ask to sit with him...he gets all the good food:)

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: The Macallan 18

                        I agree. Why eat at Susur's when you can dine - for a fraction of the price - at where HE eats ... and possibly with him?

                        1. re: The Macallan 18

                          I love how everybody name drops "oh susur eats there" in all their posts. He's the "Where's Waldo" of the Toronto board.

                          I'm guilty of it too btw, but it is rather funny to say the least.

                          He also frequents Xam Yu and is buddy buddy w/ chef Ken Fong. If it's seafood you're looking for, then they're the best of the Chinatown strip.

                          Rol San is hit and miss, some dishes they're good at, some are the drags. Go w/ someone that is familiar w/ the menu.