Indian food in Toronto
I have 3 or 4 days in Toronto next week. I'm told that Toronto has very good Indian restaurants. Some options, please. All price ranges. Neighborhood untourist restaurants would be most welcome, but one break-the-bank dinner might be fun, too. Any other good places to eat? Italian, Japanese, Canadian, whatever? Many thanks for your help. I am very much looking forward to my first visit to Toronto. One other thing. Are there any interesting neighborhoods like Greenwich Village in New York. I used to live there a long time ago and still miss it. Thanks again.
We were back at Dhaba last weekend after about a ten month hiatus. Once again, the food was delicious.
Although Dhaba had a multi-course "not officially Winterlicious" menu for $30 PP, we went with the regular menu. Spicy papadums and tap water (with a lemon slice) were delivered quickly. We were asked about allergies, which I don't remember happening before in a Toronto restaurant.
We began with the Trio of Lamb, Fresh New Zealand three ways: Frenched Rack of two bones, shoulder mince seekh, and leg boti with beet root salad, wood coal oven, 19.95.
This was described as a "shared starter, served family style", but it was no such thing. The actual meat portion was ample, but the presentation was in the form of a tandoori main and was NOT suited for sharing by two people, let alone a table. (There was one of each triad member, and sharing the lamb chop was especially annoying.)
The lamb chop itself was wonderful, redolent of layered flavours and perfectly medium rare. The seekh kebob was also very tasty, though not enough better that the Lahore Tikka House version to justify the price. The boti was also very good, though a bit tougher than expected. The dish, all things considered, was a winner, but it should have been five bucks cheaper and described more accurately on the menu.
The two mains we shared were the Goan Xacutti (Hot ‘n’ Spicy, wine soaked poppy seed, kazmere chilli, coconut sauce, $14.95) and the Lamb Vindaloo (House Specialty, Hot !, curry broth, Goan spices, lime honey mix, Iron hearted only, $15.95).
The Goan Xacutti had a generous quantity of chicken breast chunks in a suave, many spiced sauce and was another winner. The vindaloo was problematic. Also delicious, and packing reasonable spice heat, we would both order it again. Only thing is, it wasn't vindaloo. With the "Hot!" and "iron hearted only" comments on the menu, and an additional inquiry about spice heat from the server, we were expecting a real vindaloo. This dish wasn't the stuff I decry as "white guy food" - there was some heat in it and the flavours were fab - but when I order vindaloo, I don't expect "timid vindaloo", especially when warned three times that the dish would be searingly hot.
As go withs, we ordered saffron rice and "plain" nan. That "plain" nan was not at all plain. It was laced with kalonji and other spices and perfectly cooked. The saffron rice was fluffy basmati, superbly spiced.
A mango lassi had minimal yogurt, but much mango flavour. The beer selection is weird, and clearly designed to push the Kingfisher, which was fine.
A recent Restaurant Makeover target, I can only call Dhaba a victim. We felt that Susur Lee's designer wife messed the place up. The decor may have needed freshening, but Dhaba now lacks warmth. It's barren, boring, and a bit tacky, and looks more First Nations than South Asian in style. We just don't get it. My understanding (we didn't see the episode) is that Susur didn't do much, if anything, with the cooking.
Responding to your 'interesting neighbourhoods' request -- Kensington Market is a very funky area that is great fun to explore on foot. Not really like Greenwich Village, but one of our more colourful neighbourhoods. Small, family-owned grocery stores of multiple ethnicities, great vintage shops, crazy mish-mash stores and great cheap chow, to boot. It's also just next door to Chinatown, so you can hit two fun areas at once.
First note that Toronto has hundreds (maybe thousands) of Indian restaurants thanks to its multicultural makeup. You might want to restrict your search by (for example) giving some of your favourite dishes.
But, overall you’re most likely to find Bengali cuisine – and unfortunately the plethora of that style means price is an issue so often lesser quality ingredients are sometimes used.
I endorse the suggestion of Rashnaa (Sri Lankan/South India cuisine) – and it’s unbelievably cheap for what you get. Certainly try the Dosas (Masala in particular) and the Kottu Rotty and String Hoppers are also good.
Of the other recommendations (so far) I’d avoid Dhaba (prices high for marginal quality) and Lahore Tikka House (atmosphere yes, but the food is greasy and the same price as better places downtown). Little India is good for the buffet but IMO there are better places for a la carte dining. The Host is (relatively) expensive and reliable – but I have an alternative below.
My regular place (based on selection and value) is Trimurti. Their Onion Bhajia is the best I’ve found in Toronto; their spicing is excellent; their breads are good (especially the stuffed ones) and they offer some unusual dishes (e.g pasandas made with cashew paste).
But the finest (IMO) although it comes close to blow-out prices (say double Trimurti) is Tabla Indian restaurant and Wine Bar (Yonge & Blythwood) – which has only been open about 6 months. This has the most sophisticated spicing I’ve yet found in Toronto – layered flavours that evolve in the mouth – the food starts ‘hot’ but different flavours evolve. And they have an OK winelist – can’t say that about any other Indian place in Toronto. It’s far better than the Host and I’m not aware of any other place that would qualify as ‘dining’ rather than eating.
The Regency and The New Haandi 2000 on Gerrard Street (west of Coxwell Avenue)..both are reliable, not terribly expensive.. I think the 'surroundings' and the service are better at the Regency and also they listen when you ask for more spice. They are very good at seating larger groups (sometimes we are a group of 8 to 10 and have never needed a reservation) We really like the food at both but an edge given to the Regency.
Siddhartha in Little India is my staple. It's very good and reasonably priced, and while their buffet is one of the better ones I've had, I'd definitely recommend ordering a la carte. Other people will likely recommend the Host, Udupi Palace, and Lahore Tikka House to you; the Host is pretty good, IMO, but Udupi Palace is boring (all the dishes are similar tasting and indifferentiable, at least when I went) and Lahore Tikka is decent but doesn't hold a flame, IMO, to Siddhartha. Rashnaa (Sri Lankan) on Wellesley just east of Parliament is also quite tasty, and very affordable.
One of my favourite restaurants for a cool SE Asian experience you can't get in very many places is Matahari Grill on Baldwin, which serves Malaysian food. As for other recs, I haven't been in TO that long and the more experienced friendly folks here will likely have better suggestions for you.