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Aug 27, 2007 02:03 PM

Thai in Toronto

My friend and I recently started a supper club that is meeting once a month and trying out different cuisine around Toronto. We started softly last month with Mexican at Bandido's (nothing to write home about for the amount we paid and we felt very rushed), and I am in charge of September's outing of Thai food.

Just to give you some information, we are all in our mid to late 20s, and need a restaurant that can fit groups of about 12 to 20 on a Thursday evening. We would like to have a menu that allows a main course and drink for 20 to 25 dollars. After our first experience of paying the bill and falling way short of the total, we would ideally like the option of separate bills. In terms of location, it should probably be within the central core of about Yonge to Spadina and Bloor to the lake (although this is flexible.)

I would really appreciate any recommendations you could all make! And thanks in advance for the help.

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  1. My favourite Thai is Flip, Toss and Thai on Harbord but seating that many would definitely be a problem. Ditto for Salad King.

    I therefore recommend Golden Thai at Church and Richmond (slightly East of your area) for this occasion, they have plenty of space and the food is good and reasonably priced.

    1. Essentially, you'll be disappointed no matter where you go. Like Mexican, Toronto simply does not know how to do Thai food: everything here is highly North Americanized in a consistent fashion. This is very disappointing since there is loads of great Thai food to be had in Ottawa, and while I haven't explored Montreal significantly, I was able to easily locate decent Thai restaurants there as well.

      Flip, Toss, and Thai is Chinese owned, and the head chef was previously a chef at Salad King. I find FT&T to be much, much better than Salad King (avoid, avoid, avoid), but not particularly Thai, and while they have a few very good dishes that they do well (panaeng, for example), most of their offerings fall flat on their faces. They only have seating for about ten people (and no bathrooms), so it's likely not an option for your group.

      Golden Thai, as SeeSeeRider suggested, is passable. I went there for NYE 2005 and found about half the dishes I ate to be acceptable, and the other half to range from a complete mess of flavours to unimpressive. Sadly, this is indeed some of Toronto's better Thai food. Interior is very nice and service is quite attentive, IMO.

      The only place I can possibly recommend in the city is Young Thailand at Keele and Dundas W, which is far out of your desired area. Last two visits there, everything was excellent, although this restaurant has a notorious habit of letting quality slip over time and I haven't been in months, so my claims may no longer be accurate.

      Within your target area, the only place I would likely eat is Thai Paradise on Baldwin. The food is acceptable, although many dishes are simply mediocre. The fresh spring rolls with chicken and the pad see ew have always been good, but many of the stir fried dishes are uninspired and slightly bland. On some positive notes, at least here the food quality is consistent and my less discerning friends all seem to love it. The staff is excellent and will take good care of you. The restaurant is very nice inside and could easily accommodate your group, and the prices are within your desired range.

      35 Replies
      1. re: vorpal

        Jean's Thai Vegetarian on the Danforth. Worth the trip.

        1. re: Edith S

          How "vegetarian" is it? I'm convinced that Thai food without fish sauce is like Mexican food without tomatoes. You can certainly do it (and probably even make it quite good), but you lose a hell of a lot of what defines the cuisine. Soy sauce is not a valid substitution if you want to even approach the flavour that makes Thai food what it is. Shrimp paste is also fairly essential to curry pastes, but I can imagine that it could be much more easily substituted.

          1. re: vorpal

            Thai Bistro. On Yonge between Finch and Sheppard.

            1. re: alvar

              I would second the reccomendation of Young Thailand. I have been to their Church street location, near Lombard st, right near Golden Thai, and have loved it. I highly reccomend their Moo Pad Khing.

              1. re: mzmcgee

                Unfortunately, that location is no longer with us (I miss it dearly) and their only restaurant is now at Keele and Dundas W.

            2. re: vorpal

              Unlike most so-called vegetarian dishes served in Thai restaurants, Jean's pointedly does not use fish sauce or shrimp paste. Is Jean's authentic? Maybe not by your definition. And as for Mexican, is Mexican cookng that doesn't include lard "wrong"?

              1. re: Edith S

                I'm not a fan of Mexican cooking and I have no idea how prevalent or important lard is to it and how much flavour it contributes. If it's remotely near as important as fish sauce is to Thai cooking (i.e. the essential ingredient in virtually every dish), then I'd say that Mexican cooking without lard is probably quite wrong.

                Seems the reviews for Jean's on here are quite good, so I'm assuming she's doing something right... however, I still stand by the fact that Thai food without fish sauce loses the most important dimension of flavour.

                  1. re: Edith S

                    I haven't yet, but as I live in the neighbourhood, I may make a point of trying it.

                    However, I'll prelude this by saying that I've eaten at over 40 different Thai restaurants in Toronto, all of them recommended by someone or other (often on here), and they've all been outrageously disappointing. I'm not holding my breath over this one; honestly, I don't think that the vast majority of native Torontonians know what real Thai food is. I think that there's a firmly established expectation for highly North Americanized, toned down "Thai" food in this city; if an authentic restaurant were to open, it would probably fail miserably because it wouldn't be what Torontonians view as Thai.

                    1. re: vorpal

                      I'm with vorpal on this one - I've never had a Thai dish in this city that came anywhere close to the food in Thailand. I've had good food at Linda's and a couple of decent meals a while back at Coco Rice (which was, at least at the time, Thai owned/staffed). We should do a mission to recruit some Thai chefs - and here's where I have a different view from vorpal - as I think there are more than enough chowers in this city who would embrace authentic Thai cooking over bland "pan-Asian" cuisine.

                      1. re: vorpal

                        I agree with Vorpal as well. The Thai dishes in Toronto do not taste like the ones in Thailand. I have had much better Thai food in other cities. In fact, Thai is one of the cuisines I try to find when I travel. I had Young Thailand a month ago and it was pretty good. I have been to Coco Rice a few times a few years ago. It was ok.

                        For the OP, Young Thailand definitely has the room to accommodate 12 - 20 people. The only problem I had was that they wouldn't let me use Interac because it would tie up the only phone line they had. But credit card was ok.

                        1. re: cecilia

                          I agree many of the Thai restaurants here are spotty, but I think it's a little unfair to expect them to taste the same as the food in Thailand, where fresh local Thai ingredients are easily accessible. Finding food that is identical to the food in Thailand in Toronto is like finding a decent hamburger in Bangkok -terribly difficult, but not entirely the fault of the people dishing up the fare.

                          Even myself, last night I made a Chiang Mai style noodle soup -the first time I've made it outside of Thailand. I made it exactly the same way I always have, with the same ingredients. It tasted good, but different from what I remember. There are so many things that impact cooking it's inevitable there will be differences when you shift geographical locations. I realize this doesn't account for all of the spottiness we see at some of the Toronto restaurants, but I do think they deserve to be cut a little slack. I mean, it doesn't excuse using sweet basil in pud ga-prao gai sap, but the odd substitution or difference is inevitable and should be accommodated. I think sometimes, in our quest for authenticity we risk becoming a little rigid.

                          1. re: basileater

                   just reminded me, once in Chaing -Mai I ordered a veggie burger at a cafe, I got a bun with a heap of mayonaise and shredded carrots...good times!

                            1. re: basileater

                              I see what you are saying. But I guess my point was that if I can find good authentic Thai food in Ottawa, Sydney (AUS), or even Omaha, why can't I find it in Toronto?

                              1. re: basileater

                                Toronto has excellent availability of Thai ingredients, though... probably some of the best in North America. I can find the vast majority of what I need both in Spadina Chinatown and Chinatown East, and make delicious and reasonably authentic Thai food at home. I've never seen, for example, lesser ginger in any other city I've lived in, but here you can buy it all over. Obviously there are some omissions, like special peppers and some herbs, thus requiring a few substitutions. Hence, it's not *quite* the same as the Thai food in Thailand, but it's a good facsimile.

                                And how is it that Ottawa - where it's quite difficult to even find a reliable source for sweet basil and galangal - has outstanding Thai food, but Toronto's plain out sucks?

                                Keep in mind that we're talking about a city here that insists on using regular run of the mill broccoli (as opposed to the readily available and not particularly expensive gai lan) and carrots in dishes like pad see ew and *gak* ketchup in pad thai (last I checked there is no Torontonian shortage of tamarind). These aren't less dramatic substitutions like using sweet basil when a recipe would traditionally call for holy basil (which is difficult to find here, IMO, and can certainly be overlooked). Many posters on this board view Salad King (and to a lesser extent, Spring Rolls) as acceptable Thai food. All of that collectively speaks volumes about Toronto's Thai expectations.

                                I really don't think I or the other posters here are being that rigid in our quest for authenticity. It just makes no sense that last I visited there, the one Thai restaurant I tried in Kitchener was leagues above all of the Thai restaurants I've been to in Toronto.

                                1. re: vorpal

                                  But you admit you haven't been to all of the Thai restaurants in Toronto so how can you make blanket generalizations about them all? Perhaps, "Of all the Thai restaurants in Toronto I've visted..." would be a better frame for your opinion.

                                  1. re: Edith S

                                    Toronto has hundreds of Thai restaurants. If there was even ONE *good* one, it very likely would have been found and highly recommended. As it stands, we have knowledgeable and experienced chowhounds, whose opinions are generally quite valuable, recommending things like Salad King and Golden Thai. Clearly, if those are the best of the bunch, it's logical to conclude with high probability that the rest aren't exactly stellar.

                                    As I said, I have listened diligently to the recommendations and done a lot of research on the matter. Even the better Thai restaurants that are Thai-run and / or take pride in their food aren't great. For example, Buppha Thai on Queen E, which is Thai owned and downright awful (offering ridiculously overcooked, blandly underseasoned meat) or Sasi Thai, with wild inconsistency amongst its dishes (the red curry with lychees is to die for, and most of their other entrees are also overcooked, flavourless, or incorrectly prepared). Certainly, I will acknowledge that it is logically possible that some completely undiscovered gem of a Thai restaurant exists somewhere in the city, but I find it incredibly unlikely. I would *love* to be proven wrong on this, and I keep hoping in what seems like vain.

                                    There is also something very wrong with Toronto's Thai scene if, after all the effort I've gone through, I've found one decent offering (Young Thailand) whereas - in my experience - if I go to Ottawa, Montreal, or as I mentioned, Kitchener, and pick a Thai restaurant at random, it's quite likely to be better than anything I've had in Toronto.

                                    1. re: vorpal

                                      Who mentioned Salad King or Golden Thai? I asked about Jean's. You haven't been. FYI Jean's has been highly recommended many times on this board.

                                      1. re: Edith S

                                        If you read through the plethora of Thai food posts in this board, you will see that both Salad King and Golden Thai are often recommended. I'm not limiting the breadth of Toronto Thai knowledge to this single post.

                                        I acknowledged the possibility that Jean's might be very good in a general food sense, but from what I've read here, it doesn't sound very authentically Thai: no fish sauce, and offerings with soba noodles? Hardly traditional.

                                      2. re: vorpal


                                        From your point of view, what is mainly missing in Toronto's Thai food/restaurant/cuisine when you compare the 40 restaurants in Toronto you have been to with those in Thailand ?

                                        I suppose you have been to Thailand right ? since you talked about the "real authentic thai food"... and not the north americanized...

                                        1. re: skylineR33

                                          Real Thai food is exciting and lively; carefully chosen ingredients in the right proportions and cooked properly come alive in your mouth and are selected to precisely stimulate your taste buds in complex ways. Because of this effect, a good Thai meal can be overwhelming and profound.

                                          The Thai food in Toronto is just sloppy: so much of it is ill-prepared and done with lower-quality ingredients and poor substitutions. It's nigh impossible, IMO, to find a pad see ew here, for example, where a light veneer of sauce clings to fresh ho fen rice noodles, gai lan, and perfectly cooked meat. Instead, everything I've dried has been dry, overcooked, and a chore to eat, usually prepared with regular broccoli instead. Curries here generally feel that they were prepared in a rush, lacking enough fish sauce and the depth of a good quality (preferably homemade) curry paste. So many curries, too, are unfortunately just a bunch of cheap vegetables with a few cubes of overcooked meat in a flat tasting sauce; there is no pride of workmanship here. Pad thai is made with ketchup instead of the more expensive (although not insanely so) but utterly delicious tamarind paste. Carrots are thrown indiscriminately into so many dishes despite the fact that their texture and flavour generally don't lend well to most of the entrees in which they're used. It really is just a mess.

                                          I feel very sad that Torontonians simply don't have access to good Thai food, because the better Thai meals I've had are amongst the best experiences - food related or otherwise - that I've had the pleasure of enjoying in my life. The deep feeling of satisfaction and bliss you have when you finish a perfect Thai meal is unparalleled.

                                          For the record, I have not yet been to Thailand. As a graduate student, it hasn't been financially feasible for me to go yet, although it is amongst my primary goals to visit; additionally, as I am likely moving to Hawaii in the future, I have decided to postpone a trip until that point as it will be much less costly. I have, however, dedicated much of the last ten years of my life to studying Thai cuisine to the best of my ability from overseas, reading as many authentic Thai cookbooks (e.g. David Thompson and Kasma Loha-Unchit) as possible. I am extremely passionate about Thai food and I prepare my own from scratch using fresh ingredients at least four times a week and frequently more often than that. I adore making my own curry pastes and even, on occasion, homemade coconut milk / cream.

                                          If you want to feel that my opinion is discredited based on my lack of a visit to Thailand, feel free. It is with sadness that I admit that I've never had as fully authentic a Thai meal as is available, although I think I have come as close as is possible in North America. I don't believe that you have to go region-hopping in Italy to be a dedicated appreciator of real Italian cuisine, but you are welcome to disagree.

                                          1. re: skylineR33

                                            Well, that is the question isn't it, Vorpal.

                                            I spent about 4 months in Thailand sampling food north to south. Toronto's Thai food can never duplicate food in Thailand but this diatribe is becoming tiring. The cooking methods (ie dung fire), types of produce (quite frankly, not even close to the quality we get here) and their wonderful tradition of food cooked and served quickly (ie street carts) are often not an option here.

                                            Toronto does all right, as it does with the great diversity of other cultures represented here in our restaurants. Let's support the restaurants that serve good food and not hold them to some impossible "authenticity" standard.

                                            1. re: Mila

                                              Toronto does very well with a number of cuisines of other cultures, and I'm all for celebrating that. The general consensus, for example, seems to be that there is great Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese food to be had here, and I wouldn't disagree with those assessments (although I'm not at all qualified to speak about those styles of food). However, I also think it's important to recognize when Toronto does something poorly, as is the case with Mexican (as stated by many here - again, I'm not qualified to make that judgment) and Thai. Not even attempting basic authenticity in ingredient selection results more in general Pan-Asian fusion than Thai, and, ignoring authenticity, the quality of the food and the preparation at most Thai restaurants here is poor.

                                              1. re: Mila

                                                I must agree with Vorpal, who is simply passionate about Thai food.
                                                The ingredients and seasoning are very different in most places I have tried.
                                                Can be likened to freshly ground spices in Indian Cuisine, as opposed to buying Curry powder.
                                                The produce is different as well.
                                                The restaurants here don't stress the wonderful fishes and seafoods, which are an important component of Thai cooking.
                                                There is no representation of high end innovative Thai cooking either.
                                                The closest is Salad King, and it is not bad, but not great either.
                                                We simply don't have the Thai population to open, or support this type of restaurant.
                                                I can't vouch for Pad Thai, as I don't eat it here or in Thailand, but am waiting for a restaurant that serves a curried crab like they do it there... a dish to die for!
                                                We do have Vancouver crab available.
                                                The first time I tasted Wagu beef was in Thailand as well , at a wonderful modern thai resto. called Cy'an.
                                                I think that if people like the Thai food served in T.O., that's great, but even before my first trip to Thailand a few years ago, I didn't find it that exciting.
                                                I do keep trying, and am usually disappointed.

                                                1. re: Mila

                                                  I think we all know that Toronto is not a great choice for Thai food but there are some good place here that is not all 100% or 90% or 80% etc authentic. To keep on complaining about it is just kind of redundant.

                                                  Thanks Mila, looks like you really have some great truly authentic/traditional food experience ! I am looking forward to visit Thailand too to have a taste of it besides the Thai restaurants I have tried in North America and Hong Kong China (there is a big population of Thai in HK, so thai food in HK is more authentic than here ?!)

                                            2. re: vorpal

                                              Vorpal, I have the utmost respect for your opinions on Thai in Toronto. One question: Where do you find holy basil? I don't normally make Thai at home, but the cosy season is coming.

                                              1. re: Googs

                                                Googs: Thanks very much for your support! It is really appreciated, and likewise, you've offered me some excellent advice through this community that has always been valuable. I bought some friends a box of assorted treats from Daniel et Daniel and they still talk about how delightful they were, for example.

                                                Holy basil is very hard to find in the city. The only place I've seen it is in Chinatown East. There are two large grocers, both on the south side of Gerrard, whose names I don't know. (I should bother to read the signs someday!) The one further to the east (i.e. the one without the steps going down) has a small room off to the side with a selection of herbs and vegetables, and there they occasionally have holy basil. I think I've only seen it six times in the two years I've been going there (making several visits a month), and I've snatched it up each time. You have to know what you're looking for because the price label usually lists it as "BASIL" or "VIETNAMESE HERBS". (Then again, the place isn't know for it's accuracy... I've seen galangal often listed as "BASIL" on the packaging!)

                                                1. re: vorpal

                                                  Regarding fish sauce, maybe there is a way to simulate it in the vegetarian dish ? It is not in the cookbooks you read does not mean there is no way to do it. Just like chinese cuisine, there is a whole lots of technique to simulate taste of seafood/meet and even their shape which just make it taste and look like the real thing. Maybe there is similar technique in Thai ??

                                                  I think it is better to leave for someone who has actually try Jean's and veg. dishes in Thailand to give a fair comment or comparison.

                                              2. re: vorpal

                                                Vorpal, you miss my point. I don't know how I could possibly have said it more clearly, since I did say it twice: regional variations do not excuse the spottiness we see in Toronto. I also gave you an example of a recipe where identical ingredients were prepared by the same hand with different results. This is not a matter of putting ketchup in the pad thai. This is simply about regional variations that we cannot get around. Thai food in Canada, even good Thai food, is never even close to what you can find locally in Thailand. It's like saying that buffalo mozzerella eaten fresh from the farm in Italy is not *quite* the same as the days old stuff found here, or tomatoes trucked in from who knows where provide something simlar to something fresh and local. It is simply impossible to replicate that. There is a reason certain items become the specialty of a particular geographic region. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. That's one of the wonderful things about travelling -we get to experience some of our favourite foods the way they were meant to be experienced.

                                                I would posit that a Thai dish made creatively and with integrity with local produce has the potential to be even better than the most "authentic' dish made with materials trucked from half way around the world, but obviously tastes differ. On the other hand, I would consider substituting sweet basil for holy akin to making a cake with vanilla and calling it chocolate. It could not be more dramatic, which makes me question whether you have had the pleasure of being served a dish made with the real thing. In any event, it only serves to demonstrate the subjective nature of these matters.

                                                1. re: basileater

                                                  Why don't you grow your own holy basil?
                                                  I grew it outdoors in a large pot this summer, and will do the same indoors in the winter.
                                                  A couple of years ago I purchased the holy basil plants in the lower level of the market.
                                                  This year I just planted it from seed.

                                                    1. re: erly

                                                      You have to watch out in Canada, as often what they call 'holy basil' here is what the Thai's call 'Bai Horapa' (ใบกะเพรา) instead of the correct ''Bai Grapao' (ใบกะเพรา).

                                                      They couldn't be more different.

                                                      1. re: erly

                                                        Ha ha, better late than never! I do grow it, but I went all the way to Richler's Herbs to get my plants. Will check at SLM, thanks.

                                2. I am a big fan of Pi-Tom's. Located just off Yonge St, just north of College, so right in your area.

                                  I have never been to Thailand so I don't know how authentic it is. But it is run by people from Thailand. Spend a little time on their website and see what you think.

                                  1. There is a place at yonge and bloor, Saigon Sister. It's not authentic by any means, but it's very very very tasty and very clean. nice patio too. get the curry lamb...uffff.

                                    1. Has anyone tried Thai Shan Inn on Eglinton? Am curious.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: rat under paper

                                        Thai Shan isn't really Thai food. There is no Thai population to feed in Toronto, so there is nothing remotely authentic. Discussed to death on this board.