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Sep 17, 2007 02:07 PM

What do Toronto restos do best?

On a recent Mexican restaurant thread many posters agreed that the Mexican food in Toronto isn't very good. That got me thinking about which cuisines are good in Toronto. I don't mean which are your favorites, I mean which cuisines does Toronto do really really well.

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  1. Italian, French, Caribbean, Indian, Chinese and Japanese.

    I think if you looked for any of the above mentioned cuisines, you'd be delighted by the quality Toronto offers.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Cimmerian

      Secondly, I want to stress that I'm sure Toronto provides primo-quality Mexican and Greek food. The problem lies within the cuisine itself, not the degree of authenticity found in Toronto.

      1. re: Cimmerian

        How about Vietnamese? I personally haven't tried TO's Vietnamese options due to a need to avoid MSG completely, but people generally seem quite impressed with the offerings here. Otherwise, your list sounds about right to me.

        1. re: Cimmerian

          Compared to what's available on the West Coast, our Japanese is simply sub-par. It's good, but it's definitely not something I'd rank under cuisines we do really, really well.

          That said, we definitely rock when it comes to Caribbean. Toronto is tops when it comes to a plentiful variety of great West Indian eats.

          Asian Fusion

          1. re: tartiflette

            This is a very interesting topic. My own primary source of information is probably this web site. That said, I'm only comfortable with the suggestion of Chinese food being so-called world class in the area. I suspect Caribbean may apply, but this food is rarely mentioned on Chowhound. May I suggest that we include up to 3 examples of world class restaurants in any food category...I mean after Susur, what is out there for Asian Fusion. I like the Japanese food here a lot, but accept the point that Toronto may be a poor foodie cousin to the West Coast and NY. Name the 3 top French, Italian, and Caribbean restos for example to give context to the discussion. Indian food has been slammed here as so-so and what up with Ethiopian? I'm ready to learn...

            1. re: T Long

              Scrolling through the boards here, it shouldn't be too hard to find examples of restaurants that provide great food from those cuisines.

              In terms of mid to high-end Asian Fusion, for example, other places of note beyond Susur are Blowfish, Rain, Lee, and Ki. But we're not necessarily talking high-end Michelin-worthy places for any of my picks... just really good food that Toronto does really, really well. I dare you to find 5-star Ethiopian!

              I think getting hung up on "best" or "world class" leaves out the fact that a) ethnic cuisines are always done best where they originate, and b) most good eats in this city don't come with a 4-star treatment.

              1. re: T Long

                Hi buddy,

                I've been married to a Chinese girl for almost 20 years; we have eaten Chinese food in Toronto, New York City, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Hong Kong, the Philippines, San Francisco, Montreal, and other spots. My wife and her five brothers, who live in different countries, feel that except for Hong Kong, Toronto offers the best choices, quality and value compared to any of the other cities they have ever visited.

                And geez - Toronto has large Italian and Greek populations. My wife and daughters recently returned from a cruise around the Eastern Mediterranean. I asked them if the local meals were any more tasty or memorable than what we get on College Street or the Danforth, and they unanimously replied "No; the food in Toronto was better".

            2. re: Cimmerian

              Indian?!! No way!! Quantity in Indian establishments does not neceesarily reflect quality in food. Toronto's Indian food is bland and lack complexity!!. Agree Chinese, especially ' Cantonese ' is amongst the best outside of the Orient.

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Mrs. Sippi works with several Indian people and they, for the most part, feel that the food is just fine thank you very much.


                1. re: Davwud

                  May be you should scroll down and read Estufarian's interesting posting on the 15th. Having eaten really good Indian food in Vancouver (VJ's), London, England ( Tamarind ), Hong Kong, Singapore... Not to mention my meals in Calcutta and New Delhi. I totally agree with his accessment that the majority of Toronto's Indian establishment use a ' basic sauce' for a lot of their cooking resulting in dull tasting and boring dishes. May be 'home cook dishes' by our local Indian friends taste better?! ( more time and effort put into the cooking? ). By the way, who is Mrs Sippi?! And lastly, being Indian doesn't necessary mean they have experienced really good Indian food. Likewise, being French doesn't mean they have all eaten great French food in Michelin 2 or 3 stars restaurants and be in position to comment on what consitute great French cuisine!!

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    Mrs. Sippi is my wife. She's from, Mississippi.

                    While I agree that being from a country doesn't make you an expert on the food from there but it should give you a leg up.
                    I'll take an immigrants word on ethnic food first every time. Much like I'll take a locals word on what's best in their small town.


              2. re: Cimmerian

                Toronto's Indian food is borderline mediocre.

                1. re: Cimmerian

                  You're kidding right? French in Toronto is especially abysmal. I can hear them laughing in Montreal. Italian is so-so. Japanese is also very weak if you are talking about sushi. If you haven't been to some place like Matsuhista, then you have no idea what top sushi is. The stuff in Toronto isn't in the same class. Chinese is good, but I've had better in Mountain View than in Toronto. Show me decent Hunan place Or a decent Nanking place. Not in Toronto. Indian is also OK, but no better than most big cities, and lets not even get in London. For restaurants, Toronto is simply not in the same class as cities like NY, Los Angeles and even Chicago.

                  However, Jamaican is the thing that I've always gotten better here than elsewhere.

                  1. re: wordsworth

                    There are eight main streams of chinese cuisine and many sub streams from these eight. One to two restaurants good at Hunan and Nanking dishes does not mean the city is good at "Chinese Food" as a whole. All I am saying is Toronto is doing very good in Cantonese cuisine which is a main stream of chinese cuisine, with many good cantonese restaurants easily accessible.

                    It is impossible to have a city that is good at all kinds of chinese cuisine at the same time.

                    1. re: skylineR33

                      Nanjing and Hunan cuisine is not easy to find anywhere outside China. We have a couple of Hunan restaurants here (Vancouver), and one Nanjing Restaurant with "proper" trained chefs from their respective provinces. Sichuan is hit or miss here and elsewhere (we do have a number of authentic Sichuan-trained kitchens) - many Sichuan restaurants are run by Cantonese kitchens.

                      Migration patterns dictate quality and authenticity. That's why we see a preponderance of Cantonese cuisine and a new influx of great and "proper" Shanghai, Taiwan, Northern, Sichuan, etc cuisine.

                      1. re: fmed

                        I fully agree with you.

                        Also, it is quite funny when I see people try to compare cantonese seafood restaurant with szechuan restaurant. They are just not the same, cooking method, ingradient, price point ...

                2. Cantonese. Korean. Portuguese.

                  1. To add to the list: Thai

                    Also, in reply to T Long above, I don't think that one has to restrict themselves to discussing high-end establishments in the question of what Toronto does well. Quality for the price is a big factor in my books, regardless of how high or low the price may be.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: xtal

                      I disagree; if there's one thing that Toronto does terribly, it's Thai. There may be a few decent establishments, but overall, the Thai scene here is horrid. I'd be hard pressed to think of a city I've been to in the last 10 years that did Thai worse than here.

                      1. re: vorpal

                        My wife and I spent a week in Thailand a few years back. There were only two real food differences we noticed: first, durian was ubiquitous, and its, shall we say, "unmistakable fragrance" was evident in many places.

                        Second, we noticed the curries were *substantially* hotter than their Western counterparts. I ordered a red curry one night, and, perhaps boldly and foolishly, told the waiter I wanted it "hot". When it came, it tasted great, but after a few bites, I noticed my mouth was on fire. I downed every drink on our table, and then, in extreme pain, asked the white couple at the next table if I could have a few ice cubes from their wine bucket. They agreed, and I hurriedly sucked them into my mouth. That was real pain!

                      2. re: xtal

                        Xtal: As a gentle rebuttal, I'm only following up the OP's question...what does Toronto do very well...not your favorites.

                        1. re: T Long

                          but does it have to be high end for it to be done very well? I don't believe that's the case.

                          1. re: pescatarian

                            Pescatarian: In theory, I agree with you....that is why it would be helpful to throw out a few examples to put some grit in the discussions. Please excuse my use of the term world-class if that is an issue, but what measuring stick would be better? outside original country?

                            1. re: T Long

                              IMHO, done very well = tastes very good

                              Examples of places that are not high end (which I'm sure will get duly noted without my help):

                              Caribbean - Albert's on St. Clair (others on St. Clair, but I haven't tried)
                              Portuguese - Chiado (happens to be high end)
                              Casual kosher-style middle eastern - Sofra, Sababa, Me Va Me, etc.
                              Korean - Nakwon at Yonge and Finch, Sariwon at Yonge and Clark

                              1. re: pescatarian

                                I don't understand the hype surrounding Albert's. Everyone goes on and on about the place and I find it quite bland. Having grown up in Scarborough, Albert's food has no where the flavour as some of the small ma and pop shops in the Scarborough strip malls. I'm sure the places on Eglinton are much better than Albert's too.

                                I lived in the area for a few years and always noted that the lines at Albert's barely changed come Caribanna weekend, yet the lines on Eglinton were out the door. Even at Jamaican Queen which was on Vaughan south of St Clair. That tells me something.

                                1. re: pescatarian

                                  If you think that a so-so place like Albert's is good, then Mr. Jerk in Peanut Plaza would send you into ecstasy.

                              2. re: pescatarian

                                I, in fact, find that it's completely the opposite. I find that the little gems. The holes in the wall. The people with a small store front make the best ethnic food.
                                JMHO though.


                                1. re: Davwud

                                  I thought that's what I was saying...

                              3. re: T Long

                                T Long: thanks for your clarification.

                                I'm glad you helped to expand the discussion to high-end establishments with your previous post, and perhaps I was a bit hasty in rebutting without letting discussion proceed. My apologies.

                            2. Very interesting topic (and thanks to JG for raising it).

                              I think Caribbean is probably noteworthy... great stuff on St. Clair West, Egington West, Kensington.

                              I imagine Chinese is correct too, but we're limited to "Chinatown" restaurants, and suspect that the real stars are in the suburbs (the same goes for Indian... Gerrardi is charming, but I wonder what's happening in Brampton and near the airport)... in general, I suspect I'm hobbled by my own inclination that "Toronto" is "downtown".

                              I also think that Portugese is a rather unique speciality, even if just because we're lucky enough to have Chiado (outside of our fab churrasco).

                              But I think we should not overlook that Toronto does... what are we gonna call it... upscale-ish "Canadian" pretty well. JKWB is a place that should be noted for doing "Canadian" exceptionally well. So too with Canoe, Splendido, Patriot (RIP)... maybe even something like Red's, George... where they're doing great food, but making a point to use local and seasonal ingredients. I think we are seeing attempts here to develop a "Canadian" regional cuisine, which are laudable.

                              And, given that the mandate was not all "high end," perhaps the Rebel House, where the food is quite excellent.

                              Oh, I think Viet is probably "right" too... Rabbitz are often at Ginger and Pho Hung.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Rabbit

                                I agree with your "Canadian" category....after all, who could do it better!! I prefer to think of "Toronto" in the GTA sense.

                                1. re: T Long

                                  Junk food, according to a close relative who spends much of this time travelling between Toronto and the New York area. Not only is Harvey's (although Harvey's is not exclusively Torontonian) better than any of the U.S. chains, but, he says, even the McDonald'ses and Burger Kings here are noticeably better than their U.S. counterparts.

                                  Although it is not junk food, I noticed this one time when I went to a Swiss Chalet in the Buffalo area. Huge, U.S. sized portions of greasy, fatty chicken - yecch!

                                  1. re: T Long

                                    Toronto do really really well ? Maybe cantonese cuisine like Charles mentioned and upscale-ish "Canadian" like Rabbit mentioned ? Personally, I don't think Toronto is doing really well at Japanese and Korean but by no mean bad.

                                    1. re: T Long

                                      Left Coaster here...

                                      Watch what you call "Canadian"! I prefer to call the food at Canoe, Splendido, et al. "Torontonian". (I did have the BC Dungeness crab there recently.)

                                      Tongue-in-cheekily Yours,

                                  2. What I wonder about when reading these comments is "compared to what?". In other words, to those who are saying that Toronto has good Japanese, are you comparing it to the meals you have had in Japan or to Japanese meals you have had in Canada/US/Europe?

                                    Here are some of my own experiences with Toronto versus the original:

                                    Japanese: In Japan there are many different cuisines to be found, and typically a restaurant will specialize in just one. Here in Toronto Japanese food usually means sushi, along with noodle soups, a bit of tempura and a teriyaki salmon dish. In Toronto sushi means makimono (for most) and nigiri for the adventurous. Rarely do I see people order sashimi. In Japan there is only nigiri sushi and sashimi is a very popular dish eaten with many different cuisines. So I would summarize by saying that Japanese food in Toronto is very limited in variety compared to within Japan. As an aside, I would say that the most skilled chefs in the world are the Japanese, whether cooking Japanese, French, Italian or Chinese.

                                    Italian: I think Toronto does Italian on par with Italy and anywhere else in the world. Our Italian restaurants offer excellent traditional dishes as well as modern variations that benefits from non-traditional ingredients (fusion). The difference between Italian restos in Italy and Toronto might be that here in Toronto we must spend a lot of money to get the very best, while amazing meals can be had in Italy at simple inexpensive restaurants.

                                    Chinese: I must admit that I find the real Chinese food a little challenging for my senses. I refer mainly to Shanghai, where I travel frequently. I don't think I have ever had a meal in Toronto that resembles anything I've eaten in Shanghai. I realize that there are many many cuisines within China, so perhaps what we have here is primarily Cantonese. Still, I've been to Cantonese restos in Shanghai and they are nothing like the Cantonese in Toronto. In summary, I can't even compare them so it's hard to say that Toronto does Chinese well.

                                    Thai: I have limited but recent experience with real Thai food, but it was so very very good. The flavors are complex, spicy, but not overpowering. Every meal, even at inexpensive restaurants in small villages was excellent, except one. The one bad meal I had was a place that catered to the tourist crowd, and surprise surprise, tasted like made-in-Toronto Thai. So I would agree with others here that Toronto does not do Thai very well. Shame.

                                    Vietnamese: Limited experience with the real thing, but I found it to be like a poor cousin to Thai food. Although here in Toronto I prefer Vietnamese to Thai, which is a reflection on the poor quality of our Thai restaurants.

                                    Korean: I will profess that the real thing isn't my favorite. I’ve been to Korea many times and find the food lacking in it’s variety of flavors. I’m ok with red pepper and sesame oil as flavors, but not for breakfast lunch and dinner. I’m not so thrilled with the hygiene standards either. Nor do I like sitting on the floor, freezing in winter and boiling in summer because the Koreans apparently don’t believe in climate control. So I generally don’t go to Korean restaurants in Toronto even though I’m sure the climate control issues are well taken care of here.

                                    16 Replies
                                    1. re: Jean Georges

                                      Jean Georges ,

                                      Look like you are not familiar with chinese cuisine.
                                      Let me tell you why the cantonese restos you tried in Shanghai is different from what you eat in here.
                                      - Shanghai has its own kind of cuisine(s), not cantonese cuisine.
                                      - Shanghai is not even close to Canton.
                                      - HK is right next to Guangzhou province (Canton), so there are many many cantonese in HK.
                                      - There are lots of good cantonese chef moved from HK to Toronto in the past decade or so.

                                      "I would say that the most skilled chefs in the world are the Japanese, whether cooking Japanese, French, Italian or Chinese"

                                      I doubt this is any true, especially with one's limited knowledge on certain cuisine(s).

                                      1. re: skylineR33

                                        I have had Chinese people from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore tell me that they think the Chinese food in good Toronto Chinese restaurants is superior to what they get in restauarnts back home. The reason, they feel, is the superior quality of our ingredients.

                                        After all, Toronto has a huge number of Chinese people, some very well educated and prosperous. They know what good Chinese food is, and have the money to pay for it.

                                        1. re: ekammin

                                          There are thousands of chinese restaurants in HK and China, I am sure the good ones in Toronto are better than many of them in HK/China. But if you are talking about the best, Toronto still has no match to HK/China in all categories whether it is expensive, moderate or inexpensive food, ingradients, variety and taste, etc. However, the closest one is cantonese cuisine which is doing really good in Toronto.

                                          1. re: ekammin

                                            >> I have had Chinese people from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore tell me that they think the Chinese food in good Toronto Chinese restaurants is superior to what they get in restauarnts back home. The reason, they feel, is the superior quality of our ingredients.

                                            I don't believe this, personally. TO has good Cantonese places for sure...perhaps better than HK for the most part. Taiwan has better Taiwanese food than TO. Singapore has much better Straits Chinese food than....well, anywhere else in the world.

                                            1. re: fmed

                                              fmed, by saying this "TO has good Cantonese places for sure...perhaps better than HK for the most part" - I am sure you have not been to HK or may be a few day trip ?! Or you must be kidding. So I highly doubt the rest of your post is any true.

                                              And what do you mean by Straits Chinese food ? Any example ?

                                              1. re: skylineR33

                                                I should have qualified that statement. I'll grant you that the HK food in the high-end range is far better in HK. The noodle houses and the low-to-mid range are close in quality. I have been to HK a number of times over the last few years and have very close friends who are HK chefs here in Vancouver who travel there to keep tabs on what is going on.

                                                Straits Chinese food is Singapore Chinese food - Nonya/Baba or Peranakan. Chinese/Malay which defines much of the food in Singapore. Hawker Stall food, Laksa, etc.

                                                1. re: fmed

                                                  ??? Laksa is not Chinese food fyi.

                                                  Noodle houses are close in quality ?? You have to try out Mak Un in Central or Ho Hung Kee of Causeway Bay, etc. It is sad to say Noodle place in Toronto has no match when comparing to HK. Even the Jim Chai Kee branch in Richmond Hill has no match to the real one in HK.

                                                  I would say the good cantonese places in Toronto are better than those "average" or "bad" places in HK in general.

                                                  I have been living in both HK and Toronto for like 20 years.

                                                  1. re: skylineR33

                                                    >> ??? Laksa is not Chinese food fyi.
                                                    Like I is a Straits Chinese (a Malay/Chinese hybrid). Nonya Laksa is fusion food.

                                                    >> I have been living in both HK and Toronto for like 20 years.
                                                    Then I'll defer to you on the quality of the Noodle house between TO and HK.

                                                    1. re: fmed

                                                      Oh I see. Straits Chinese = Malay/Chinese.

                                                    2. re: skylineR33

                                                      Hay skylineR33. Based on your above remarks, guess you still havn't given the Won Ton Noodles at ' Jen Jen' ( corner of Sheppard and Glen Watford ) in Scarborough a try?!

                                                      1. re: Charles Yu

                                                        No, not yet ! I almost have a chance to try last week. I just wish there are noodle house that are good and more accessible in GTA area !

                                                        Hey, just went to Casa Victoria tonight, grand opening tonight, same group as the Casa Imperial. And guess what, its menu is 90% the same as Casa imperial !

                                                          1. re: Charles Yu

                                                            It is located at Warden and 7, replacing the chinese restaurant that used to be there with completely new renovation. Food is great, but with this price, it better be good ! I don't quite understand why it has the same menu as Casa Imperial, since the two restaurants are not too far away, maybe it is just temporily.

                                                            And I think it will be mainly for high end banquet (especially wedding banquet, the most expensive one is $2300 for a table of 10, but the food look very interesting!). People complain Casa Imperial layout is strange, but with Victoria, it is by far the most elegrant chinese venu in GTA/Richmond Hill/Markham area now ! Who want to squeeze into LWH's basement hall for a banquet as there is such thing available in GTA now if one's looking for chinese style ?!

                                            2. re: skylineR33

                                              skylineR33, I do understand the geography of China and was commenting that since I haven't eaten Shanghainese in Toronto nor Cantonese in HK or Guangzhou, I can't comment on the comparability to Toronto.

                                              As for the skills level of the chefs in Japan, certainly my comments are debatable. I do disagree with your comment that the chefs in Japan have limited knowledge of French & Italian cooking as my personal experience has been that the French and Italian food in Tokyo is as good as I've eaten in France and Italy (or Toronto). I may be mistaken, but I believe it's fairly common for Japanese chefs to work or study overseas in order to gain knowledge and experience.

                                              1. re: Jean Georges

                                                What I actually mean is the limited knowledge on certain cuisines like me and you, it is not fair to judge who got the most skillful chefs.

                                                Of course, one can speaks on his/her personal experience. I did see some of the amazing chefs in China for example, but I cannot say if they are the most skillful.

                                                1. re: Jean Georges

                                                  Hello JG. I too agree with your comment about French and Japanese cuisine in Japan. Some of the best tasting French and Italian dishes I had was actually in Tokyo and NOT Paris or Milan. As an example, two years ago, my buddy in Tokyo took me to a small Italian trattoria run by Japanese cooks where I ordered a capellini with fresh Hokaido crab meat, cherry tomatoes and basil in a simple pomodoro sauce as secondi to a meal. It was truly a masterpiece, so good that I actually ordered a second plate and skipped dessert instead! Then, there was my meal at French Iron Chef Sakai's restaurant - La Rochelle, last year. The fish and seafood terrine appertizer was not only a feast for the eyes but I'd never realize a cold terrine can taste that delicious. Mind you, the few ' French/Japanese' fusion dishes I had in Sushi Kaji's Omakase dinner were pretty spectacular too. Can outshine similar dishes from Splendido, George or Perigee if a side by side tasting was done!!