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Teach me please. Not to miss menu items from restaurants in Chinatown

I really enjoy expanding my palate but am often stumped on what to order/seek out on what are often long long menus at most chinatown establishments.

I'm tired of ordering the same things. Pho from vietnamese places. Phad thai and green curry from thai places, etc. These are all great dishes, but I am willing to stray away from my norms and discover new flavours.

I live near chinatown so will use this as a place of reference.
What are some of your favourite dishes from vietnamese/thai/chinese restaurants in this area that I can take home and enjoy for myself.

I am curious to discover what I am missing out on. All help is appreciated :)

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  1. Crispy Beef with Spicy Honey Ginger sauce at Rol-San. Also, their stir fried snow pea leaves.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jacquilynne

      okay, i'll add those to the list, both sound tasty. thanks

    2. Not really menu itesms, but if you like dumplings Mother's Dumplings is quite good and cheap.

      1 Reply
      1. At the Vietnamese places have you ever tried the dry noodles(bun?) or the rice dishes. I am afraid I don't know the names, but i often read the menu descriptions or I point at dishes other tables are eating.

        12 Replies
        1. re: sweetie

          Vietnamese is one area I need to learn more about for sure. All that I have tried, I do enjoy. Maybe I will adopt your method and scope out what others are eating around me.
          I will have to find a place that shows pictures on the menu!

          1. re: pancake

            Vietnamese:
            bahn hoi - a do-it-yourself plate. There are lettuce leaves, rice vermicelli, and grilled meats, you have to make your own roll with these ingredients
            bahn xeo - a crepe flavoured with tumeric and coconut milk, with a filling of bean sprouts, pork and shrimp. (My fave place for this is Bun Saigon)
            com - rice plates, topped with a variety of grilled meats. Note the shrimp is a special kind with the head bigger than the body.
            bun - rice vermicelli with toppings

            Thai - these are all noodle dishes I like:
            radnar talay - seafood and chicken fried with flat rice noodles
            phad see yu - seafood in a sauce on flat rice noodles
            phad woon sen - fried glass noodles

            Chinese - there are too many categories. For something different go to Hong Kong Bistro on Dundas West, they serve "Chinese Western food", for example, fried spaghetti, baked fish on rice etc. Or go to Min Ji a couple doors down in the basement, their Fukien menu is not that long and is quiet different from regular Chinese restaurants (I still have not tried the "moss cake" yet!)

            1. re: Teep

              Very helpful !!!!

              In terms of vietnamese, there is a place that sells bahn mi, but then they also have this extensive "hot food" counter with alot of items that I am unfamiliar with.
              Alot of it looks like gelatinous coconut milk/bean paste ? What is that? And all those seran wrapped trays? Should I dive in or avoid?

              1. re: pancake

                those stump me too since I'm not from that culture. but the colourful stuff in plastic would be some kind of coconut or otherwise sweet dessert.

                The one thing I tried was a deep fried shrimp cake with heads and shell on the shrimp. Was nothing special.

                1. re: Teep

                  the shrimp muffin! that is breakfast but should be accompanied with a couple other things and desperately needs sauce. it is a very starchy muffin and i don't think it's easy to eat without any sauce. still, they're not my favourite item but still an interesting item to try.

                  another muffin/cupcake like item that is a definite not miss would be a slight variant of the bahn xeo (tumeric, coconut milk, shrimp, etc) and is much more tender and moist. they also still should get a dip in sauce but are absolutely wonderful. i'd eat plates of those if i could.

                  one other thing about vietnamese food in general.... i find the proper herbs really make the meal. usually the best places will have the right variety and nice fresh herbs.

                  lastly! i love a duck vermicelli with bamboo noodle soup dish which sometimes comes with pig's blood. i love it but the old fermented bamboo turns a lot of people off. the big surprise of it all is the wonderful cabbage based salad it comes with.

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    that duck vermicelli dish sounds amazing! where's your go-to place PSP? I'm dying to try it!

                    1. re: yoyodyne

                      pho phuong.... it's my go to because they're almost always spot-on with everything and at worst still better than most. but the area is teeming with some pretty good viet places. the house com is absolute perfection as well... their crab omlette and crispy tofu wrapped shrimp paste that comes with it always has me craving.

                      funny though... as pho is probably their weakest point.

                2. re: pancake

                  why avoid anything? what one likes you may dislike or vice versa. only way to know is to try it yourself.

                  usually they are desserts of glutenous rice, coconut milk, various types of beans, sometimes taro or fruit, and some very stiff jello type things that i find don't have too much flavour. most of the tastiness here comes from the fatty sweet coconut milk. i really love the green rice one with tender taro bits.

                  i'm pretty sure i think i know of exactly which shop you're thinking of... they sell "deserts"? i haven't eaten from the hot counter and usually there are a few people chowing down but i'm a bit dubious about the quality of it as it could be sitting out all day and so not very hot and old food. i would go over to nguyen hong though at the end of the day to check out their saran wrapped quick meals. they're on sale at that point and you can get lunch for $3! along with some bahni mi (i love the basic cold cuts one... always toast in an oven if you're not eating immediately). the cold roll type items tend not to last as well because the rice wrapper dries out. i would suggest the ones with noodles or pancake amalgams. the sauce tends to be key with vietnamese food i find. it really can make or break a dish.

                  btw, with regards to teep's post... i love bahn xeo but few places do a good job of it. just remember it should be crispy crispy crispy! if it gets really soggy it wasn't a great batter and will just taste meh. i like to get mine at pho phuong out by dundas and brock.

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    Yes that's why I liked it at Bun Saigon, it's crispy crispy crispy! Pho Hung's was crispy at the edges but in the centre it was rather soggy. I'll have to find Pho Phuong. Is their Duck Vermicelli good too? I recently had it at Ho Yuen (?) but the duck was really stringy.

                    1. re: Teep

                      the duck vermicelli is pretty good, mostly because of their awesome chicken broth and the wonderful salad, but the duck is often hit or miss. i think they're all serving it boiled (likely as required by the dish) and it can show up really dry.... as a whole though the dish is the 2nd best rendition i've had (the first being pho hung before the enclosure was built, best rounded out dish because it was spicy too!).

                      will have to drop by bun saigon. they are more easily accessible to me and it'd be really nice to get it more frequently than i do.

                  2. re: pancake

                    banh cuon

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A1n...

                    bun bo hue

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%BAn...

                    Both Que Ling (Chinatown East) and Pho Linh (Dufferin & College) excel in these two items.

            2. Most Viet places offer some sort of "salad roll" - a do-it-yourself roll, where you wrap the ingredients in either lettuce or a plain wrapper. A nice change from spring rolls.

              At Thai spots - beef with Thai basil is always on our list, and two fantastic soups are tom yum, and tom kha gai. Tom yum is the Thai take on hot and sour, and tom yum adds coconut milk to the mix. Both are fragrant and warming without being painfully hot.

              10 Replies
              1. re: KevinB

                Those soups soound perfect on a cold winters night. Will try! Thanks

                1. re: KevinB

                  that do it yourself roll would be "banh hoi" and yea its pretty good its what me and my family get a lot or we make it at home......my parents are from saigon

                  http://farm1.static.flickr.com/49/366...

                  you should also try "bun bo hue" its a spicy soup with pork and stuff its yummy

                  http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/i...

                  theres a viet restaurants called kim one is on the north side of dundas just west of spadina and one is on the side street that pho hung is on if you go there order the "hu tieu my tho" and make sure you add the garlic and peppers that are on the table to you soup

                  http://www.tiengiangrestaurant.com/si...

                  right beside the kim by pho hung is a korean restaurant called kachi its good for a quick korean fix my personal favourite is the "soon dubu chigae" its a soft tofu stew amazing for winter nights also ppl like pork bone soup "kam ja tang" not really my favourite but most ppl seem to like it

                  http://onokinegrindz.typepad.com/ono_...

                  http://www.tasteto.com/wp-content/upl...

                  i agree with the other ppl that "banh xeo" is good but its so much better when you make it at home LOL

                  http://www.vnnavi.com/en/images/dishe...

                  at thai you should try this appetizer called "mieng kum" ive only ever seen it at linda's (the upstairs at salad king) its good that was possibly the only reason we ever went to linda's but then my mom figured out how to make it so now we don;t go to linda's as much

                  http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a15...

                  1. re: retsnome85

                    great information! a question about the mieng kum appetizer. I've had it at Linda's, it was good. what kind of leaves are those? and where can you buy them?

                    1. re: auberginegal

                      "la lop" thats the viet name for them anyways LOL we buy ours at a grocery store in hamilton i haven't seen it much in toronto :-S but yea whenever my mom comes and we feel like making that in toronto we make her pick some up in hamilton

                      okay apparently the english name for it is betel leaves

                      http://www.agric.nsw.gov.au/Hort/Fmrs...

                    2. re: retsnome85

                      I tried making bahn xeo at home and it was a total failure! mixed it with the instructions on the package but could not make it thin and crispy like the restaurants'. I guess you need a Vietnamese mom to make it :-)

                      1. re: Teep

                        yea vietnamese moms help :P if i tried it would probably be a failure too

                      2. re: retsnome85

                        Retsnome85, I have a friend from Vancouver who loves Bun Bo Hue, but she hasn't been able to find a great version in the GTA. What restaurants would you recommend for this dish?

                        1. re: Wench Foraday

                          hmmm well actually i usually eat this at home too i find the ones in chinatown west not that good but my mom says that que ling or que linh not sure of the spelling in chinatown east to make a good version of it try that place

                          1. re: retsnome85

                            I really enjoy the Bun Bo Hue at Pho Linh on college. It's a special only available on weekends though.

                            -----
                            Pho Linh Restaurant
                            1156 College St, Toronto, ON M6H1B6, CA

                            1. re: yoyodyne

                              Thanks to both of you! And aser unknowingly echoed your recommendations exactly, in a post above :)

                    3. Can't remember the name of the place on south Spadina, a Viet place mentioned in Toronto Life, (maybe someone can help) but their soup with snails is a departure from the norm, and very tasty!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Wiley

                        I've been looking for a place in the city that makes Bun Oc (noodle soup with snails) Anyone know the name of the place Wiley's talking about or if there are any other places in the city that do a passable version?

                        1. re: yoyodyne

                          heh. answered my own question this evening by noshing on some tasty Bun Oc at Bun Saigon.

                          -----
                          Bun Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant
                          252 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2C2, CA