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

pancake Nov 24, 2008 10:22 PM

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 :)

  1. Jacquilynne Nov 25, 2008 04:34 AM

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

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jacquilynne
      pancake Nov 25, 2008 07:26 PM

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

    2. grandgourmand Nov 25, 2008 05:38 AM

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

      1 Reply
      1. re: grandgourmand
        food face Nov 29, 2008 02:02 PM

        I second Mother Dumplings

      2. sweetie Nov 25, 2008 05:57 AM

        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
          pancake Nov 25, 2008 07:28 PM

          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
            Teep Nov 25, 2008 08:30 PM

            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
              pancake Nov 26, 2008 06:43 PM

              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
                Teep Nov 26, 2008 07:27 PM

                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
                  pinstripeprincess Nov 27, 2008 04:14 AM

                  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
                    y
                    yoyodyne Nov 27, 2008 07:11 AM

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

                    1. re: yoyodyne
                      pinstripeprincess Nov 27, 2008 07:21 AM

                      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.

                      1. re: pinstripeprincess
                        y
                        yoyodyne Nov 27, 2008 07:48 AM

                        sweet! i'll give it a try! thanks!

                2. re: pancake
                  pinstripeprincess Nov 27, 2008 04:10 AM

                  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
                    Teep Nov 27, 2008 05:35 AM

                    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
                      pinstripeprincess Nov 27, 2008 06:20 AM

                      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
                    aser Nov 28, 2008 11:37 AM

                    banh cuon

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A1nh_cu%E1%BB%91n

                    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. k
              KevinB Nov 25, 2008 06:13 AM

              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
                pancake Nov 25, 2008 07:30 PM

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

                1. re: KevinB
                  r
                  retsnome85 Nov 27, 2008 09:48 AM

                  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/49/366710914_1252211f47.jpg

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

                  http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/images/2007/07/11/hoaihue04.jpg

                  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/site_media/photos/photo-photo-11_t240.jpg

                  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_kine_grindz/images/sogongdong10.jpg

                  http://www.tasteto.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/kamjatang.JPG

                  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/dishes/images/banh_xeo.jpg

                  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
                    a
                    auberginegal Nov 27, 2008 10:21 AM

                    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
                      r
                      retsnome85 Nov 27, 2008 10:46 AM

                      "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
                      Teep Nov 27, 2008 10:52 AM

                      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
                        r
                        retsnome85 Nov 27, 2008 10:59 AM

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

                      2. re: retsnome85
                        Wench Foraday Nov 27, 2008 08:01 PM

                        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
                          r
                          retsnome85 Nov 27, 2008 08:53 PM

                          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
                            y
                            yoyodyne Nov 28, 2008 04:44 AM

                            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
                              Wench Foraday Nov 29, 2008 09:07 AM

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

                    3. Wiley Nov 25, 2008 11:04 AM

                      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
                        y
                        yoyodyne Jan 2, 2009 10:41 AM

                        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
                          y
                          yoyodyne Jan 2, 2009 06:39 PM

                          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

                      2. OnDaGo Nov 25, 2008 12:48 PM

                        I have many times run into the problem where I would go out with my chinese freinds and get great tastey dishes and then when I go back with my "Anglo" freinds they "dumb down" the dishes either using canadian veg instead of chineese or making it not as spicy, or overcooking it so it is limp etc. thinking that this is more suitable to me..

                        1. mogo Nov 25, 2008 02:09 PM

                          Whole steamed fish at Xam Yu.

                          1. pinstripeprincess Nov 27, 2008 06:46 AM

                            while chinatown doesn't offer the same variety and quality that you can get up north, you can certainly get at least decent variations downtown though you need to be pickier.

                            fermented rice cake - i don't know the actual name for this and i've seen it in both vietnamese and chinese bakeries, where the former is usually dyed some odd green and pink colours and the latter kept snow white. it's quite gelatinous in texture with a pocked top surface but the interior is reminiscent of a honey comb with its series of cavities nearly uniformly shaped. it is fluffy, a little chewy, rather sweet but mostly has a sour tang from the fermentation that i love. i usually get this from kim moon and prefer it over most of the baked goods. it doesn't last very long as it can dry out into a hockey puck, but a little microwave time or a steamer will bring it back to life.

                            da lu noodles at mothers dumplings - i only mention this because they're like my grandmother giving me a nice tight hug. this is comfort food at its ultimate with a reasonably enriched broth and the crumbled pork, cabbage, mushroom, etc topping.

                            crispy fried spicy shrimp - i formerly got this at the train pho place but they seemed to have moved away from prawns/large shrimp into your run of the mill shrimp and it's just not as good. either way, you're looking for a spicy crispy fried shrimp dish (usually there is a light coating to help get it so spicy). if they're doing it at high enough heat it is relatively not greasy and quite shatterifically crispy. now the beauty of this dish is that because the shells are so crunchy you eat the shrimp whole - head, tails and all... and it is magnificent. the head ends up being the best part because of the shrimpy flavour but really creamy interior. i now like to buy frozen shrimp just to chop of the heads and deep fry them at home. the antennae are the best part, it's like shrimp chips!

                            panang curry - love this from thai places. when done right it's like a really great korma with nut flavours balancing really well with spice and creaminess.

                            spicy basil anything, love the eggplant versions best - again something i really like to order when getting thai. the basil is so refreshing and the distinctive flavour is a nice counterpoint to all the coconut milk based dishes.

                            hue beef - at vietnamese joints this is a red stew dish with a bit of spicy kick. often it is served with the vietnamese baguette buns and is a nice twist on traditional beef stew. it is much more liquidy though so be prepared to not be able to pick up all the sauce easily.

                            i love vietnamese rice dishes (com as well) but my favourite combination is again at pho phuong and it is a bit far away....

                            i'm drawing a blank on more suggestions but i hope this helps you on your way.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: pinstripeprincess
                              b
                              BLM Nov 28, 2008 07:30 AM

                              What kind of good dishes at Chinese restaurants that you can maybe order off the menu(if it's not listed on their menu)?

                              1. re: BLM
                                pinstripeprincess Nov 28, 2008 08:21 AM

                                in chinatown i tend to just do "fast food" style at King's Noodles, which I think does the basics well though not to exacting standards (ie. don't expect their wonton and mien soup to have the detail and nuances that skyliner has sought in toronto for... well ever) and they definitely use msg.

                                while this will be completely unhelpful, i will share that if i want a more complicated dinner meal I tend to go up north or visit my grandmothers.

                            2. k
                              Kasumeat Nov 27, 2008 08:15 AM

                              Char siu pork at Kom Jug Yuen can't be missed.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Kasumeat
                                Wiley Nov 27, 2008 04:37 PM

                                Here's an article on Vietnamese dining..http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/...
                                The name of the place with snail soup is Mon Oc- 252 Spadina.

                              2. f
                                flibbertygibbet Nov 27, 2008 09:42 PM

                                We're talking Chinatown here. It's surprising how there are a lot more Thai and Vietnamese suggestions than Chinese.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: flibbertygibbet
                                  r
                                  retsnome85 Nov 28, 2008 12:04 AM

                                  well you have to remember that most of the chinese businesses in chinatown dt are owned by chinese people who are from vietnam like my family...........next time your on spadina take a look at the signs you will notice that many are in both chinese and vietnamese

                                  if you want good chinese you really have to go uptown

                                  1. re: flibbertygibbet
                                    Teep Nov 28, 2008 07:33 AM

                                    Personally, I find it hard to recommend Chinese food as there is just so much variety! and the OP did not indicate what he's always had in terms of Chinese so not sure what to suggest.

                                    1. re: flibbertygibbet
                                      aser Nov 28, 2008 11:44 AM

                                      for a non-Chinese, I recommend you printing off this list on wikipedia. At least you can point to it since it is also listed in Chinese characters.

                                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_...

                                      1. re: aser
                                        pancake Dec 2, 2008 10:37 AM

                                        Thank-you, that list is very helpful!

                                      2. re: flibbertygibbet
                                        pancake Nov 28, 2008 05:57 PM

                                        I actually wasn't seeking chinese only. I used chinatown in reference to the geographic region.

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