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Mar 9, 2009 04:28 AM

Dear Toronto: I think I've done my homework & would like your input

Hey Toronto. I've spent a lot of time reading this informative and (sometimes overwhelming) board to try and set up a few choices for five days I'll be spending in your fine city next week. To that end, I've identified quite a few places I'd like to hit up and I thought I'd just post what I've sussed out for comment and also to ask if there's anything near to my hotel that's an absolutely-don't-miss that I've somehow overlooked. Before proceeding, just a couple of notes:

1.) I'm staying at the Sheraton Centre at Queen St W and will not have transportation, so mostly I'm concentrating on stuff down that way. I realize from reading the boards that for certain things (like Chinese + Thai food) there's some better options farther away, but I'll mostly be looking for places that are in a couple mile radius from there. Not scared of a little travel, but I won't be likely to stray way north or anything..

2) Right now I live in between Providence and Boston where the great Asian food choices are fairly sparse, so I'm likely to be more forgiving on stuff like dim sum or pho etc than those of you who are used to a wealth of choices. So if things are solid but maybe not spectacular by Toronto standards, I'm probably going to be perfectly happy. It's really relative...

That said, here's the main places I want to try out. Again, if there's any real "don't miss" spots anywhere near my hotel or any local specialties I haven't found, I'd love to be clued in to that if you so choose.

--Lai Wah Heen and Rol San for dim sum downtown. These look like fair options to me for downtown, and again coming from Boston way I think these are going to look comparatively fine. It's possible we might get to Grand Chinese on the way in from the airport too, which looks pretty promising.

--Buk Chang Dong Soon To Fu and/or Ka Chi for Korean.

--Mengrai Gourmet Thai. This seems close by for my hotel, though there seems to be some division of opinion on it. (Actually, there seems to be division of opinion on lots of Toronto spots, which makes this board both interesting and hard to sort out for an outsider!) Anyone want to go to bat for another option?

--Chinatown: Mother's dumplings--this seems like a good Chinatown dumpling spot, and there was also a pinstripe princess rec. for da lu noodles which seemed worth a shot. Kom Jug Yuen for roast pork. Chinese Traditional Buns for northern Chinese and Xian pork sandwich.

--Carousel Bakery: for the peameal bacon sandwich. Right?

--Poutine: Smoke's Poutinerie? Unsure on this one, seems close and this is something I am totally novice at. Will entertain any emotional picks to the contrary that are in the area...

--Jamaican/roti--Ackee Tree. This looks fine and relatively close, though I saw a little carping about it.

--Kensington Market: seems like I should eat Jumbo Empanadas here? Will likely get here at least once and there seems to be lots of options, but that's one that keeps coming up.

--Omi Japanese on Carlton. Need one Japanese dinner while here. This one looks like it’ll do the trick and is just a couple km. Also, Ematei looks like a good place for me to get a quick izakaya lunch 5 minutes away…

--Vietnamese--Pho Phuong seems very promising, though it's a few km and may be on the outside range of what I'm looking for. Any decent banh xeo anywhere closer? Will probably also try to do the Mon Oc thing at Bun Saigon, that looks like something I've never had and won't get much chance to 'round here. Also would like pho in Chinatown if possible, but it’s hard to disseminate what people think. Pho Hung seems close, but isn’t well championed.

Indian—I love Indian food, though if I missed it here it probably wouldn’t break my heart. Still, it looks like Little India is REALLY close to my hotel which might make it a good stop for a quick lunch while taking a break from conference stuff.

Requests: Breakfast and/or bakeries: here is where I would really like some input. Not sure what is best really close to 100 block of Queen St w. I would also love opinions on any good offal or game suggestions nearby—I swear that I had found a place close that had lots of amazing charcuterie and the like, but damned if I can find it now. I should have bookmarked it. I could handle a meal or two at a higher priced place if they had options along these lines, though mostly I’ll be trying to do my employers a favor and keeping meal costs relatively low for the five days.

Anyway, that’s most of what I have found so far. Thank you all for your many posts and your excellent suggestions. It’s been fun trying to sort things out from this board, though a little exhausting at times! Hope that I’ve done enough background work on my own to garner some further input. What say ye?

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  1. Well done. You get an A+ on your homework!

    I'm wondering if you're thinking of Black Hoof for your missing charcuterie. They don't have a website unfortunately. Not very close to your hotel but still do-able.

    Black Hoof
    928 Dundas St W, Toronto M6J, CA

    1. Well done on your homework! Can't tell you how much I (and likely others) appreciate that. :)

      Most of your choices are pretty spot on. Instead of Mengrai for Thai food, though, I would go to Linda's. It's walking distance, and if you go through the Eaton Centre, you can walk inside for most of the way. Linda's is on Gould (1 street north of Dundas), just east of Yonge. Note that Linda's is really only open for dinner. The space is open at lunch, but they only serve the menu from Salad King, the casual Thai sister restaurant downstairs. Try the curry fish hot pot.

      Little India is not all that close to your hotel, so it's not really a pop out for lunch destination. I don't know that strip very well, so will have to let other hounds comment on it.

      For lunch, you could walk up to Baldwin Street for some good options (maybe a 10 min. walk?). Matahari has pretty decent Malaysian food, and Yung Sing is a tiny Chinese bakery where you can pick up baked Chinese buns stuffed with savoury fillings for about a buck each. A bit closer is Village by the Grange (on McCaul near Grange), which has a food court with a bunch of cheap (and "meh") options -- the one that stands out is Manpuku, where they have takoyaki and some basic Japanese noodles and curries. Another cheap and cheerful lunch option is to walk west on Queen St. and go to Kim Moon Bakery (north side of Queen) for lots of sweet and savoury Chinese pastries. They also have a dim sum menu you can order from, but the ready-made display cases has plenty of options to keep your tummy happy.

      The charcuterie spot you're thinking of is probably Nota Bene. Hugely popular on this board, so if you do a search, you'll get lots of reviews. And yes, it's VERY close to where you are staying -- 180 Queen St. West. The other big charcuterie spot is Black Hoof, but that would require a short cab ride from where you're staying.

      Sorry, I don't have any breakfast options for you within walking distance. I'm sure others will chime in with recs.

      Good luck on your chowhounding while you're here. Please do report back afterwards!

      3 Replies
      1. re: TorontoJo

        thanks to you + Jamie K. Black Hoof was the one I was thinking of.

        I have Little India as being right up Queen St W. (#255) a bit. Is that not right?

        1. re: passing thru

          Little india is about 2 blocks west from your hotel 5min walk.. so I do not know why people are giving you grief... I like it there for their Lunch Buffet...

          1. re: OnDaGo

            Ah, sorry, I thought he meant Little India as in the neighbourhood, rather than the restaurant. Yes, the restaurant LIttle India is very close to the Sheraton. The neighbourhood Little India is not so close.

      2. No website for the Hoof, but Grant, the chef, has a great blog:

        Your list looks pretty great - very well researched.
        You could try Pho Pasteur, in Chinatown, but only for the pho. There are some other things they do well, but none better than their pho. If you're going to Bun Saigon for the Mon Oc, they also have a pretty decent Banh Xeo.
        Ematei is also great for dinner, as well as lunch.
        I would not say Little India is close to the Sheraton Hotel at all. There are a couple of decent indian restaurants close to you, though: Dhaba and Babur. Of those two, I personally think that Dhaba ( ) is the better one.
        For charcuterie, there are three options: Atelier Thuet, Cava, or the Black Hoof. My choice would be The Black Hoof. I think Grant's doing some really interesting and tasty stuff with animal bits and he's certainly passionate about it, as I'm sure you can tell from his blog. Go early, though, to avoid the hipster crowds. Sit at the bar and enjoy one of Jen's interesting cocktails.
        As for bakeries/breakfast near the Sheraton, I'm not sure. Let me think about it... Well, if you're wandering over to St. Market anyways, have the breakfast sandwich at Carousel. Then you get your peameal bacon and an egg! The Select Bistro is not too far from you, and is open for brunch on the weekend:

        Ahhh, you're talking about Little India, the restaurant! My mistake, I thought you were talking about our "South Asian Bazaar", aka "Little India". Gerrard Street East, between Greenwood and Coxwell, which is certainly not near your hotel, has numerous Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan restaurants, cafés, videos/DVD stores, clothing shops, and electronic goods stores catering to the Pakistani Canadian communities located in this neighbourhood. It is home to one of the largest South Asian marketplaces in North America, second only to the Punjabi Market on Main Street in Vancouver.

        Also, I prefer the dim sum at Bright Pearl over dim sum at Rol San. It's a more quintessential dim sum experience, as well, imho.

        And I would definitely check out Smoke's Poutinerie, particularly if you've had a few to drink. Just get the regular poutine, don't bother with anything fancy. Also, just downstairs from Smoke's is Burrito Boyz, for another ginormous and tasty late night treat.

        4 Replies
        1. re: redearth

          I have enjoyed dim sum at Rol San and the Bright Pearl. Aside from any difference in food (though I must admit I can't say with conviction I find one better overall than the other), the experience is quite different, and so this may affect your decision, passing thru.

          Rol San is less traditional in appearance, plus you order dim sum off a paper menu. Bright Pearl feels more like a traditional Chinese restaurant, and you select dishes from passing carts. In the latter case, however, you can also stop one of the servers and place an order for something if you don't see it coming around on a cart. At Rol San, the dishes tend to arrive at your table hot, whereas at Bright Pearl, that may not be the case, depending on how long it's been on the cart. In most cases, you can avoid cold dishes, because you will see the cart is now mostly empty, or there's a hodgepodge of unsold dishes, and you can just avoid them and wait for another cart. One clear advantage to the carts is that you can see what you're getting before you accept it.

          Also, passing thru, I don't see the appeal of Mother's Dumplings. It's a hole in the wall, where you can buy inexpensive dumplings in a run-down, basement-ish atmosphere. Suits young people who are looking to get the most food for their buck. Definitely not the kind of experience I would suggest is representative of dim sum.

          That said, I must admit I went once a year and a half or so ago, and I haven't been back since (and don't plan on going back). They could have undergone many changes since, so I hope more knowledgable diners will post their thoughts on this choice.

          1. re: Full tummy

            Yeah, I agree on both counts. I recommended Bright Pearl over Rol San simply because of it being a more quintessential dim sum experience, what with the carts in the spacious banquet hall... In my experience their dim sum has been slightly better than Rol San's, but not so much so to recommend it on that basis alone.
            Also, I've never been impressed with Mother's Dumplings. I find them bland and boring, to be honest. You can find much better northern style dumplings at Asian Legend and Chinese Traditional Buns.

            1. re: Full tummy

              im not much of a fan of MD these days, the prices are higher and higher and i smell like the food after i leave. also the dumplings are now average. but the handmade (be sure to get the handmade ones!) Da Lu noodle soup is still excellent. so just stop in for the soup, skip the rest.

              1. re: Full tummy

                Mother's Dumpling is not dim sum. It's northern Chinese dumplings, dim sum is popular in southern China (ie. guangdong, hk). Besides, just because dumplings are cheap doesn't mean they're not destination eats.

                I think there are better dumpling spots uptown, but Mother's Dumpling does make a mean veggie steamed dumpling.

                I would suggest you bypass all these generic dim sum places and stick w/ your research, Lai Wah Heen. You will not find anything remotely close to its quality where you live. It could well be the best dim sum you can get in N. America. LWH is definitely a destination restaurant for Toronto. Especially if you've never been to Southern China and want to taste authentic high end dim sum w/o the pricey airfare.

                Pho Phuong's pho isn't so great, their other dishes are much better. For pho in Chinatown, it's Pho Pasteur, nobody else comes close.

                I highly suggest the trek to Black Hoof, it has given Toronto's culinary scene a breath of fresh air.

                The restaurants closest to you worth frequenting would be Nota Bene and Ematei.

            2. My only additional suggestion would be to try Ivory Thailand for Thai. I've been there probably more than a dozen times in the past year and it is just fantastic. The thing I love about it is that it is always consistent - no worrying about who is in the kitchen that night :)

              If you have time during the day, I would also suggest Gilead Cafe for a quick lunch or some pastries. It's a bit out of the way (Corktown) but worth it each time I've gone. I think they are only open during the day...

              On another note, Smoke's is just ok as far as poutine goes. I know you've probably read all of the threads on it, but the main issue (for me anyway) was the gravy. It is a bit...gelatinous, shall I say. That being said, the pulled pork version wasn't half bad otherwise.

              Enjoy your visit!

              2 Replies
              1. re: sam_1

                I am speaking purely from what I've read on this board, but I'd guess that Caplansky's would be a better bet for poutine than Smoke's, with the added bonus of Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches. Granted, it's a tad less optimally located compared to Smoke's. It might take a cab ride to get there, or a good map and a day-pass for Toronto's transit system, but it's not an unreasonable hike for you, if you have the time.

                1. re: sam_1

                  Closer alternative to Gilead would be Hank's, which is the same format as Gilead. They remodeled one of the dining rooms at JK Wine Bar's Church St location into a cafe.

                2. i'm not an asian food specialist like these folks, but I will ditto the rec for Matahari Grill, and applaud you for doing your back-work! st. lawrence is worth it for the experience, if not the actual food as well. sample the mustards!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LemonLauren

                    I'm a huge Asian food enthusiast, and I also concur with the recommendation for Matahari Grill. Mengrai was good when I last lived in Toronto, but I would choose a visit to Matahari over it any day.