Possible for omnivore & vegetarian to both enjoy the best Chinese restaurants in TO?
We're VERY excited about coming to TO tomorrow from NYC, which we love generally, though after 20+ years in San Francisco, we're rarely able to find the quality of Chinese food we'd become used to earlier. It sounds like there's great Chinese restaurants in TO, particularly Cantonese, though I haven't yet been able to tell how well the best of them will work for us, an omnivore and a vegetarian.
We'll be in an apartment near Queen & University, and our hopes include finding a good dim sum place that works for both of us (I know that a veg-friendly one will likely have far more non-veg options). We're willing to travel on public transportation, and will probably rent a car for a few days too - we don't want to view the city only through the most touristed areas.
Recommendations for other cuisines beyond Chinese will also be gratefully appreciated - we've been looking forward to a Toronto food exploration trip for many years!
I'd be looking for places where the vegetable/tofu dishes won't be made with chicken stock, or have bits of chicken (or other meat or fish) in them. I understand that often the most authentic places may have fewer options for vegetarians, although this isn't always the case. I do know that generally when eating in a restaurant that's not solely vegetarian, the cooking equipment and utensils have touched meat and fish usually!
The best Chinese restaurants are in the burbs, Markham and Richmond Hill specifically. You will need a car to venture out there. A recent thread covered your question partially.
Best vegetarian Chinese for me is Graceful Vegetarian, they also offer dim sum during lunch. It's one of my favourite restaurants in the city period. They do not cook w/ garlic, onions, shallots......in true buddhist style. This is also in Market Village/Pacific Mall, so you can kill too birds w/ one stone and experience a HK style shopping plaza.
Reg dim sum will be harder as most dishes either contain shrimp or pork. Dinner would be more feasible if you want to mingle meat w/ veg. Just make sure you explain to them that vegetarian means no meat stock, shrimp paste, seafood, etc. I'm assuming you do not like dishes with a mixture of meat and veg, meaning you won't eat around the meat.
As a vegetarian with a lot of omnivorous friends, I've encountered this issue many times. There are a lot of choices if you're willing to try (I too won't eat stock or mixed with meat, and I don't speak or read any Chinese language).
I'll second the rec for Graceful Vegetarian. There are a couple of other all-veg dim sum places, Lotuspond (in Scarborough) and Gourmet Vegetarian (Richmond Hill). Of the Charles Yu suggestions, I've been to O'mei (had a difficult time ordering) and Casa Victoria (more success).
My favourite omnivorous place is Congee Queen (or Congee Wong), which each have several locations in North York, Thornhill, and Markham. The key dish is the fried chili turnip patties. Make sure to specify you don't want meat, shrimp, or XO sauce (made from scallops), and they will usually then ask if egg is ok. They also serve many types of congee, noodles, etc. The menu has some pictures: http://www.congeequeen.com/
I also really enjoy a Sichuan place, Chilli Secret, at Hwy 7/Leslie. They serve some more unusual dishes, such as stir fried pumpkin w/ lily bulb. As well, their vegetable dumplings are the best I've had in the GTA, and the green onion pancake is no slouch either. http://www.chillisecret.com/
Downtown, your options are not bad, actually. For bakeries, Yung Sing and Kim Moon both do a good job - you're not getting anything fancy, it might be a bit greasy, but cheap and tasty. I've enjoyed Mother's Dumplings in the past (and they have lots of veg options) but it seems they're becoming victim to their own popularity.
What terrific sounding recommendations, humuhumu, and Danforth_ Foodie. I've been wavering about renting a car for at least part of our visit, but it's looking like we'd miss out on a lot without one.
Congee Queen looks wonderful - I really love congee, and the fried chili turnip patties sound fantastic. Turnip cakes are a major favorite of mine, though often they're made with pork and/or shrimp. Chili Secret looks fabulous too.
I have a particular weak spot for Chinese bakeries, which was especially developed before I realized that lard is often used in baking Chinese pastries. There are usually options getting around lard, such as steamed buns, and rice cakes, or coconut, sesame and/or peanut balls, all of which I love. I realize I'm not 100% sure that even these are free of lard...
I think I will have to risk the crowds at Mother's Dumpling's, because dumplings are also a favorite of mine. And Danforth_Foodie, thanks for the tip about "New Sky" which hadn't yet turned up in my research. If you'd care to share any tips about your neighborhood, I'd be quite interested too.
Oh, no! I never realized about lard in Chinese pastries. It's doubtful you'll be able to find out the case at either of my two places (limited English). Another suggestion is T&T, a giant Asian supermarket with some dim sum, hot food, sushi, and yes, pastries! http://www.tnt-supermarket.com/en/
As for the late night downtown places, you will probably find something to eat at all of them (Rol San, New Ho King, House of Gourmet, Kom Jug, etc) but for the most part I find them to be rather "meh" with respect to the vegetarian options.
I held back from suggesting this earlier, but if you like or want to try really good bubble tea, there are two excellent places in Richmond Hill. My preference is Go For Tea: http://www.gofortea.ca/english/aboutus.php but Ten Ren's http://www.tenren.com/canada.html is also good (and sells looseleaf tea). Be aware that these places are scene-y with high school and university students (kind of like a trendy bar, without alcohol), and that the service is pretty uneven.
For the veggie side and all walkable with lots to see on the way or easily TTC-able.
Cafe 668, four blocks west of Kensington. Make sure to get the right address. They moved a year ago into a much nicer space with a patio and organic wine & beer. Fusion-yThai Vietnamese vegan. People love it or hate it on this board.
Fressen, haute vegan on trendy Queen West and its cheaper Kensington Market cafe:
Live Organic Food Bar north of the university and right by Casa Loma, you lucky tourists! All raw vegan. Not cheap, but licensed and there's a nice backyard patio as long as a train doesn't go by. Right on the subway, too, 15 min from Queen & University.
Not so good: Fresh, Le Commensal
We did go to Fressen for dinner last night, though a number of mixed reports had led me to be a little wary. We actually both enjoyed it a great deal.
We split a 3 dish cold "tapas" platter, and the beer-battered tofu with vegetables. Best of the "tapas" was an addictive mango & jicama salad, with nice heat from chopped jalapeno peppers. I also thought the cumin-spiced red lentil balls were delicious. The encrusted tofu was good too, with a tasty soy-based sause and mix of juicy grilled mushrooms, asparagus and carrots.
We were glad we overcame our resistance to going there, probably based on lousy experiences in vegan joints in the past.
Of course it depends how strict you are, but Chinese food frequently contains fish sauce / oyster sauce, as well as lard. It seems nearly impossible to me to have truly vegetarian meals at most Chinese restaurants. I recently read an article online on how even Asian vegan restaurants have dishes containing animal products. http://www.quarrygirl.com/2009/06/28/...
If you are a strict vegetarian, Graceful Veg. (mentioned above) serves food that is good enough to please omnivores and veggies alike. For other cuisines, Golden Turtle has vegetarian pho and Utopia has great vegetarian and meat options,
Fish sauce isn't used much in Chinese cuisine.
The Chinese veg restaurants will be aware of animal products in sauces. They'll certainly serve vegetarian oyster sauce and avoid shrimp paste, dried shrimps, conpoy, animal stocks. Dining in a regular Chinese restaurant, those will be the key hidden non-veg ingredients to look out for. Ask about these specifically and you should be fine.
A good dish to order in Cantonese restaurants would be tung choi/water spinach (蕹菜) w/ preserved tofu (腐乳). Bold flavours, veggie friendly to boot.