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Manna Restaurant - Highly Recommended Homestyle Korean!!

redearth Oct 21, 2009 04:27 PM

In the miniature "Little Korea" that lies between Kipling and Islington along Dundas Street, there exists a little restaurant that until recently had not been discovered by me. Now it has, and since discovering this restaurant, I have been back at least twice a week, and my fridge is now constantly stocked with some of the most delicious homemade kimchi that I have ever had.

Run, do not walk, to try this place out.

I say this because I overheard a conversation that the owner and chef, Soo, was having with one of her regular customers, and it would appear that the restaurant is not doing as well as she might like. If Manna were to close, this would be a real shame, as Soo produces some of the best homestyle Korean food that I have had the pleasure to try.

Trust me when I say that she cooks with love and passion, and you can taste it in her food. Almost everything she serves she makes herself, from the spicy sauce to the kimchi, and everything between - all of it is excellent and obviously made with love. She takes a lot of pride in her food, and it shows. She stresses that she does not use MSG, ever.

We have tried the Galbi (excellent; tender, savoury and sweet - definitely one of the best versions of this dish I've tried), the Yuk Gae Jang (beef, glass noodles, kosari, and vegetables in a spicy, beefy broth - again, one of the best versions of this dish that I've tried), the Bi Bim Bap, the Soon Tofu (which, although the tofu is not made in house, easily rivals Chodang's version), the Mandu (great dumplings, with very delicate, slightly chewy, and crispy wrappers), the Seafood Kal Gook Su (mild, slightly thickened, very savoury broth with a good amount of seafood and knife-cut wheat noodles - I was surprised by how tender the bits of octopus were in it), the Cheongukjang Chiggae (fermented bean paste stew - hearty, spicy, with a distinct fermented aroma and flavour - delicious), and the Yukkae Jang Kuk (beef stew). Everything, and I mean this sincerely, was excellent, and I would not hesitate in ordering it again. I am now determined to try everything on her menu - I will let you know when I succeed.

The banchan that is included with the meal is also very good, and usually includes sprouts, kimchi (both cabbage and turnip), vermicelli with vegetables in a black pepper and soy sauce, a potato dish, and glazed soybeans.

Her kimchi is perhaps the best I've had, and she sells it in containers to go, as well. We've gone through three containers of it already, in the three weeks since we've discovered Manna. She also makes a delicious Go Chu Chang (sweet and spicy sauce) that you can buy containers of to take home.

Everything about Manna, from the food to the cluttered kitchen, embodies the essence of soulful, home cooking. I highly recommend it. Please, Chowhounders, support this fantastic restaurant that, unfortunately, through no fault of its food, certainly, seems to be facing imminent closure. I eagerly await your reviews.

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  1. c
    cimui RE: redearth Oct 21, 2009 09:56 PM

    After reading that warm review, I'm ready to hike up to Toronto to eat at Manna right now, redearth! I'll make it a point to visit (and report back) next time I'm up that way -- hopefully in a few months.

    1. w
      Wil RE: redearth Oct 22, 2009 05:14 AM

      Great review and so heartfelt redearth. I just wish it wasn't so out of the way for me or we'd be going tonight!

      7 Replies
      1. re: Wil
        1sweetpea RE: Wil Oct 22, 2009 06:36 AM

        Are they open 7 days a week? What about lunch? It's really too bad that the location isn't ideal, but I'll try hard to get there, as I love kimchee and the thought of taking home a jar or two of homemade tangy goodness is a great lure.

        1. re: 1sweetpea
          Squiggles RE: 1sweetpea Oct 22, 2009 07:05 AM

          I believe it is open 7 days a week, and is open for lunch. I had a phone number for it, but can't seem to find it right now. I'll post back if I do.

          1. re: Squiggles
            Squiggles RE: Squiggles Oct 22, 2009 02:31 PM

            Found the phone number, thanks to Google Street View (it's on the sign). 416-233-7032.

          2. re: 1sweetpea
            redearth RE: 1sweetpea Oct 22, 2009 04:49 PM

            Each time I've purchased kimchi at Manna to take home, Soo has given me the choice of a fresher or more fermented kimchi. I've opted for the fresher each time, as I always think that I'll have it in the fridge long enough for it to become more sour. It never seems to last that long, though! If you like it sour and tangy, her more fermented version will definitely fit the bill!

            1. re: redearth
              cimui RE: redearth Oct 22, 2009 05:09 PM

              I am by no means a kimchi expert, but when I've made it, mine doesn't ferment properly inside of my fridge. I have to leave it out in a slightly coolish, dark place (i.e. the cellar) for about three or four days.

              1. re: cimui
                redearth RE: cimui Oct 22, 2009 05:12 PM

                I've certainly had store-bought kimchi increase in sourness inside my fridge. I think that once the fermentation process starts, it doesn't want to stop. Of course, storing said kimchi in ideal fermentation conditions wouldn't hurt. Keeping it in the fridge might slow it down somewhat, but I think that the process would continue, regardless... So we don't get off-topic and have a new, seldom-visited thread started by over-zealous CH moderators, I have to confess that I have a batch of Manna kimchi in my fridge that I am "experimenting" with... I intend to keep it for at least a few weeks - I will inform all as to the changes in its composition.

                1. re: redearth
                  cimui RE: redearth Oct 22, 2009 08:51 PM

                  Haha. Nice tie-in.

                  Yeah, I think I was just momentarily addled by what you meant by "fresh kimchi": straight-from-the-cutting-board kimchi or kimchi that has fermented for a short while unrefrigerated. The former won't ferment in the fridge unless you let it sit out a while; the latter will keep going, you're right. And I'm guessing Manna sells the latter.... But only you can determine this with conclusive, scientific evidence! :)

        2. s
          Squiggles RE: redearth Oct 22, 2009 07:01 AM

          My wife and I have been frequenting Manna for years, though admittedly with a young baby in the house, we have not been there for a while. We have never had a bad meal there, and the owner always makes the experience enjoyable. We’ve brought many friends and family members there, and hope this rumour of closing proves to be untrue.

          Our standby dishes are the Pajun (seafood pancake) and the Be Bim Bop (rice). The owner is always helpful with suggestions and assisting us with navigating the menu. Last time we went I had a cold and she made me a SPICY beef soup that blew the cold right out of my head!! She is very generous with her sides and always has a new one to try. Her house Tea is also quite tasty.

          We will definitely be going again soon!

          1. NovoCuisine RE: redearth Oct 22, 2009 01:57 PM

            Anyone have an address for this place? Can't seem to find anything fast on Google..

            2 Replies
            1. re: NovoCuisine
              Squiggles RE: NovoCuisine Oct 22, 2009 02:28 PM

              4925 Dundas St W, Etobicoke.

              Dundas just West of Burnhamthorpe, just East of Kipling.

              1. re: Squiggles
                NovoCuisine RE: Squiggles Oct 22, 2009 06:51 PM

                Thank you!

            2. p
              Pincus RE: redearth Oct 22, 2009 02:40 PM

              Hmm, should go here for lunch and Chodang Soon Tofu for dinner. Might as well make a day out of it. :) Thanks for sharing!

              1. s
                szw RE: redearth Oct 22, 2009 09:45 PM

                There is a little korean area there? I wonder how that area popped up, I'm completely unfamiliar with the area. Anyways, I pass through there occasionally when I have to head downtown after work once a month so I'll make a detour stop at Manna the next time based on this post.

                1 Reply
                1. re: szw
                  redearth RE: szw Oct 23, 2009 03:25 AM

                  To my knowledge, what I'm referring to as a "Little Korea" consists of exactly four Korean restaurants along Dundas between Kipling and Islington. That seemed like enough to me to award it the title...

                2. m
                  mchuchra RE: redearth Oct 24, 2009 11:30 AM

                  OK, fellow chowhounder. Thanks for the positive news. I live nearby this place and have not yet tried it out. Will go tonight, if I can talk my wife into it.... How would you characterize the price range for the goodies you describe above?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: mchuchra
                    redearth RE: mchuchra Oct 24, 2009 03:06 PM

                    The most expensive single dish on the menu is the Galbi Meal, at $13.99.
                    There are a few dishes that are more expensive, but they are intended to serve two people, such as The Budae Chiggae (mixed vegetables, ham, sausage, kimchi), and the Dak Galbi (stir-fried chicken, vegetables, rice cake in a hot sauce), and the Jayuk Bok Um (Stir-fried pork, vegetables, kimchi) - each of these dishes is $19.99. The average price for most dishes is around $8.

                    1. re: redearth
                      mchuchra RE: redearth Oct 24, 2009 04:43 PM

                      Thanks again. We just got back from our first visit to Manna and we loved it too. The owner / chef was very helpful and gracious to us non-experienced Korean food eaters but otherwise adventurous eaters. I recommend checking this place out, especially if you live somewhere in or near the west end. It is a great little spot.

                      1. re: mchuchra
                        redearth RE: mchuchra Oct 25, 2009 12:52 PM

                        I'm very glad you enjoyed it! We went for lunch today, and tried a couple more things from the menu that we hadn't tried before - the Dukbokkee (basically, little rice noodle logs in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce), and the Budae Chiggae. Both myself and my better half giggled like school kids as we ate this dish. Why, you ask? Because this dish seemed to us to be the Korean equivalent of a North American dish one might serve to a kid returning home from school - hot dogs with ketchup! The korean version has two types of hot dog, canned ham, and small chunks of real pork, with ramen noodles in a sweet and spicy tomato broth, and it was delicious! This is not high-brow food, by any means, and it probably isn't something that we'd order regularly, but it made us feel like kids again, and that's a good thing! Who doesn't love sliced hot dogs in their tomato soup! We'll be back to Manna next weekend to try the pork bone soup...

                        Also, to correct my previous post regarding pricing, it would seem that the most expensive single dish on the menu is $14.95. Dishes for 2 people are around 19.99. The take-out menu I was basing my previous answer on does not have all the dishes on it that the sit-down menu has...

                  2. jo blam RE: redearth Oct 24, 2009 11:37 AM

                    I was just thinking of where to go for dinner and am in the mood for Korean. yum,

                    1. JonasBrand RE: redearth Oct 25, 2009 09:54 PM

                      Definitely a chow find :) swung by Manna for an excellent lunch of spicy korean rice cakes with beef, cabbage, and bean curd. All dishes made fresh from scratch, reminds me of Sukho Thai in this respect. If my mom were an amazing korean cook, this is what she would serve. If you are anywhere nearby, Manna is worth a visit!

                      1. s
                        Squiggles RE: redearth Oct 26, 2009 12:27 PM

                        Thank you redearth for starting this thread, it reminded me that I hadn't been to Manna for a while.

                        My wife, baby (10 months) and I just enjoyed a fantastic lunch at Manna (yes, the baby ate a bit of everything). As usual the food was fantastic, and the owner was as welcoming as ever. Despite it being six or seven months since we were last there, she remembered everything about us and was great with our baby. She did say that business had been very slow this year. I did not have the heart to ask whether she thought she might close.

                        I can't agree with redearth enough, GO CHECK THIS PLACE OUT.
                        We had dumplings, Pajun, a spicy noodle dish, and tea, for under $30. So it won't break the bank to give it a try.
                        If you are a Korean food fan, Manna is a different twist on it (homestyle).
                        If you are not a fan of spicy food there are plenty of non-spicy options such as the dumplings and Pajun, and the amount of heat in a dish can be easily adjusted to your liking as everything is freshly made.

                        The food alone is worth the trip, but if that's not enough, after a visit or two you can't help but fall in love with the owner. So I really really hope this place stays alive so that I can enjoy many more meals there.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Squiggles
                          jeffs101 RE: Squiggles Oct 26, 2009 01:03 PM

                          I realize finding anything vegetarian in a Korean restaurant is rare but does anyone remember any dishes sans meat or fish? Does their kimchee have fish sauce in it? Thanks....

                          1. re: jeffs101
                            1sweetpea RE: jeffs101 Oct 26, 2009 03:11 PM

                            I'm not sure about the kimchee. You may have to call and ask. The owner makes everything from scratch, so she'll be able to answer all of your questions. Most, if not all of the banchan are vegetarian, I believe.

                            I went to Manna for lunch today and it was really delicious. We overindulged for lunch and will surely atone for it with many workouts, but we couldn't resist, since we'd made the drive from downtown and were on our way back to Windsor, where we live. We only come to Toronto once a month, so we wanted to make the most of a great foodie weekend in T.O.

                            We ordered the mandu/dumplings. They were the best I've had in a Korean restaurant. We may have to take some frozen ones home with us next time (we'll have to bring a cooler and freezer packs). We also had the Yookhae Jang, which we requested spicy. It was awesome! The owner asked if it was too spicy, to which we answered "no way!" She said she'll go spicier next time. Woohoo! Our other main was the Jayuk Bok Um, which was very tasty. It was a pretty meaty lunch for us, which is unusual, but we opted to go with her recommendations. Next time, we'll try totally different dishes. I'm also planning to buy her kimchees and homemade gochu jang spicy sauce to take home. The gochu jang I buy at my Korean store are full of white flour and sugar and salt. I imagine hers will be of a much higher quality.

                            The owner has a great sense of humour and a wonderful way with people. I really hope the publicity we're giving her helps business immensely. My only quibble was with the accepted forms of payment. She told us cash or debit only. I don't know if it was just today or whether she never accepts credit cards, but it would be more convenient if she did.

                            I can't wait for my next visit. I think I have to try the Seafood Kal Gook Su (knife cut noodles). I asked if it can be made spicy and the owner's reply was "of course I can do that for you". Great customer service!

                            1. re: 1sweetpea
                              redearth RE: 1sweetpea Oct 26, 2009 05:08 PM

                              Yes, Soo's Go Chu Jang is of a much higher quality than the store-bought stuff. We've been on a real Korean food kick recently (mostly inspired by the food at Manna, I think...); so much so that I cooked a Korean meal for dinner at home last night (Galbi and Soon Tofu, with Soo's Kimchi on the side), and I used her Go Chu Jang in the Soon Tofu dish - it was delicious!! I think myself and my better half both suffered from the two spicy meals we had yesterday, but it was worth it!!! ;)
                              I'm enjoying the leftovers now, as I write this...

                              1. re: redearth
                                1sweetpea RE: redearth Oct 27, 2009 04:54 AM

                                I really hope that people start going to Manna with some regularity. Around noon on Monday, there were three tables (only 5 diners total, though). I hope that this is already an improvement, but I fear that location will be the biggest issue for most. Unless one lives or works in the neighbourhood, I suspect only diehard foodies will make special trips to that part of town. Granted, it only took us 20 minutes from downtown via the Gardiner and 427, it isn't a place that I could go for lunch on a weekday if I were pinned to a 45-minute or 1-hour lunch.

                                As for the cash or debit only issue, it was only an issue the first time. It's no problem to come with cash in hand or else use debit. I just like the option of using a card, especially if I'm going to load up on frozen mandu, kimchee and gochu jang to take away with me.

                                One last comment on the food. I didn't mention in my longer post that I absolutely loved the texture and taste of the steamed rice. It was sticky and had a lovely sheen. I realize it's a different kind of rice, but I vastly prefer it to the basic long grain rices that most Chinese restos use. I even like it better than what's served in many cheapo and mid-range sushi places.

                              2. re: jeffs101
                                redearth RE: jeffs101 Oct 26, 2009 05:17 PM

                                Hi! I just spoke to Soo, and she said that she does indeed use fish sauce in her kimchi, but that all of her other banchan is vegetarian. She also said that it would be no problem whatsoever to make vegetarian dishes. I'm sure that there are several on the existing menu already...

                                1. re: redearth
                                  jeffs101 RE: redearth Oct 27, 2009 07:05 AM

                                  Thanks for the info! I'll definitely drop by as I'm not too far away. Sounds like a great place for comfort food as the weather gets colder!

                                  1. re: jeffs101
                                    redearth RE: jeffs101 Oct 27, 2009 05:14 PM

                                    Oh yeah! There's nothing like a spicy Korean stew to warm you up!

                            2. e
                              EtobicokeTaster RE: redearth Oct 30, 2009 05:00 PM

                              Just came back from a fantastic dinner at Manna (based entirely on this Chowhound review). My 15-month-old daughter loved the mandu and pajun. A wonderfully warm place to take your family for a traditional, home-cooked meal.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: EtobicokeTaster
                                redearth RE: EtobicokeTaster Oct 30, 2009 06:37 PM

                                I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Soo really does cook the best Korean food I've had in Toronto. Everyone should go and check Manna out! I want to do whatever I can to bring Soo the business she rightfully deserves. It would be a crying shame if she had to close her restaurant due to a lack of business. I'm going back tomorrow. Pork bone soup, here I come!

                                1. re: redearth
                                  EarlyDrive RE: redearth Nov 1, 2009 02:58 PM

                                  Had a wonderful meal this evening at Manna. We went because of this post and will return. The dumplings, seafood noodle soup, spicy tofu (with lots of ginger), rice, tea, beer -- a delicious meal for $35. We will return. Heartily recommended.

                              2. c
                                cecilia RE: redearth Nov 1, 2009 05:59 PM

                                I went tonight with my husband and son. We had the mandu, pajun, galbi, and bulgogi. The mandu was crispy, with thin skin and tasty fillings. The pajun was wonderful, with tender octopus inside. The galbi and bulgogi were both seasoned very well, a good balance of sweet and salty.

                                On top of that, the owner and her daughter could not have been nicer. We would definitely go back.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: cecilia
                                  PrincessStress RE: cecilia Nov 2, 2009 02:27 PM

                                  Went and checked out Manna Saturday night because of all the good reviews. Our table order the seafood pancake, bulgoggi, porkbone soup for 2, and kimchi pork. I loved the seafood pancake and kimchi pork. In fact, i took the leftovers home, mixed it with some noodles and will have lunch for 2 days. The guys i went with thought the bulgoggi didn't have much meat, mostly veggies. And the porkbone soup, i thought Owl does this dish much better. It didn't taste as if the porkbone was simmered in the broth for many hrs, but tasted more like the pork bone was boiled and put into flavored water.

                                  But in all would go back again if it wasn't so far for me.

                                  1. re: PrincessStress
                                    redearth RE: PrincessStress Nov 2, 2009 02:47 PM

                                    You might be right about the pork bone soup - I had it on Saturday, and while it was delicious, the broth wasn't that "porky"... I can't say how it compares to Owl's, as I haven't been, but I must say I found both the pork bones and the broth at Manna to be very tasty. There was loads of succulent meat on those bones!!

                                    1. re: redearth
                                      PrincessStress RE: redearth Nov 2, 2009 05:36 PM

                                      Yes, there was lots of meat on those bones, but not quite as fall off the bone as normal if the bones were boiled for a long time in the broth. You must go and try Owl's. Thats what they do best there :).

                                2. JonasBrand RE: redearth Nov 7, 2009 04:58 PM

                                  Unfortunately, Manna is closing Tuesday. So swing by before then for one last meal of fresh and tasty korean.

                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: JonasBrand
                                    Squiggles RE: JonasBrand Nov 8, 2009 03:18 AM


                                    1. re: Squiggles
                                      JonasBrand RE: Squiggles Nov 8, 2009 06:02 AM

                                      I spoke with Soo (the owner and cook) the night before last :(

                                      1. re: JonasBrand
                                        Squiggles RE: JonasBrand Nov 8, 2009 12:34 PM

                                        Crap. That really sucks.

                                    2. re: JonasBrand
                                      dory RE: JonasBrand Nov 8, 2009 01:23 PM

                                      How unfortunate. I'm glad we went for dinner last Saturday. Any chance that she's opening up elsewhere?

                                      1. re: JonasBrand
                                        redearth RE: JonasBrand Nov 8, 2009 04:00 PM

                                        :( Now I feel terrible for not going this weekend. I was too busy today attending to 6 racks of baby back ribs that I was smoking today.... I feel that we discovered Soo's delicious cooking too late. We will miss you and your heartwarming cuisine, Soo.

                                        1. re: redearth
                                          1sweetpea RE: redearth Nov 8, 2009 04:18 PM

                                          That's terrible news! I'd only just discovered the place. I wonder if there's any chance that Soo will open up in a different location. I'd love to see her little place in the Bloor/Christie area. I'd be even happier to see her restaurant in the Gerrard/Broadview area. There's no Korean restaurant there now, but it would be nice to see some variety amongst all the Vietnamese restaurants.

                                          1. re: 1sweetpea
                                            JonasBrand RE: 1sweetpea Nov 8, 2009 07:01 PM

                                            My sense from the call was that this is unlikey.

                                        2. re: JonasBrand
                                          Pincus RE: JonasBrand Nov 9, 2009 07:01 AM

                                          Dang. Carpe Diem indeed. Ah well. I've learned my lesson.

                                          1. re: Pincus
                                            mchuchra RE: Pincus Nov 21, 2009 07:28 AM

                                            Confirmed. She is closed. I walked by last night and the windows are papered-over. Very sad.

                                        3. s
                                          silverbullet71 RE: redearth Dec 1, 2009 08:03 PM

                                          Daaaang!!! My chiropractor raves about this place and I walked by the other day to see their menu and it's closed! A BBQ place is opening soon! Such a shame!! I am Korean, and am surprised to learn that tons of Koreans live on Mabelle, just off Dundas. That explains all the Korean businesses in the area! It's really too bad Soo had to close her shop...I guess the recession affected her badly.

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