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Feb 28, 2010 06:53 PM

Seeking unusual Asian foods

Dear Chowhounds,

I will be visiting your city for a convention. I'll be staying near the convention center, and will be limited to what I can reach by public transportation and cab. Reading old posts, I learned that Asian and Portuguese are particular strengths. So I'll make a reservation at Chiado, but need help on the Asian. I have access to your typical Japanese sushi, Chinese (dim sum, etc), Vietnamese pho and Indian (even Southern Indian). I want to try some authentic foods that are a little further of the beaten path. I was thinking:
Matahari, for Malaysian
Vanipha Lanna, for Laotian
Rashnaa, for Sri Lankan
Chinese Traditional Buns, for non-Cantonese cooking.

I would love to try Silk Road, Chinese Beef and Lamb House, or Xinjiang for Uighur/Islamic Chinese cooking--but it looked like you'd need a car to get there.

What am I missing? Cambodian? Burmese? Other Chinese regional specialities? Korean is not my thing.
Are any of these in areas where a single woman should not be taking public transportation at night?

Also, any advice on a walking tour of Chinatown would be much appreciated (I'm playing hooky from the convention one AM).

Thank you!!!

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  1. Toronto's downtown core area is generally pretty safe, so there shouldn't be any concerns of anyone walking alone in the evening. The main Chinatown is around Dundas & Spadina area. Your best bet is to take the University-Spadina line subway to St. Patrick station, and walk west on Dundas and Chinatown is past (west of) the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The main shops are all along Dundas and Spadina. Just walk wherever your interest takes you.

    As for unusual Asian foods, one the pops into mind is Cambodian, Angkor Restaurant at 614 Gerrard Street East (just east of Broadview), where the smaller Chinatown East is located. The owner is Chandra Eang, a survivor of Pol Pot's infamous killing fields and self-proclaimed Cambodian royalty. He was named one of "50 Reasons to Love Toronto." Can read more here:

    I wouldn't say his Angkor restaurant serves excellent food by any stretch, but it'll certainly be an interesting experience, if not usual. To get there, take the subway to College Station and (making sure you have a transfer slip) then the 506 Carlton streetcar east and getting off on Broadview.

    1 Reply
    1. re: syoung

      I found Angkor extremely disappointing. Very little on the menu is uniquely Cambodian. I found the menu more Thai-sounding. I realize that there is some overlap in the cuisines of the two countries. The owner pushed us to order the more Thai-sounding dishes. We reluctantly agreed, but were supremely disappointed with the food that arrived. It was very greasy and overcooked, especially the seafood items. I've been to Cambodia and didn't feel that the food at Angkor resembled anything I encountered there. I'm so sorry to report this, because I really liked the owner and want the restaurant to be good and successful. To be honest, I'm surprised that it survives year after year. Most of the Vietnamese Pho places are jammed on Gerrard, but Angkor always seems empty, which makes me wonder about the freshness of ingredients.

      Katelynne, I'm interested to know why you don't like Korean food. It's not all barbecued meat and kimchi. I've had fantastic soups and raw fish on rice with veggies and hot sauce (hwe dup bap) that are awesome. There are some very good Korean restaurants in Toronto.

      Here are some other suggestions: Hanoi 3 Seasons on Gerrard for Northern Vietnamese (try the cha ca la vong -- marinated and seared grouper on noodles with herbs), Tibet Kitchen or Little Tibet, Mother's Dumplings, Northeast Chinese Restaurant (476 Dundas St W -- read the post about it below!), Everest for Nepalese options. I've read about a few interesting Sichuan, Muslim-Chinese, Hakka or Shanghainese restaurants, but they all seem to be far out in the suburbs and challenging to get to by public transit (costly by cab). The closest I can think of might be a Sichuan place which is at Leslie and Finch (in a plaza at the corner). It's do-able by TTC, but you'll have to take a subway and a bus each way.

    2. Agreed about Angkor...very poor. For something a bit different, try Ten Mile Aroma in Chinatown. Excellent north-eastern Chinese food. See this thread:
      I would also suggest Maroli, which serves Malabari cuisine and is very good indeed:
      Finally, how about Ethiopian? Although it is not Asian as such, it has many Asian influences and Toronto has some superb Ethiopian restaurants. My favourite is Dukem. You can not fail to have a great meal there:
      Have fun!

      2 Replies
      1. re: munchieHK

        To the OP: your list sounds great. You cannot go wrong with Matahari (possibly my favourite restaurant in Toronto) and Rashnaa.

        I'd also like to agree with munchieHK and throw Ethiopian into the ring. Toronto has very good Ethiopian food, and Dukem is one of the best. If you do go, make sure you take the vegetarian platter. While I'm typically a meat eater and generally am indifferent towards most vegetables, Ethiopian cuisine, I find, is one that elevates vegetables to an entire new level, far beyond most meat dishes.

        1. re: vorpal

          Sorry, at a recent visit my friend and I did not enjoy Matahari. We felt that neither the food nor the service were at the level of the prices ($40pp - no drinks). (Sate lacking in taste; entrees were ok but not too interesting; sat us at a two-person table so had to rearrange the whole table as we were sharing 3 entrees, when the resto is almost empty; trying for 15mins to catch the server's attention to get the bill.)

          It could be that we didn't order their best dishes, and Toronto is sadly lacking in these cuisines, but we won't be returning.

          39 Baldwin Street, Toronto, ON M5T 1L1, CA

      2. Rashnaa is worth it. Ethiopian food is great, too, as others have mentioned -- Bloor and Ossington has a bunch to choose from.
        If you can afford a splurge meal, try Kaiseki Sakura. It's Japanese, but I guarantee it's not your usual restaurant menu. No sushi, for one thing, but totally amazing.

        1. Wow, thank you for all of the information!

          Maroli looks good--what would you recommend there?

          Hanoi 3 Seasons looks good--what makes north Vietnamese cuisine different than regular Vietnamese? I assume there's a bus that goes down Queen from the convention area.

          I don't think I have the finances to swing both Kaiseki Sakura and Chiado.

          I've liked Korean BBQ. I've had soups that were too incendiary to eat, and the version of bim bam bop I've had just wasn't interesting.

          Unfortunately, I have only 2 dinners (not counting Chiado) and 1 lunch to adventure. The other nights I'm either getting in way too late at the airport, or only have 90 minutes between events and I worry I won't be able to make it anywhere and back to the convention.

          Thanks for your help!

          9 Replies
          1. re: katelynne

            The Hanoi 3 Seasons on Queen St (there are two now) is a bit more elegant than the one on Gerrard. You can take a streetcar along Queen St. One of the highlights of Northern Vietnamese is the liberal use of fresh dill. If you're very familiar with pho and bun bo hue, I'd suggest trying something different. I already suggested the cha ca la vong, which is wonderful. They make really tasty cold shrimp noodle rolls. They're very fresh and the shrimp are often still warm from being poached. The clam appetizer, served with black and white sesame-speckled rice crackers is excellent. If you're a fan of garlic, you can order a side of baby bok choy sauteed with garlic. This description does the vegetable dish little justice. It's seriously yummy. It's hard to go wrong with any of the noodle bowl choices (all of which are available with rice and/or as vegetarian versions). The owner is fabulously sweet. One time, I visited the Gerrard St. location (before the Queen St. location had opened) and they were closed because they were painting the walls. I peeked in the window and saw the owner who promptly came to the door. I told him I was in town alone and had been hoping to eat there. He invited me in to share a family meal that had already been prepared (rice and pork). I had to decline, since I had already gone across the road to another pho place and had a much less inspiring meal. What a nice guy, though! I don't think he would have accepted money had I taken him up on his offer. I go out of my way to support people who treat customers like family. I don't even think he knows my first name.

            On a totally different topic, I couldn't agree more with MunchieHK's suggestion of Ethiopian. Dukem is very good. It's probably my favourite so far of the 4 or 5 places I've tried over the years.

            1. re: 1sweetpea

              Thank you, Hanoi 3 Seasons sounds terrific. Any idea how long it would take to get from the convention center to there by streetcar? or cab? I'd love to sneak out during a lunch break, those convention food boxes are usually pretty sad...

              1. re: katelynne

                I haven't been on a streetcar in ages, unfortunately, so I can't help you there. You should be able to find a cab pretty easily around the convention centre and it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes or so to get there (give the cabbie the address and cross streets -- 1135 Queen Street. East, just west of Jones Avenue). If you're tight for time, you might want to mention it when you sit down. They're very accommodating, but not always speedy. Have a cab company's phone number handy and call when you finish eating and a cab will probably be waiting right outside by the time you've paid and are ready to go. Take a friend with you, if you can, so you can enjoy more than one dish. I can never resist sampling from my SO's bowls. He always tries to order something different, whereas I can't pull myself away from the grilled grouper (cha ca). I currently live a few hours from Toronto, so it's not like I'm there every week, or else I'm sure I'd have branched out and ordered other dishes on the menu. LOL! The Vietnamese places where I live are pretty good, but none makes that dish. The dill in it is wonderful.

                1. re: 1sweetpea

                  the cha ca is not grilled, just in case expectations are set differently... but lightly battered and deep fried. it is the dish to get there. everything else i've liked but it is only the cha ca that i ever crave from hanoi 3 seaons. it is a wonderful dish.

                  i think this is a fair enough distance from the convention center on streetcar that you would have to take a cab to be efficient. at that point the gerrard location might even actually be closer when calculating in traffic.

                  i wouldn't lament not being able to go to kaiseki sakura, but it isn't all that expensive.

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    I've chatted with the owner and the grouper is not deep fried at all, unless cooking methods have changed in the last couple of months. I shouldn't have used the word "grilled". That was a slip of the tongue. It's marinated fish that is dry fried in a heavy cast iron pan.

                    I went to the real Cha Ca La Vong (Family name is Vong) restaurant in Hanoi and they use tons of oil to shallow fry their fish, but rendition that Hanoi 3 Seasons does is not greasy or heavy at all.

                2. re: katelynne

                  Streetcar will take you about 20-25 minutes once you get on it. :) So, I'm not sure lunch would be doable via streetcar. I also don't think that Hanoi 3 Seasons is bad, but I also don't think it's worth a trek out. I did think the clams in curry sauce was tasty (huge - it's a meal) and interesting (not spicy at all).

                  1. re: jlunar

                    Jlunar may be right about the distance. It could be a big rush for you if you don't have a decent window of time for lunch. Maybe it would be best to stay a bit closer to the convention centre. Head on foot up to Dundas, just east of Spadina and try the Northern Chinese Restaurant (476 Dundas). Check out this thread:

                    1. re: 1sweetpea

                      You're right, I think that (or Chinese Traditional Buns) would be a better lunch option due to time. Will have to save Hanoi 3 Seasons for a dinner.

                      1. re: katelynne

                        Thank you everyone for your suggestions! The 1st night we went to Chiado, and had an amazing tuna mango tartare. For dinner we got a bunch of appetizers--grilled squid, grilled shrimp, goat cheese, etc and it was all amazing. Arugula salad with figs and cheese just ok (figs not in season).

                        2nd night went to Vanipha Lanna, had wonderful larb. Also ordered some noodle dish with veggies, it was forgettable.

                        3rd night went to Matahari, the Beef Rendang was complex with spices (and leftovers tasted even better the next day). My friend got Chicken Kapitan and loved the strong lemongrass flavor.

                        Only got away for one lunch--went to 10 Mile Aroma and had Lamb with Cumin that was delicious, very tender. Miming to the non-english speaking waitress that I wanted a glass of water was difficult (had to get up and lead her to a sink faucet to get the idea) but she was very patient.

                        Wish I could have made it to more but that will have to be another trip....

                        39 Baldwin Street, Toronto, ON M5T 1L1, CA

                        864 College Street West, Toronto, ON M6H 1A3, CA

            2. If you are really really adventurous, a number of authentic Korean restaurants along the Yonge/ Finch corridor serve ' Cow hoofs and cow PENISES in spicy broth'!!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Charles Yu

                Any ones that you can think of off-ahnd? i.e. Oh Guel Boh Geul perhaps?