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Dodgiest looking restaurant you've been to but turned out to be a winner (or least better than expected)

For me, the much talked about <Gale's Snack Bar> on Eastern Avenue. It was CH that got me in the door of this place. I had the hot hamburger with fries. Good, but not great. Much better than one would imagine by looking at the exterior of this place. With a can of pop, I think it was less than $6.00 taxes included.

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    1. Try the turkey sandwich at Gale's, if you ever stop back in. They roast an entire turkey every day and carve from that to make their turkey sandwiches. Real milk shakes, too.

      For me, it's probably Zen in Scarborough. Had it not been for chowhounds, I would never have ended up in that rather scruffy looking plaza.

      1. Ha, ha.

        Years ago, a couple of us visited a friend in the hospital with a serious digestive issue and he picked out a restaurant from a magazine and asked us to go where he couldn't.

        After a drive by, I was elected to go down the poorly signed dodgy basement stairway at 109 Adelaide Str E, before the others would come in. It turned out to be an oasis known as Rodney's Oyster House (far far better than the current version IMHO).

        Motto : Don't judge a book by it's cover.

        PS - many months later we returned to Rodney's along with our friend.

        11 Replies
        1. re: PoppiYYZ

          Didn't know these guys had a grungy past!

          Off the top of my head, the seedy-turn-winner place is probably UFO, a convenience store (Niagara/King). I stopped there for Moltrin and gum, but ended up having a scrumptious burger + fried egg, and fresh salad.

          Another big surprise was Ravi Soup on Adelaide. I was there the second day they opened. It felt like bad news because it was dodgy-too-clean-to-be-good. To this day, I enjoy their veggie wrap and corn/crab soup. Always consistently good.

          1. re: happycamper

            I'm not sure grungy was the word for it, out of the way, in a basement and the decor was supposed to be east coast fish shack, mostly unpainted chipboard. It was also tiny. But it was clean and neat.

            1. re: happycamper

              Please don't blow up the UFO spot anymore than it already is haha. That and the AOK are the only greasy spoons I can even come up with downtown at this point

                  1. re: MissBingBing

                    That's the oddest thing I've ever read.

                    1. re: justxpete

                      disgusti is talking about Avenue Open Kitchen (also abbreviated to AOK and A-OK by some posters http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8608...), which some people would consider a greasy spoon http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/863282

                      Not to be confused with A-OK Foods http://www.aokfoods.ca/


                      1. re: prima

                        Ah. Makes sense now. Thanks Prima!

              1. re: PoppiYYZ

                i'm with ya, poppi... the old rodney's was fabulous.

                1. re: the_beezelet

                  Hey Boozelet,

                  I turned a lot of people on to "Rodney's of Old", and sadly I've only been to the new one twice (second visit was just to confirm my first impression).

                  PS - If you REALLY want to fly, try a pre-dinner Kawartha Martini !

                2. re: PoppiYYZ

                  Don't forget the Rodney's wall of shame in the back!

                3. The original Mother's Dumplings on Huron was quite dodgy looking.

                  Then there's Caplansky's when it was at the Monarch. The bar itself was okay, but the tiny cooking area didn't immediately inspire confidence.

                  The place that started out as El Gordo in Kensington market has always looked ramshackle. Even as it has continued to evolve into a mini foodcourt, it hasn't improved much visually, despite having great vendors like Agave y Aquate and more recently Seven Lives.

                  1. Let's not forget Goody's located next to the Scarborough jail and in a very industrial area.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: sbug206

                      rip, goody's.

                      when it was open, i would have to agree with you that the area it was in was shoddy, however, the front and interior of the resto was just fine, imho

                      1. re: afong56

                        I alway expected Snake Plessken to appear en route. And with the near by Detention Center as the best looking property in the area it didn't fill me with a sense of doing something right. But the various burgers were excellent and it's closing was a big loss.

                      2. re: sbug206

                        I try not to think of Goody's Diner anymore. It hurts too much to know that will never happen in my lifetime again. The perfect diner snuggled right up to me.

                        1. re: Googs

                          I agree. I tried it once and loved it. If a place as good as that struggles to survive, who can?

                          1. re: Brain of J

                            His Facebook quotes the owner saying, "Never say never..." So unless he's just stating that he is a big Bieber fan, I'm guessing the Noble's will open up somewhere else in the near future. I'm hoping somewhere near the eastern edge of Toronto say near the Highland Creek area or West Hill area. Rents should be cheaper around these areas than where he was - though I'm not 100% sure on that.

                            1. re: scarberian

                              Howzibout sharing that Facebook link?

                              Then again, maybe Fratelli moves west, say somewhere near the East York/Scarborough border, and opens next door to the return of Goody's. *Sigh*

                        1. re: jennjen18

                          i second the New York Cafe. Looks like a place out of the 1940's at best. Great food and service. I do miss the $4.50 burger and fries sign in the front window. Maybe they are still selling it at that price but it was a real deal.

                          1. re: Herne

                            I also 2nd the New yorker...great breakfasts...and now they're adding a little bit of fresh fruit to the plate which makes me feel way better about eating the greasy bacon and eggs. lol

                        2. Danforth Pizza House. I'm embarrassed to admit I never tried it before hearing it was good from others. Should have realized it prevailed for a reason.

                          1. Malaysian Garam Masala in Scarborough. Not only "better than expected" for the roti canai and murtabak, but best in Toronto and Vancouver. Those not accustomed to heat should just skip it because you can't choose the spiciness level. I'm sorry, but most non-Asians just can't handle the spiciness nor taste the curry. My caucasian friends who brag they can handle the heat... can't.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Wandering Foodie

                              Interesting - I've lived in the area for a long time and never knew it existed there! ... Can you tell me more.. what are the pricings of things, is there seating or a take-out place..?

                              1. re: jennjen18

                                Yeah, sounds like a throwdown to me. I'm in.

                                1. re: jennjen18

                                  Yea, we all need the 411 on this place asap lol.

                                2. re: Wandering Foodie

                                  When was the last time you've been there, I think over the past 12 months I tried to visit twice and both times the restaurant was closed. Frustrated the heck out of me.

                                3. If I say "Frank's", in the 70s, at Eversfield, on the east side of Dufferin, just north of Dufferin do I have any seconders? Their Pizza was amazing.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: DockPotato

                                    The place still exists! However its on St Clair just east of Landsdowne. I was last there about a year ago. The panzos are still the best in my opinion.

                                    Now I want to get some.

                                  2. i found a nice pizza place in Mississauga called Pizzano Pizza,

                                    1125 Dundas Street East, Mississauga, ON L4Y

                                    and i have to say their pizza's are pretty good.

                                    Is it really really great pizza?? mmmm NO
                                    Is It better than pizza pizza or dominos?? definately yes

                                    its also an extremely great value for the money you can get an extra large pizza with any number of toppings for about $14 and they have over 30 topping selections to choose from.

                                      1. re: mnajji

                                        I like Detroit Eatery and I think it does them a disservice to call it dodgy. It's a diner type place but perfectly clean and friendly.

                                        1. re: crawfish

                                          I think every true diner like this, Vesta Lunch or Jim's Best Western (as opposed to diner-themed restaurants like Rosedale Diner, Lakeview, Fran's etc.) are a little bit dodgy by default. I know someone who used to work with one of the cooks here (not sure if this is still the case) and HE was quite a dodgy character (the cook) haha.

                                          That said, I would absolutely come back here if I were in the area and in need of a hamburger. And recommend it to others.

                                          1. re: mnajji

                                            How is Vesta Lunch? Drive by there pretty often and always wonder about it.

                                            1. re: szw

                                              Depends on how drunk you are. Sober, it's not that great.

                                        2. If you want to eat cheap, this is a good place. Nothing is great but everything is good. And very inexpensive.


                                          1. Bilan, the Somali restaurant in a relatively sketch part of town...

                                            1. Pretty much every amazing place in Scarborough would fit the bill: Canbee foods, Malaysia Gourmet, ACR Hot Roti and Doubles, Chung Moi et al.

                                              I also love Makkah over at Danforth & Donlands for Pakistani style kabobs.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: themiguel

                                                Except every amazing place in Scarborough is not necessarily "dodgy";)

                                                1. re: themiguel

                                                  I'll second that emotion with some notable exceptions. But those would be off-topic.

                                                  My Scarborough vote goes to Zen. No way, no how did I every imagine all those decades ago that (sorry, I love you Zen, but) a dumpy restaurant in a strip mall next to bowling and strippers would EVER produce such spectacular work.

                                                  1. re: Googs

                                                    Hey, hey now Googs, Zen=dumpy? For sure the strip plaza that it's located in, on the outside, is a mess. The location itself, you'd expect to see a liquor store, a gun store or XXX store beside the place. However Zen inside is quite calming. Sure it's a bit dated, but I wouldn't call it a dump. I feel it's well maintained.

                                                    1. re: scarberian

                                                      How about well-worn? It really doesn't say "you're in a nice place" to me. It'd be nice if they just changed the chairs and maybe dimmed the lighting a little. Nothing too fancy. Just something that suggests you shouldn't order your usual rum and coke with the sushi.

                                                2. Zorba's, The Fry Basket and Detroit Eatery.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: prima

                                                    Home of Hot Taste. It's In an almost-all-Asian plaza on Yonge St. north of Steeles Ave. I resisted stepping in to this joint for several years because the outside front looked so tacky/crummy/down at the heels. Then one night, encouraged by a Chowhound tip, I warily tippy-toed in. Not surprisingly, it was kinda tacky inside as well. And bleak. And dark enough to make the menu hard to read. But, I discovered, some damn good Korean-style fried chicken. And cheap beer. And good service. And a lively crowd. Had a helluva time. Been back several times since. Would go back more often except that my arteries can stand only so much fried chicken.

                                                    1. re: juno

                                                      +1 for Home of Hot Taste. Good KFC. One chili was plenty spicy enough for me!

                                                    1. re: Davwud

                                                      MMM. Delicious jerk pork with gravy on the rice and peas and some of the worst coleslaw anywhere. I love the place. Their hot sauce is great too.

                                                      1. re: Davwud

                                                        Best jerk pork in Toronto. Fair prices. Jerk Pork on coco bread was a staple during formative years.

                                                      2. Good thread.
                                                        Off the top of my head.

                                                        Danforth Pizza House
                                                        Makkah Restaurant
                                                        Shawarma Empire

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: pakmode

                                                          +1 Shawarma Empire. Love that dodgy place.

                                                          1. re: greatbigcat

                                                            It's a good one but really, SE, Nasibs and Ibrahims could all be in this category.


                                                            1. re: Davwud

                                                              +1 for nasib's. . .can't really put my finger on it, but prefer them over empire. . .but empire is still very solid. . .

                                                        2. New York Subway on Queen St. W, but before it was reno'd.
                                                          That little guy in there makes awesome burritos.

                                                          1. This is going back about 35 years, but Paul's Deep Sea, across from the old 999 Queen nut house, was a dingy train wreck of a place. Paul's idea of décor was bookshelves lined with used books... condensed versions of Marjorie Morningstar and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Were we supposed to read them while waiting for a table? Plastic table cloths, mismatched cutlery, poor lighting and the best Orange Shrimp and Mu Shu pork on the planet.

                                                            1. Sukho Thai, more the neighbourhood than the place itself! :)

                                                              1. Oh, totally overlooked this but Bach Yen in Riverdale, right on Gerrard was pretty good. Among the better Pho I've had (or at least, I personally really enjoyed it).

                                                                But I have not had Golden Turtle or the other place on Ossington.

                                                                I really need to emphasize how dodgy this place looks though. It looks like a living room from the 80s.

                                                                  1. Spence’s, the absolutely fabulous jerk chicken place at Eglinton and Oakwood. It's a little grimy inside, although the main action takes place on the street, where the dude manning the massive grill takes out your chicken pieces with a pair of tongs and then hacks them to high heaven with a huge cleaver. SO delicious.

                                                                    1. M&B Yummy's - Ethiopian on Queen W

                                                                      1. Thai Shan Inn on Eglinton West near Keele had one of the best Pad Thai I remember, and there is also a West Indian take out at York Mills and Fenside. Can't remember the name right now, but their jerk and curries are quite good in a hole in the wall joint.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Rickshaw

                                                                          Would that be Allwyn's Bakery? 1277 York Mills Rd.

                                                                          Very tasty jerk chicken. It's a tiny place. takeout only. I've only had the sandwiches there. Next time will be the plate with rice and peas.

                                                                          1. re: GlennScarborough

                                                                            And some of the best Jamaican patties you'll find anywhere. I love how the pastry is super soft.

                                                                          2. re: Rickshaw

                                                                            I'll third Allwyn's. I work in the area and I always make sure to have a jerk chicken sandwich now and again. I am impressed that he also makes his own coleslaw in there as well.

                                                                          3. Gladstone Cafe...a 24hr coffee shop across the street from Gladstone hotel on Queen..
                                                                            This place really surprised me with how good the food was.
                                                                            The fish and chips were awesome and huge portions. Great big burgers you need two hands to bite into...fries light and crispy.
                                                                            It looks like a place I wouldn't ever enter...but yummy comfort food cheap!

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: burlgurl

                                                                              I agree! I always thought (given the lower standards at that time of day) the food to be very good and was very surprised the first time I went there. I don't care if they are frozen, those burgers are at least as good as Lick's (the standard against which I measure all non-griddle-smashed burgers)!

                                                                              I have a friend who always hates on it for some reason... But he doesn't know how to enjoy life (or something)!

                                                                            2. I worked in NW Detroit for just over a year in the later mid 60s. There were plenty of good lunch spots within easy driving. They served big, cheap and good.

                                                                              I believe it was on Greenfield Road. There had been a vacant gas station/car dealership station for some time at the location. Driving by one day I saw a sign, "French Buffet" or words to that effect.

                                                                              So, here was a derelict, totally unadorned putative eatery, with a vacant pump island in a totally grotty setting - I mean really grotty - no trees, amidst vacant lots and crappy small businesses without any curb appeal whatsoever. If I wanted to build coffins I'd locate there for the low rent.

                                                                              Needless to say I pulled in.

                                                                              To my huge surprise I found an old European French couple had established themselves. In my present telescope they were middle aged.

                                                                              They had laid out their selection on two or three stacking tables. I can't recall the seating arrangements but for sure they were crude. And the price was cheap, cheap, cheap for the day.

                                                                              By God that food was good. Everything on their stacking tables was built from scratch and delicious. We were a small, close knit shop and with my employers and others we ate there daily for a few weeks until my boss said what we were all thinking, " I want a nice greasy hamburger."

                                                                              Shortly after, I returned to Canada. I have no idea if the enterprise was destroyed in the race riots, failed or prospered.

                                                                              1. I 2nd Gales. Had a turkey sandwich that tasted like the turkey sandwices my mom use to make me for lunch in 1969. Can't wait to go back and try the hot turkey