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Apr 24, 2003 05:27 PM

Top 10 Toronto Chowhound Picks

  • e

Now that we have a brand new board to scribble on, let's try and give our exploratory visitors something to chew on.
I've commented on various places over time, and am kicking this off by listing my favourite Chowhound places. Feel free to differ, comment and add your own favourites.
Arbitrarily, I've set a limit of $75Cdn for two ($50 US), all-in including taxes and tip, (most are much lower) and including a couple of glasses of wine/beers as appropriate. As my favourite depends on mood, I’ll list alphabetically.

My favourite lunch place. Serves gourmet Panini sandwiches, which I usually have warmed on their Panini Grill. Take-out or sit-down, the price is the same. Cappuccino is under $2. Around $20, more expensive with wine. Location Yonge south of St Clair, west side.

Café Pleiades
A neighbourhood Bistro-style place with a chef who used to work the fine cuisine circuit and now runs this small place (30 seats) with one waiter and one other kitchen helper. Continental with Greek touches in the evening, typical medium-fast food at lunch. The prix-fixe at $19.95 (two courses plus tea/coffee) is a bargain, but splurge for the asparagus appetizer (best preparation I’ve ever had). $75 including wine. Location Mount Pleasant south of Manor Road, east side (next to the cinema).

Harbord Fish & Chips
Toronto’s best fish and chips. Huge portions and almost tempura-like batter. Really a take-out, but has 4 stools inside and picnic tables outside. $20 including soft drinks (not licensed). Location Harbord west of Spadina, south side.

Jing Peking
Unbelievably low prices and open until 2 am. The menu is patchy (too many choices) but the Hot and Sour Soup is (was?) the best in town (I know I’ll get competition on that – see post below!). And another must is the sesame biscuit (it’s a northern dim sum item, but you can order it anytime). Make sure you ask for the sesame biscuit to come at the same time as the soup, and eat them together. I usually order the Moo-Shu pork here as they have 6 pancakes (other restaurants typically give you 4). Although I’m not an eggplant fan, others rave about their eggplant. If you’re down to your last $5 the hot and sour noodle soup here is nutritious, filling and tasty. Around $20 including beer! Location College east of Bathurst, north side.

My favourite Indian. Often line-ups, but usually moves quickly. Mildly offputting as owners appear to be Chinese, but they were born in India. Tandoori Grill, but many of the dishes are cooked in a cashew paste, which is a little different. Very respectable – tablecloths – and always crowded. Best Onion Bhajia in town too (share one order between two, it’s huge). Around $45 with beer. Location Bloor at Brunswick, north side.

New York Subway
Mainly take-out but about 5 tables. The name is a misnomer as the standard fare is wraps. Choose from regular spicy and an extensive vegetarian menu. Everything cooked to order. Under $20.

Peter’s Chung King
All around the most versatile Chinese in town. Predominantly Szechuan, but all dishes are well prepared. For a first visit, stick with their specials, then experiment. Wonderful green beans. Kids (of all ages) love the crispy rice dishes. Definitely the venue for groups as there’s something for everyone. Even has tablecloths so Mum will feel comfortable. If it’s not the best on any dish (see Jing Peking), then it’s still in the top 5. Great choices include szechuan shredded beef, spiced chicken with peanuts, orange shrimp etc etc. $30-35 including beer. College just west of Spadina, south side.

Sri Lankan food at bargain prices. Excellent choice for vegetarians, but good selection for meat lovers too. Excellent dhosas. Go exotic with String Hoppers. More conventionally try the Thali. Décor is minimal. No tablecloths but all food is freshly prepared. Outside patio in summer. Lunch is a buffet. $20-25 with beer. Wellesley east of Parliament, south side.

Salad King
Quite simply a University (Ryerson) hang-out. Packed all the time. Great Thai food at bargain prices. Line-up to order and they cook it fresh and call your number. In and out in 30 mins (plus line-up time). Unless you are very brave don’t go above *** (they really ration their hotness stars). Orders include rice. Closest recommendation to downtown, being close to Eaton Centre. $20, including pop (small selection of beer). Although it has a Yonge St address, the entrance is around the corner on Gould (1 block north of Dundas, east of Yonge).

Thai Shan Inn
Noted for the worst décor in town – and that was after the repainting. Plastic table covers. You’ll probably have to share a table. Pretty good Thai food, but notable for the best Tom Yum Goong (Spicy shrimp/mushroom lemongrass soup) in town. Make a pretty good green mango salad too, although a little sweet for some, and always serve orange segments to finish up. Bargain priced for the quality, but dress very casual for this one. Or, even better, call and order the Tom Yum Goong as a take-out (large size essential, no delivery). $20-25. Located on Eglinton West a few blocks west of Dufferin (south side).

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  1. a
    Anne Bradford

    Great list! I've never tried Café Pleiades or Boccone, but must do so, now that our trusty Estufarian has recommended them. The other places he mentioned have indeed been delightful and yummy, in my experience.

    Off the top of my head, here are some additional way-under-$75-for-two eateries that are worth trying:

    Coconut Village:
    Malaysian/Thai: Awesome Malaysian dishes (chicken cooked in a screwpine leaf; beef rendang); everything I've tried has been wonderful, but do avoid their weird, green tapioca dessert that tastes like soap.

    Gandhi Cuisine
    East Indian rotis: made-to-order dough, and fillings such as chicken jalfrezi, veggie korma, and butter chicken; take-out only!

    Cambodian/Thai: the colourful chef/owner is fiercely - and justly - proud of his Cambodian dishes; ask for his recommendations because the menu can be hit & miss, and he will make you something good.

    Royal Angkor
    Cambodian/Thai: the menu here is a bit different than at Angkor; the Main Dish #1 (Phanaeng Kai, a chicken curry) makes me swoon with happiness.

    Gomtang Toronto
    Korean: the best Mom & Pop home-cooked Korean food in town, in humble surroundings; they cater to their Korean student regulars, and they can sometimes look puzzled when non-Koreans walk in.

    I hope you guys check out some of these places, because they sure are tasty, and most of them look like they could use the business.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Anne Bradford

      Its great to have our own place now T.O.'hounds .Lets make the alpha hound proud and try to stick mainly to "chow" as oppsed to "Fine Dining" . Kudos to Estufarian for starting this chain ,I will be submiting my own 2 cents worth soon . Hopefully we can establish an honour roll of T.O.chow spots based on input from us hounds .Happy Hunting!

      1. re: bobthedog

        Might I be so bold as to take exception to your claim that in order to make "the alpha hound proud" we should stick to "chow" as opposed to "Fine Dining". I think any good food is worth talking about. To quote Jim Leff from the Toronto Star article:

        "One thing that irks him is the misconception that chowhounds are just into cheap, obscure and so-called ethnic food, when in fact they worship anything great, including pizza, calzones, old Bordeaux and three-star Michelin restaurants.

        "Deliciousness is deliciousness" is Leff's mantra. "There are no boundaries. There are no levels. A human being who crafts something delicious is worthy of our love, admiration and evangelism.""

        1. re: Chili

          I was going to say the same thing....What I have always liked about this board is its members' ability to give recommendations and share discoveries of all sorts and levels of places.

          A couple of years ago I asked the midwest board people for help planning a trip to Chicago and I still can't get over how nice and helpful they were. Last year, I inquired about the availability of a traditional Alsatian product called Eau de Marc au Viper or something like that (essentially a liqueur thingie with a viper pickled in it). Couldn't find it but a fellow from Texas actually e-mailed me off board with an offer to ship up a dead rattlesnake which I could then stuff into the bottle. Now THAT'S being helpful!

          1. re: mike
            Mississauga Matt

            Funny you should mention that. I have on my desk a mini bottle of cognac, brought back from the Far East by my in-laws, with a pickled baby python within.

            I won't be drinking it.

            1. re: Mississauga Matt

              One more for F + C ......... New Toronto Fish and Chips on Fifth St. North of Lakeshore Blvd. Been there for years and still operated by the same two Korean (?) guys.

          2. re: Chili

            Absolutely right!

            Some people (not saying it's true of you, bobthedog , I'm just riffing here!) get the mistaken impression that because chowhounds view a great chef working in a hole-in-wall with equal respect to a great chef working in a four star restaurant that we're bottom-feeding anti-snobs.

            But chowhounds are opposed to both anti-snobbery and snobbery, because both snobs miss greatness. And a chowhound hates to miss greatness!

            Neither genre, price, decor, nor reputation make one sort of deliciousness more respectable or desireable than any other. There's no vertical hierarchy, just a glorious spectrum, and we want to find, appreciate, and evangelize deliciousness in all its guises to the best of our abilities (and budgets!).

            It's all about ingredients being transmogrified via love, pride and talent into something with the power to inspire. Food's one of the last realms where such holdouts can still easily be found (though the balance is tipping).



        2. re: Anne Bradford

          I second Ghandi's. The cook/owner used to work at Babur's (now at Queen and University, formerly at Dundas and University). The butter chicken Roti is awesome.
          Word of warning: they are closed weekends for some bizarre reason.

          1. re: Anne Bradford

            where are these places?? i know some of them but please provide addresses/intersections!

            1. re: julesrules
              Anne Bradford

              Coconut Village: 389 Roncesvalles (south of Howard Park, a bit past Revue Cinema, on the east side of the street)

              Gandhi Cuisine: 554 Queen St. W. (on the north side of the street, east of Bathurst)

              Angkor: 614 Gerrard St. E. (on the north side of the street, east of Broadview)

              Royal Angkor: 881 Yonge St. (on the east side of the street, north of Davenport, just north of Canadian Tire)

              Gomtang Toronto: ??? (on the north side of Bloor St. W., east of Christie, up several stairs; they don't have a phone listing but the sign does say "Gomtang Toronto")

              1. re: julesrules

                I recommend you go to Canada 411; it's a no-brainer to look up the info yourself. Type in the name of the business you're looking for, and you'll get their phone number and address. If you click on the business name, and then click on the map icon, you'll even see where they're located in the city.


            2. m
              Mississauga Matt

              I wonder if Mr. Estufarian or anyone else wishes to comment on the relative merits of Harbord Fish and Chips versus Chippy's at 893 Queen St. W. across from Trinity-Bellwoods park.

              I've been to both, once each, and I really preferred Chippy's. The highlight for me was the that the Halibut actually tasted fresh and fishy. I found the chips to be disappointing - overcooked, greasy and flaccid - but again, it was my one and only trip, so it could have been an anomaly.

              14 Replies
              1. re: Mississauga Matt

                A fish'n'chip fiend friend of mine may be of the same mind as you. He's been trying to get to Chippy's for over two months now.

                I like Harbord's fish and used to go there quite a bit. I also like the stuff you get at Caz's on Davenport. I go to Caz's now because it's good and it's closer. Yeah, yeah, I know Caz's is a chain, albeit a small one, but I really like the way those ladies at Davenport do the halibut. I can't speak for their other locations.

                1. re: mikeb

                  I find Harbord fish and chip inferior. Good fish, but the batter is often soggy. Maybe it depends on who's cooking.

                  The best fish in chips I've EVER had is at Applewood fish and chips at burnanthorpe west of Dixie. Not downtown I know, but worth the drive. The owners been cooking fish for 30 years. He scoops the scalding hot fish out of the basket with his hands, always a sign of a vetern. Really, the Halibut and chips is unbeleivable.

                  There's a good place at Queensway and Royal york too, although I don't remember the name.

                  1. re: shawn

                    The place on Queensway is Viking Fish & Chips. Kingsway Fish & Chips is another really solid fish joint.

                    1. re: Stef

                      Well, since we're starting with the F&C places, I'm still a big fan of Penrose (Mt. Pleasant). After an initial bad experience with Kingsway (Bloor, W of Royal York), I returned prepared to hate it but was pleasantly surprised. Though it's a tad too expensive for a Fish and Chips place, to me the fish batter has the perfect texture and taste. They also offer one the option to have a very small order of chips with 2 pieces of fish. As I cannot bear to leave anything on my plate this is good.

                      1. re: Mike

                        Best Fish & Chips, as long as you're in the West End, is Gott's in Brampton, at McLaughlin & Queen. Have had Fish & Chips in England, San Francisco, and all over Toronto, and Gott's is the best by far. Try their "2 and a few", 2 huge pieces of halibut and more than a few fries.

                        1. re: Mom

                          I have been on a quest for good F&C in the city and last Friday I managed to find a new fav. White Bros on Queen Street (I think its east of Beech). They do their own tartar sauce that is fabulous! Of course the fact that Ed's Real Scoop is walking distance always makes the trip worthwhile.

                          1. re: Otonabee

                            The Al's fish and chip place at the Village by the Grange (McCaul and Dundas) does a very good order. I go there once in a while for a take out so I can drive my office colleagues crazy with the smell of F&C and malt vinegar.

                            1. re: Matt

                              Another memory.
                              Used to lunch at Village By The Grange regularly BEFORE they shut down and renovated. I had several favourites there. Now I find most places bland and it's off my radar screen. Tried Al's when it first opened - and didn't think it was as good as the place that closed down when they renovated. But possibly that's nostalgia taking over (everything used to be better etc.......).

                              1. re: estufarian

                                look how much more traffic we have than the old "canada" branch!
                                al's fish & chips - i know the family and i think they sold the atrium location, however they are definately still running a greasy spoon by the same name at st clair and o'connor. They cut their own fries and filet the halibut themselves. It's definately a greasy spoon, and not in a cutesy way like Duckworth's, but they make excellent f&c. Although my vote is ultimately for Duckworth's for consistency - both locations (Main & Danforth, Kingston Rd at Midland).

                                1. re: julesrules
                                  Mississauga Matt

                                  The people who run Al's are extremely nice. Always friendly with a good sense of humour.

                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    Correction re: Al's F&C, I have spoken to my source and they recently sold the o'connor location, however the family still owns the Atrium location. They are a friendly bunch indeed.

                        2. re: Stef

                          i also find the fish and chips at harbord just OK. i don't go out of my way to go there. the penrose one is also just OK. wrapping fish in newspapers doesn't mean the fish and chips is good.. eesh.

                          i've found fish and chips to be best in pubs and in crappier looking restaurants that do NOT specialize in fish and chips.. (perhaps the re-used food-soaked oil..i dunno..)

                          i like this 24-hr joint near where i live, it's on yonge and steeles called midway where u get a nice fleshy and crispy halibut, and, actually, i like the fish and chips place in eaton center in the food court in the basement.. and most pubs (like the madison) always have decent F&C, better than penrose and harbord..

                          but i've never tried queens and kingsway or union, i'll give it a go, i'm a F&C freak.

                      2. re: mikeb

                        Best fish'n'chips i've tasted are in Unionville at Danny's (Hwy.#7 and Kennedy by-pass.
                        Best I've heard of is Penrose in Toronto.
                        Second best i've tasted is Duckworths - two locations...I've tried the Kingston Road just east of Danforth one.

                      3. re: Mississauga Matt

                        Haven't tried Mr Chippy's yet. Every time I head there I stop at New York Subway and never make it all the way.
                        And a potential conflict - I do know the owner at Chippy's so would need a few visits to be objective.

                      4. Are we actually leaving the Tulip (Coxwell and Queen)
                        off this list? Where are my fellow Tulip addicts?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Matt

                          I like the Tulip.
                          But not top 10 material (for me). Quantities are huge and prices good. And the meat is good (although it seemed to be better before the move).
                          But the 'fixings' are just awful!
                          I'd rank it top for 'cheapest steak'.

                          1. re: estufarian

                            Eww.. my mother loves to meet at the tulip for sunday brunch, but as a meat lover, I have to say I find the steaks at the tulip to be below average compared to other steakhouses.

                            1. re: estufarian

                              Tulip is a great spot for Steak and Eggs. Just remember to order a side of mushrooms which are worth the trip alone.

                          2. Surely you jest about Harbord Fish and Chips? When they first opened many years ago they were far and away the best in town. I ate there recently though after many years hiatus resulting from getting truly awful food from one of the several sets of subsequent owners. The fish was unbelievably greasy (and I have a pretty high tolerance for things shmaltzy) and I couldn't finish them as a result. My parents who had also sworn off them previously due to their own experiences also thought they were terrible: scrappy burned little pieces of potato, stingy servings of fish, and greasy. Surely there's better in the GTA.

                            Most of the other places you mentioned are good but most are not, IMHO, spectacular. Jing Peking's H&S soup could hardly be classed as best in the city, though decent, though their food is cheap.

                            I'm a regular at Peter's and recommend their Chicken in Spicy Peanut Sauce, Hacked Chicken appetizer, spicy eggplant, an dry-fried green beans.