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May 4, 2003 10:29 PM

Worst/Best Tourist Trap Food in TO

  • g

Hey, I've been lurking around and enjoy seeing all the places people recommend (starting to make up a little black book).

Since there are so many visitors here, including those out of town, it'd be interesting to see what folks think are the worst tourist traps in town...or coversely the best bang for places catering mostly to tourists.

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  1. i think chinatown-spadina is a tourist trap. i've never had good chinese food there.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Goober

      I totally disagree. I enjoy the Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants in the Spadina-Dundas area, all for different reasons: Swatow, Pho Hung, Dai Nam, Golden Mile, Lee Garden, Bright Pearl, Cafe 668. It's simple enough to make those knee-jerk, "Richmond Hill and Markham are soooo much better" statements, and there are indeed some fabulous place up there in nosebleed country, but perhaps you haven't been eating at the right places in the downtown Chinatown?

      1. re: Linda
        gilchrist hill

        Yeah, I don't consider Spadina a "tourist trap" either...I enjoy going down there for a slurpy bowl of noodles, vietnamese subs and the wallet-friendly prices every so often.

        1. re: Linda

          Yeah...I probably haven't.

          1. re: Linda

            I grew up in the 905 north area and also lived in Hong Kong for a while and agree that there are some good eateries in Chinatown. I've had good meals at Lee Garden, Mother's Dumplings and Pho Hung has my favourite bun dish. That said, I still don't understand what people see in Bright Pearl.

          2. re: Goober

            Totally disagree that Spadina Chinatown is tourist trap. Try telling that to the thousands of local asians who eat there...not to mention that I have had more than a few meals in Asia and know from experience there are some great finds in the vicinity!

            Shopsy's is the worst trap in my opinion because we need a good downtown deli and it certainly isn't shopsy's.

            1. re: Goober

              Agree completely, at least with regard to Chinese food. The Vietnamese are better. The fact that Chinese eat there is meaningless. Some people just eat where it's convenient.

              1. re: Goober

                Also totally Disagree!! being eurasian and growing up in HK, i've had the opportunity to have excellent chinese food in Asia, but i've had EXCELLeNT chinese food in the 416/905 as well. avoid New Ho King At all costs. My partner and i like the one with lobster neon sign in the window a bit south of college.

                1. re: zed1984

                  The one good thing about New Ho King is the price. I remember many a time trudging from U of T over to NHK for their $3.25 special - a lot of food for a broke student.

                  1. re: gps_shag

                    we're students 2, but for cheap we'd eat pho or the like. canto/szech cuisine must be savoured.

                  2. re: Goober

                    I agree. I tried a couple of restaurants on East-Sth side of Queen : bad, bad and horrible service. Total rip-off. A couple of years ago, PHO (corner of Spadina and St. Andrews) was very good, though very shabby. It disappeared and I'd like to know where it went.

                  3. Worst tourist traps? Anything around the SkyDome: Planet Hollywood, Lone Star, the 360 (the revolving restaurant at the top of the CN Tower - I hear the food and wine selection is quite respectable, but at those prices wouldn't you rather dine at Avalon?).

                    The "best" tourist traps? Canoe, perhaps? You get the 54th floor view, and you get the Canadian cuisine.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Heather

                      I have to say that 360 is jut NOT good food - even if it were half the price! Definitely a tourist trap. I have had friends ask if they should go because they'll get the elevator ride free, so why not spend an extra $70 and have dinner too? And I say, still not worth it! We even ordered raw oysters figuring that these are impossible to ruin - well somehow even they were flavourless and dull. The service is fine, but it's not a long leisurely meal either - food arrives at a fast pace (no doubt to keep the turn around time high). Spend the money on the elevator, maybe have a drink at the bar, and save the bulk of your cash for any other meal.

                      By the way we had a gift certificate worth $200, which got us two appetizers, two mains, one dessert and one of the cheaper bottles of wine, tax and tip.

                      1. re: julesrules

                        I agree, 360 is not worth it. The food was average and service was rushed.

                      2. re: Heather

                        anypone who goes to planet hollywood etc, should know they are going to a tourist trap. (a very bad one at that).

                        but some people just don't know/care about good food either

                      3. For both visitors and locals alike, Skydome has got to be one of the worst sports venues for food in the stands. I'm not talking about the sitdown restaurants, of which I know very little, but what's availble to those sitting in the stands.

                        I've had the good fortune to visit various sports parks elsewhere. Believe it or not, Toronto, some actually have enjoyable food. Compare the stuff available at Skydome to the garlic fries at the Oakland Colliseum, tasty meat pies at an Australian rugby stadium and the unbelieveable morsels that one finds in hotdog buns at Wrigly Field. That's only the tip of the iceberg! I've never even been to a sporting event in NYC, Europe or Asia, but I am confident that they have much more interesting stuff to offer than what's available at Skydome.

                        The decision-makers at Skydome need to take a look around, recongize that they are indeed lacking and start improving the selection of food that they have available to the people sitting in the stands. Tasteless tubesteaks and greasy pizza just doesn't cut it any more. The best thing to eat for those marching into the stands are the sausages available outside the stadium. And then there's the prices!

                        The best thing that they have over other sports venues is a semi-decent selection of beer. I'm glad that this didn't change with Interbrew selling the Jays to Rogers.

                        1. How about Captain John's Ship at the foot of Yonge or The Spaghetti Factory.
                          2 of my "never eat there again" choices.

                          21 Replies
                          1. re: Conductorchris

                            Whats interesting about the spaghetti factory is how it has been one of the worst tourist traps of every city that I have ever lived in (Calgary, Vancouver and Banff) It always attracts the same crowds and always offers the same absolutely awful food.

                            1. re: chrispa

                              You mean other cities suffer this same restaurant. I thought it was actually too bad to a chain!

                              1. re: Atahualpa

                                It's funny.... I just saw a sign for it the other day and my husband and I were both surprised it still existed. We talked about who would possibly go to it now. I remember it from decades ago in Calgary and Vancouver.

                                1. re: SusanB

                                  Don't forget that the correct name is "Old Spaghetti Factory". Truth in advertising rules require that they be upfront about the fact that they are serving old spaghetti.

                                2. re: Atahualpa

                                  Actually there are two almost identical chains that plague North American cities. We got stuck with the "Old Spaghetti Factory" version of it, which is based in Portland, Oregon. The other one is called "Spaghetti Warehouse" out of Dallas, Texas. Same crap.

                                  My vote for worst tourist trap restaurant is anything found in shopping mall food courts. Especially that "Bourbon Street Grill"/"Kelly's Cajun Grill" garbage. Honorable mentions to Captain John's, Rainforest Cafe, and Memories of Japan. Ugh...

                                  1. re: TexSquared

                                    Rain Forest? You have to have been lost for over a month in a rain forest to eat such food !

                              2. re: Conductorchris

                                Cptn John's - Yeah, I had 2 separate friends who got sucked in by the novelty of "dining on a ship". I was dragged there by one, and found the place and food to be disgusting. I am trying very hard to desuade the second friend not to go (I refuse to).

                                1. re: Teep

                                  Ha! I was waiting to see if someone had posted that! That would be my vote. Have never been there - and hope never to go...

                                2. re: Conductorchris

                                  I need help!

                                  People at work want to have an informal holiday dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Apparently they are one of the only restaurants near BCE place (other than Richtree) that will do separate cheques for a large(r) group.

                                  I remember going there as a kid, and HATING it. And I loved everything as a kid.

                                  So now......can someone tell me ONE thing that I can order there that I might marginally enjoy? Or should I just stick with water and a dinner roll.

                                  1. re: ghetto_scarlem

                                    Spumoni ice cream and wine.

                                    LOTS of wine.

                                    1. re: ghetto_scarlem

                                      Hands down, the most disgusting meal I have ever had in Toronto was at the old spaghetti factory. Just order the cheapest thing on the menu and pray. but teh water and a dinner roll option may be your best bet.

                                      1. re: ghetto_scarlem

                                        It's not so bad if you just take it for what it is...

                                        Warm bread with garlic butter (probably garlic margarine).
                                        I remember loving their blue cheese salad dressing.
                                        One of the few places that still sells bottles of Black Tower and Mateus.
                                        Manager's Special with spicy meat sauce and Mizithra cheese.
                                        And that italian ice cream for dessert.

                                        AND you could sit in the train if you're lucky.
                                        I have great childhood memories of this place. The Organ Grinder, not so much.

                                        1. re: Mila

                                          The Organ Grinder! I have great childhood memories of that place. I remember getting the kids drink with grenadine syrup in it (blanking on the name....). Actually, that's my only memory but I remember it was the highlight of this little girls trips to Toronto =) Can anyone remind me what this place really was like?

                                              1. re: ciaociao

                                                I remember eating there a long time back and after "the meal" several of my organs were grinding !

                                          1. re: Conductorchris

                                            Agree with Cap'n John's! Oy vey, what horrible food.

                                            I actually don't mind the Spaghetti Factory. It's just plain spaghetti! How can you screw that up?

                                            1. re: gps_shag

                                              That's what I thought, but the spaghetti was overcooked, the sauce was sickenly sweet, the meatballs were mealy and salty, and tasted primarily like thyme....WAY too much of it.

                                              1. re: gps_shag

                                                This reply is way late, but...

                                                At the SpagFag (as we in the resto biz called it), the pasta is all cooked ahead of time, drained, and then left to sit in large vats. When an order is placed, a serving is dredged out of the vat, and dumped into little colander-type cylinders, which are lowered into holes cut out of the counter. Underneath is a large tray of boiling water. Now you get two chances to get lucky:

                                                First, how long does your pasta sit in the water? If you're lucky, it's timed correctly, and you end up with hot (but overcooked) pasta. If not, the pasta is either not hot (still overcooked), or so overcooked, it's virtually mush.

                                                Second, how well does it get drained? If it's not too busy, and the prep people do drain it properly, there's a chance your choice of sauce might be acceptable. Alas, on busy nights, the draining process is often a few shakes, which means your pasta arrives with the sauce diluted and watery. Yum!

                                                How do I know all this? I worked there - briefly.

                                              2. re: Conductorchris

                                                Oh man, I actually like the Spaghetti Factory. Their combo meal with appetizer and dessert is a pretty good price in my opinion. Then again, I don't know what real good spaghetti is supposed to taste like. Any suggestions?

                                                1. re: Conductorchris

                                                  Good one. I cycle by Captain John's twice a weekend and I never see anyone go in there. It's so bad that it is a sparsely frequented tourist-trap at that.

                                                  Spaghetti Factory - got dragged there by an elderly friend of the family who's only mandate was to find the blandest food in Toronto at the cheapest price possible - he succeeded on the former.

                                                  For expense-account traps - "safe-bet" corporate restaurants that visiting businessmen go to when they have no awareness of local restaurants and are NOT spending their own money - try Baton Rouge.

                                                  Also – countless psuedo “diner” faux soda-fountain outfits dragging in the Days-Inn crowd. There should be a cop or city emissary directing the morning tourists pouring out of the Carleton Best Western and Days Inn away from Frans and Golden Griddle (Canada's noxious answer to Denny's) and towards DayBreak or Golden Family Restaurant at Carleton/Jarvis next to the Primrose Best Western (Golden is DayBreak at 3 bucks cheaper a plate and sans the limp orange slice with the eggs)

                                                2. Rainforest Cafe. They suck you in with their animatronic animals to distract the kids and then hit you with disgusting, way overpriced foods. How's $11 for a brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce sound? (though they do stick a sparkler and yell "Volcano!" as they bring it to your table.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: jimmyb32

                                                    uhh.. and those "thunder storms" get SO annoying...

                                                    1. re: hungryabbey

                                                      Annoying?? Try TERRIFYING. All the distractions cannot hide sub-par food. (Those of you out there with small children think twice before bringing them to the Rainforest Cafe - the thunder noise made my toddler afraid to go to ANY restaurant for weeks).