Location: 65 Duncan Street, Toronto
Shah’s Halal Food has a pretty straightforward menu; it’s basically just chicken, lamb, and falafel that you can either order on rice or as a wrap. Apparently it’s a chain with a whole bunch of locations in the States and the UK, and yeah, that checks out. It tastes like chain food.
Still, it’s not bad. I went with the lamb gyros, which comes absolutely crammed with lamb, veggies, black beans, chick peas, hummus, and three different sauces: white sauce, hot sauce, and green sauce.
The lamb itself is probably the weakest part of the sandwich; it comes out of a metal warming tray looking like the saddest, grayest cubes of meat that you’ve ever seen, and it has a spongey reconstituted meat flavour. It’s not great.
But the sandwich is so crammed with stuff that this is barely even an issue — I wish it were a bit spicier (it’s basically not spicy at all), but it’s zippy, crunchy, and flavourful, and the soft but substantial pita does a good job of holding it all together.
Location: 888 Dundas Street East, Mississauga
Though they bill themselves as an ice cream shop, Xe Kem actually serves a whole bunch of Vietnamese-inspired desserts, including cakes, puddings, and yogurt.
I was tempted to try the ice cream — they have a handful of scooped flavours on offer, as well as soft serve you can get in a traditional or a charcoal cone — but one of the yogurts was calling my name.
I tried the purple sticky rice yogurt, which I quite enjoyed. The yogurt itself was sweet and creamy, and the rice has a nice chewy texture. It’s basically like rice pudding, but yogurty. I don’t think it’s going to knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s thoroughly satisfying.
Location: 430 Horner Avenue, Etobicoke
B’s Sizzling Kitchen is one of those places that you’d probably never discover if you hadn’t heard about it from a friend or read about it online, since it’s kinda hidden away in a very nondescript industrial/residential area of Etobicoke. But it’s absolutely worth coming out of your way for.
It’s a Filipino restaurant that specializes in Cebu lechon — ultra-tender roast pork with delightfully crispy skin — and man, it’s good.
I started with the lechon sisig fries, which features a heaping portion of tasty pork on top of crispy, crinkle-cut fries. This was everything you want it to be. It’s porky, crispy, sweet, and addictive. It’s profoundly delicious.
But of course, the Cebu lechon is what you’re here for, and it’s just the absolute best. They make it with pork belly, and… I mean, just look at it.
Look at it.
The meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender, it’s perfectly seasoned and intensely flavourful, and the crispy skin is the stuff dreams are made of. Just give me a big bag of that skin and let me eat it like potato chips.
I’m going to like pretty much any well-prepared fatty pork dish by default, but this one is something special.
As I was leaving, there was a whole suckling pig sitting on a table waiting to be picked up, and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything so badly in my entire life.
Lobster-topped stuffed tilapia from Red Lobster
I used to love Red Lobster as a kid. It was my birthday restaurant for pretty much the entirety of my childhood, so I still have very warm, fuzzy memories of the place. Every several years I feel the need to go back to indulge my nostalgia and remind myself that no, it’s not very good. The lobster-topped stuffed tilapia was actually surprisingly terrible; the flavour was one-note salty and it was absolutely doused in an unpleasant cream sauce. The rice tasted like one of those Uncle Ben’s packets from Dollarama that’s been reheated about a dozen times. The whole thing was just a straight-up bummer. I do still enjoy the biscuits, however, so there’s that.
Smoked Butternut Squash and Egg sandwich from Tuck Shop Kitchen
Though they had more traditional breakfast sandwiches on their menu (which they serve only on Sundays), I was intrigued by this one, which comes topped with “Applewood smoked butternut squash ‘Bacon’, Canadian cheddar, egg and roasted garlic aioli on a toasted sesame bun.” It’s a tasty sandwich, though like with most items labeled as vegetarian bacon, the squash did not resemble anything even vaguely related to bacon. It was just a smoky slice of squash. Still, it works quite well in the sandwich — my only complaint would be that it’s a very rich sandwich, and needs something acidic to cut that down a bit. The menu lists pickled jalapenos as an optional one dollar addon, and I think that would be the thing this sandwich is missing.
Candy Cane Bark gelato from Lola’s Gelato
I feel like everyone (myself included!) sleeps on Lola’s because it’s so far out of the downtown core, but every time I go there I’m impressed by how great the gelato is. This visit was no different; I was particularly struck with the quality of the gelato itself, which is incredibly rich and creamy. And the flavour was great, with a nice balance of mintiness and chocolate. Their assortment of flavours tends to be a bit more basic than places like Nani’s or Mizzica, but when the gelato itself is this great, who cares?
Location: 147 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Ca Phe Rang is a Vietnamese joint that was opened by celebrity chef Matty Matheson along with his mentor, Rang Nguyen. The menu consists mostly of banh mi and pho (which can be combined by ordering a bowl of pho dipping sauce to go with your sandwich).
I tried a couple of the banh mi, along with the dipping sauce.
First up was the pork (“Roasted and glazed pork. Bánh mì comes with pâté, carrot, daikon, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, Thai basil, white onion, spicy chili paste”). I’ll admit that I wasn’t crazy about this. The pork was dry and mostly flavourless, and if there was pate in the sandwich, I couldn’t taste it. The generous pile of zingy veggies and fresh cilantro are quite tasty, but the sandwich really needed some kind of sauce to bring some moisture and flavour.
(There is the pho dip — which tastes like a pretty standard pho broth — which helps quite a lot. But this is an optional $3 add-on, so you’d think the sandwich would be able to stand on its own.)
The brisket (“Roasted and glazed brisket. Bánh Mì comes with pâté, carrot, daikon, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, white onion, spicy chili paste”) is substantially better. Again, the pate was either MIA or applied so sparingly that it may as well not be there. But the meat is super tender, and it’s saucy and flavourful enough that the sandwich never feels dry like the pork. It’s actually fairy sweet, but the vinegary bite of the veggies does a great job of balancing this out. This one doesn’t need the dip at all; it’s thoroughly delicious on its own.