Tasty Middle Eastern Food at Azkadenya

AzkadenyaLocation: 235 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.azkadenya.ca/

I’ll admit that I didn’t have particularly high expectations for Azkadenya, a “mezza diner” with locations all over the Middle East.  Aside from the fact that it’s a chain restaurant, the slick decor and quirky dishes made me think it would be style over substance.

Azkadenya

Well, don’t judge a book by its cover, I guess?  This place was actually quite good, though the restaurant is clearly at its best when it sticks with the classics and doesn’t mess around too much.

Azkadenya

We started with the hummus, which is creamy and tasty.  It didn’t quite knock my socks off, but it’s a solid bowl of hummus.  It helps that it comes topped with healthy amount of good quality olive oil, with a bottle available on the table to top it up (which you should absolutely do — hummus and EVOO are best friends and should never be apart).

Azkadenya

Actually, I should mention the multiple bottles at the table — there’s olive oil, a couple of tasty hot sauces, a tahini sauce, and something labeled “sour but sweet” that I completely forgot to try (I know, what’s wrong with me?).

Servers are constantly walking around to replenish your supply of pita bread — they bake these things fresh in what appears to be a wood-burning oven, so yeah, they’re quite good.

Azkadenya

Next up was the falafel, which comes in an order of eight.  This was easily the highlight of the meal.  They’re nicely spiced and not too big, which gives you the perfect ratio of crispy exterior to fluffy interior (too many places make huge, almost tennis-ball-sized falafel, and the crisp-to-fluffy ratio is all wrong).  They’re also not dry in the middle, which is another common issue with falafel in the GTA.  They’re really good.

Azkadenya

Then there was the beef “shawarma.”  I’m putting that in quotes because, I’m sorry, but this isn’t shawarma.  It comes essentially looking like a kabob (though the beef is sliced, even if it doesn’t look that way).  It’s a fun gimmick, and the presentation is certainly striking, but it’s not shawarma.  It tastes nothing like shawarma.

Azkadenya

Still, it’s tasty enough for what it is.  The meat is tender and nicely marinated.  Once you put it in a pita with some of the condiments (it comes with pickles, tahini sauce, garlic sauce, and tomatoes) it’s quite satisfying.

Azkadenya

Last up was the kunafah pops, which takes the traditional Middle Eastern dessert and turns it into little deep-fried balls.  Like the shawarma, this was the restaurant being a bit too clever for their own good.  All of the textures are wrong — the exterior is a bit too crunchy, the cheesy interior doesn’t quite have the gooeyness you’re looking for, and it has a mild oily flavour from the fryer.  It certainly wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but traditional kunafah would have been vastly superior.

Great Tex-Mex Tacos at Hotmess Tex Mex

Hotmess Tex MexLocation: 615 College Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.hotmesstexmex.com/

Hotmess was selling tacos at the recent Taste of Little Italy festival; having heard nothing but good things about their Tex-Mex grub, tying it out was a no-brainer.

They were doing beef, chicken, and corn tacos; I went with beef.  It was quite good.

It’s very simple: spiced beef, diced tomato, shredded lettuce, and cheddar cheese served in a hard shell tortilla.

Hotmess Tex Mex

It’s basically Taco Bell if Taco Bell were really, really good.

The beef was nicely spiced, and unlike Taco Bell, it actually has the taste and texture of beef.  How about that!  The lettuce and tomato are fresh and crunchy, and the cheese adds a nice salty bite.

The shell is probably the highlight, oddly enough.  It’s obviously freshly fried, and it’s glorious — the level of crunch is profound.  It’s ridiculously satisfying.

Hand-Pulled Noodles at Omni Palace Noodle House

Omni Palace Noodle HouseLocation: 235 Consumers Road, Toronto
Website: https://www.omnipalace.ca/

I’ve mentioned many times before that a big bowl of chewy, hand-pulled noodles is pretty much the best.  That’s just a fact.  If you disagree?  You’re wrong, and I hate to have to tell you this, but you’re living your life like an idiot.

Sorry, but someone was going to tell you eventually.  It may as well be me.

Omni Palace Noodle House

The main thing to order at Omni Palace is the Traditional Lanzhou Beef Noodles, which is a pretty basic bowl of noodle soup topped with thinly sliced beef, cilantro, scallions, and sliced radish.

The broth is actually quite tasty — it’s very salty, but it also has a nice beefy richness, and a mild tingling numbness from sichuan peppercorns.  Once you add a heaping spoonful or two (or three, or four) of the smoky, flavourful chili oil, you’ve got a pretty memorable bowl of soup.

Omni Palace Noodle House

The chili oil is surprisingly mild, so you have to add a decent amount if you want a nice kick.  That works out quite well, however — it’s so tasty that the bowl seems to get more and more delicious with every additional spoonful.

Omni Palace Noodle House

Then, of course, there’s the noodles, which are available in nine levels of thickness.  I went with what they call classic, which is quite spaghetti-like in size and shape.  The noodles have all the satisfying chewiness that you’re hoping for, and they’re the perfect thickness for this particular dish.

The only thing here I wasn’t crazy about was the beef; it was a bit tough, and the flavour was middling.  But everything else is tasty enough that it really doesn’t matter.

Guava BBQ Shortrib Medianoche at La Cubana

La CubanaLocation: 392 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Website: http://www.lacubana.ca/

I had a bit of an iffy meal on my last visit to La Cubana, but if the sandwich I just had was any indication, that was just a blip on the radar.  La Cubana is still very, very good.

Specifically, I had the Guava BBQ Shortrib Medianoche, which Toronto Life recently called the 11th best sandwich in the city.  I don’t always agree with Toronto Life’s opinions on food, but in this case they’re dead on.  It’s outstanding.

La Cubana

The sandwich features a very generous amount of shortrib topped with “red cabbage slaw, chimichurri, pickled jalapeno, crispy onion.”  It’s served on a soft bun they bake in-house.

The shortrib itself is absurdly good.  It manages to be melt-in-your-mouth tender while still retaining its texture.  It has a nice beefy flavour that’s complemented perfectly by the guava BBQ sauce — the sandwich is saucy as hell (there was a huge pool on the plate when I was done eating), but the sauce is so good that it feels just right.  It’s sweet, but it has a tangy, zippy bite that balances it out.

La Cubana

Everything else complements it perfectly.  The crispy onions are really tasty, and you get a good amount of  crunch and acidity from the slaw and the jalapenos.  It’s a great mix of flavours and textures.

And the bun is soft and fluffy, with just enough substance to hold up to the saucy, generously stuffed sandwich.  It’s so good.

Seed to Sausage Meatery at the Food District in Square One

Seed to Sausage Meatery, Square OneLocation: 100 City Centre Drive, Mississauga (inside Square One)
Website: https://www.seedtosausage.ca/

The Food District in Square One is the latest in the recent trend of upmarket food courts that have been popping up throughout the city.  This is one of the more delightful food trends of late.  All the convenience of a food court, but with above average food?  Yes please.

Or is it above average?  Maybe not.  Enter: Seed to Sausage Meatery, which has an “award-winning” Montreal smoked meat sandwich on their menu (though the menu isn’t forthcoming on what this mysterious award might actually be).

Award-winning or not, I can’t say no to a smoked meat sandwich.

Seed to Sausage Meatery, Square One

Alas, it’s not great.  The meat is very thinly machine-sliced; normally I prefer the more satisfying thickness of hand-cut meat, but in this case, that just isn’t possible.  If you sliced this meat too thickly, it’d be like trying to eat your belt.  It would be completely inedible.

It’s tough.  The fat is just barely rendered, and the meat is dry and sinewy and difficult to bite through.  And yet somehow, it’s absolutely dripping with grease.  It might be the greasiest smoked meat sandwich I’ve ever had.  The grease soaked through the bread and turned it into mush in parts.

Seed to Sausage Meatery, Square One

It’s too bad, because the flavour is actually pretty good.  It’s a touch too salty, but it’s nicely spiced and has a mild but satisfying smokiness.  And the fresh, tasty bread was way above average — it was the best part of the sandwich by far.  So there’s definitely potential there.

I got a salad on the side instead of fries, which was clearly a mistake.  I went with the field greens salad, which comes with a vinaigrette that’s so intensely sweet you could put it on ice cream.  Remember Tahiti Treat?  I hadn’t thought about that soda in years, but as soon as I tried the dressing here, I flashed right back.  That’s how sweet it was.

It’s technically food court fare, so at least if the meal had been cheap, it might be possible to overlook some of its issues.  It isn’t; it’s $15.95 for the sandwich and one side, which makes it more expensive than unambiguously superior restaurants like Centre Street Deli and SumiLicious.