Mediocre Khao Soi at Imm Thai Kitchen

Imm Thai KitchenLocation: 651 College Street, Toronto
Website: https://www.facebook.com/Immthaikitchen/

Khao soi is one of those dishes I have a hard time resisting.  The combo of the creamy and vibrant curry soup, the chewy noodles in the bowl, and the crispy fried ones on top add up to a dynamite mix of flavours and textures.

Imm Thai Kitchen

At Imm Thai, I tried a few of the starters before I got to the soup: spring rolls, fresh rolls, and fried sweet potato.  The two types of rolls were both about what you’d expect, but the sweet potato really stood out.  The thin strands of potato were crunchy and addictive — they were basically like a freshly-fried version of Hickory Sticks, and I couldn’t get enough of them.

Imm Thai Kitchen

The khao soi, on the other hand — i.e. the reason I wanted to visit the restaurant in the first place — wasn’t the best.  It was fine; I certainly didn’t dislike eating it, but it is absolutely, positively not in the same league as the best bowls of this particular dish.

Imm Thai Kitchen

The “soup” itself is the biggest issue.  And yes, in this case, the word soup definitely needs to be in quotes — the thick, sludgy liquid here was at the consistency of a particularly hearty gravy.

Imm Thai Kitchen

Of course, the broth in a bowl of khao soi is supposed to be a little bit richer than a typical bowl of soup, but this version took that two or three (or four or five) steps too far.

Imm Thai Kitchen

The flavour, too, was a bit one-note, with none of the delightful complexity that makes the best bowls of khao soi really sing.  The crispy noodles on top were nice, if not quite as abundant as you’d like, and the pieces of chicken (you can also pick tofu, shrimp, or lobster) were all dry, personality-free chunks of white meat.

Cheap Eats at Ming’s Noodle Cafe

Ming's Noodle CafeLocation: 3447 Kennedy Road, Scarborough
Website: None

Ming’s Noodle Cafe is a Hong-Kong-style diner; it’s also one of those restaurants with a multi-page menu with literally hundreds of choices.  If you’re not sure what to order, the All Day Special is a safe bet, and an absolutely incredible deal.

Ming's Noodle Cafe

For the almost absurdly low price of 7.45, you get an egg sandwich or an omelette with toast on the side, a main meal, and a drink.  It’s an insane deal.

Ming's Noodle Cafe

Is the food amazing?  No, it definitely isn’t; but for that price how can you complain?

Ming's Noodle Cafe

And it’s certainly not bad.  I started with the egg sandwich, which features a tasty, buttery omelette between two fluffy slices of white bread.  The eggs were slightly overcooked, but it was a respectable sandwich.

Ming's Noodle Cafe

Next up was the beef with satay sauce on vermicelli soup.  This was fine; the beef is tender, and the satay sauce is tasty enough.  Nothing about it particularly stands out… until you add a heaping amount of the chili sauce they have on the table, then it really comes alive.

Ming's Noodle Cafe

I wish that sauce were a bit spicier (it’s surprisingly mild) but it’s otherwise sweet, savoury, and addictive, with a face-punch of satisfying flavours.  You can buy a jar to take home for six bucks, and you’d better believe I bought one.

Surprisingly Tasty Carbonara at Bobbie Sue’s Mac + Cheese

Bobbie Sue's Mac + CheeseLocation: 162 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://bobbiesues.com/

I was pretty much completely blown away by the carbonara at Bobbie Sue’s Mac + Cheese.  It wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but in all the best ways.

I sort of figured it was going to be some kind of bizarre mash-up of mac and cheese and carbonara, but it definitely wasn’t that.  It was actually a legit bowl of carbonara, and it was delightful.

Bobbie Sue's Mac + Cheese

The menu describes the carbonara as “pancetta + Grana Padano + egg yolk.” I really enjoyed it.

The diced pancetta (and yes, it was pancetta, as it should be — not bacon) was abundant and nicely crisped up — it was crispy, salty, and porky.  The sauce was rich and creamy from the egg yolks, with a nice cheesy kick from the Grana Padano (an Italian cheese that’s very similar to Parmesan).  And the pasta was perfectly al dente.

Bobbie Sue's Mac + Cheese

It was maybe slightly too dry, but aside from that it was shockingly good.  You’re barely expecting a bowl of carbonara from an actual Italian restaurant to be that delicious, let alone a mac and cheese take-out window that doesn’t have a seating area.  It’s a really delightful surprise.

Tasty Ramen at Ramen Raijin

Ramen RaijinLocation: 24 Wellesley Street, Toronto
Website: http://www.zakkushi.com/raijin/

Ramen Raijin is interesting; it’s mostly a standard ramen joint, but then there’s the little Japanese convenience store of sorts near the front that sells candy, instant noodles, and other Japanese goodies.  That’s not to mention pre-made stuff like sushi and onigiri.  It’s a neat addition that sets the restaurant apart.

Ramen Raijin

The restaurant itself serves a decent variety of ramen styles; the waitress told me that the Gyokai Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen and the Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen are their specialties.

I went with Gyokai, which the menu describes as “seafood flavour pork broth ramen topped with pork shoulder chashu, bamboo shoots, nori seaweed, bean shoots and green onion.”

Ramen Raijin

It’s a tasty bowl of soup, though the flavour is a tad overwhelming; I could have used maybe like 15 percent less flavour?  It’s pretty in-your-face.

The first thing that hits you is a salty, savoury punch, with a wallop of toasted garlic.  The pork and the seafood are next, with a nice balance of savoury and seafoody notes.  It’s incredibly assertive, but it’s tasty.

Ramen Raijin

Aside from the flavour, the broth is rich, creamy, and satisfying.  It’s a bit greasy, but that’s a minor complaint.

The medium thick noodles are nice and chewy, and suit the rich soup perfectly.

Ramen Raijin

My only real issue here are a couple of the add-ins.  The chashu is nice and tender, but has a leftovery flavour.  And the egg (which costs extra, and which you can safely skip) was undercooked and tasteless; the yolk was runny, and if it was seasoned at all, I couldn’t taste it (though it is possible that its flavour was overwhelmed by the aggressively salty soup).

Authentic Ramen at Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

Hakata Ikkousha RamenLocation: 247 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.ikkousha.ca/

I tend not to mention my travels too often on this blog, because:

  1. That would get insufferable fast.
  2. It’s generally not fair to compare a version of a dish in Toronto to its legit counterpoint thousands of miles away.  There are so many reasons why it’s hard to perfectly replicate a dish outside of its home country, from the availability of ingredients to the pool of local chefs.  That’s not to mention the psychological aspect; there’s something about being in a place that makes the food taste better.  Of course the croissant you just had in Toronto isn’t as good as the one from the charming little bakery in Paris.  That would be an uphill battle in so many ways.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

However, in this case it can’t be helped; I’ve eaten the ramen at the original location of Hakata Ikkousha Ramen in Fukuoka, so it’s impossible for me not to make a very direct comparison.

Ikkousha serves Hakata ramen, a particularly rich variety of tonkatsu ramen that’s served with ultra-thin noodles.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

Shockingly enough, the bowl they’re serving here is basically indistinguishable from the one I had in Fukuoka.  I didn’t love it there and I don’t love it here, but the quality is about the same.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s quite tasty.  But it’s a bit one-note in its porky intensity.  Still, it has a somewhat roasty flavour that keeps things interesting.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

The secret to this type of ramen (unless it’s exceptional, and this place isn’t exceptional) are the condiments.  Particularly: pickled ginger and spicy pickled mustard leaf.  Adding a generous amount of both of these condiments gives the bowl a nice zippiness that cuts through the rich broth quite nicely.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

The rest of the bowl is (mostly) quite good.  The egg is a $2 add-on, but it’s totally worth it; it’s perfectly cooked and very flavourful.  The noodles, despite being very thin, have a nice bite to them and compliment the creamy soup perfectly.  And the chashu was nice and tender, though it did have a mildly gamy/leftovery flavour.