Location: 111 Richmond Street West, Toronto (inside the Assembly Chef’s Hall)
I recently found myself in the Assembly Chef’s Hall, and I figured I’d check out whichever vendor was the busiest. This was — by far — Charcoal Biryani, though that might be because they seemed to be a bit frazzled; it took about forty minutes (!!) between getting in line and getting my food, which seems to defeat the whole point of an ostensibly grab-and-go concept like this.
Still, it was pretty tasty. They serve biryani, along with a variety of kebabs that you can either get as a wrap or in a meal with rice. I was planning on getting the original kebab wrap, but this was sold out, so I went with the chicken tikka wrap instead.
I wish the chicken were dark meat instead of vaguely dry breast, but otherwise I quite enjoyed this. As the name of the restaurant implies, they cook the chicken over charcoal, which gives it a delightfully smoky flavour. Otherwise it’s pretty by-the-numbers, but that pronounced flavour from the grill really elevates it.
I also got an order of fries that I forgot to photograph, which the menu advertised as two dollars but which the apologetic woman behind the counter explained is actually six. Inflation, I guess?? Anyway, just picture McDonald’s fries (but worse) with a sprinkling of sumac on top. This would have been worth the advertised two dollars, but six might be a bit much.
Location: 888 Dundas Street East, Mississauga (inside the Mississauga Chinese Centre)
If a restaurant has an enormous slab of tasty-looking roasted pork hanging in the window, you should eat at that restaurant. That’s just a fact. Is that a law? I think that might be the law. If you see a restaurant like that you have to eat there or you’ll go to jail. That sounds fair to me.
Luen Hing also has chicken and duck hanging in the window, and clearly I have to go back, because that pork… wow.
I ordered the roast pork and barbecue pork on rice, which comes with a seriously generous amount of tasty eats for about twelve bucks. It’s a great deal, that’s for sure.
I actually brought this home instead of eating in the food court, and I had resigned myself to the fact that the pork skin probably wouldn’t be particularly crispy. It’s hard to retain your crunch when you’ve been steaming in a sealed take-out box. But oh man, that skin was crisp. It was at delightful, kettle chip levels of crunchiness.
And the pork itself was so good. Super flavourful, nice and tender, fatty but not too fatty, and of course, the aforementioned super crunchy skin. Delightful.
The barbecue pork wasn’t quite on the same level — it was a bit dry — but it was still quite tasty, with a nice balance of sweet and savoury.
The steamed cabbage and the sauce they poured on top were also quite good. It all adds up to a seriously satisfying version of this dish, and a restaurant that I’ll almost certainly be returning to in the near future.
Location: 888 Dundas Street East, Mississauga
The Mississauga Chinese Centre is a definite hidden gem if you’re looking for cheap eats in Mississauga. You wouldn’t know it from the outside (it basically just looks like a strip mall) but it has a small food court with several vendors serving up a whole bunch of dishes.
There’s a sushi place, a Filipino place, and a few Chinese restaurants with typically enormous food court menus. Tsui Xiang Tsuen falls into the enormous menu category; I was craving wonton noodle soup, so that’s what I ordered.
Was it the best wonton noodle soup I’ve ever had? No, absolutely not. In particular, the wontons were basically complete mush, and the filling wasn’t quite what you’re expecting. Instead of the usual pork/shrimp combo, I think it was all pork, and it had a mildly gamy flavour that I wasn’t crazy about. They were easily the weak point of the dish.
On the other hand, the generous amount of noodles were perfectly cooked with a good amount of texture, and the broth had a nice clean flavour.
Plus, I think I’m burying the lede here, because this thing was a pretty hearty lunch, and the price? Six bucks. You can’t go wrong there.
Location: 65 Front Street West, Toronto (inside Union Station)
It’s been a while since I’ve had a sandwich from Toronto Life’s list of the 25 best in the city, but clearly, the list is still cranking out the hits. The jerk chicken sandwich at Roywoods is good eatin’.
It’s quite simple: cocoa bread, jerk chicken, coleslaw, sliced tomato, and onion (I skipped the onion, because raw onions are the worst and why anyone thinks differently will forever baffle me).
You can’t really tell from the picture, but the jerk chicken is abundant, and it’s perfectly cooked. I wish it were a bit spicier (it has a mild kick, but not much more than that) but the satisfying jerk flavour makes up for the lack of spice.
The only real issue is the slightly stale cocoa bread, but there was so much moisture from the saucy coleslaw and the juicy chicken that the dryness of the bread was just barely an issue. Eating it is definitely a multiple napkin experience.
I tried a couple of sides as well. The fried plantains had a nice combo of crispy and creamy, and the callaloo — featuring flavourful, tender greens — was just as good.
Location: 4750 Yonge Street, North York (in the Emerald Park food court)
I’ve mentioned before that the Emerald Park food court near Yonge and Sheppard is a treasure trove of unique Asian eateries (though not everything there is particularly great).
My latest discovery: Chengdu Guokui, which specializes in Sichuan cuisine.
I ordered the braised pork rice bowl, which comes with the aforementioned pork, stewed eggplant (I think?), and a spicy slaw on top of rice.
It’s almost 17 bucks with tax, which seems excessive until you get your bowl and realize that it weighs about a pound, and is crammed with enough pork belly to feed a small family.
It’s certainly better than the last thing I tried in this food court, but alas, it’s not great. The main issue here is the pork; it’s quite underseasoned, and is lacking the punch of flavour you’re expecting from the dish. It also had a vague leftover flavour, and wasn’t quite as melt-in-your-mouth tender as it should have been. It was tasty enough, but it was nothing special.
The eggplant was nice and tender, and the rice, though mushy, featured a tasty sauce and was fairly satisfying.
The star of the show, oddly enough, was the slaw; it was tossed in an intensely flavourful chili oil, and had that great numbing heat you get from Sichuan cuisine. I wish there had been about double the amount.