Amazing Lamb and Rice at Mandi Afandi

Mandi AfandiLocation: 5120 Dixie Road, Mississauga
Website: https://www.mandiafandi.ca/

I’ll admit that I was skeptical about Mandi Afandi.  The spot they’re in formerly housed a Popeyes Chicken; since it closed down in 2013, that location has been home to a revolving door of failed restaurants.  The last one — Mandilicious — also specialized in mandi.  I didn’t have high hopes for what I assumed would be the latest in a string of shuttered eateries.

But then Suresh Doss highlighted the place in his column for CBC, and of course, I had to sit up and take notice.  If Doss writes about a restaurant, you can be reasonably assured that the food will be tasty.

Mandi Afandi

They have a handful of things on the menu, but of course, mandi — a traditional Yemini dish which features slow-cooked meat and rice — is right there in the name.  They serve it with either lamb, chicken, or both.

I tried the lamb.  Even with the Doss seal of approval, I was still fairly skeptical about the place, and I could not have been more wrong.  It was shockingly delicious.

The lamb is delightfully tender and absolutely crammed with flavour from the spices they cook it with and the meat itself.  I love lamb, and this is some of the best I’ve had in a long time.

Mandi Afandi

You’d think that the rice would take a backseat to the meat, but surprisingly enough, it’s just as good.  You can tell its been cooked with the meat because its infused with that flavour, and it’s fragrant with the same delightful spices that make the lamb so tasty.

The crispy fried onions only amp up the flavour, and add a nice textural counterpoint to the tender lamb and fluffy rice.  You also get little containers of yogurt sauce and hot sauce on the side, and while neither are particularly necessary (it’s already so damn good on its own), they both compliment the dish quite well.

Style over Substance at Maha’s

Maha'sLocation: 226 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://www.mahasbrunch.com/

The Mind Blowing Chicken Sandwich at Maha’s is one of those dishes you see and immediately want to eat.  No, scratch that — need to eat.  I mean, look at that thing.

But then, that’s kind of the problem, isn’t it?  It’s a tasty dish, but it also feels very much like something that was created to be a stunner on Instagram, with the actual flavour being secondary.

Maha’s Mind Blowing Chicken, per the menu: “Maha’s sacred marinate, tossed with parsley, onions and tomatoes, served on a toasted egg bun with tomeya, homemade mayo and tehina.”

Maha's

The very generous pile of chicken is nice and moist, with a very unique and distinctive spicing that makes it stand out.  The sauces, too, compliment it quite nicely, and the onions and tomatoes add some welcome freshness and crunch.

But it’s a very assertively-flavoured dish, and I’ll admit that by the end, it was getting to be a bit much.  It really needed something on the side to help round things out and add a little variety.  There’s so much of that chicken; it starts out delightful, but eventually turns one-note and tiresome.

Maha's

It doesn’t help that the bun is all wrong.  Its fluffy lightness is completely lost among the chicken’s very assertive flavours, and the bottom bun (yes, there is a bottom bun underneath that pile) turns into complete mush.

We had ordered some of the balady pita bread on the side, and it worked so much better  — it has a nice chewy texture that holds up to the saucy chicken, and a nutty flavour that complements and helps to mellow out the assertive spicing.  I wish it had come as a wrap in that bread, but then that wouldn’t be quite the showstopper on Instagram, would it?

Maha's

I also tried the falafel, which was unambiguously delicious, and maybe the best falafel in the city.  It’s crispy, fluffy, and delightfully herby.  I couldn’t help but compare it to the stuff I recently had at Paramount, and it was night and day.  It’s almost a completely different dish.

The Sad Decline of Paramount

ParamountLocation: 1290 Crestlawn Drive, Mississauga
Website: http://www.paramountfinefoods.com/

You’ll notice that I only have the one photo from Paramount, of a partially eaten take-out box of a dozen falafel.  I wasn’t planning on blogging about this one, but I think I kinda have to?

Paramount makes me sad.  The one I visited, in an industrial area of Mississauga, is actually the first location of the now omnipresent chain.  Back before they started expanding, it was a fantastic restaurant — easily some of the best Middle Eastern food in the GTA.  Every time I went there, the place was absolutely slammed.  It was so good, and people couldn’t get enough of it.

Then, of course, they started expanding, and the quality started to go downhill.  Slowly at first, but the decline was unmistakable.  The crowds thinned out, but it was still popular enough.

The last time I was there, maybe about a year ago, the food was clearly inferior to its highs in the pre-expansion days, but it was still pretty decent.

I just went to pick up an order of a dozen falafel, and the place was an absolute ghost town.  It’s easy enough to see why; it was quite possibly the worst falafel that I’ve ever had.  It was dense and dry, with an unpleasantly crumbly texture that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.  It tasted wrong and stale despite being fresh from the fryer.

As for the weirdly sour tahini sauce and the bland pita bread, the less said the better.

I think I’m done with Paramount, and considering how good it used to be, that makes me sad.

Amazing Shawarma at Shawarma Frenzy

Shawarma FrenzyLocation: 1011 Pape Avenue, Toronto
Website: None

I think the shawarma wrap at Shawarma Frenzy might just be the best deal in the city (it’s in the top five, that’s for sure).  It costs a mere $6.75, it’s the approximate size and heft of a small baby, and it’s crazy delicious.  There’s no downside.

Shawarma Frenzy

The chicken shawarma itself is absolutely outstanding; it nails every element.  Most importantly, it’s got a surfeit of the dark crispy bits that makes great shawarma so satisfying, but it’s not dried out at all, with tender, juicy meat.  And it’s really nicely seasoned.  It’s amazing.

Shawarma Frenzy

And the wrap features a very, very generous amount of meat, not to mention a good balance of fresh veggies, zingy pickles, and tasty sauces.  It has a nice garlicky hit, but it’s not so aggressive that you’ll be tasting garlic for the rest of the day.  I wish it were a little bit spicier (it’s just barely spicy), but that’s a very minor complaint.

The pita bread is great too — it’s fresh, a little bit chewy, and nicely crisped up in a sandwich press.  It’s a top notch shawarma wrap.  And it’s $6.75!  That’s ridiculous.

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.