Location: 1248 Dundas Street East, Mississauga
I’ve always liked Vietnamese food, but I feel like I’ve spent the majority of my life seriously underrating it. I’ve recently discovered that Vietnamese cuisine can be downright magical, with a vibrancy and depth of flavour that’s irresistible.
And there’s so much more to it than the obvious choices like pho and banh mi (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those dishes).
Case in point: the bun rieu at I Love Pho 2, a zingy noodle soup made with a tomato- and crab-based broth that’s absolutely crammed with stuff: sliced beef, sliced pork, ground pork, tomato, blood cake, fried tofu, fried onions, fresh herbs, and a whole plate’s worth of crunchy veggies, not to mention the heaping portion of soft, chewy rice noodles.
It’s amazingly good. There’s a really delightful variety of flavours and textures — sometimes, the meat in a soup like this can taste off or be a little tough, but everything here was great.
It’s the broth, however, that makes this dish so special. It has a really rich seafood/crab flavour, with a nice zinginess from the tomato and a mild sweetness that rounds things out. It was incredibly satisfying.
It was also an amazing value — I got the medium size, which cost about ten bucks and came with an almost comically oversized bowl that was filled to the brim and absolutely crammed with noodles and various meats.
Location: 11 Charlotte Street, Toronto
The Khao Soi at Khao San Road is improbably good. It’s the type of dish where you have your first mouthful and think “wait… is this as delicious as I think it is?” Then you take another mouthful, and yeah: it really is that good.
Khao soi is a Thai noodle soup that features a super rich curry broth topped with crispy fried noodles for texture.
The version at Khao San Road is outstanding. That restaurant is one of those places with a perpetual line out the door; once you try the food, it’s easy enough to see why.
The curry-infused soup — made indulgently rich thanks to creamy coconut milk — is so damn satisfying.
There’s nothing subtle about it; it’s an absolute flavour bomb, but with a complexity that ensures it never feels one-note or overwhelming, despite how assertive the flavours are.
I had it with chicken, which complimented it quite well; you can also get tofu, beef, or shrimp.
The combination of the crispy noodles on top, the chewy noodles in the bowl, and the ultra-creamy soup is seriously addictive. It’s ridiculously good.
Location: 259 Queen Street West, Toronto
The pho at Pho Vistro was fine. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with it, and I didn’t dislike eating it.
But it made no real impression on me; my biggest takeaway is that it was food and I ate it. It wasn’t memorable in any particular way.
They have a few different varieties of pho on the menu; I ordered the restaurant’s namesake dish, which features beef and chicken.
The broth had a nice, clean chicken flavour, but almost none of the distinctive spicing you expect from a good bowl of pho. They have a couple of bottles of sauce on the table that add a nice dose of spice and zestiness; these are absolutely essential. On its own, the soup is seriously bland.
The slices of chicken and beef are okay, but they all had a vaguely leftovery flavour, and they’re all a bit tough.
The broad rice noodles are what you’d expect. They’re good.
It all adds up to a very inoffensive meal that I can’t imagine anyone getting too excited over.
Location: 515 Bloor Street West, Toronto
After ramen disappointments at Konjiki and Kinton, I was starting to worry that a really good bowl of ramen might be impossible to find in the city.
Well, here’s Santouka, riding in to save the day. Their ramen certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was a solid bowl of noodles. I enjoyed it.
They specialize in tonkotsu ramen, in which pork bones have been boiled down for hours until you get a rich and creamy broth. They have shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, or spicy miso. I went with shio.
It’s a quality bowl of soup. The broth doesn’t quite have the magical complexity that you’ll find in the best versions of this dish, but it had a rich porky flavour (without the heavy greasiness that can bog down tonkotsu ramen), and a good amount of salt that doesn’t overwhelm.
The noodles were slightly thinner than I’d like, but they have a nice chewy bite. They’re satisfying.
The egg is an add-on, but it’s worth shelling out the extra cash; it’s nicely seasoned and perfectly-cooked, with a gooey but — and this is the key — not runny yolk.
Location: 4350 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
I’ve had a lot of noodles over the course of my life, but — until now — I don’t think I’d ever tried potato noodles.
As the name implies, potato noodles are made with potato starch, which gives them a much, much chewier consistency than the norm.
Though I’ve heard good things about the cold noodles Potato Noodle Soup of Bai, I decided to go with the noodle soup — mostly because “noodle soup” is right there in the name.
I got the plain potato noodle soup, which comes with noodles, meatballs, fish balls, half an egg, and various odds and ends in a fiery broth.
The noodles are really interesting. There’s a Korean dish called jjolmyeon that features noodles that are so incredibly chewy you have to cut them with scissors before you start eating. These kind of reminded me of a thicker, slightly less chewy version of those.
The broth was a bit saltier than I’d like, but it was otherwise quite tasty, with a spicy kick and an almost creamy richness that you only get from a stock that’s been simmered for a long, long time.
The whole thing was fairly tasty, though with Sun’s Kitchen just a few steps away, I don’t know that I’d ever eat here again.