Amazing Noodle Soup at I Love Pho 2

I Love Pho 2Location: 1248 Dundas Street East, Mississauga
Website: None

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).

I Love Pho 2

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.

I Love Pho 2

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.

I Love Pho 2

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.

Decent Thai Food at Pai

PaiLocation: 18 Duncan Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.paitoronto.com/

After recently having a mind-blowing meal at Khao San Road (which is just around the corner), I decided to Thai it up again, this time at Pai.  Alas, the meal was quite tasty, but it wasn’t even close to being on the same level as KSR.

I ordered the Pad Gra Prow — “holy basil stir fried with your choice of ground pork, chicken, beef or tofu, steamed jasmine rice, thai style fried egg, nam prik nam pla sauce.”

Pai

I went with pork, and elected to go Thai spicy, which is the highest spice level.

And indeed, they were absolutely, positively not kidding around with the spice.  I enjoyed the level of heat, but then I’m somewhat of a glutton for punishment in that regard (see also: my undying love for the “hot AF” chicken at Chica’s Chicken).

Pai

Sadly, aside from the impressive level of fiery heat, nothing about this dish particularly stands out.  It’s perfectly tasty, but none of the flavours pop, even when you add the fish sauce that comes on the side.  It’s a serviceable dish, but it’s boring.

Contrast that with the life-changing bowl of Khao Soi that I had at Khao San Road, and there’s no contest.

Of course, it’s not a fair comparison since the two dishes are so radically different.  But my dining companion had the pad thai at both restaurants and was able to make a 1:1 comparison.  He had the same reaction — Pai is fine, but KSR is magical.

Sandwich Perfection at Tortería San Cosme

Tortería San CosmeLocation: 181 Baldwin Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sancosme.ca/

I recently mentioned that the sandwich at Egg Bae was fine, but that it was a bit one-note; the flavours and textures were all monotonous, and it was kinda boring to eat.

The Conchinita torta from San Cosme is the exact opposite of that.  It’s an almost absurdly well-balanced sandwich.

It was my first time back there since it opened; it was very good then, and it’s even better now.  The torta I just had was dangerously close to sandwich perfection.

Tortería San Cosme

The sandwich comes with pulled pork, refried beans, habanero onions, and fried plantains.

It’s ridiculously good.  All the elements work together in such perfect harmony.  There’s the tangy pork (which is super tender, but still has some texture) and the creamy beans, which balance perfectly with the mild sweetness of the plantain.  The pickled onions add crunch, and their vinegary bite helps to cut the richness from the pork and beans.

Tortería San Cosme

Then there’s the crispiness from the fried plantains, not to mention the amazing bread, which is lightly crispy on its exterior and delightfully fluffy inside.

It’s kind of absurd how good the sandwich is.  The contrasting flavours and textures are like a perfectly orchestrated symphony.

Tortería San Cosme

And it’s made even better with the house-made pickled jalapenos they have on the counter.  These things are so good, with an assertive crunch, a vinegary bite, and a mild spiciness.  You assume the sandwich can’t get better than it already is, then you add a few of those, and yeah — somehow it gets even more delicious.

Tasty Arepas at Maiz

MaizLocation: 3220 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttps://maizlatinfood.ca/

Maiz is a new-ish Latin joint on Yonge street with a variety of tacos, burritos, and arepas on their menu.

I tried an arepa and quite enjoyed it, but the menu is clearly hit-and-miss.  I went with a group of four; two of us got arepas and enjoyed them mightily.  The other two got a burrito and a veggie bowl and found them to be mediocre at best.

Maiz

So who knows!  I can’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant where the group was so sharply divided, but the only thing I tried was the arepa, and it was quite tasty.

Specifically, I tried the adobo arepa, which features a whole bunch of braised pork crammed into a toasty arepa (which is a thick corn flatbread traditionally served in Columbia and Venezuela) and topped with pineapple.

Maiz

The pork was delicious; it had a zippy flavour from the adobo marinade and a very mild kick.

The texture was great –it was shredded, but not too finely, with a nice mix of lean and fatty pieces.  And it had obviously been crisped up on a griddle, with crispy pieces throughout.

The pineapple chunks were a bit too large, and the arepa itself wasn’t as fresh as I would have liked, but all in all it was a tasty dish.

Average Mexican Food at Cinco Mexican Restaurant

Cinco Mexican RestaurantLocation: 131 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.cinco.restaurant/

Cinco is an unassuming Mexican restaurant on Roncesvalles that’s been serving up tacos and rotisserie chicken for about a year.  Nothing about it particularly stands out, but if you’re in the area, I’m sure you could do worse.

I tried a couple of things.  The first was the cochinita pibil taco: “marinated braised pork in adobo, six hour slow-cooked pork belly, queso oaxaca, topped with habanero onions.”

Cinco Mexican Restaurant

It wasn’t bad, though I wish they had taken the same amount of meat and split it into two tacos, because it’s kind of absurd.

The bites where you get a bit of everything — the shredded pork, the cilantro, the pickled onions — are really good.  But there’s such a heaping mound of meat that many (most?) of the mouthfuls are pork, pork, and nothing but pork.

Cinco Mexican Restaurant

This wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing, but the pork was quite dry despite being shockingly greasy (seriously, the amount of oil dripping out of the taco was insane.  The entire plate was swimming in it by the time I finished).

Still, it was tasty enough — the adobo-braised pork was tasty, the two blue corn tortillas were nice and fresh (the thin layer of cheese between them was a nice touch, but it was a bit too subtle to add much to the overstuffed taco), and the mouthfuls with a bit of everything had a nice balance of richness from the meat and acidity from the pickles.

Cinco Mexican Restaurant

I also tried the the chicken quesadilla, a daily special.  This was a bit of a head-scratcher; it was filled with pieces of plain chicken, and… that’s about it.  No cheese, no other ingredients (that I could taste, at least), just a whole bunch of stale-tasting chicken chunks.  But it was fine, I guess — especially once I started dipping it into the pool of porky grease from the taco.