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.
Location: 780 Burnhamthorpe Road West, Mississauga
Yang’s Braised Chicken Rice is a Chinese chain that recently opened seven simultaneous locations in the GTA. Opening one restaurant is tricky enough; I can’t even imagine what must go into opening so many at the same time.
Whatever kinks they had (and there must have been kinks) since opening in September have clearly been worked out; the food and service were both top-notch. Apparently they have over six thousand locations worldwide, so I guess opening seven more is no big deal.
As you can probably guess from the name, Yang’s specializes in braised chicken rice, a dish in which tender, saucy braised chicken is served with a bowl of rice.
You can either get it standard or boneless (I went with the former), and you can pick your spice level (I picked “authentic,” which was actually quite mild; I’ll probably go spicier next time).
It seemed a bit simple at first, but it really grew on me; by the time I was done, I was 100 percent into it.
The chicken is quite tender, and has a nice soy-sauce-infused flavour from the braising liquid. Combined with the rice and the richly flavourful sauce, it’s surprisingly addictive.
Oddly enough, however, the chicken wasn’t the highlight — it was the slices of mushroom in the sauce. These things do an amazing job of soaking up all the flavour from the dish; they’re basically chewy little flavour bombs. They’re delightful.
Location: 291 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Is it still butter chicken if it doesn’t have butter or chicken? That’s the question at TVX, a vegan joint in Kensington Market that serves what it calls “plant-based South Asian cuisine.”
Mostly, they serve a variety of vegan curries that come with rice and paratha roti. One of those curries is the aforementioned butter-and-chickenless butter chicken, which subs in fried cauliflower for chicken.
So is it still butter chicken? Not really. But is it tasty? Definitely.
It doesn’t taste quite like any butter chicken I’ve had before — the sauce is tangier and less creamy — but for what it is, it’s quite good. It’s garlicky, very spicy (you can choose your heat level — I went with the spiciest, and it wasn’t kidding around) and surprisingly satisfying.
The fried cauliflower works really well — it’s battered and fried, with a nice crunchy exterior and a meaty interior. It doesn’t even vaguely resemble the chicken in a traditional butter chicken, but the hearty crunch stands up nicely to the sauce, and it’s delicious regardless.
The paratha roti was also untraditional but tasty. It’s thicker and more substantial than any paratha roti I’ve had before, but it still had that satisfying combo of crispy, greasy exterior and chewy interior that you’re looking for.
Location: 2352 Yonge Street, Toronto
You wouldn’t particularly know it from what they’re serving at Chi Chop (sorry — Chi Chop!!), but Taiwanese food is pretty great. It has a lot in common with Chinese cuisine, but it’s also got its own thing going on in some very delightful ways.
Chi Chop (!!) serves Taiwanese-style fried chicken, and it’s fine. I got the Ninja crispy chicken bento box, which comes with a generous piece of boneless fried chicken, rice, a salad, three small spring rolls, and miso soup.
Nothing particularly stands out. The fried chicken isn’t bad, but it’s made from white meat, and it’s predictably dry. It’s also a bit too aggressively battered, with an overly thick exterior.
Still, I didn’t dislike eating it. It’s nicely seasoned, and there’s nothing blatantly wrong with it. It’s missing the sauce from the photo on their menu (which would have been nice), but… I don’t know. It didn’t offend me. It’s a shrug. An edible shrug.
It probably doesn’t help that the set is a bit muddled; the chicken is Taiwanese, the soup is Japanese, and the spring rolls taste Filipino (they have a separate section of the menu dedicated to Filipino cuisine). It definitely feels like a “Jack of all trades, master of none” situation.
Location: 93a Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Oh hey, another super delicious scoop of ice cream from Bang Bang. Are you surprised? Because I’m definitely not. They’ve been around for five years now, and they’re still serving up what is hands-down the best ice cream in the city. It’s not even close.
This particular flavour was called Horcha-ta-ta and is inspired by horchata, a sweet, creamy drink made from rice.
The ice cream itself has a really rich flavour, and is imbued with cinnamon and other spices (nutmeg I think? Some other stuff, probably?). It’s topped with sweet sticky rice, condensed milk, and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.
It’s delicious. It actually reminds me quite a bit of rice pudding, but with the cinnamon and other spices giving it a really interesting flavour. And of course, the quality of the ice cream is just as great as ever. It’s so good.