Location: 3160 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
I mentioned recently that I generally prefer checking out restaurants I haven’t tried over revisiting ones I have. There are, however, exceptions to that rule, such as: Shiso Tree Cafe, a restaurant that fuses Japanese and Italian cuisine with some seriously delicious results.
On this visit I had the shoyu mushroom spaghetti: “shimeji, enoki, king oyster mushrooms in mentsuyu butter sauce.”
It’s so good. It looks a little bit dry in the photo; a lot of the sauce is at the bottom of the bowl, but once you mix it up, it becomes creamy and amazing (and the sauce is rich enough to cling perfectly to the pasta — there wasn’t any left in the bowl when the spaghetti was done).
It has an incredibly satisfying buttery/savoury flavour, and the various types of mushrooms add a nice variety of textures and flavours. It’s a top-notch bowl of pasta.
It’s also an incredible deal; every pasta on their lunch menu costs twelve bucks and comes with a salad, soup, and a slice of garlic bread. The salad looks a little sad, but features a sesame-infused dressing that’s a cut above the standard Japanese-inspired salad dressing you’re expecting. The creamy seafood soup is rich, flavourful, and packed with tasty chunks of seafood — it’s way better than a free soup has any right to be. The garlic bread is quite tasty, too.
Location: 923 Queen Street West, Toronto
Though Grand Electric doesn’t get nearly the amount of buzz that it did when it first opened, it’s still chugging along. In fact, they’ve just recently opened a new location a bit further east on Queen (though it’s still on the west end of the city).
When I visited the original location a few years ago, they had some pretty out-there stuff on the menu, like a scrapple taco and pig head fries.
The menu here is much less ambitious than that — there’s nothing beyond the usual suspects (chicken, fried fish, etc.).
It might not be particularly exciting, but if the two tacos I tried were anything to go by, they still know exactly what they’re doing.
The first one I tried was the shrimp taco, which consists of a few generously-sized pieces of fried shrimp topped with a zesty sauce, lettuce, onion, and cilantro.
The shrimp is nicely seasoned and perfectly cooked, with a crunchy exterior that doesn’t overwhelm. The sauce basically tastes like a variation on shrimp sauce, and the other components add a good amount of freshness. It’s a solid taco.
Up next was the Carne Asada, which features steak topped with cilantro, chopped onions, and a couple of salsas. This was even better than the shrimp; the steak was super tender and very nicely marinated, with a nice vibrant flavour that never overwhelms its beefiness. And the salsas compliment it perfectly.
Location: 2572 Birchmount Road, Scarborough
Bun Rieu — a Vietnamese crab noodle soup — is one of those dishes that’s everything at once. It’s alternately sweet, salty, savoury, meaty, fishy, and sour. It’s quite rich, but vibrant enough that it never feels overly heavy.
The version at Bong Lua isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s quite tasty. The broth lacks the rich complexity of the best versions of this dish, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
There’s a great interplay between the sweet acidity of the tomatoes and the fishy funk from the crab. That’s not the mention the chewy rice noodles, which suit the dish perfectly. It’s a solid bowl of soup.
Location: 2814 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Etobicoke
Halibut House is a fish and chips chain with over 20 locations around the GTA, though I didn’t even know it existed until very recently.
I don’t think it’s going to blow anyone’s mind, but if you’re looking for a tasty plate of fish and chips, you could do a lot worse.
It’s also a decent deal. You can get a half plate for about eleven bucks, which comes with a piece of halibut (of course), fries, and coleslaw. The fish is on the smaller side, but the pile of fries is generous enough that it’s pretty much guaranteed to fill you up.
The fish itself is a bit overcooked (it was quite dry), but the flavour was nice, and the batter was just right. A lot of places tend to overwhelm the fish with a thick, overly-crunchy coating, but the batter here was nice and crispy while still allowing the fish to be the star of the show.
The fries are the highlight. They’re crispy, creamy, and very tasty. The coleslaw is a bit bland, but it’s fine, and the tartar sauce is creamy and zesty (if a bit overly oniony). It’s a solid plate of fish and chips.
Location: 69 Kensington Avenue, Toronto
Seven Lives serves what is frequently called the best fish taco in the city, which makes deciding what to order there quite easy. It’s the fish taco. It’s gotta be the fish taco.
I’ve actually been wanting to try this place for quite a while, but it’s popular; the place routinely has a line-up going out the door, and it’s a tiny restaurant. If you don’t get a seat on one of the two benches out front, or at the one table inside, you’re out of luck. You’ll just have to eat and walk, which is a bit of a challenge with their generously-stuffed tacos.
It’s worth the wait and the hassle. It is as advertised: it’s clearly one of the best fish tacos in the city, if not the best.
It consists of a very generous piece of fried haddock topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, and a garlicky sauce. Everything works really well together. The fish, in particular, is delicious; it’s super tender and flaky with a very satisfying crispy exterior that never overwhelms the fish itself.
The toppings are great — the cabbage and the pico de gallo add some nice freshness and crunch (not to mention an acidity that helps cut through the fried fish), and the creamy sauce brings a nice garlicky bite.
My only real issue here are the two corn tortillas, which were a bit stale (corn tortillas are one of those things that pretty much have to be consumed within minutes rather than hours of being cooked — they get stale fast). But that’s a minor complaint for an otherwise superlative taco.