Location: 77 Huron Street, Toronto
When I first found out about the existence of jian bing a few years ago, it was impossible to find in Toronto (if it was being served, I couldn’t find any evidence of it online). Living with the grim knowledge that something so delicious existed, and having no way (outside of an expensive plane ticket) to eat it was actually pretty brutal.
Thankfully, things have changed in the last few years; several places serving jian bing have been popping up, so if you’re looking for it (and you should be looking for it), you’re good to go.
I guess I should probably explain what jian bing even is — it’s more common than it used to be, but it’s not exactly at sushi levels of ubiquity quite yet. It’s a tasty Chinese breakfast wrap that finds a crepe (of sorts) cooked with eggs until they combine into one thing, and it’s all wrapped up with tasty sauces and crispy fried dough. It’s delicious.
And the version they serve at Tianjin Auntie’s Steamed Bun is legit; it’s a seriously addictive combo of chewy exterior and crispy interior, it’s a savoury, a little bit sweet, eggy, and delicious. It might actually be slightly too eggy, however, and the whole thing is somewhat soggy. This dish is traditionally served as street food; I took it to go and was planning to eat and walk, but it quickly became apparent that it was a bit too sloppy to eat while on the move. That’s a minor complaint, however. It was still very good.
(I should also note that Tianjin Auntie’s Steamed Bun is a restaurant with a full menu of tasty looking Northern Chinese dishes, in case I’m giving you the impression that they just serve one thing. A repeat visit is almost certainly in order.)
Location: 65 Duncan Street, Toronto
Shah’s Halal Food has a pretty straightforward menu; it’s basically just chicken, lamb, and falafel that you can either order on rice or as a wrap. Apparently it’s a chain with a whole bunch of locations in the States and the UK, and yeah, that checks out. It tastes like chain food.
Still, it’s not bad. I went with the lamb gyros, which comes absolutely crammed with lamb, veggies, black beans, chick peas, hummus, and three different sauces: white sauce, hot sauce, and green sauce.
The lamb itself is probably the weakest part of the sandwich; it comes out of a metal warming tray looking like the saddest, grayest cubes of meat that you’ve ever seen, and it has a spongey reconstituted meat flavour. It’s not great.
But the sandwich is so crammed with stuff that this is barely even an issue — I wish it were a bit spicier (it’s basically not spicy at all), but it’s zippy, crunchy, and flavourful, and the soft but substantial pita does a good job of holding it all together.
Location: 111 Richmond Street West, Toronto (inside the Assembly Chef’s Hall)
I recently found myself in the Assembly Chef’s Hall, and I figured I’d check out whichever vendor was the busiest. This was — by far — Charcoal Biryani, though that might be because they seemed to be a bit frazzled; it took about forty minutes (!!) between getting in line and getting my food, which seems to defeat the whole point of an ostensibly grab-and-go concept like this.
Still, it was pretty tasty. They serve biryani, along with a variety of kebabs that you can either get as a wrap or in a meal with rice. I was planning on getting the original kebab wrap, but this was sold out, so I went with the chicken tikka wrap instead.
I wish the chicken were dark meat instead of vaguely dry breast, but otherwise I quite enjoyed this. As the name of the restaurant implies, they cook the chicken over charcoal, which gives it a delightfully smoky flavour. Otherwise it’s pretty by-the-numbers, but that pronounced flavour from the grill really elevates it.
I also got an order of fries that I forgot to photograph, which the menu advertised as two dollars but which the apologetic woman behind the counter explained is actually six. Inflation, I guess?? Anyway, just picture McDonald’s fries (but worse) with a sprinkling of sumac on top. This would have been worth the advertised two dollars, but six might be a bit much.
Location: 2645 Liruma Road, Mississauga
Oaza Shawarma Plus is one of those local joints that doesn’t stand out in any particular way, but that’s still satisfying for what it is.
I got the chicken shawarma wrap, and it was pretty good. The chicken was entirely lacking in the crispy bits you’re hoping for from great shawarma, but aside from that it was juicy and plentiful. The sauces (hot sauce, garlic sauce, and tahini) were all tasty, and the proportion of sauce, chicken, and fresh veggies was just right.
Bonus: the wrap was nicely toasted in a sandwich press. I feel like unless you’re starting with some seriously fresh, delicious bread (and the pita here was of the bagged, store-bought variety), toasting will automatically enhance a shawarma wrap.
Do you need to get in your car and drive here immediately? No, absolutely not. But if you’re in the area, it’s a tasty enough wrap.
Location: 1011 Pape Avenue, Toronto
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.
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.
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.