Honey orange ribs are a menu staple at Lee Garden.
No neighbourhood in town packs in as many long-running food institutions as Spadina’s Chinatown. It’s a magnet for food lovers of all backgrounds, ages and walks of life, where younger chefs cast their lot with their culinary forefathers by doing their own takes on classic Chinese eats. Everyone has favourite haunts in this neighbourhood, all of them worthy. Here are a few of ours.
Anne’s Magic Kitchen
A recent addition to the area (at least by Chinatown standards, where most successful restaurants are older than the people who eat there), Anne’s does a crowd-pleasing mix of Chinese home cooking staples, snack plates like lamb skewers and grilled fried tofu, and take-away bubble tea. Your best starting point: spicy handmade Szechuan dan dan noodles ($6.99).
414 Dundas West, at Huron, 647-523-5555. See listing.
A fiver won’t get you a platter of dumplings at this red-lacquered dumpling spot any more, but it’s still one of the most satisfying cheap eats on a strip that’s full of them (particularly if you bring a crowd). Poke through the lace-like crust of a platter of fried pork and chives ($7.99), round things out with some egg drop soup ($4.99) and grab a bagged dozen dumplings for your freezer.
328 Spadina, at St. Andrew, 416-596-8898. See listing.
A recent reno has given King’s a new lease on life, but the BBQ hanging in the window thankfully remains untouched. The BBQ duck here is the marquee item, but the pork gets high marks, too – get ’em in hearty, budget-friendly bowls of noodle and won ton soup (just $4.15 and up) or on platters of noodles flanked by hunks of bok choy ($8.25 and up).
House of Gourmet
If the fluorescent lights at this downstairs dining room don’t have your eyes swimming, the menu will, with a whopping 700 items spread over two printed menus. (The congee section alone has 45 entries.) Can’t decide? Try the kitchen-sink House Special Fried Noodle ($11.50), with barbecue pork, scallops, squid, shrimp, chicken and veg.
BBQ chicken rice and broth at Jackpot Chicken Rice.
Jackpot Chicken Rice
Patois chef Craig Wong’s newest joint does a polished take on home cooking (specifically, Hainanese chicken rice). With its whimsical Chinoiserie decor, the resto still fits right in with the mom-and-pops. Poached or BBQ chicken plate ($16) with optional crispy skin, and tofu with mushroom rice and vegan XO sauce ($14) are both worthy choices.
It’s been 40 years since opening day, but Lee Garden still gets lines every day at 4 pm when they open. Grandfather chicken smoked with oolong and honey ($17), sweet orange ribs laced with some mysterious, beguiling spice ($20) and glossy orange Szechuan chicken ($16) are all must-orders. Zane Caplansky is a famous fan – he digs the mélange of pork, tofu, shrimp and pickled cabbage in the hot and sour soup ($9.50-$19).
The eternal question: Mother’s or Dumpling House? Both have their strong suits, but when it comes to atmosphere, Mother’s takes it by a landslide. Other points for the win column: marvellous juicy pork buns ($8.60), dumpling selections like pork and radish or winter melon and mushroom ($5.90/$8.90), scallion pancakes ($4.65) and an admirable number of veggie options.
Fun fact: Chinatown as we currently know it was once a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. People’s Eatery, easily the slickest place on this block of Spadina, throws deli influences together with a jumble of Asian cuisines. The result: a uniquely satisfying menu of bar snacks like fried tongue sliders ($7), hwae dup bop ($16), General Tso Fu ($8) and whitefish salad on bagel chips ($12).
Grilled octopus at R&D.
After an uneven opening, this glossy spot from MasterChef judge Alvin Leung and protege Eric Chong has nicely worked out the kinks. The kitchen excels at riffs on snacky classics like Thai son-in-law eggs ($15) on a bed of fresh tuna tataki, or dim sum staples like char siu buns and chicken-truffle fun guo (both $8). Bigger-ticket items like grilled octopus with chimichurri and miso mayo ($18) also impress. Pro tip: Wash it all down with marvelous $7 cocktails at happy hour.
This all-day (and all-night) dim sum destination has been packing ’em in for two decades. Wait out the line and you’ll be rewarded when siu mai ($3.48), har gao ($3.88) and pork buns ($2.68) parade across your white plastic tablecloth. Like many long-standing Chinatown joints that stay open until stupid o’clock, it’s a favourite of local chefs: Matt Dean Pettit, formerly of Rock Lobster, recommends the won ton soup ($4.95-$10.95).
323 Spadina, at D’Arcy, 416-977-1128. Read more about Rol San here.
Night owls flock to the bright lights of Swatow for cheap, plentiful eats served nightly until 2 am. Crowd favourites include noodle dishes like the grease-alicious Special Fried Noodle with soy, sesame, bean sprouts and a little BBQ pork ($9.50), as well as a great rendition of General Tso chicken ($13.75) that comes liberally laden with peppers (#health).
309 Spadina, at D’Arcy, 416-977-0601. See listing.
Lobster at Wah Sing.
The crustaceans are aces at this 30-year-old spot beloved for its double-lobster deal (which has sadly been hiked over the years to $37.95 – but, hey, that’s approximately 1.2 lobsters everywhere else). Get yours dressed in a choice of 10 different sauces – black bean and ginger-green onion are the old faves, or branch out with lemon grass, coconut milk curry or miso.