Vena's (1263 Bloor West, at Dufferin, 416-532-3665) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pop. Average main $7. Open daily 10 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Want proof that vena's makes the number-one roti in Toronto? Look no further than the humble Bloor West take-away's front window, where a buzzing neon sign proudly proclaims, "Best roti in town."
Need more evidence? Just check out the luridly lit hole-in-the-wall's unconventional card. Alongside standard fillings like boneless curried chicken or goat mixed with chunky spuds and an occasional chickpea, you'll find dhalpoori stuffed with the likes of slow-cooked disintegrating cubes of stewing beef and sliced button mushrooms in a mild jalfrezi-style tomato curry ($8).
Equally impressive, Vena's veggie version ($6) weighs up to a hefty 26 ounces and comes loaded with great slabs of sweet yam, crunchy chickpea channa and wilted spinach in a gently curried gravy. Even better, the house's shrimp and asparagus roti ($9) contains a whack of sizable butterflied shrimp that arrive firm not the frozen mush you'd expect at this price alongside chopped-up al dente spears. In addition, each roti gets briefly grilled burrito-style.
On their own, Vena's rotis won't set off any unnecessary heat alarms, but add a splash of deceptively watery hot sauce or garlic chutney ($1) and count on a major meltdown.
Bangladeshi Mashud Siddique and his Guyanese wife, Homewaty, first launched Vena's at Queen and Bathurst 15 years ago. Eight years later, they expanded uptown, but, overshadowed by the ever-popular nearby Gandhi, the couple closed the original to concentrate on the Bloor location three years ago.
The new spot has no decor to speak of other than a lumpy couch, an empty gumball machine and a Pong-era video game, but the first Vena's was one of the oddest room's in town, especially its mural depicting a booze-swilling Olive Oyl, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny sharing a recreational cigarette. I can't help but ask the charitable restaurateur who once a year gives away over a 1,000 rotis to the local homeless what inspired him to paint it.
"I can't really go into that," laughs Siddique enigmatically.