Where Ann Kim, co-owner of Donna’s eats Korean food in Thornhill

Where Ann Kim, co-owner of Donna’s eats Korean food in Thornhill

Her favourite spots for gimbap, kimchi stew and raw marinated crab

Ann Kim uses chopsticks to eat at Gimbap Shop, a Korean restaurant

More Chefs in the Burbs

Despite the recent volatile weather, Ann Kim, co-owner of Donna’s, is optimistically focused on patio season. “Peter, Jed and I are getting excited for warmer weather by revamping our food and drink menus to reflect the upcoming sunnier days,” she says.

When Kim isn’t at her Wallace-Emerson café and wine bar, she often returns to the area where she grew up. “I have fond memories of Thornhill because we spent a lot of time eating around there.” These days, she finds herself back in the burb with her husband and business partner, Peter, and their two kids. “My dad and grandma are buried at Holy Cross cemetery, so after we visit our loved ones, we’ll head to one of our go-to spots—some of which were also my dad’s favourites—to eat.”

Here, a couple of Kim’s favourite Korean spots in Thornhill (and one in North York).

Related: What’s on the menu at Piggy’s Island, a Korean barbecue restaurant in Thornhill that bounced back from a devastating fire

Gimbap Shop

7368 Yonge St., unit 9A, Thornhill, 905-597-7273 (Central Park on Yonge)

The exterior of Gimbap Shop, a Korean restaurant in a Thornhill plaza

“The plaza Gimbap Shop is in is so popular because Sariwon is just a few doors down, and it’s where so many people have celebratory banquets. My friend Grace, who is also Donna’s kitchen manager, had her wedding there. She’s the one who introduced me to Gimbap Shop.”

A takeout container of tteokbokki at Gimbap Shop in Thornhill

Go-to dish #1: Gimbap tteokbokki

“I love its sweet and spicy profile. The rice-and-fish cakes have a soft and chewy texture. This dish also comes with a perfectly hard-boiled egg, which I usually give to my son. Gimbap tteokbokki is quite common in Korean bars as a snack—likely because beer is the perfect drink to wash it down with. But, for me and my family, this along with the rolls make for a great lunch.”

A takeout container of mini gimbap at Gimbap Shop, a Korean restaurant in Thornhill

Go-to dish #2: Mini gimbap

“The rice is seasoned here with a bit of salt and sesame oil. And the portion size is why my kids love it—it’s small and light but flavourful. And it has the perfect ratio of spinach, carrots, pickled radish and seaweed inside. Sometimes I like to dip the rolls in the tteokbokki sauce.”

A takeout container of bulgogi gimbap at Gimbap Shop in Thornhill

Go-to dish #3: Bulgolgi gimbap

“It’s like the Korean version of a futomaki. And you really must eat each piece in one go—which I do because I take pride in my big bites. Again, I love the ratio of ingredients—there’s the perfect amount of julienned lettuce, carrots, cucumber, burdock, egg and seaweed. But, most importantly, there’s a generous amount of marinated sliced beef inside.”

Cho Sun Ok Korean Restaurant

7353 Yonge St., Thornhill, 905-707-8426

A server at Cho Sun Ok, a Korean restaurant, helps Ann Kim navigate the menu

Korean banchan

“This is my favourite Korean restaurant, and it was also my dad’s favourite spot. In my opinion, it’s the best in the city. They’re so popular that they doubled the size of the restaurant, but customers still have to anticipate long wait times if they go between noon and 2 p.m., and again at 6 p.m. That’s why there’s a sign-in wait list at the front.”

A bowl of naengmyun, chilled noodle soup, at Cho Sun Ok, a Korean restaurant in Toronto

A person uses scissors to cut Korean short ribs at a restaurant

Go-to dish #1: Naengmyun and galbi in slushy broth

“I’d say this dish is an acquired taste because the noodles are ice cold. It’s typically eaten in the summer, but I can enjoy it any time of the year. The broth is refreshing and savoury because the base is made with gochujang and Korean chilies, then rounded out with toasted flavours, a bit of sweetness and a hint of vinegar. For anyone who wants to season the broth further, there’s house-made spicy mustard and vinegar on every table. But I love it as it is, so I don’t add anything extra. As for the noodles, they have this ultra stretchy, chewy quality to them. To round out the meal, I typically ask for some galbi, which has been marinated in soy, sesame, garlic, oil and sugar from fruit, like an Asian pear. The short ribs have the perfect amount of char but are also very tender. What I like to do first is give everything a good mix before digging in. And I don’t waste anything—I even enjoy eating the ‘rubber band,’ the connective tissue wrapped around the bone.”

A bowl of kimchi jiim at Cho Sun Ok, a Korean restaurant in Thornhill

A woman holding chopsticks lifts up a piece of kimchi

Go-to dish #2: Kimchi jjim

“This is a rich dish that comes with miso soup and purple rice on the side. What I like to do is make little bundles with some of everything. I take a bit of the kimchi, add a slice of unctuous pork belly, finish it with rice, then pop it into my mouth for a perfect, balanced bite. Because they’ve braised the kimchi and pork belly together, the kimchi has a tangy and nutty flavour, which actually tones down the spice in this dish. For a bit of a palate reset, I like to eat some of their house banchan—particularly the sweet pickled radish—in-between bites.”

A fridge full of jars of kimchi at Cho Sun Ok, a Korean restaurant in Thornhill

Finch JungSooNae

5754 Yonge St., North York, 416-222-4267

The exterior of Jungsoonae, a Korean restaurant in North York

“This restaurant is located on the ground floor of an apartment building, and the parking lot is hidden around the back. It was my dad who first took me here over 15 years ago, and I still come back for their signature dish: raw crab.”

Related: Comma, a Korean restaurant on Queen West serving raw marinated crab

A plate of raw marinated crab a Jungsoonae in Toronto

A person wearing plastic gloves eats raw marinated crab

Go-to dish #1: Ganjang-gejang (raw marinated crab)

“This is a homestyle dish that you can’t often find in restaurants, so it’s a rare treat. It reminds me of a dish my grandma used to make. She would boil the crabs in soy and use the residual sauce for seasoning. The difference here is that they take fresh raw crabs and marinate them in soy sauce along with other aromatics like ginger, chili, onion and garlic. After about 24 hours of marinating, the meat takes on a sweet-salty flavour and a jelly-like texture. They give you plastic gloves so you can really get in there and extract the meat. My pro tip is to squeeze the legs from the bottom and then suck out the meat. I usually save the head for last because I like to mix it with the purple rice. I can usually finish one order all by myself because it’s more like an appetizer.”

A bowl of aged kimchi stew at Jungsoonae in North York

Go-to dish #2: Mukeunji jjigae (aged kimchi stew)

“Their old menu used to say how long each batch of kimchi was aged for, but unfortunately those details aren’t included anymore. In any case, I find this to be a super spicy and super sour dish—it’s really bold compared with regular kimchi stews. It’s basically like a solid block of kimchi braised down with soft tofu, to which they add tender pork. But, even with the other elements, the kimchi remains the star of the show. I like to scoop up some of the stew and ladle it over the purple rice. It’s an incredibly hearty and comforting dish.”

Ann Kim uses plastic gloves to eat raw marinated crab at Jungsoonae, a Korean restaurant