Where Banu’s Samira Mohyeddin eats Persian food in the burbs
We’re going on the road with some of the city’s top chefs and restaurateurs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Samira Mohyeddin tells us what’s good in North York and Thornhill
Samira Mohyeddin moved to Canada with her parents, grandmother and older sister in the late ’70s, during the Iran hostage crisis. When she was 4, they moved to Drummondville, Quebec to live on her aunt’s farm. The family stayed there for a year and then decided to move closer to Toronto, settling in North York. Growing up in Toronto, Mohyeddin noticed a lack of Iranian dining. “There were Iranian restaurants, but they weren’t places you wanted to stay—there was never any atmosphere,” Mohyeddin says. “It was literally: buy some food, eat it and get out.”
Mohyeddin worked as a server in a number of restaurants, finally deciding to open one of her own, with two of her siblings, in 2006. “We found a place on Queen Street and Banu was born,” she says. In 2014 they opened a sister café, Kadbanu, on Dundas West. When Mohyeddin is craving Iranian food, she treks to North York and Thornhill. The Yonge Street strip from Finch to Steeles has become a hot spot for Iranian businesses in the last 15 years. “These are places that don’t have websites, they’re not on social media—but they are amazing.”
451 McNicoll Ave., North York, 416-499-2424
Tucked away in an industrial setting near the DVP, Garni Bakery is the oldest Iranian bakery in Toronto. It’s run by an Armenian family who specialize in Iranian flatbreads. “This is an evolution of bread for me,” owner Vahe Akopians says. “Our pastries are different in Armenia—this is more Iranian-style baking—but I give it that little bit of my background.” Mohyeddin is the only restaurateur that has managed to convince Akopians to sell his bread wholesale for use at her restaurants.
Go-to item #1: Barbari bread.
Tasting notes: Barbari is a fluffy flatbread topped with sesame seeds. It’s thick enough to be cut in half to make a sandwich.
Go-to item #2: Cake rollets.
Tasting notes: Very similar to Swiss rolls, they’re made with pound cake, whipped cream and nuts (pistachios, walnuts, almonds).
Arzon Super Market
6103 Yonge St, North York, 416-590-1234
Each strip mall in Little Persia is stacked with cafes, restaurants and grocery stores. Arzon is Mohyeddin’s favourite. It’s a 24-hour restaurant, market, bakery and meeting place. Owner Carlo Zadeh recalls that when it opened in 1990, there was only one other Iranian store near him. “The rent was so cheap! After a few months we started to see other businesses moving in. Now, there are a ton of places.” Mohyeddin frequents Arzon for its lunch counter, which features a menu of classic Iranian stews, rice dishes and kebabs.
Go-to item: Heart and liver kebabs.
Tasting notes: The meat is slightly undercooked and heavily salted. It’s served with freshly baked pita bread.
6123 Yonge St., North York, 416-222-3335
Shabestan is a newly opened 24-hour café that celebrates Iran’s tea culture. Buried at the back of a strip mall, it’s a meeting spot for diners that have recently finished a heavy meal and want to unwind with a hot drink (but the café’s boiled sheep’s head-and-feet dish is popular, too).
Go-to item: Tea and pastry service.
Tasting notes: “The best way to enjoy the tea is by putting a cube of sugar in your mouth,” Mohyeddin says. “Set the cube behind your teeth at the side of your mouth, and then drink your tea.” The technique ensures that each sip is lightly sweetened.
Tavazo Dried Nuts and Fruits
Yonge St., Thornhill, 905-763-1855
Mohyeddin says that Tavazo has the best selection of dried goods she has encountered. Dozens of large glass counters dress the small shop, with a variety of imported fruits and nuts.
Go-to item #1: Sweet mixed nuts.
Tasting notes: “This is the kind of stuff families will serve with tea, or as a snack when guests are over,” Mohyeddin says.
Go-to item #2: Sour cherries.
Tasting notes: “These are my personal favourite,” Mohyeddin says. They taste a little like tamarind, with a hint of saltiness.
Go-to item #3: Red sumac.
Tasting notes: “I don’t know what they put in the brown sumac, because it tastes a little too lemony for me. The red sumac is the real deal.”
Parsian Fine Foods
8129 Yonge St., Thornhill, 905-709-1400
Further north on the Little Iran strip, this market is also well known for its hot counter, bakery and imported food selection. Mohyeddin loves the taftoon, a leavened flour bread baked in a clay oven at at the back of the store. Parsian makes a few different flavours of the taftoon, and they each sell out quickly every day.
Go-to item #1: Taftoon with cumin.
Tasting notes: The pita-like bread is soft to the touch, tears apart easily and is loaded with cumin and sesame seeds.
8147 Yonge St., Thornhill, 905-731-0560
Mohyeddin loves saffron ice cream. She says that most shops in the GTA don’t use real saffron for their ice cream—and it shows. “If it’s too orange, you know it isn’t made with real saffron. Real saffron ice cream has a lighter yellow colour.” She swears that Heloo Goolub’s is the best she’s ever had.
Go-to item #1: Saffron ice cream sandwich.
Tasting notes: Lots of rosewater gives the ice cream a very floral taste, and pistachio chunks add texture.