Chefs in the Burbs: The most popular hidden food gems of 2016
We went on the road with some of the city's top chefs and restaurateurs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Here, this year's most popular editions
5 Filipino chef Erwin Joaquin grew up in Markham, back when Filipino cuisine wasn’t readily accessible. Instead he fell in love with the Chinese, Malaysian and Indian takeout spots in the city’s food courts. In his circle of friends, Joaquin is the go-to resource when it comes to Markham’s food scene, and his favourite place to eat in the city is First Markham Place. “It’s food heaven to me,” Joaquin says.
Go-to dish: Yan Can Cook’s fish shui mai, loaded with spicy soy sauce.
Tasting notes: These are at least twice the size of typical shu mai, and they’re super cheap: five dumplings cost only $3.50. Cut the shu mai open and leave them alone for a minute before digging in.
4 When the Iranian-born co-owner of Queen West’s Banu 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,” Mohyeddin says.
Go-to dish: Garni Bakery’s 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.
3 When Aprile isn’t running Origin or the MasterChef Canada set, he’s asking his fellow cooks where they love to eat in the GTA. “I get tips from the guys in the kitchen,” Aprile says. “When they tell me about a place—it doesn’t matter where or what it is—I’ll go check it out.”
Go-to dish: Pho Metro’s pho tai (rice noodle soup with beef).
Tasting notes: The broth goes through a long process where heaps of bones, vegetables and herbs are simmered. “I love the broth—it’s not clear,” Aprile says. “It’s so complex and well-rounded with many nuanced flavours.”
2 Afrim Pristine’s parents and grandfather moved from Belgium to Bloor West Village in 1968. After operating a Becker’s in the west-end neighbourhood for a couple years, they opened the much-loved Cheese Boutique in 1970 at 2286 Bloor St. W. “I used to walk down Bloor with my grandpa, and it would take us 45 minutes to walk three blocks—everyone stopped to talk to each other back then,” Pristine says.
Go-to dish: Kingsway Deli’s paczki (Polish doughnuts).
Tasting notes: “I used to eat paczki all the time—especially the ones covered in a thin layer of icing and stuffed with plum jam,” Pristine says.
1 Hong Kong–born Charles Yu is not a chef or restaurateur, but the man known to message board regulars as the King of Chowhound has eaten at more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants and he’s a walking encyclopedia of the GTA’s Chinese food scene.
Go-to item: Northern Dumpling Kitchen’s pork with garlic and Szechuan peppercorn sauce.
Tasting notes: This thinly sliced leg of pork coated in a spicy garlic sauce is Yu’s favourite dish here. “It’s so addictive,” Yu says. “The chili oil and spices really add so many nuances to the dish—no one else does it this way.”