Where the owners of Syrian bakery Crown Pastries eat Middle Eastern food in Scarborough

Where the owners of Syrian bakery Crown Pastries eat Middle Eastern food in Scarborough

Ismail (left) and Rasoul Alsalah

Rasoul and Ismail Alsalha, along with their parents and two other siblings, left Aleppo in 2009 to settle in Scarborough, abandoning a bakery that was family-run for generations. “When we moved here, there wasn’t a Syrian community—we felt like we were the first,” says Rasoul. The two brothers dreamed of continuing the family’s tradition by opening a Syrian bakery.

Ismail took a hotel management course, while Rasoul familiarized himself with Scarborough’s culinary scene. He worked his way through a variety of restaurants and shops along the strip of Lawrence Avenue East between Victoria Park and Birchmount—a stretch of road that has some of the best Middle Eastern spots in the country. The brothers eventually opened Crown Pastries in 2015, quickly developing a cult following for their house-made Syrian sweets.

When they’re not working 12-hour shifts, the two eat at neighbouring restaurants. “We miss the food back home,” says Rasoul. “For us, food is a way to remember our life in Syria, the way things were.” They took us to their favourite Syrian, Armenian, Lebanese and Egyptian spots.

Challal Pastries

1960 Lawrence Ave E., 416-752-4584, no website


Rasoul’s favourite breakfast spot has been in the neighbourhood for more than 20 years and specializes in savoury pies. “When we first moved to Canada, I saw the sign and had to come in,” he says. “It’s the best Syrian-style breakfast I’ve found.” Customers crowd the small shop every morning to buy pies by the dozen, and the place often sells out by mid-afternoon. The brothers visit this place two or three times a week.

These spinach pies are like a cross between spanakopita and samosas.

A variety of breakfast flatbreads, meat pies and veggie pies.

Flatbread topped with ground beef and pickles.

Red tea is a traditional breakfast drink.

Ismail and Rasoul, enjoying their breakfast spread.

Go-to item: Syrian breakfast.
Tasting notes: A typical Syrian breakfast consists of red tea served with a variety of meat pies, veggie pies and flatbreads topped with things like ground beef, pickles and za’atar.

Ani Bakery

25 Howden Road, Unit #2., 416-285-7164, no website


Ani Bakery is a family-run operation known for having only one menu item: Armenian lahmajoun, thin pies topped with a mixture of ground meat and vegetables. Ani sells them by the dozen, and the brothers swear they’re the best they’ve ever had.

Ismail, bringing lahmajoun to the table.

An order of lahmajoun, dough topped with meat and veggies.

Ayran, a cold yogurt drink mixed with salt.

Go-to item: Lahmajoun
Tasting notes: The made-to-order lahmajoun is covered in ground beef and lamb, savoury herbs, vegetables and lemon. A side of tangy pickles offsets the richness of the dish.

Shawarma Empire

1823 Lawrence Ave E., 416-285-1337, no website


Locals know that when it comes to shawarma and falafel, this place is one of the best in the GTA. Ismail eats here weekly, and thinks it’s the best falafel he’s tried so far. He’s a big fan of their hot sauce, too.

Shawarma Empire is one of the most popular Middle Eastern restaurants in Scarborough. Suresh Doss

House-made baklava.

Beef shawarma on a spit.

The mixed plate.

Go-to item: The mixed plate.
Tasting notes: A plate loaded with beef and chicken shawarma, falafel, rice, salad and hummus. The brothers recommend asking for extra hot sauce.

Damas Grill House and Juice Bar

1795 Victoria Park Ave., 647-346-6424, no website


Damas is a fairly new addition to the strip. Like most of the restaurant’s customers, Ismail and Rasoul go to the casual Lebanese restaurant for the grilled meats.

Kebabs are cooked over a charcoal grill.

Kebab shish tawook with salad and rice.

Go-to item: Kebab shish tawook with salad and rice.
Tasting notes: Grilled chicken and beef kebabs (marinated in a secret recipe) on fluffy basmati rice, topped with house-made garlic and hot sauces.

Mermaid Fish and Grill House

1748 Lawrence Ave E., 416-519-9868, mermaidfishandgrillhouse.ca


Mermaid is popular for its coastal Egyptian seafood dishes. A rotating menu lists what’s available, and customers can request how they want their fish (or lobster or mussels or clams) cooked.

Fried calamari rings.

Whole grilled fish with lemon and olive oil.

Whole sea bream, cooked Singari-style.

Every meal comes with tahini, babaganoush, garlic sauce and salad.

Go-to items: Calamari and grilled fish
Tasting notes: Rasoul swears by the calamari here but both brothers love the grilled fish, whether it’s cooked simply with olive oil and lemon, or done Singari-style (split in half, seasoned with Mediterranean spices, then barbecued with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers.)