Toronto’s best Chinese restaurants
418 Dundas St. W., 416-977-3909, asianlegend.ca
The late-night stalwart is the perfect place to bring Spadina strip newbies. Each shrimp and pork won ton packet, served in a delicate broth, is laced with ginger for heat and bok choy for crunch. The mapo tofu brings silky cubes of tofu simmered in a rich minced pork sauce, then stir-fried with tongue-tickling Sichuan garlic chili sauce.
771 Dundas St. W., 416-842-8277, chop-chop.ca
This tiny corner spot is run by the Tiao family: Mom and Dad work the kitchen with sons Eric (who last cooked at Susur Lee’s now-defunct Bent) and Kevin, while another son, Steven, handles the dining room. The specialty is handmade dumplings, stuffed with pork and chives or mixed veg. They’re best inhaled moments after leaving the frying pan, crisp and perfectly greasy, which is why you’ll rarely see anyone doing takeout from Chop Chop and why the rows of red stools in the window are always taken. The Tiaos also make a mean mapo tofu; bok choy wok-fried Taiwanese-style with barbecue pork; and noodle dishes such as vermicelli with fried egg and baby shrimp with a splash of soy. It’s the kind of Chinese food I crave on a weekly basis, and that I tell myself won’t lead to an early coronary, provided I also get the salad of quick-pickled spears of spicy cuke. Luckily, they’re no punishment.
Crown Princess Fine Dining
1033 Bay St., 416-923-8784, crown-princess.ca
During the day, this Bay Street spot buzzes with diners, heads bowed over dainty platters of fancy dim sum. For dinner, a thick soup of crab and fish maw benefits from a splash of red wine vinegar and dash of white pepper. A conch dish features the thinly sliced shellfish, stir-fried with sugar snap peas and a briny XO sauce. The crisp curls of conch are a sweet foil to the grassier vegetables, but the precious portion is lost in the sea of green. Both dishes are a shocking contrast to a heartier plate of tender morning glory, stir-fried with rich preserved tofu. Ginger juice steamed milk is a wobbly eggless custard that doubles as a digestif.
503 College St., 647-341-8882, dailoto.com
Nick Liu’s modern Asian brasserie is a master class in complex, flavour-packed food. Small sharing plates, like crispy octopus tacos with braised pork belly and spicy sambal aïoli on jicama shells, typify the menu—the bites are intricate, accessible and balanced. Larger dishes, like the exceptional truffle fried rice (made with eggs, XO sauce and vegetables) and General Tso sweetbreads, are crafted with equal care. Imaginative cocktails and a fantastic wine list built by co-owner and prized sommelier Anton Potvin are excellent complements to the umami-punched plates.
20 Gibson Dr., Markham, 905-604-8680, dayali.ca
The service is curt, the wine list basically non-existent, and there aren’t any desserts, but it really is worth lining up outside to share a family-style feast at this Beijing-based Sichuan restaurant. Peking duck is the main attraction, and it doesn’t disappoint. The skin crackles like glass, and droplets of juice and fat glisten on the flesh. It is three-bite perfection when wrapped in a steamed pancake and dressed with fried potato strings, threads of cucumber and scallion, and dabs of a sweet and salty house-made bean sauce. Hunks of white fish shake and shimmy in a tureen of bubbling oil studded with handfuls of sweat-inducing dried chilies and lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorns. Aptly named Amazing Tofu tops wobbly blocks of the vegetarian protein with peanuts and green onions, ringed by preserved black thousand-year-old eggs into an intense blast of textures and flavours.
3290 Midland Ave., 416-321-0888, dumplingking.ca
The place is so generic looking that it’s easy to pass over, but Dumpling King is worth a visit for the solid bargain-priced food. Fresh, filling hand-made dumplings include a juicy shrimp, leek and lamb version. Plump pork dumplings swim in a won ton soup fragrant with cilantro, but the stock lacks flavour. Green beans sautéed with shrimp and minced pork are a tasty but greasy treat.
John’s Chinese BBQ
328 Highway 7 E., Unit 10, Richmond Hill, 905-881-3333
In-the-know diners visit this family-run Richmond Hill restaurant for one thing: sublime, off-menu char siu barbecued pork. A premium cut of belly is flash-roasted under the broiler until the meat is supple and smoky, then it’s slathered in a sweet honey sauce. The other dishes are just as good, such as crisp-skinned Peking duck and springy jellyfish noodles in sesame oil. Cash only.
Kwan Dim Sum
1496 Yonge St., 416-901-6618, kwandimsum.ca
Polished tables, blonde wood panels and herringbone floors give Kwan Dim Sum a trendy vibe. Northern Chinese hot-and-sour soup has pronounced spice and tartness, dotted with ample nuggets of seafood. Peking duck brings shards of crispy skin, morsels of juicy flesh and oversized, herb-flecked crêpes. From the dim sum menu, homemade har gow and siu mai—delicate bundles of steamed shrimp and pork, respectively—are sensationally moist and flavourful.
Lai Wah Heen
108 Chestnut St., 2nd floor, 416-977-9899, laiwahheen.com
If you yearn for fine dining ’90s-style, when uniformed waiters served daintily garnished platters on acres of white linen, then a visit to this old-school Chinese restaurant is in order. Dim sum aside, the main attraction is Peking duck: wheeled out, presented and carved tableside, it’s the epitome of dining with ceremony. An attentive server presides over each of two or three courses, gilding rice crêpe after delicate rice crêpe with thin slices of meat, a dollop of savoury-sweet hoisin, and slivers of scallion and crunchy cucumber. The skin isn’t quite glasslike, but the flavour is fatty and rich and the pungent house XO sauce reeks enticingly of dried scallops and shrimp. The bird returns for an encore, stir-fried with crisp vegetables, tossed with crackling fried chow mein noodles, and once again assembled à la minute in iceberg lettuce cups.
421 Spadina Ave., 416-217-2008, mothersdumplings.com
Chef Zhen’s dumpling house remains Toronto’s go-to destination for Beijing and northeastern Chinese comfort food. Whole-wheat dumplings are packed with ginger-laced pork and sweet, vinegary strands of pickled cabbage. Toothsome wheat noodles are served in a hearty broth studded with sweet ground pork, earthy oyster mushrooms and buttery braised cabbage.
633 Gerrard St. E., 416-463-8778, pearlcourt.ca
In East Chinatown’s bright, airy room, the ceiling dances with glass chandeliers and Chinese lanterns as regulars dig into their favourites and servers help newcomers navigate the mainly Cantonese menu. Mu shu pork is an impressive DIY feast of stir-fried shredded pork, cabbage and egg studded with crisp wood ear fungus—it’s delicious packed into thin flour crêpes and streaked with hoisin sauce. A cornstarch-thickened black bean sauce cloaks sweet B.C. clams. Saucy spare rib is under-seasoned but tender, perched on a tangle of crunchy chow mein noodles. A complimentary red bean soup is a sweet, simple way to end the meal.
Taste of China
338 Spadina Ave., 416-348-8828, tasteofchinarestaurant.ca
Inebriated late-night crowds have made Taste of China a post-bar destination, but it’s worth a visit for sober dining as well. The extensive menu offers group-friendly options, like a large platter of luscious deep-fried crab claws. Smoky wok hei flavours waft from stir-fried chicken covered in sticky ginger and onions. Tank-fresh sea bass is simply dressed in green onion, cilantro and soy sauce.