Where Canoe executive chef Ron McKinlay eats in Riverdale and East Chinatown

Where Canoe executive chef Ron McKinlay eats in Riverdale and East Chinatown

His favourite spots for dumplings, pho and burgers in the east end

Chef Ron McKinlay eats dumplings at Dumpling House, a Chinese restaurant in Toronto's East Chinatown

Ron McKinlay has just returned from Australia, where he was cooking up collaboration meals with chef Scott Pickett, who runs an eight-restaurant empire down under. It was a nostalgic full-circle moment for the executive chef of Canoe, who used to work for Pickett. “I was Scott’s sous-chef at Estelle before I took on the role of head chef at St. Crispins,” says McKinlay. The two chefs hosted a couple of one-off “Canada Down Under” meals at Pickett’s restaurants, and it felt as though they hadn’t missed a beat. “Even though it’s been 10 years since I last worked for him, it’s like no time has passed,” McKinlay says. “He’s gone from being my boss and mentor to a good friend, and these kinds of relationships aren’t common or to be taken for granted.”

Related: Where chef Braden Chong eats Chinese food in Markham and Richmond Hill

Back in Toronto, McKinlay is maintaining the momentum by announcing a one-night-only collaboration dinner between the teams at Canoe and Trivet, a two-Michelin-star restaurant in London, England, helmed by fellow Canadian Jonny Lake and master sommelier Isa Bal. (Editor’s note: sorry, it’s already sold out.) “I’ve been following their careers since their Fat Duck days, so I’m very excited to collaborate with them,” McKinlay says.

Chef Ron McKinlay pours himself a cup of tea at Que Ling

When he isn’t busy helming Canoe’s kitchen or planning special menus, McKinlay hits the reset button by wandering around Riverdale and East Chinatown. “I moved here just before Covid, and I love it—there’s still a bit of that grungy grittiness, if you know what I mean. It’s an easy commute to downtown and to Canoe, but it’s far enough away that I get a bit of peace and quiet. When the nice weather hits, I like to bike or walk around the area—that’s how I discovered all of my new go-to spots.” Here are three of McKinlay’s favourite places to eat in his east-end neighbourhood.

Dumpling House

619 Gerrard St. E., 416-901-0288, dumplinghouse619.com, @leesdumplinghouse

Chef Ron McKinlay reads the menu at Dumpling House, a Chinese restaurant in Toronto

“This is near my barbershop, so I just wandered in one day. It’s perfect for when I don’t feel like cooking or doing the dishes. Overall, this place appeals because it’s bullshit- and fuss-free. You get in quick, eat, then leave. Everything on the menu is tasty and vibrant, but I have a few favourite dishes.”

A plate of shumai at Dumpling House

Go-to item #1: Pork and mushroom shumai

“I always eat this while it’s still burn-off-your-tongue-hot. I never learn—must be a chef thing. Generally speaking, you get a nice hit of both porkiness and mushrooms—the texture, fattiness and hint of sweetness that make it so delicious. As a counterbalance, I usually dip the dumplings in their house soy-sauce-and-vinegar mix with lots of chili oil blended in. To be honest, they’re not the best shumai I’ve had in the city, but they’re filling and they leave me feeling like I’ve made a healthy meal because they’re steamed.”

A tray of steamed dumplings

Go-to item #2: Steamed chive and pork dumplings

“The skin on the house-made dumplings is not wafer thin but actually a bit thicker and pleasantly chewy. And the way they’ve steamed them gives off a soup dumpling vibe. Overall, they have a simple and clean flavour—kind of the opposite of my food at Canoe.”

A green onion pancake

Go-to item #3: Spring onion pancake

“These are actually neutral in flavour but texturally crispy and fatty—not greasy, though. They’re the perfect vehicle to dunk in my mixture of chili oil, vinegar and soy sauce.”

A jar of soy sauce and vinegar sits next to a jar of chili oil on a table at Toronto's Dumpling House

Women make dumplings in a kitchen

Que Ling

248 Boulton Ave., 416- 778-4038, no website, cash only

A person walks into Que Ling, a Vietnamese restaurant in Toronto's east end

“This place is just off Gerrard, so I found it completely by accident on one of my walks. Now I go here religiously on my days off. Daniel Duong and his family have run Que Ling since 1997. For me, it’s like a Cheers situation—everyone knows my name and order. It’s these little touches of hospitality that make the difference for me.”

A person adds chili crisp to a bowl of pho at Que Ling in Toronto

Go-to item #1: Que Ling special rice noodle soup

“I like to sit here by myself and just appreciate this bowl of pho—it’s almost like a timeout from everything. The thing that makes it so delicious is the robust depth of flavour they have achieved with their broth. The base is just so bloody good. It’s clean, fresh, a touch sweet and medicinal in the sense that it feels cleansing when you slurp it. Then I go in and add my bean sprouts, Thai basil, culantro leaves and spearmint—but not Thai chili peppers. I learned the hard way once, when I touched my face after touching the peppers. But I make up the heat by adding an aggressive amount of sriracha and chili oil, without overpowering the flavour of the broth. Also, the huge portion of vermicelli noodles mixed with brisket, raw beef, tripe and tendon makes it that much better.”

A crispy spring roll at Que Ling, a Vietnamese restaurant in Toronto

Go-to item #2: Spring rolls

“These are absolutely amazing. They’re crispy but not oily and packed with ground beef, noodles and vegetables. There’s also a nice contrast of textures when you dip the rolls into the sweet-and-sour dipping sauce. I add chili oil to the sauce, of course—I add that shit to everything. Somehow, even though these are deep-fried, you don’t feel heavy and gross after eating them.”

A steamed rice roll at Que Ling, a Vietnamese restaurant

Go-to item 3: Vietnamese steamed rice rolls with meat

“The rolls are slippery, soft and almost gelatinous in texture—a bit like beef tendons. The filling is a hearty mixture of mushrooms, ground pork and onions. They’re just a lot of fun to eat, and I order them because they round out the other dishes I get in terms of taste and texture. These three dishes together hit every note I’m looking for in a meal.”

Chef Ron McKinlay and Johnny Vuong, owner of Que Ling, a Vietnamese restaurant in Toronto

The Comrade

758 Queen St. E., 416-778-9449, comradetoronto.com, @comradetoronto

Chef Ron McKinlay enters The Comrade, a bar and restaurant in Toronto's Riverdale neighbourhood

“I first came here in 2018, before I had moved to the area. In fact, this is where me and my partner had our first date. I return as often as possible because it’s my kind of place: a classy dive bar, done well.”

Related: What’s on the menu at the Comrade, an old east-end favourite with brand-new owners (but the same burger)

Chef Ron McKinlay pours a can of beer into a glass at the Comrade, a bar and restaurant in Toronto
Go-to item #1: Beamer lager

“This is my go-to beer. I prefer this style, especially when pairing it with a rich dish like the Comrade’s burger. It’s a perfect match for me.”

Chef Ron McKinlay cuts his Comrade burger in two
Go-to item #2: Prime rib burger

“This is fucking delicious—it’s my favourite burger in the city. While I can appreciate smash burgers, this isn’t a smash burger. With the thickness of the patty, you get this super meaty texture. It’s topped with their special sauce—which gives Big Mac vibes—caramelized onions and a pickle. And I’m a huge fan of the brioche bun that’s been slathered with lots of butter. When the heat of the toasted bread hits the cheese, it reminds me a bit of a grilled cheese sandwich. If you break down the components, it’s simple, yet it’s all done incredibly well.”

A closeup of a burger cut in two at the Comrade, a bar in Toronto's east end