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Food & Drink

Where Vela chef Marvin Palomo eats Chinese, Japanese and Filipino food in Markham and Scarborough

His favourite spots for pan de sal, king crab ramen and hand-pulled noodles

By Tiffany Leigh| Photography by Tiffany Leigh
Where Vela chef Marvin Palomo eats Chinese, Japanese and Filipino food in Markham and Scarborough

In addition to running a successful side hustle making and selling XO sauce, Vela executive chef Marvin Palomo is keeping busy with the return of the restaurant’s popular Sunday brunch service. “We just relaunched last week to a sold-out service of 200 people,” says Palomo. “It’s wonderful to know that people missed it.”

When he isn’t whipping up soufflé pancakes or steak and eggs, Palomo often heads back home to the border of Markham and Scarborough to visit family. “I live downtown now, but I grew up around Markham Road and Steeles Avenue and lived in the area for over 20 years. My mom still lives there, so I’ll always venture back to check on her, run food-related errands and eat at my favourite spots.”


Baker’s Best

4915 Steeles Ave. E., unit 7, Scarborough, bakersbestbakery.com

Chef Marvin Palomo stands outside of Baker's Best Bakery in Scarborough

“This is my family’s favourite Filipino bakery—it’s been here since 1995. Back home in the Philippines, we call places like these panaderia. They’re essential shops in every neighbourhood, and locals stop in daily for their goods. When I was growing up, it was my responsibility to bring home bread from here every day. My mother worked overnight shifts and needed it for the meals she packed to take to work. I’ve been coming here for over 20 years, so it’s definitely a Scarborough staple for me.”

Go-to dish #1: Pan de sal “Pan de sal translates to ‘salt bread,’ but these chewy loaves are actually on the sweeter side. They’re soft, pull-apart buns. My pro tip is to come here right when the bakery opens, because then you can get these when they’re still warm from the oven. Otherwise, I recommend that you toast them at home so you get this crusty exterior and soft interior—the best of both worlds. It’s so good that I can eat it by itself, but it’s also excellent with cheese or butter.”

A shelf of bags fill with pan de sal at Baker's Best Bakery
Chef Marvin Palomo pulls apart some pan de sal

Go-to dish #2: Custard cake “There’s a lot of skill and talent in making this—especially to ensure that the soft, creamy custard on top isn’t overcooked or curdled and that the airy sponge cake underneath is baked through. I love the different textures, and it’s just the perfect amount of sweetness. I cannot ask for anything better in a dessert.”

Chef Marvin Palomo examines a slice of Filipino custard cake at Baker's Best Bakery
A forkful of Filipino custard cake

Aka-Oni Ramen and Izakaya

633 Silver Star Blvd., unit 108, Scarborough, akaoni.ca

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Chef Marvin Palomo waks into Aka-Oni, a Japanese izakaya and ramen restaurant in Scarborough

“My cousin first brought me here in 2018. I was blown away by the sake and seafood options, and the prices are decent. There’s so much choice on the menu that you could come here for lunch and crush a bento box, then come back for dinner with a large group and order a spread of sashimi rolls and ramen. It’s all just really fucking good. It’s my favourite izakaya.”

Go-to dish #1: Hokkaido king crab milky ramen “You literally cannot get this anywhere else in the city because most ramen joints offer only pork-based bowls. The seafood stock is surprisingly light and creamy, but it’s not fishy at all—it actually has a nutty flavour. They include a generous amount of crab in it, and it’s expertly cooked so that it’s sweet and tender.”

A bowl of Hokkaido king crab ramen
A closeup of a crab claw inside a bowl of ramen

Go-to dish #2: Shrimp tempura “This isn’t your generic all-you-can-eat tempura. It’s such a thoughtfully executed dish. The shrimp is ultra fresh, battered and deep fried. But the key difference that shows they care is this: they toss some extra batter into the hot oil and catch it with the shrimp. As a result, you have this crispy, light and airy coating on the exterior. Then they finish it by dusting with nori and furikake. Come on! It’s just perfect.”

An order of shrimp tempura
Chef Marvin Palomo holds up a giant tempura shrimp at Aka-Oni in Scarborough

Go-to dish #3: Chawanmushi with uni “The first flavour I get is hot—as a chef, tasting dishes when they’re still screaming hot is a hard habit to break. That aside, the steamed egg custard is light and silky, and the uni takes the dish to the next level. It’s fresh and almost has a liver taste to it, but I mean that in a good way. It’s the perfect contrast to the sweet, fluffy custard. I love to eat this on its own, but I imagine it would be just as good over steamed white rice.”


Xin Jiang Restaurant

3636 Steeles Ave. E., Markham, magicaltasteofchina.com

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Chef Marvin Palomo sits in front of a bowl of hand-pulled beef noodles at Xin Jiang Restaurant

“I’m a recent convert to Islam. When I was observing Ramadan with my wife last month, we were looking for a place that was halal-friendly so we’d have somewhere to eat when it was time to break the fast in the evenings. We stumbled upon this amazing restaurant that offers Northern Chinese dishes. Due to Turkish and Mongolian influences, noodles are preferred here over rice, and lamb over chicken, pork or beef. They also use a lot of spices like chili and cumin.”

Go-to dish #1: Braised beef with hand-pulled flat noodles “This is so crazy good that I’ll even order it off Uber Eats—it takes forever for the delivery to get downtown, but it’s worth it. The brisket cut they use here is tender, and the house-made broad noodles have a very pleasant chew to them. Since they’re so fresh, they really pick up the spiced sauce, which has notes of star anise and cumin. It’s such a comforting and hearty dish. And I’ll always order a can of Wong Lo Kat to go with this. It tastes a bit medicinal, but not in an off-putting way. It tastes like grass jelly, if you’re familiar with the popular Asian drink. I love it because it’s refreshing and it cuts the richness of the dish, which means you can go back for another bite.”

Chef Marvin Palomo uses chopsticks to hold up a hand-pulled noodle from his bowl

Go-to dish #2: Pan-fried lamb and dill dumplings “These are massive dumplings, and they have the best texture: crispy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. The filling is very herbaceous because of the dill, and the lamb is super juicy. To cut the intensity, I like to mix together their house vinegar and chili, then dunk the dumplings.”

An order of dill-and-lamb dumplings at Xin Jiang, a Northern Chinese restaurant in Markham
Jars of chili oil and vinegar on the table at Xin Jiang Restaurant

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