Assembly Chef’s Hall is like what Bourdain Market was supposed to be if it ever got off the ground, except instead of overseas hawkers, Toronto’s chefs have set up shop with smaller, fast casual versions of their larger restaurants and other concepts. It’s a food court that doesn’t suck! And it contains the ONLY stand-up sushi bar in Canada. EVERYONE I spoke to said I was foolish for wanting to eat sushi in Toronto when Vancouver already has the best sushi in Canada (and for much cheaper). But my stubborn self always has to experience it first-hand. I’m always willing to test a theory to see the results myself. And the result is that Tachi does some kick-ass sushi that’s easily as good as the mid/high range of sushi in Vancouver, all for a surprisingly reasonable price too.
Spurned on by the new David Chang Netflix series “Ugly Delicious”, I went on a quest to find the best sheng jian bao (aka SJB). Everyone knows XLB (xiao long bao), the soup-filled steamed pork dumplings that Din Tai Fung made famous worldwide, but these fried versions (often using a leaven yeasted dough) are an underappreciated creature. And frying anything makes it better, right?
With some input from my passionate Instagram followers, I made a list of four places to try:
- Shanghai Dimsum House Ltd. (Crystal Mall, Burnaby)
- Shanghai Fortune Cuisine (Crystal Mall, Burnaby)
- Top Shanghai Cuisine Restaurant (Richmond)
- R&H Chinese Food (Lansdowne Centre, Richmond)
I could easily add many more places to this list (e.g. Wang’s Shanghai in Vancouver) but I’m just one guy with a day job (not this) so if I forgot your favourite place, just leave a comment and I’ll consider it for next time(?)!
[ UPDATE – MAY 22, 2018: Looks like this entire chain has imploded. Must’ve spread themselves way too thin with so many locations and spinoffs. Hope everyone involved lands on their feet with more well-received ventures in the future. ]
I never tried the old menu at Bao Down Snack Bar. I guess I was waiting for word-of-mouth to get better before trying it. When a prominent local blogger gives a middling 3.5 beakers out of 5, that’s not exactly a reason to rush out and try it. Now Bao Down Snack Bar have a totally new menu and I can only imagine what their first round of nu-Filipino food was like. Maybe it’s unfair for me to make them the torchbearer of modern Filipino food…
Going by what a friend and I tried during a Friday happy hour, the new menu has morphed into a pan-Asian/Mexican pub food thing where the Filipino spirit got buried by trend-driven blandness.
There was lots of Kanye on the sound system.
Wicca needed a pick-me-up, and her favourite cuisine is Singaporean/Malaysian food, so I picked this small place called Makan Place (Facebook, Instagram) in Burnaby that’s been on my radar. Hope the bold, punchy flavours will cheer her up!
If my dad wasn’t given a $100 gift certificate to Bandao Pearl (part of the Peninsula group), we never would have set foot in this high-end Chinese seafood restaurant. (My dad got the gift certificate from a friend who didn’t want to use it. One look at the prices on the menu and we could see why!) The food itself was no better or worse than what you can find at much cheaper mid-range Chinese restaurants around town. This place caters to the rich who want to show off. Period.
The old Efendi Uyghur at 1345 Kingsway (near Knight) was only open for about a year but received great feedback (like this Alexandra Gill review). Unfortunately, they had to close the restaurant due to the mother’s health issues. The space got sold and turned into House of Dosas nemesis, Dosa Factory. I didn’t get a chance to check out Efendi the first time, but thanks to “el lobo solo” on Chowhound, I learned that it’s back in a new, smaller location further east at 3490 Kingsway (same tiny stripmall as Subway).
The ramen boom from the last few years resulted in imho TOO MANY tonkotsu-style ramen places. Great tonkotsu was already achieved with places like Santouka, Jinya, etc. Chicken paitan was already pretty much perfected by Marutama (with an unique personal take by The Ramenman). I’ve also enjoyed the Iekei-style tonkotsu/Tokyo shoyu hybrid ramen at Yah Yah Ya and Yaguchiya. What I felt was missing from the scene was a classic Tokyo-style shoyu ramen, the kind featured in Tampopo:
(^Funny German dub)
I know clear soups aren’t popular right now, but there’s something classic, nostalgic, and minimalistic about it that appeals to me. So recently, Gyoza Paradise (on Robson and Thurlow back in the 90s, which I never heard of or went to) reopened on Broadway near Arbutus as Gyo Para with a focus on gyoza and chintan (clear broth) style ramen. I was intrigued but wanted to wait until they got their feet. I think 6 months is enough, right?
Fraserhood’s Crowbar opened up in late June 2016 and I had heard good things about their burger over the past year, along with other good things about their food in general — and also some he said/he said employee dispute-type stuff that’s the worst kind of thing to have play out over the media/social media, where it’s so easy to get a twisted hall of mirrors version of the situation that I chose to ignore all of it. Vancouver’s such a small scene…tight-knit in some ways, cliquey in others. Let’s settle your shit and get back to serving great food, yeah?
Fellow food obsessive hungrySLIF had been there a couple times and encouraged me to pry this crate open, so we did.
Even after four years, Marutama Ramen (moldy oldy review here) is still considered one of the top ramen places in the city. Definitely Top 5, if not Top 3. Their chicken paitan (cloudy chicken broth) ramen is still unique and well-executed. That slippery aosa seaweed (sea lettuce) has me all [insert sweaty feverish emoji here]. AND their ramen egg is still the most delicious and consistent around.
Their new third location on Main and 13th is called Marutama Gaiden and offers a different take on their chicken paitan ramen. Don’t come here expecting more of the same. Almost everything is different. Here’s my personal take on this place that we tried at the tail end of their two-week soft opening phase.
The folks behind Wildebeest, Bufala, and Lucky Taco have added another thoughtful expansion to their mini-empire in the form of the anti-sports bar sports bar Bells & Whistles located on Fraser just south of Kingsway. The food is typical sports bar/pub grub/comfort food like burgers, wings, nachos, onion rings, etc, but done with atypical care and better ingredients, served in an atypically bright and family-friendly environment, with a very atypical craft beer menu with absolutely NO macro beer in sight.
Admittedly, the pricing for the food and beer is a bit high (especially for the neighbourhood), but in the week and a half they’ve been open, it’s been absolutely packed. I guess that shows that people have been wanting something like this for a long time and are willing to pay for it. For myself, I really appreciate their approach — casual accessibility, eyes on quality, no “Bells & Whistles” despite the name — but if things were maybe a couple bucks cheaper across the board, I’d come back more often, and with less hesitation.