Get to know a street: McNicoll Avenue
McNicoll Avenue can be seen as a stereotypically blasé road. Running East-West just north of Finch Avenue, it's neither big nor small, and the most visible landmarks (if you can call it that) are the large Finch Hydro Corridor power lines that dot most of the road. The other two defining features are no more exciting: sedate mid-size houses or boxy-looking small industrial buildings. None of these are ugly, but the sheer boredom of the entire road at first glance is enough to make a grown man cry.
But, as one would suspect, scattered around its semi-depressive blandness are some small nuggets that are worth checking out. Note that some of these places may not be located exactly on McNicoll, but they are all in close proximity.
Here are some noteworthy spots on or near McNicoll Avenue:
Mistaan Catering & Sweets Inc. (478 McNicoll Avenue)
Located in one of those aforementioned industrial buildings, this purveyor of Indian/Bengali food and sweets is truly a hidden gem. While the store operates predominantly as a catering and takeout business, it also acts as a restaurant between 11 am to 7 pm on weekdays. Enough time to sample their delectable butter chicken (which has a hard-to-describe yet distinctive home kitchen feel to it) and the always crispy pani puri (fried crispy shell with fragrant liquid fillings). Don't forget to sample the amazingly sweet gulab jamun, a sugary ball of sweetness to cool off your taste buds.
Yoko Restaurant (490 McNicoll Ave)
Though located in yet another one of those drab buildings, Yoko is truly one of McNicoll's bright spots. Offering fresh sushi and exquisitely presented rolls, this place gets very busy during lunchtime due to the large number of offices around it. Come dinnertime, it's a different story, as the place is quiet and is a great place to relax and munch on your beautifully decorated Green Dragon Roll (around $15). The prices here are a bit higher than most comparable sushi places, but the extra care put into the meals makes it worth it.
Fragrant Bakery (3833 Midland Ave, Unit 17)
This small Chinese bakery specializes in egg tarts. Each tart is a perfect mix of flaky shell and sweet smooth filling, which mixes so well in your mouth it feels that there's a party going on inside. Other interesting things to order are the lao po bing (literally translated as wife cake), which is a melon custard-filled pancake with a flaky crust on top, and the lao gong bing (husband cake, no, seriously), which is a pastry filled with some barbecue pork paste and nuts. Perfect for anniversaries!
Defcon Paintball (3550 Victoria Park Avenue, Unit # 2-1)
A stone's throw away from McNicoll Avenue, this is the perfect place to vent your anger at friends and coworkers, or to re-live your Splinter Cell fantasies. Offering reasonable group rates with multiple complex sandy terrains and their own pro shop, this place provides a plethora of options. If you wish, you can also forego the paintball and shoot it up airsoft-style with your buddies.
Park Lane Beauty & Wellness (1883 McNicoll Ave)
Blink and you may just miss this place from the road. It's that small. What's not small though, are the values here. Offering a bounty of beauty and salon services, the highlight is their comprehensive 90-minute facial special for approximately $30. The staff speaks somewhat broken English, but they put in a lot of effort and are always courteous. The only downside is the extremely limited parking spots, but that's what the TTC is for.
Ho Ho BBQ (3833 Midland Ave)
No, this isn't where Santa Claus works when it's not Christmastime. It's an old-fashioned small Chinese roast/bbq pork and duck place, specializing in exactly that. This is a great place for fantastic, no-frills Chinese food. You can get the delectably tender and delicious roast pork with rice for around 5 dollars, and what's more you can take a slab of that carnivorous ambrosia home with you in bulk: their special roast pork with crispy skin is priced around $8 per pound.
Go For Tea (3700 Midland Avenue, Unit 113-115)
If a more frilly fusion-style Chinese meal is more to your taste, you can do a lot worse than coming here. While the Go For Tea chain has two locations, this is unquestionably the fancier one, with dim lighting and modern interior that would not look out of place in a downtown lounge. Their popcorn chicken is always flavourful and tender, and the cumin lamb is of surprisingly good quality. The tea drinks may be a little pricier than many bubble tea chains, but they boast quality and size. They also have lunch specials that frequently change, so there's something new each time you come here.
Chako Barbecue Izakaya (2190 McNicoll Ave, Unit 112-113)
Located in the same plaza as Go For Tea, this is where you go if you have a huge craving for meat. Featuring all you can eat Korean barbecue, this place will make you think that you've died and gone to carnivore heaven. The late night special all-you-can-eat for $10 on weekdays and $12 on weekends presents amazing value and is always a favourite with locals--its short ribs have been frequently praised as being one of the best in the business. Don't forget your side of kimchi!
A1 Sweets & Restaurant (3300 McNicoll Ave)
If a 100% vegetarian Indian catering, restaurant, and sweets place is more your taste, then you should head over here. Offering a wide variety of specials in a rather nice environment, you can indulge in the excellent yet very modestly priced vegetarian thali (mixed Indian platter) where you will get 3 dishes, rice/roti and sweets for just south of $7.50. They also have two locations, with the other one being in Oakville. Make sure you leave room for their excellently crunchy samosas.
Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant (735 Middlefield Rd)
This little-known restaurant is practically invisible from the main road, unfortunately ensuring that some people may miss out on this gem. Offering Hakka Chinese/Indian Chinese favourites, their prices are a bit higher than many similar establishments, but they more than make up for it with generous portions (rice included!) and rich, flavourful dishes. In particular, you must try their crispy shrimp ball appetizer, a wonderful combination of fried bread cubes and juicy shrimp all rolled into a delightful morsel.
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