7 restaurants to eat Hong Kong style Western food in the GTA
One of the most fascinating aspects of Hong Kong cuisine is the HK-style Western dishes. Found in small restaurants and coffee houses (otherwise known as cha chaan teng) this cuisine serves up interesting takes on various kinds of Western food items ranging from toast to macaroni. The term HK-style Western cuisine or Canto-Western (as Wikipedia puts it) is appropriate because the influences do not seem to come from just one country in the so-called Western hemisphere. After all, no other single country (as far as I know) combines toast, macaroni, and luncheon meat as breakfast items, but they all often harmoniously co-exist on the same table in these places. Hong Kong, you are truly a marvel.
So what wacky twists do the Hong Kong people put on these Western dishes anyway? Well have you seen steak that's been marinated with soy sauce and then served with a big spoonful of black pepper sauce? Or casseroles that are baked with fried rice? You haven't? Well then hurry down to these places and you'll be amazed. This is fusion cuisine before the terms "pan-Asian" or, well, "fusion" came into being.
Similar to my Cantonese Chinese list, there is no way this list can be comprehensive. The heavy immigration from Hong Kong that occurred in the 80's and 90's have contributed to a plethora of HK-style Western restaurants and cafes in the GTA. As such, I can only provide a smattering of places that I feel are good, solid locations to sample this unique delicacy. They are mostly simple places, and the good thing is that most are very modestly priced.
Here are seven restaurants around the GTA to get good Hong Kong style Western food.
Dickens Cafe (9425 Leslie St, Richmond Hill)
Located in the rather obscure Richlane Mall (a mall that's 95% restaurants - pretty glorious!), this cafe serves Italian pasta with a Chinese kick. Actually, I take that back. While there are a lot of pasta dishes with various kinds of cream sauces, this place is also home to many different versions of steaks and the ever-popular curry rice. The portions are generous though the taste is usually a bit subdued. It's a bit more upscale and pricey than most establishments that serve this kind of cuisine, but the rather serene atmosphere and good service make it worthwhile. The only clue that you're eating in a Hong Kong restaurant is the classic must-have of all Cantonese restaurants: a TV with Cantonese shows playing (surprisingly softly) in the background. Lunch specials here are around $10-$11 so that's pretty good value for this level of restaurant. Definitely more of a restaurant than a cha chaan teng.
Cafe 28 (10 E Wilmot St, Richmond Hill)
This little-known place offers impressive dinners where two can dine for $19.99. And this price includes steak and seafood pasta so that in itself is worth a shot. Garlic bread and salads abound. This restaurant also offers a lovely dish from Macau known as Portuguese chicken on rice, and their version of this staple Canto-Western dish is quite deliciously creamy, if a bit thick. Still, the cuisine here is decidedly a bit more Western than the others on the list, and the quality is also a bit more "refined." Worth a try if you can get one of those deals.
Phoenix Restaurant (7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham)
Phoenix seems to show up on most of my lists but I really can't leave this place out as it serves many wonderful variations of baked casserole rice, which are always delivered to the table piping hot and delicious (especially on a cold winter's night). While the restaurant's Hainanese Chicken Rice rightly takes plaudits, its Western-style HK food assortment is pretty formidable. Don't forget to order their pineapple bun with ham and a side of milk tea during their breakfasts. Their variations of macaroni noodle soup are also always satisfying, if a bit on the bland side. Still, this place has it all. Quick service, large variety, good food, and very reasonable prices. Think of it as a nice cha chaan teng.
City Hollywood (4372 Steeles Avenue E, Markham)
I would imagine that this place was built when Planet Hollywood was "in." Located at the back end of Market Village and often unnoticed by many, this charming and kitschy place offers a large variety of Western-style HK favourites, from red borscht soup to baked casseroles on rice. The most amusing thing is that the walls of this restaurant are decorated like the Cantonese version of Planet Hollywood, and as such have many pictures/autographs of Hong Kong celebrities (in lieu of Hollywood celebrities). The whole experience is just fascinating. A must try is their unbelievably cheap French toast ($3 - are you kidding me?) and their unexpectedly delicious ribs with black pepper sauce. This place is the very epitome of fusion cuisine, without any of the pretentious fuss associated with it.
Leslie Cafe (149B Ravel Rd, North York)
Another in a long line of very cheap Western-style HK restaurants, this place is located rather awkwardly in the corner of the plaza where Asian Legend is located (at Finch and Leslie). This place offers a wide variety of combos and specials. Their HK milk tea is one of the better ones I've tasted. An interesting dish that you should try here is the ox tongue pasta (don't worry, it's a lot yummier than it sounds) as the meat is very tender and flavourful. Just be warned that there are times when this place is absolutely packed so as long as you're OK with loud Cantonese conversations going on around you, you won't have a problem. They also serve good Portuguese chicken here
Hong Kong Harbour Restaurant (472 Dundas St W, Toronto)
One of the few restaurants in the downtown core that serves Canto-Western food, this place offers a delicious escargot (no, seriously) as part of their appetizer menu. The Portuguese chicken on rice is creamy and delicious and the HK milk tea is also quite lovely. The problem is the awkward location of the restaurant, which is very difficult to spot from Dundas. This (fortunately?) means the restaurant is not as packed as other cha chaan tengs, and as such you won't feel cramped and rushed eating here. The quality of the food is good, although it's nothing to write home about compared to the ones you could have in Markham or Richmond Hill. Prices are very cheap though.
Cafe Arc de Triomphe (5813 Yonge St, Toronto)
Smoked salmon spaghetti at an Asian restaurant? Why not? The food quality served here is surprisingly good. Service is quick and polite and the overall experience pretty much defines what Canto-Western dining is all about. Interesting note is that the decor is decidedly old-school Asian, a little jarring when you contrast it against the very French name. Try their chicken wings too if you still have the stomach space. They are very tender and flavourful - even better than many so-called mainstream wings places.