Hidden gems at New Kennedy Square in Markham
New Kennedy Square is, quite possibly, the ugliest mall I've ever laid eyes on. A squat unimaginative blocky relic of (presumably) the 1980's, this shopping centre occupies a large lot at the southwest corner of Kennedy and Highway 7, sharing it with the adjacent Peachtree Centre plaza, which also shares its less than stellar look and feel. Together they achieve the rare feat of looking so awful it makes Splendid China Tower look like a half-decent piece of architecture. Even its outdated website looks like it would be optimized for Netscape Navigator.
And yet, day in and day out, this awkward-looking two-headed monstrosity is always chock-full of patrons. Finding a parking spot on most days is almost as difficult as finding a non-offensive recent picture of Miley Cyrus, which would seem to hint that there are places within its ghastly walls worth visiting. And as a matter of fact, there are. Echoing the old adage of not judging a book by its cover, New Kennedy Square/Peachtree Centre actually hosts a rather large number of interesting restaurants and shops, many of which have their own regulars.
Here are some of the interesting diversions you can find at New Kennedy Square.
Raku Ramen Izakaya
While many have criticized this newly-opened place for not being authentic or, for that matter, licensed ("izakaya" does, after all, mean "casual bar"), I'm going to stick my neck out and recommend this place as the food is still delicious and reasonably priced while the atmosphere is modern and sleek, a wonderful contrast to the rest of the plaza. Of particular note among their food offerings are the underrated $10 stone pot rices (with the katsu curry one being my personal favourite), while the spicy ramen ($8) is a great choice for those who have strong taste buds. Skip the sushi offerings, though
Boasting the most hilariously awesome name for a restaurant, Power King is a long-standing favourite among many for its classic Cantonese food. It specializes in comfort food staples such as congee and chow mein, with my personal favourite being the indulgent Lucky 8 Superbowl Congee ($11.95) containing everything from scallop to jelly fish. With over 40 (!) congee and noodle varieties, you'll find something for everyone, with even non-traditional dishes such as lemon chicken finding its way into the menu. Decor could use some freshening up though.
Hidden at the back wall of the mall is this cute little Chinese bakery with an assortment of cheap goodies. It's actually a branch of the Scarborough store at Brimley and Sheppard, and the bakery's many offerings are as good as ever. Highlights include their cutely named (and delicious) wife cakes, which contain sweet mintermelon filling, and husband cakes, which are more salty and contain BBQ pork. It goes without saying that you need to buy these as a pair, especially as they cost no more than $2 together.
Lucky Food Mart
A throwback to the old days before Asian supermarkets got modern facelifts (see: Foody Mart, T&T, and just about any other grocery stores operating outside of Chinatown), Lucky Food Mart offers you the same charmingly chaotic feel but with the comfort of being inside an indoor mall and sans the icky smell of Chinatown supermarkets. For those who feel that Asian supermarkets have gotten too corporate in recent years, Lucky Food Mart is your panacea. You can always count on getting cheap Asian potato chips and snacks here, not to mention specialty products around the time of Chinese celebrations, such as cute moon cakes during the recently passed Mid-Autumn Festival.
The Food Court
Undoubtedly the highlight of this mall, the forlorn-looking food court is resplendent with delicious food options and is a big hit with regulars. Seeing each vendor try to list every single menu item they have on cardboard signs makes you feel like you've just walked into a competition for who could cram the most Chinese characters. One particular highlight is the Macau/Portuguese food stall, which serves up Macanese Chinese cuisine found nowhere else in town, such as the creamy Portuguese Fish on rice or the enigmatically-named Roasted African Chicken. Protip: make sure you grab their takeout menu and call ahead to order from the amusingly named House Good Food section, as these are the stall's specialty dishes which are far more delicate than their regular food court offerings.
Il Bun Ji Sushi House
If outdated "Japanese faux-wood decor is to your taste, then you're going to adore this place. Either way, you should still come here since they offer one of the best lunch special menus (even available on weekends!) in the area. For under $7, you could get two types of maki along with soup and salad, while many of their lunch bento boxes are under $9. Add this to the the nice sesame glass noodle appetizer you get before your meal, and it's no wonder this awkwardly located restaurant is a big hit during lunchtimes.
Today's Sportswear/T-Shirt City
Without a doubt one of the most amazing finds in the mall, this large sporting goods store is shoehorned into the back corner of the shopping centre, and the bargains are nothing short of breathtaking. They claim to be a sample store, implying that they sell excess manufacturer samples or inventory overstock, which may explain why you can often get a pair of brand name K-Swiss or Adidas shoes for comfortably under $40. From tennis rackets to swimwear, this store really does have it all when it comes to sporting equipment, and walks a fine line between plain awesome and slightly curious.
The closest thing this shopping centre has to a large chain restaurant, the Congee Wong here provides all the usual Cantonese specialties (and their superbly delicious fried turnip cakes for around $5) that many Chinese households south of Steeles Avenue can rhyme off without batting an eyelid. The food is fresh, the service is fast, and although not bereft of the customary loud clanging of utensils from diners, this location is actually more spacious than the more well-known Finch and Leslie one. Open until 2am on weekends.
This restaurant is very similar to many of the other Cantonese restaurants in the plaza if not for one specialty dish: The Typhoon Crab. This must-try dish is a wonderful flash-fried crustacean doused in lots of spices, giving it a very strong and flavourful kick. The sizes are quite fearsome too, and paired with many of their other delicious dishes, is something to write home about. Keep in mind they only open starting at 5 pm, so dinner only folks!
Mong Kok Chinese Cuisine
Not to be confused with the grander restaurant bearing the same name inside the indoor mall itself, this modest (and charmingly dated-looking) restaurant in what feels like the middle of the parking lot offers one of the best values when it comes to dim sum. During weekdays between 9 am to 4 pm, a large selection of their dim sum selection is only 99 cents, and while you can't reasonably expect offerings like those found in Yang's Fine Chinese or Lai Wah Heen, the taste and quality are surprisingly good. Friendly service too, if a bit lacking in English skills (though they do try their best).
Blue Ocean Cafe
Every Chinese mall big or small will always have a go-to place for Canto-Western cuisine, and Blue Ocean Cafe occupies this role in this shopping centre. The best bang for your buck is its lunch specials. My personal favourite is the BBQ pork with rice ($6.99) and the Portuguese chicken on rice ($7.50). For an all-day hit, try the fabulously unhealthy baked chicken steak with cheese on rice ($8.50) which is equal parts artery-hardening and delicious. Make sure you sample their HK tea too! Service is very quick but can be a bit hit or miss during busy times (which is par for the course, really).
Do you have a favourite spot at New Kennedy Square? Give it props in the comments below. Note: the above is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Some will surely recognize that Keung's Restaurant and Grand Lake Cuisine (among others) have been omitted. These places are perfectly good restaurants but in my opinion lack a little bit of that uniqueness that make them deserve a highlight here.