Friday, December 19, 2014Cloudy -4°C
Restaurants

Lee Garden

Posted by Christina Cheung / Profiled on October 31, 2014 / review policy

lee garden torontoLee Garden has been a Chinatown fixture on Spadina for over 35 years, and its popularity doesn't seem to have waned since my newly-immigrated parents regularly came to eat here - although they tell me the original location was across the street. In the '70s and '80s, this part of town was a taste of home for them ("home" being Hong Kong).

Manager Bill Chow is a familiar face for regulars; he's been working at the restaurant for three decades, recommending and serving up dishes chef/owner David Yuen and his cooks fire up in the kitchen. Chow defines the majority of what they serve as Cantonese-style cuisine, which makes sense, since he, Yuen and most of the staff are originally from Hong Kong (it may also explain the restaurant's name).

lee garden torontoChow takes us on a tour of dishes Lee Garden's become known for. First up is the pan-fried beef tenderloin with avocados, cashews and black pepper sauce ($21). It's almost a meal in itself, and quite an original dish, as you don't typically see avocado - much less pan-fried avocado - in Chinese cuisine.

lee garden torontoAnother enduring favourite here is the crispy "tofu pie" ($17). The "crust" is made of fried tofu, which is stuffed with minced shrimp and assorted veggies, in a garlic mushroom sauce. It's served next to a rice-bowl-shaped mound of sauteed broccoli, and again, makes for a pretty substantial dish that could stand on its own.

lee garden torontoHoney orange garlic back ribs ($19) are a more typical order for a Chinese joint, and are a predictable crowdpleaser for lovers of pork.

lee garden torontoWhat I'd personally order again is the grandfather smoked chicken ($16). It's half a bird's worth of meat that's been smoked with oolong tea leaves in a wok, with a honey sauce and sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The hint of smoke and tea mixed with a subtle sweetness, along with the moistness of the meat, create a pleasantly complex, addictive combo of flavours.

lee garden torontoThis may not be the cheapest eat on Spadina (but ask about their set-meal dinners for $12.99). Yet it's managed to uphold its reputation as being one of the better Chinese restaurants downtown (everyone knows the best Chinese food is in Markham, Richmond Hill and Scarborough). Even my parents still like to eat here occasionally, for nostalgic reasons. Lineups are inevitable if you show up after 6:30pm for dinner, so plan accordingly.

lee garden torontoPhotos by Jesse Milns.

Discussion

22 Comments

Janice / October 31, 2014 at 11:35 pm
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Everyone knows the best Chinese food is up North, past Steeles. No one have I ever met in my life would say the best food is in East Chinatown.
Mike / November 1, 2014 at 03:03 am
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Been here a quite few times for the past 25 years. It's hyped up and not that great to be honest. The prices are ridiculous. Only come here cause people suggest this place. In the beginning it was fine since nothing else was around. I mean seriously, nothing else was around. They built their name then. But now, there are so much more competition and this place lost all its heartiness it had long ago. Only targetting people who heard the 'hype' and milk money off them. They only have business now because of a super outdated fame. Also the people who eat here don't really know what 'cantonese food' is since they have nothing to compare it with. A dish they have for $16.95 would acutally cost $7.99. That and old locals who refuse to leave to try a new place. Old locals like my grandpa, grandma, grandad, and dad. Not mom and bro, cause they got good taste.

TLDR: Don't like this place since it's super salty and prices does not represent the quality.
Rcguy / November 1, 2014 at 07:15 am
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Used to come here for dinner 4 nights a week, around 30 years ago. Busy back then, too! But, it was also a mix of chinese and non chinese customers. It seems like ever time I've been back in recent years, very few to no chinese customers. Take a look at the picture above - pretty representative. I'm no expert on Cantonese cuisine, but those who would be tell me the food is overpriced and not for "chinese tastes". Much like other "chinese" restaurants around Toronto that cater to non chinese diners, Lee Garden is a bit of an embarrassment.
v79 / November 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm
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Perhaps BlogTO should find contributors who are not surprised their entrees are portioned like an actual meal several times at a single sitting. Has Ms. Cheung been dining at tapas bars her entire life?
Long Time Fan First Time Caller / November 1, 2014 at 01:24 pm
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It blows my mind how this particular site's comment sections are always so negative. Do you people just sit around and wait for new postings on blogto so you can angrily type away at your computers? It's embarrassing as a lover of this city to see how angry everyone seems to be.

Lee Garden is far better than anything else on Spadina. I've eaten at most of them, it's not even close.

The produce is better, the meat is better, the taste is better.

Is it more expensive? For sure. You get what you pay for.
Fud / November 1, 2014 at 06:07 pm
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So, a favourite of the reviewer.
Anne replying to a comment from Long Time Fan First Time Caller / November 2, 2014 at 01:33 am
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Thank you!! I was wondering if I felt the same. Just moved to TO from Ottawa where people are known to be a little fold but judging from the blogTO page commenters, Torontonians are just downright hostile and hate everything.
Anne replying to a comment from Long Time Fan First Time Caller / November 2, 2014 at 01:33 am
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Ugh iPad autocorrect
Fold = cold
Nash replying to a comment from Anne / November 2, 2014 at 02:02 am
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Anne, I also moved from Ottawa to TO, it's been a year now and I can confirm that BlogTO gives many good tips, especially for newbies in the area!!
hf / November 2, 2014 at 09:50 am
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and they're not even sharing the dishes at a chinese restaurant..
Sandman replying to a comment from Anne / November 2, 2014 at 10:56 am
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The hostile commentators originate from the outside 'burbs (like Mississauga, Woodbridge, etc.) that think mall plaza food is a delicacy...
protip / November 2, 2014 at 12:24 pm
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i'm a professional chinese food eater. here are some PRO tips:

1. you should NEVER pay more than $8.99 for any chinese dish. the reason i get chinese food is because they're cheap & they often give so much quantity. from the looks of it, the pictures on this article really do not justify the $12+/dish prices. almost all chinese food are made with MSG anyway, so there's no way you can tell if the dish is of 'quality ingredients' if you haven't stepped into their kitchens (which are often quite unsanitary). that being said, i've never gotten sick from eating chinese food and i will continue eating them.

2. do not complain after servers bring out your dish. if it goes back to the kitchen to get 'fixed', they'll often mess with your food for annoying them, or your dish will come back out without any modifications.

3. the more ghetto the place looks, the better the food is (also much cheaper). referring to my point 1, there's no way i'd pay $8+ for any fried rice dish. these cost about $1 to make.

4. i get takeouts most of the time, but when i'm dining out, i make sure the restaurants i go to are busy. this ensures the restaurant is forced to buy fresh ingredients (because of the high dish/table turnover) and i know that i won't get food poisoning from stale ingredients.


i've got more but these should do for now.
Long Time Resident of Toronto replying to a comment from Long Time Fan First Time Caller / November 2, 2014 at 01:46 pm
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What are you talking about. Their meat and produce comes from the same supplier as most of the restaurants around the strip. You can see the same delivery guy in and out these restaurants. The restaurant owners know each other and when they run out of something, they go next door or their friend nearby who also owns a restaurant to get an ingrident. Seen this so many times. Especially summertime, ice is the most common item.

You're a fan of the place, that's great. That's to your taste. But I will have to agree with the exact, truthful criticism the 'negative' reviewers are saying. Just because people are sitting infront of their computer inputting their 'negative' comments, doesn't make you the holy light bringer when you say something positive. You're love for the city does not give you the right to deny other people's opinion.
Long Time Fan First Time Caller replying to a comment from Long Time Resident of Toronto / November 2, 2014 at 04:06 pm
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You are so ignorant. Having the same supplier means nothing. Just like when you are at the grocery store, there are better peppers and not so great peppers in the same bin. A place like Lee Garden gets first pick of the litter. In terms of meat, order a chicken dish from Lee Garden and one from any other place on Spadina and I promise you can see the difference: whole pieces of chicken versus slivers at other places.

To respond to your claim that I am "denying other people's opinions" is laughable. Never did. I do think there is a overwhelmingly negative slant to the comments section in ALL blogto posting comment sections.

Not sure what a holy light bringer is by the way...You definitely should have put more effort into insulting me.
Time for some new rules replying to a comment from protip / November 2, 2014 at 04:09 pm
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Sick rules brah...

Maybe the reason for rule number 2 is due to the fact that you eat in disgusting cheap places??

Not all places use MSG, that's simply just not true.
JustRight / November 3, 2014 at 04:03 am
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I only eat at Asian Legend. The food tastes fresh, and lacks any saltiness that MSG laden food contains. There is no excessive thirst, or running to the bathroom a couple of hours later. They are a bit pricey, but the taste and quality is worth it. Oh, and they are always busy!
Michelle replying to a comment from Long Time Fan First Time Caller / November 6, 2014 at 01:48 am
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I work in a supermarket that supplies to local restaurants and other stores. Our suppliers also supplies to other local restaurants and stores if they have enough of a big order, or else these shops just come to us. There's no such thing as 'first pick'. Things are packaged and sent/picked up by owners. It's only in the store that people get to have an illusion of choice to choose what's the best. But then again, first choice is done by employees. We get to have 22lbs watermleon, get all the good ones before we stock the rest which are 14lb average. Or the specific best cut of beef that is never out in display case unless people ask for it, which is that one guy who is a hobbyist chef.

There are different cuts of meat that may cost more or less than the other cuts. But all meats come from the same few farmer/supplier at relatively the same price. A lot of meats gets recycled down and sold cheaply to restaurants, or to a lower grade supermarket. (if you haven't noticed, all the big supermarkets in Ontario have a cheaper priced grocery sister chain). Good quality meat in restaurant is relatively impossible unless they're charging you $25+ a plate and that's just the regular quality.

Judging from the photos, I don't think their produce is top grade or even average. It's the sauce that they put on to make it flavourful. I've been here twice and I don't recall it being fantastic. Have you tried Swatow a couple stores down? I would say this restaurant is the best in Chinatown. First visit there and I was able to taste what I eat back in GuangZhao. That fresh hot stir fry taste. We call it 'wok air'. And you can hear the wok going off non stop in the kitchen too.
Michelle replying to a comment from JustRight / November 6, 2014 at 01:51 am
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Only the one in Chinatown is good for Asian Legend. The one up at Leslie and Finch is disgusting. Also the one up at Comerence Gate, and the one at Metro Square. The one at Finch is really bad too. This place is cheaper than Lee Gardens and better too.
Michelle replying to a comment from protip / November 6, 2014 at 02:02 am
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Hahahaha so true.

For #2, you eat the food first and then complain. You only complain just to let the chef know, not because to change an order. And maybe if you're angry enough, they'll knock off 10% from the bill or give you free dessert.

Have to agree with #1. Point of chinese food is cheap. If it's not cheap, they're ripping you off because people just don't know any better.

Another tip is know which restaurant lets waiters keep their tips. A few of them don't. The waiters either get a higher wage with no tip, or min wage with tips. So you really shouldn't be tipping unless you know because that money will go to the owner. Ask slying and make sure the owner doesn't over hear you. You can save your $3-$5 for a nice drink.

One way to chat up a waiter is ask how business is.
Michelle replying to a comment from Long Time Resident of Toronto / November 6, 2014 at 02:07 am
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Ahaha. It's probably true they get the same supplies from the same guy. My friend's girlfriend's dad owns/cooks at one of the restaurant on Baldwin. They get the stuff with a few others on the same block from the same supplier.
Michelle replying to a comment from Sandman / November 6, 2014 at 02:27 am
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Well a lot of hidden gems are located in strip plazas because they're affordable rent. One of the best jerk chicken I had was at peanut plaza. The best okonomiyaki/takoyaki I had is up in a foodcourt on Middlefield and Steeles. The most legit karaoke expereince I encountered was in Mississauga with free drinks and round of food for free and cheap room too, yet clean and good selection of songs. The best bakalav is up in richmond hill on yonge and 16th that no one has heard of.

Good things doesn't exist only in downtown Toronto. GTA is part of Toronto too. So just keep trying new things. Blogto is a good start if you're new, there's yelp, urbonspoon, toronto dining, and more, but nothing beats expereince since everyone's flavour profile is different. I've eaten from downtown Toronto, to GTA, Montreal, New York, and San Fransisco. I wouldn't say one area is more superior than the other because they all have their own amazing places.
Spaz / November 6, 2014 at 03:40 pm
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Hands down the best chinese restaurant in Downtown Toronto. Doesn't commit the sin of being overly oily.

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