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Restaurants

Roti Lady

Posted by Tim / Reviewed on July 29, 2008 / review policy

Roti LadyJust when I thought I'd never meet a roti I didn't like I found one. The prize belongs to the Roti Lady, an unassuming spot on Dunn Avenue south of Queen Street. It's just around the corner from Bacchus and within a short bike ride of popular roti destinations like Mother India, Island Foods and Ali's West Indian Roti Shop.

My visit starts with a scan of their bright yellow menu, painted on the exterior wall fronting Dunn. There are beef patties for $1, curry goat and beef rotis for $6.99, fried chicken with fries for $3.50, and the meal I decide to order today - a vegetable roti filled with spinach, squash, potato and chickpeas for $5.50.

Inside I perch in front of the fourteen inch TV set next to the front window. I watch the highlights from last night's Jays game as I wait for the customer currently at the cash to pay for a couple of beef patties. I get the sense that this isn't the type of place they actually want you to eat in. While a few stools and a lawn chair are scattered about, the overwhelming feeling I get is that this is just one big storage room.

There are boxes everywhere, a sack of potatoes, bottles of juice and charming little pictures of the Caribbean. It's not necessarily dirty, but it's incredibly cluttered. Outside, a red picnic table is serviceable enough as a dine-in option when weather permits.

Roti Lady InsideThe first sign of trouble starts when I hear the familiar sound of the microwave beeping. Not just once. But on four separate occasions. Once for each ingredient? The kitchen is mostly enclosed but a small window allows me to peer in to see what is going on. I can't see what's going in and out of the microwave but the older man preparing my roti seems to be making the shell from scratch. I'm starting to think this roti might have promise.

Ten minutes later and still no word from the kitchen. The microwave is still getting lots of love but no real progress seems to be happening until a mother (the roti lady herself?) and daughter walk in with the days groceries. At this point, I'm asked if I want my roti regular or hot. I decide that somewhere in between would probably do the trick. Let's make it a medium.

When my roti finally arrives I take it to-go and later cut it open with a knife to check out what awaits me inside. The texture is neither firm not runny. Somewhere in between that I can best describe as gooey. The temperature is uneven throughout - with pockets of heat followed by lukewarm surprises - perhaps confirming my suspicions about the role a microwave played in its creation.

The squash, or something near the squash, is sickeningly tangy. The spinach is dark if not black. Not the usual dark green that I was expecting. For a minute I actually thought it might be eggplant. The potatoes are as they should be but they, plus the chickpeas, are overpowered by the other flavours that abound.

While I do manage to down the whole thing, I find my doing so a bit grudgingly and worry if I'm going to become re-acquainted with the tangy stuff later in the day. Thankfully, we didn't meet again. And because I won't be returning to Roti Lady hopefully never will.

Roti Lady Outside

Discussion

21 Comments

ian / July 29, 2008 at 03:58 pm
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Somebody call "Restaurant Makeover"!
Carsten Nielsen / July 29, 2008 at 04:03 pm
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Yeah, I walked in and walked out, I was frightened.
David / July 29, 2008 at 09:52 pm
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On the positive side, it's the best looking building on Dunn Avenue.
Teena in Toronto / July 30, 2008 at 10:56 am
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I've driven by there tons of times and wondered how the rotis would be. I love rotis so will stay away.
Starker / July 30, 2008 at 12:46 pm
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I have eaten there about a year ago, and it was fine. The owner herself was very friendly and made delicious plantain - best I had ever had. But the second time the plantain was just average. So it's a bit of hit and miss, I guess. It was also dirt cheap then, too.
chip / July 30, 2008 at 01:10 pm
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I have been eating roti in toronto for over 30 years and I am a regular at Roti lady among other parkdale roti shops. I find the Roti Lady to be a pleasant step into a rapidly disappearing world of small casual family businesses . Seeing as the reviewer takes issue with this and the the decor or lack of it here perhaps he should seek out a big box roti franchise more to his liking in the suburbs. Personally i like the total west indian vibe and character of the tiny place, i don't mind the cardboard boxes though the reviewer above seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that it is very small place and where the heck else are they supposed to store all their supplies and besides it is obviously a take out place. I prefer to sit outside when eating there in the summer, a nice picnic table is provided though the reveiwer also missed this delightful opportunity to sit and watch parkdale roll by while enjoying a home cooked with love affordable Roti. (not everyone can drop $10 + for a roti at some of the other locals)Any one else who frequents the shop knows that the warm loving Roti lady herself cares deeply about her community and people in it, she cooks for many of the high schools students and watches out for the local kids including making sure they eat something nourishing.Roti lady isn't for everyone but then neither is parkdale.
advice to Tim, next time go to MR sub.
Tim / July 30, 2008 at 01:18 pm
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I won't be going to Mr. Sub. I will be going to Bacchus or Mother India which have better tasting rotis for about the same price.

I don't mean any disrespect to the owners of Roti Lady. I'm sure they're nice people and I take you at your word that they're community oriented. I just, personally, don't much care for their veggie roti. It has nothing to do with the fact that the restaurant looks like a storage locker. I'm completely comfortable eating food from less polished places like this. It was simply an observation and didn't impact my feelings about the taste of the roti.
Jason / July 30, 2008 at 01:56 pm
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I went to the Roti Lady once. Yeah, it's a bit grungy, but if they pass the savings onto the customer, then why not? But one bit and *crunch*. wtf? Both of the rotis had multiple pieces of hard plastic in them! Looked like it was from the side of an ice cream container. I took the hint, considered myself lucky that it wasn't worse and never went back.

If you want try a small, family-run roti joit, there's a place one block east (across from the vacant lot where the 7-11 used to be) that is inexpensive and quite good.
Lainee / October 24, 2008 at 11:38 am
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I agree with Chip. Roti Lady is a simple family (3 people) run business. I consider myself to have a somewhat personal relationship with Roti Lady herself. We chat like neighbours. Granted, the food quality has gone a little downhill, and she did raise her prices a tad - but I think that she has done wonderfully considering the hand she was dealt recently. Her family back home has been sick, as has her husband. She's doing a great job getting back on track - and I'll continue to support her.
Melissa / August 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm
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I've been there once and had chicken roti. To be honest, I really loved it.. It was very tasty and I would certainly go there again..
Mike / August 20, 2009 at 07:48 pm
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I went to the Roti Lady for the first time today. It was enjoyable and I'll definitely go back. I got three roti for $13.50, and even though they're a bit smaller and a bit doughier than some other places, it is still incredible value.

I really liked the flavour of these rotis. It's funny that the reviewer didn't like the squash or the spinach. Those are two things I really felt like praising. The spinach in particular was remarkably flavourful. The squash is sweet and a bit tangy, absolutely, I assumed that was the point and I liked it. It's probably store-bought pumpkin purée or something jazzed up with spices but so what? That's the way I like my rotis. It goes great with the vinegar/habanero flavour of the hot sauce.

Yes, these ones are really folded up so you get a few bread bites. I'm fine with that too (at this price). If I wanted all filling I'd buy (guess what) curry on a plate. Roti is a bready snack, not an elegant meal. People who are offended by bread should eat something else.








jules / January 5, 2010 at 06:37 pm
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The fact that you think Bacchus is a better roti, immediately makes me suspect your tastebuds. Bacchus is sooo overated its not even funny. Last time I ate there, my girlfriend and I really struggled to figure out what we were eating, was this a west indian roti? It sure didn't taste like one to me! Yes I admit the Roti lady's shop is a dingy, cardboard laden hole. In fact he first time I went there with my girlfriend I turned right around walked out, she had the intestinal fortitude to buy the roti. And I am so glad she did because the chicken roti was delicious, really delicious and cheap! I have been back there now many times and I think the food is pretty darn good. My biggest complaint I have to say is that its not the fastest place in the world, so be prepared to wait a bit.
willie dynamite / January 24, 2010 at 05:22 pm
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I don't think this reviewer eats much guyanese food, or could of gone to roti lady on a bad day. I eat roti in parkdale a couple of times every week and have been to every place that sells them in the hood (and there are a bunch!) Bang for buck, roti lady is the best, eggplant rotis there are my fave. good prices and good roti. ps. avoid ali's roti, up the street, like the plague.
dietrich / January 25, 2010 at 05:24 pm
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I go to roti ladi all the time...the complaints about the place being a bit dingy and not all that attractive are accurate, but I find the rotis (I usually get chicken or goat) delicious. Her roti's taste more "homemade" than something you'd find in a restaurant, delicious flavour/spices IMO. Some of my best eating experiences have been at roti lady's.

I think part of Tim's negative experience has to do with the fact that roti lady was not making the food (very unusual), and all the microwaving (very weird). I'd chalk that up to bad luck though.
amelia / January 1, 2011 at 01:52 pm
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this place has THE BEST ROTI for THE BEST PRICES.
the staff/family is terribly nice, and its always a friendly visit.
restaurant makeover would help this WONDERFUL store out a lot.

BUT I LOVE THEM ANYWAY!
sandy / August 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm
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Wow Tim i came to your blog looking for the roti ladys phone number to make a order and ended up with steam coming out my ears.

You you are the classic North American Tool with a blog.

Perhaps you should travel a bit and eat street food.

I hope one day you wake up with a dream and no capital and then try to make food that people will buy.

Im not sure what your day job is but perhaps you should stick to it. Or leave it and start up your own place.

BTW Bacus lost lots of money after being made over. Dont wish that on anyone.




sam / May 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm
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Roti Lady is the best!!
Peter / June 25, 2012 at 01:22 pm
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Too much MSG for my liking, or at least enough of something to give me something close to a migraine after having it. I'll stick with family run spots like Mother India and Bacchus, or indie shops like Ali's.

Oh, and the Ford for Mayor sticker they had didn't really win me over, either.
Dylan / June 30, 2012 at 07:07 pm
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Peter said: "the Ford for Mayor sticker they had"

You are truly pathetic Peter.
Strathmore / July 9, 2012 at 04:06 pm
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loved this place, moved away from Ontario in '09

She was a great person, the beef roti was chocked full of chunks of soft beef. The chicken was the right mix of spicy and still let out the flavour of the chicken. Unlike her pretentious, more expensive competitors, she understands the flavour balance and truly is my Roti Lady. My one regret was never trying her food until the last 15 months of my time in T.O.

She was my 4 or 5 day a week addiction. Living 30 seconds away was bad for my waist. ;-)
Rebecca Gruihn / February 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm
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I have been going to Roti Lady since I moved to Dunn Avenue about four years ago. She is a staple of the Parkdale community, providing reasonably priced homemade food and first aid to anyone who needs it. That's right, my brother was once stung by a bee on her patio and she came to the rescue with some Vic's vapor rub (seemed strange at first, but it totally work to bring the swelling down and numb his pain). Roti Lady and her daughter work all day, six days a week; and while they may cut corners by using a microwave to heat up some less popular dishes, everything is homemade. I even have friends and relatives that insist we eat Roti Lady when they visit. Thing is, it's about comfort food at a low price point. I am NOT going to promise you a gourmet experience. Roti Lady knows what she is good at and sticks to it. Personally, I love the Chicken curry roti; and for $5, who can complain? Oh that's right... Tim can. He would rather pay $10 for a roti at Bacchus. I get that, he seems to be interested in vegetarian options. Bacchus does great veg rotis. For the meat lovers among us, when it comes to some old school, slow cooked, stick to your ribs chicken curry, wrapped in a soft made-to-order Caribbean style shell... Rotti Lady EVERY TIME! She's my kind of lady.

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