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Posted by Tanja / Reviewed on January 30, 2007 / review policy

20070129-swatow-spread.jpgWalking into Swatow in the middle of the night is like walking into some kind of night-owl clubhouse. A crowd of regulars shuffle in and out, greeting the staff with everything from secret handshakes, to 'high fives' and 'props' as I giggle just overhearing it all.

A little overwhelmed, I'm glad I'm here with a couple regulars, and the owner looks impressed that they've brought girls with them this time around. *wink wink*

We're promptly seated with some menus, and seeing as Swatow was a big winner in last year's blogTO Indie Toronto poll, I thought it was about time I pull out the camera and do a photo review of this crazy little place...

20070129-swatow-fuk-kin.jpgLooking at the menus, there's lots to choose from. We only wish there were some photos on there so that we could make sense out of the vast selection.

One thing stood out though: the Fuk-kin Fried Rice. Fuk-kin amazing... we had to order it. Trying to play it safe though, I ask my gf (who speaks Cantonese) what it is. She has no clue.

"Can you read the characters at all?"
"I only know the last two."
"What do they mean?"
"Fried rice."

I get her to ask the waiter. He exclaims, without flinching, that Fuk-kin Fried Rice is seafood and fried rice with a creamy sauce. Only 2 out of 5 of us at the table will eat seafood, and 1 of those 2 has issues with milk/cream, so we, sadly, pass.

We order about half a dozen other dishes ('cause late night eating brings out the worst in all of us, frankly) and they arrive fast.

20070129-swatow-beefnoods.jpgBeef with vegetables on a bed of noodles. Noodles were a little lukewarm, but the best of the the beef dishes we tried.

20070129-swatow-friedrice.jpgYour staple dish: Chicken Fried Rice. The guys took half of this platter before I could point my lens at it. It looked tasty, but they were not available for comment as I did not want to see them eating with their mouths open while I was pointing a zoom lens.

20070129-swatow-beefrice.jpgBeef and vegetables on rice, for those who didn't want the noodles. This was mostly broccoli in terms of veggies. Really good even though the sauce was a little thick. (Though all the sauces here are probably well aquainted with cornstarch to thicken them up as you can see in the photos)

20070129-swatow-crabcorn.jpgFor the sniffly member of the crowd, a corn and crab soup. He loves this stuff, I hate it... so I leave you with the photo.

20070129-swatow-chicknveg.jpgChicken with vegetables on rice. Some nice bok choy with this one, though I probably won't be ordering it again. Let's just say that while it was tasty, we had serious questions at the authenticity of this chicken. It was WAY too tender.

20070129-swatow-gentao.jpgEveryone's favourite: General Tao Chicken. If you dig the fried chicken, this is one of the best General Tao dishes you can get on Spadina. It comes with both sweet and spicy peppers and is still crispy despite all the yummy sauce it's smothered in. Not the healthiest thing on the table, but most definitely the tastiest.

20070129-swatow-hotsauce.jpgAnd for the chicken and beef dishes that weren't spicy, there's always a pot-full of pure fire to bring them up to par.


Swatow Restaurant - 309 Spadina Ave. 416-977-0601
Open daily, 10am -3am (even later if it's busy)



stung / January 30, 2007 at 12:02 pm
mmm Swatow, so filling and cheap too!
mish / January 31, 2007 at 12:00 am
mm...the best midnight snack in the city.
Victor / January 31, 2007 at 12:00 am
The picture review is nice. But I'm afraid you have likely not had the optimum experience here.

First off, the items you ordered are good, but not the best they have to offer.

Good choices were the GT Chicken, and the soup. However you missed their deep fried squid (I read some of you can't eat it, but I'm wondering if that's I "won't" eat it, because this you will enjoy even if you don't enjoy seafood.). Your noodle dish should have been chicken fried noodle. You beef should have been chosen on a hot plate w/ assorted veggies. You should also give the wonton noodles a go, esp if you are here on your own.

From your review, I may assume that you do not eat at Chinese restaurants that often?
- The chicken is tender because it is generally made from dark meat from the thigh and leg. Also, it stays more tender when marinated and with corn starch applied. There is nothing wrong with the meat.
- Sauces come in all kinds of consistency, and I would suggest not taking any extra sauce, i.e. avoid serving yourself too much sauce.
- You must order your dishes with balance. Considering which items are staples, and which items are for a flavor kick. I.e. a simple noodle to go with your GT chicken, or a lighter lemon chicken to go with a spicy squid.
- If you don't drink tea, you need to get another drink. It is expected that you will have plenty of liquids to clear your palette of both flavor and grease while you eat.

Try going with one of those regulars you see in there and have someone who knows their Chinese food order for you.
But the following will not disappoint:
- Spicy Deep Fried Squid (or Spicy Deep Fried Shrimp)
- General Tao's Chicken
- Chicken Fried Noodles
- Won Ton Noodle
- Beef with black bean sauce on Hotplate
- Lemon Chicken
- Sweet and sour soup
Add chicken fried rice for filler if need be.
Andrew / January 31, 2007 at 12:00 am
Great atmosphere at Swatow. I'd eat there more often, except it's RAMMED all the time!
Tanja / January 31, 2007 at 12:00 am
Thanks for the detail, Victor. Do you work there? heh.

I love your suggestions and will definitely try the lemon chicken next time. We were all getting one dish each, so I could only pick one, not 10... i have to respect everyone else's likes and dislikes.

I'm also the nut in the group who wants the *least* fried foods possible, so as you can imagine, that narrows what i'm opt to pick. I'm glad you've got your faves in there for readers to give a shot.

We do eat Chinese often (including at home as my partner (who went with the beef) is Chinese, so I understand about the prep... I describe it all, as I like to do no matter where i'm reviewing, 'cause those who don't know will probably want to before ordering too much starch or baking soda laced foods at 3am in the morning. ;)
Jonathan / January 31, 2007 at 12:00 am
"night-owl clubhouse ..crowd of regulars"

including 52 Division getting takeout.
Abraham Lopez / February 1, 2007 at 12:00 am
Those plates look really delicious.
Jonah / February 11, 2007 at 03:19 pm
Sorry to break the bad news but Chinatown hasn't been the same since Markham and Richmond Hill was developed more than ten years ago. Swatow has loads of MSG, which I think is the based for any and all of their clear broth soups.

The vegetables aren't cut... so you often get roots attached to your guylan, and because they are so thick, they outside is soggy while the inside remains raw.

The sauces are straight out of the bottle, and there is a lot of sauce which I presume is used to cover the low quality of their meat. Forget seafood.

The fluorescent lights and mirrors make McDonald's decor look nice. Don't look down at the floor, unless you want to see what some guy was eating there two weeks ago.

If you have ever eaten good Chinese food, you won't want to eat here. Just like any other cuisine, you get what you pay for. $3.75 gets you, well, just less than four dollars worth of food, if you can call it that.
Tanja / February 16, 2007 at 12:48 am
And at 3am, we do just that Jonah... 'cause no one owns a car to drive to Richmond Hill and next-to-nothing would be open anyhow. Were this dinner, the situation would be different.
opensource / November 19, 2007 at 11:38 pm
I like Swatow. But, once a place starts being the "in place" to be, for me, it is time to move on. There are at least 3 other places in Chinatown downtown with better food, better service, and most importantly, fewer to no hipsters.
Sherry / July 14, 2008 at 08:11 pm
I've literally been eating at Swatow since I was a baby. While their prices have gone up slightly, the consistency of their food remains strong. They have delicious food plain and simple.

I actually tend to stay away from the more commonly ordered food (like General Tsao's chicken) and order more traditional Chinese dishes like #105 Eggs with Shrimp on rice (though I often have this on noodles or with beef -- they accommodate). As for soups....gosh, their Egg drop soup with Minced Beef is awesome, nice and thick not brothy like in other places. And their Sweet Corn soup with Chicken is really tasty! I love their wonton noodle soup however in my opinion their BBQ Pork with Noodles soup is divine!

I've been a regular customer at Swatow (almost 30 years now) and have introduced plenty of people to the place who are now regulars themselves. TONS of those I do introduce the restaurant to find that no other restaurant out there compares.

And in my opinion, I'd rather go to a not-so-great looking place with excellent food than to a great looking place with crap food.

Swatow is #1 in my book and I've been to plenty of Chinatown's all over the place!
Foodhogger / August 19, 2008 at 04:54 pm
While the General Tso (or Tao?)'s chicken was good, it wasn't great. Nor did we like the portions. For $12.50 we thought it would be a giant platter enough to split between two, but it wasn't. I'll definitely be sticking to <a href="http://foodhogger.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/house-of-gourmet/";> House of Gourmet </a>around the corner and <a href="http://foodhogger.wordpress.com/2008/07/17/spadina-garden/";>Spadina Garden </a>at Dundas/Bay.
Foodhogger / August 26, 2008 at 03:25 pm
<a href="http://foodhogger.wordpress.com/2008/08/25/swatow/";>Foodhogger's experience</a>
sanJ / October 14, 2008 at 10:01 pm
swatow was closed down today
Brent / October 17, 2008 at 12:34 pm
Swatow has re-opened with a Green Pass. I called in for a pick up order of Wonton Soup, Beef Brisket noodles and Seafood Chow Mein. They are the best!
jack / January 11, 2009 at 12:26 am
it's not fukkin fried rice.. it should be Fukien fried rice.. fukien is a province in China.. and fukien fried rice doesn't have any cream/milk in it... the sauce is made from broth and starch.. probably mixed is egg white to create the creamy texture.. it is very good as fried rice is usually very dry.. the seafood sauce on the rice creates an interesting texture when you mix it with the fried rice...
Asia / April 26, 2009 at 05:19 am
MSG or not - the Shrimp Dumpling Soup from Swatow is consistently amazing. Most of the other dishes I can take or leave, but as a late night option other than pizza or McDonald's it is one of the best.

As for the MSG hype - after watching Food Detectives, clearly for most people, MSG is fine and the hype about it is just that. For those that are severely allergic to it - they would also be allergic to most meats and cheeses as well, never mind all sorts of processed foods including most kinds of potato chips.

I have always found it interesting how food allergies are so common in North America... maybe the food is not the problem? Millions of Japanese eat MSG daily and have no need for NO MSG signs. There is no need for Peanut Free packaging in Europe. What is up with that?
LanternBell / August 5, 2009 at 02:08 am
Never been to Swatow after midnight but I go there once in a while for lunch. Their wontons are pretty decent but the best things you can get there are their noodles with beef tripe in soup and for the daring eaters, escargot with black bean sauce.
MK / October 14, 2009 at 03:44 pm
Two questions, is swatow licensed, and if so, do they serve till closing?
mike / April 17, 2010 at 05:37 pm
Staff don't seem happy
ariel / April 17, 2010 at 05:40 pm
I ordered chicken wings (as an appetizer) and when I was done eating my main course and was ready to pay (45 minutes later) they gave me the chicken wings (that I already forgot I ordered) and the rude lady working there was yelling at me because I refused to pay for the (Late) wings.

Food was great but bad service
Rico / February 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm
I agree with Mike and Ariel. Staff were rude to our party as well.
Heather / May 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm
I haven't been to Swatow since Christmas time. I went back twice this weekend and the food is still amazing! I had the Shrimp Dumplings and Wontons on Friday, great lunch choice. I see comments about staff being rude, you guys should ask to speak to Kevin next time, he's super nice and the younger girls there are very helpful and attentive too. I went back on Sunday after a night out and it was PACKED. We were lucky we only had 4 people so we got a seat after a 15 min wait. We ordered the spicy squid and the black bean clams...best midnight snack ever!
Stephanie / January 7, 2012 at 01:30 pm
Love it here... no question, when I'm spending a late night in the area, I always seem to end up here! Service is FAST and EFFICIENT... which is always appreciated :) Food is tasty and cheap. And arrives eerily quick. Fun place to be at night, post-bar, or even during the day for a quick bite.
JW / January 16, 2013 at 01:47 pm
This used to be my go to place not anymore. The spicy beef had uncooked flour still on the outside when it was served to me and the salt and spicy squid had no flavour whatsoever. I could overlook the rude staff if the food was great.
Krystol / October 3, 2014 at 09:01 am
Swatow may be popular however check out Dine Safe Toronto's website for them and you will change your mind.....cleanliness, food safety and pest control are regular occurring issues at this restaurant

dyee276750 / November 15, 2014 at 01:41 am
fuk-kin fried rice!
lkk8080 / December 8, 2014 at 12:02 am
This place is junk. The food is all loaded with MSG, all the sauces are corn starch, sugar and soy sauce. Fried rice is bland and dry. Veggies are not fresh, and not cooked evenly. Won ton soup is worse than street side 25 cents won ton soup in asia.

Seriously this place is gross. Do these people know what chinese food should taste like? The reviewers of these chinese restaurants really need to bring chinese foody friends who are well traveled for these reviews.
SpadinaGal / January 8, 2015 at 05:22 pm
I spent 10 years eating at Swatows at least once a week, which was just around the corner and I always got amazing service there and great food. In fact Russell Peter's even used to eat there! I don't care what anyone says, that place was a saviour at the best of times! Loved it and glad to see it on the list!
jen / April 22, 2015 at 01:53 pm
Swantow is the best place.... all you people who have bad comments dont know good food... ive eaten here for about 27 years and that will always be a family place for me swantow is #1 and has been for years going there today.
F. Williams / May 3, 2015 at 03:28 pm
The food is good and the portions are large.

The Bathrooms were disgusting, according to my female friend.
The service staff was rude, which is very typical of the Chinese culture, especially in Chinatown.

Why can't the Chinese adapt to western culture, in terms of mannerism and civility?

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