Thorncliffe Park is a lot more than just the East York Town Centre
Most people know Thorncliffe Park as Toronto's halal heaven: an area overflowing with independent restaurants and grocery stores catering to the large Muslim population that inhabits it.
It's also home to one of Toronto's largest community gardens, but nobody's coming to the neighbourhood for that. They'll soon be flocking to Thorncliffe Park for a different reason.
Already a bustling area just south of Leaside made even busier the last few years with the seemingly never-ending construction of the Eglinton LRT, Thorncliffe's buses (the heavily-used 81 and 25 routes) will soon get a lot more hectic with the impending arrival of a brand new Costco.
Set to open directly across from the East York Town Centre — the local mall that's been around since the 70s — the city's fourth Costco will undoubtedly jam up Overlea Boulevard with Costco members-on-wheels when it opens on July 24.
In the meantime local businesses, which are basically 100 per cent halal, are bracing themselves for the influx of traffic, leaving us to wonder whether or not Costco will be carrying halal-certified meat (they usually do) and if that will change things around these parts.
But as you begin to explore the plazas lining Overlea, you'll quickly realize that Costco's big-brand appeal will fall short when it comes to ready-made food, especially since Thorncliffe's businesses offer halal menus too unique to be replaced.
You'll be hard-pressed to find the same halal pizzas and Philly cheese steaks as the ones at Watan Pizza, a fairly new operation, or the halal lollipop chicken from the Hakka restaurant Faley Restaurant, a Rexdale transplant.
Nor will you find the same South Asian treats like kaju rolls or samosas like the ones made in the kitchen at Capital Sweet and Samosa.For fans of Afghan food, Thorncliffe is home to some of the best restaurants in Toronto. From the Popeyes-adjacent Bamiyan Kebab to the tandoor chicken at Afghan Cuisine or Kandahar Kabab over at 45 Overlea, there's no shortage here.
And over at 25 Overlea Boulevard, an unexpected treasure. In the same plaza as Hakka Garden and Arza Pizza, which doles out halal pizza and wings, you'll find My Choice Paan, which looks like a mere DVD store (if you don't already know what paan is) with a cell carrier business in the back.
On the inside, however, My Choice offers an experience that feels totally unique to Thorncliffe.
Despite being greeted by a wall lined with DVDs of your fave Hindi and Pakistani dramas to your left, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the confectionary-type counter to your right where you'll find bites of paan.
These rolls of betel leaves to South Asians are in theory sort of like what khat is to Somalis or chewing tobbacco is to American athletes. While tobacco can be incorporated into the paan, you can skip out on that stuff and just eat this handheld bite as a post-dinner mouth freshener.
For $1.50, one leaf comes with your choice of any of the many jarred fillings available. I recommend not to go overboard and keep it simple: for those not adverse to a little tobacco there's the very traditional beechnut filling, otherwise there's also coconut and dried roses.
Wrapped in a little piece of paper, this little heart-shaped leaf is a rare find, as are the bottles of Hajoori soda (a digestive drink) and cans of Pakistani soda.
In reality, the businesses most at risk with Costco's arrival are grocery purveyors like Al-Mina, a Pakistani store selling all sorts of spices and boxed masalas with a full halal butcher in the back.
But at the end of the day, Al-Mina doesn't require a membership to shop at, and neither does the massive Iqbal Halal Foods at the end of Thorncliffe Park Drive, with its own sweet shop next door and another bakery Shirin Mahal beside it.
While large families could possibly benefit from a $60 yearly membership at Costco, Iqbal doesn't seem to mind the challenge. In fact, they're already in the process of opening up a second location, just a seven-minute drive from the Costco in Mississauga.
Meanwhile East York Town Centre will likely see more traffic than its ever seen (even if it's just Costco customers using their parking).
While it's not the hottest spot on the block, there's a couple things worth dropping by for, like Ichiban Living, a Japanese store where all items come straight from Japan and cost $2.25 each.
Last but certainly not least: Chester Fried Chicken, the heart of the measly food court with its counter of KFC-in-its-prime type fried chicken on beds of fries or noodles, sandwiches, and daily specials. And of course, it's all halal.
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