8 cheap (but great) Chinese restaurants in the GTA
Chinese food. It's pretty much a staple of life in areas of the GTA like Scarborough, North York, Richmond Hill and even (gasp) York Region. Contrary to the opinions of many (OK, maybe just my downtown-dwelling friends) the food scene north of Eglinton is pretty happenin'. The influx of immigrants to these areas has given rise to a multitude of Chinese restaurants catering to pretty much any budget level. Being a budget-conscious 20-something year old, I've spent my fair share of time seeking out good and cheap places to go eat and hang out.
Here are my picks for 8 cheap (and great tasting too) Chinese restaurants in the GTA.
Phoenix Restaurant, 7155 Woodbine Avenue
This restaurant is pretty much the epitome of cheap, great Chinese food. The menu is so extensive that you may mistake it for your economics textbook. They have several locations across York Region, with this being the one I frequent the most as it's conveniently located just outside the 404 exit ramp. The cuisine spans everything from Hong Kong-style food to Chinese specialties from Southeast Asia. Their wonderful Hainanese Chicken rice has been voted one of the best by some Chinese newspaper (so you know it's legit). I also recommend their pineapple bun with ham for breakfast. Put a little hot chili oil in it, and as strange as it may sound, there'll be party in your mouth, and only YOU are invited.
Congee Delight, 3555 Don Mills Road
While Congee Wong and Congee Queen rightly take plaudits for the most popular congee places around these parts, Congee Delight is a hidden culinary gem. Their sliced fish congee is arguably more flavourful than most similar offerings at the more well-known congee establishments, and their small snacks are equally impressive. Another must-try is their pork chop with Thousand Island sauce (I know, it sounds odd to me too). With so many budget-friendly options (congee isn't the most expensive thing around anyway), you can easily get a good dinner for two for under $25 after taxes.
Jim Chai Kee, 270 West Beaver Creek Road
Well-hidden from the sight of drivers on Highway 7 (or whatever it's called nowadays) is the home of quite possibly the most mouth-wateringly delicious shrimp wontons in existence. Located in the same plaza as the large Wasabi buffet that's well known to locals, this place looks decidedly unimpressive. But you won't care about that once you've taken your first bite of that flavourful wrapped shrimp concoction. Even with noodles and vegetables, the average person will spend only around $10 or less. What's more, the constant back-and-forth shouting between the host and her employees at the back who seemingly toil non-stop in preparing the raw materials for your delicious, delicious wontons is a surreal and oddly entertaining scene straight out of a Chinese TV series.
Taipei Chin Yuan Pai Ku, 3636 Steeles Avenue East
This isn't a restaurant, categorically speaking, but it is so delicious and such a great value for money that I can't pass up the opportunity to include it here. Located in the food court of Metro Square Mall on Steeles Ave, this fast food stall only offers around half a dozen or so different combo options on their menu list, but MAN are they good. The limited choice probably is a good thing as they can specialize more on a few key dishes. The must-try is, of course, the pork chop (quick helpful Mandarin Chinese lesson. Pai ku equals pork chop) combo. For around $6.50, at last check, you get some pork chops, rice, and other side dishes, Make sure you add the additional home-made Taiwanese chopped pickles that they have on the side of their counter. Another positive is that this food court isn't very busy on weekend nights, making the whole experience just that little bit more awesome.
Woodstone Restaurant, 20 Apple Creek Blvd.
The restaurant calls itself a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant, but it's completely run and operated by Chinese people, as evidenced from the din of Cantonese conversations between the wait staff. Their menu has quite a few Viet-Thai dishes like pad thai and whatnot, but there are still a lot of Chinese food items on the menu, which led to me and my friends calling this a de facto Chinese restaurant. Particularly delicious, though your arteries would disagree, is their crispy chicken steak with black pepper sauce on rice. Their Hainanese chicken rice is a slightly different kind than the one served at Phoenix, but is still highly recommended. A nice hidden gem is their fresh watermelon juice. The restaurant is also located right beside a big pool hall (arguably west Markham's most popular one), so it gets bonus points for that too.
Dickens Cafe, 9425 Leslie Street
I don't understand why there are many different Hong Kong-style Chinese food places with the name Dickens in them. Were Hong Kong residents big fans of A Christmas Carol or something? In any case, this particular iteration of the overused author's name serves up Western-style Chinese food. In other words, there's quite a bit of pasta and baked rice that's plated with meat with cheese and sauce. Sound delicious? Not to mention that the environment is nice and a bit peaceful, unlike the stereotypical crash bang boom sounds you hear in a busy Chinese restaurant. If you've ever wondered what it's like to eat European-inspired food in a Chinese restaurant with a Western restaurant ambiance, wonder no more.
T&T Supermarket, Various locations
OK, OK, this is a little cheating, I know. Ever since they were integrated into the Loblaw Group of Companies, this grocery chain has seen a marked improvement in customer service and general ability of the staff to speak English. A particularly enjoyable thing to do is to order a small container size of any dish, and slowly watch as you first exhibit dismay at how small the container is, but then become completely amazed as to how much stuff the kitchen staff will literally jam into those little bowls before they shrink-wrap them. 2 to 3 small dishes for dinner? Under $15, easy.
Go for Tea, 3700 Midland Ave #115
Don't let the awfully translated name fool you, this place serves much, much more than bubble tea. The food options showcase a cacophony of Chinese food, many with a Taiwanese touch. The popcorn chicken (yep, it's Chinese food) with rice is delicious, and so is the spicy basil chicken (otherwise known as san bei ji - another Mandarin lesson). Wash it all down with an order of bubble tea, and you have a nice dinner that's just about the right size for the right price. This place has two locations, but this one has a much cooler decor, which is very evocative of the modern style you would normally see in chic places in Asia.
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