6 restaurants to eat Canadian Chinese food in Toronto
There are few culinary topics more divisive than Canadian Chinese food. Otherwise known as Canadianized Chinese food/North American Chinese food/American Chinese food/what have you, this particular type of cuisine has been the subject of much derision and name-calling by many. Purists scoff at the notion that pieces of chicken coated in deep fried batter and shaped into a ball can be called Chinese food, while hardcore fans will confidently point that there are times when you've got a craving that only sweet and sour pork can cure.
Here's my take: Canadian Chinese food is most definitely not authentic Chinese food. But it doesn't mean that it's not a legitimate type of cuisine. Similar to Chinese food that developed in non-Sinicized countries (see Indian Chinese food, Peruvian Chinese food, or Caribbean Chinese food), Canadian Chinese food is its own type of fusion cuisine, way before the terms "Pan-Asian" and "fusion" ever became hip.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, according to others), the prevalence of old-school Canadian Chinese restaurants, with their kitschy dĂŠcor, is dwindling. As Chinese immigration continues to increase, the demand for more authentic regional Chinese food (Szechuan, Cantonese, Chiu Chow, et al) has increased. As acceptance for these cuisines grow, fewer new establishments see the need to Canadianize their Chinese food offerings.
While demand for these Canadian Chinese restaurants remains strong in various areas of town, they are in general becoming extinct (with perhaps the arguable exception of the Mandarin chain) in most of Toronto and its immediate surroundings. Case in point: the formerly popular Ho Lee Chow chain and the classic China House on Eglinton West.
All of this does not mean that there aren't good places to sample Canadian Chinese food, though. So ring up an order of jar doo chicken wings: it's time to look at some noteworthy places to eat this rapidly dwindling cuisine (obligatory disclaimer note: this list is not meant to be comprehensive). Fine diners and Chinese food purists, you may want to look away now.
Sea-Hi Chop Suey Tavern (3645 Bathurst Street)
Considered by many as the absolute stalwart of mid-20th century Canadian Chinese restaurant (so much so that its kitschy interior has actually been used as the setting for many movies), this restaurant offers one of the best chicken balls in town. With batter that is not overly greasy or overpowering, and a taste that's plain enough that it mixes well with the neon-coloured sauce, it's easy to see why many have fallen in love (and remain so) with their version of this classic dish. In addition, they also have that other fantastically unbelievable dish: chicken bacon sticks. That may not be even remotely close to being Chinese, but really, who cares?
Oriental Taste (329 Queen Street East)
A Chinese restaurant that offers a sushi menu and open stage for R&B/rock bands on Tuesdays? Yep, it exists. This place has a large variety of menu options - more than the typical Canadian Chinese restaurant at least, which include highlights such as the spicy and savory Mongolian Chicken as well as what may possibly be the largest selection of egg foo young options in town. The hot and sour soup (sans any meat, of course) is frequently cited as one of the best in the city, and they also have an online takeout menu which makes it extremely convenient to get your chow mein fix.
Ming City (1662 Eglinton Avenue West)
Tucked into a multicultural neighbourhood with little Asian presence, this small restaurant is a hit with locals. With generous portions and lunch specials at around $6, it provides really good bang for your buck. The food quality is generally very good without anything being too spectacular, and they have a lovely version of General Tso Chicken, which is both tasty and tender at the same time. Unfortunately, the ambiance is a little dim and foreboding due to its location in a not-too-salubrious part of the city.
C'est Bon (2685 Yonge Street)
I've written about C'est Bon before, and what I said before still rings true. The seating may be a tad awkward and the parking space a smidge too small, but the restaurant more than makes up for it with its large selection of fresh and flavourful Canadian Chinese dishes. You absolutely have to try the Spicy C'est Bon Chicken or the C'est Bon Basil Chicken, which are both filled with surprisingly rich flavours and are divine when eaten with fresh steamed rice. Remember to end your meal with either the fried banana or fried Mars bar--it's the stuff Chinese kung fu champions are made of.
Cynthia's Chinese Restaurant (7700 Bathurst Street)
Located in the plaza area of Promenade Mall, in the foreboding northern tundra known as Thornhill, this restaurant is what many would call a hidden gem. The moment you step in, you know that you're in what Westerners expect a Chinese restaurant should look like, with its temple-looking decorations and faux trees. Some highlights are the hot and sour soup, with a texture that's a bit thicker than similar offerings at other places, as well as the wonderfully large sweet and sour prawns. Note that prices here are a bit more expensive than at most comparable restaurants, but the entire experience is still worth the trek.
Mayflower (1500 Royal York Rd)
Blessed, if that's the right word, with Mayor Ford's personal stamp of approval, this restaurant provides one of the most popular chicken balls in the city, rivaling that of Sea-Hi's. With large chunks of chicken and just about the right amount of batter, it is definitely a treat and would absolutely be a detriment to any "Cut the Waist" aspirations you may have. The Cantonese chow mein is crispy and lovely though a bit lacking in taste, but in a sense that's probably to be expected from this cuisine style. The only downside? Service can be hit or miss at times.
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