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Lacking in Passport Stamps? Visit Toronto's Best Asian Restaurants for Exotic Flavors



Almost 50% of Toronto's population is foreign-born, so it is no surprise that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what defines Toronto's food scene. Even if a restaurant is not distinctly Asian, it has likely been Asian influenced, with one of the largest populations of Chinese ex-pats in North America. It is little surprise that the number of great Asian restaurants in Toronto is large and constantly growing.

The city has two significant Chinatown neighbourhoods, one in the east end and the other (larger and most popular) in the middle of the city. Explore the streets of these areas and you're sure to find a wide variety of things to eat, from ducks hanging in restaurant windows to Chinese bakeries serving steamed buns. Banh Mi Boys will take those buns and fill them with everything from pork belly to house made kimchi for a sandwich you will rave about for days afterwards.

This is not to say that many of the great Asian restaurants haven't expanded beyond this geography. David Chang made his mark with a Toronto based Momofuku and the communal tables are always jammed with satisfied noodle-slurpers (yes that is the technical term). Susur Lee is the king of Asian fusion, taking traditional dishes and making them unrecognizable (but inarguably delicious) in two restaurants that we have added to our list: Luckee and Lee

Toronto's reputation for great Asian food clearly has global reach.


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If the only food allergy you have is to bad food, don't worry, Bazara has none of that. And contrary to the way it sounds, there is nothing "bizarre" about it. It is east meets west, Asia meets Canada. Deliciousness and freshness are two of the "nesses" they hold close to their hearts. Dishes range from nori seaweed wrapped ravioli to yellow curry soft shell crab with coconut sticky rice. Sushi can be rolled with black rice for a striking effect. Ignore the kitschy North American decor of chandeliers and huge mirrors and get to the important part: the eating.


Nana


We all have that annoying friend who comes back from a backpacking trip claiming that none of the food is "authentic" enough. Now you too can be that annoying friend without having to buy a backpack. Nana is the cousin of Khao San Road, which was a popular restaurant on Adelaide street currently in the process of moving. There are a ton of choices all done in the style of Bangkok street food, from curries that will have your mouth burning for days to slurpy noodles teeming with vegetables. Even better is that you can be as specific as you want with your meal, choosing everything from the spice level to the amount of gluten in your food.




Jabistro has food philosophy. It believes that each ingredient must be "brought out to shine at its best." They find the perfect amount of each ingredient to make each menu item original in a sea of Japanese restaurants. Indulge in a fish bowl with assorted sashimi and sushi rice. Or get the Jabistro platter, which changes daily. You may catch them on a day when they are overloading the plates with lobster (or get your lobster fix with the amazing lobster miso soup). This platter can also be designed for the number of people that you have at your table, if you are lunching with the sort of people who love surprises. The sushi is blowtorched for a light char taste, and there are lots of non raw fish options for those who prefer to abstain.


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Downtown


Luckee Restaurant is worth every nickel to quell the dim sum craving you didn't realize you had. Located at the base of the Metropolitan Soho, Luckee supplies the kind of meal that you dream about for days afterwards. The ambitious and inventive chef Susur Lee has taken on another restaurant and has again succeeded in surprising the palate. His deliciously modern take on nouvelle chinoise cuisine makes every dumpling, noodle dish and meat lip-smackingly rich. The decor matches the mood, with the Luckee theme extending through red accents (which in the Chinese culture, usually stands for good luck). Dark wood panelling and Chinese art takes you out of Toronto and into a memorable food experience.


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Queen West


Japanese restaurant. Tapas restaurant. Drinking establishment which serves food to accompany the drinks (at least according to the definition of Izakaya). Guu Izakaya does it all. This lively and energetic restaurant opened in 2011 after receiving high acclaim for its Vancouver location. Communal style tables encourage strangers to get friendly as they share the experience of eating Japanese comfort food. Baked oysters, beef tongue, almond tofu, sashimi salad and bibimbap are some of the options, and all are exquisite. Dishes are great for sharing, and you can sit at the bar to watch the food being cooked. Don't miss the cocktail and sake list. A couple of drinks will put you in the right Guu mood.


Blowfish Restaurant + Sake Bar
Photo courtesy of Blowfish Facebook page


When they think wine bar, most people's minds conjure up a restaurant that serves a variety of reds, whites and sparkling. But in Japan, wine is sake, and like so much of Japanese cuisine, sake production is an art form. Blowfish restaurant will enable you to sample 16 sakes by ordering small tastes, or enjoy by the glass or bottle. There is also a long list of red, white and sparkling wines from around the globe by the glass or bottle to enjoy with incredibly inventive sushi offerings. Consider the truffle albacore roll: spicy albacore tuna paste, tiger shrimp and avocado topped with a garlic chip and truffle oil drizzle.


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Downtown


Momofuku in Japanese translates to "lucky peach." Now that we have the linguistics lesson out of the way, let's get to the details. With the surging popularity of New York's Momofuku scene, Toronto couldn't have been more thrilled to welcome David Chang. The prime downtown location in the Shangri-la Hotel has four restaurants in one. Go big or go home. Momofuku noodle bar is prized for its ramen noodles and pork belly buns. David Chang introduces twists on authentic recipes, making them just different enough to keep the eater interested. Slather the amazing house made kimchi on everything. Eat at communal wooden tables and make sure to make a stop at the Milk Bar for some crack pie, which has a "toasty oat crust and gooey butter filling."


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Chinatown
Kinton Ramen
Photo courtesy of KlintonRamen Facebook page


At first glance, any restaurant with the word "Ramen" in the title doesn't seem like it would make a 10 Best list. Although ramen may be the choice of college students with the stringiest of budgets, it has been elevated as of late. Kinton Ramen gives a solid example of how fantastic ramen can be, with bowls and portions that are steaming hot and made to order. You can order your broth light, regular or rich. You can have pork belly or shoulder. You can enjoy garnishes, from chilis to egg to heaps of minced garlic. Noodles taste incredibly fresh. In our opinion, there is nothing more enjoyable than slurping from the bowl. This place is small, so come unencumbered from your heavy bags and be prepared to wait for a table. Get on this food trend while its hot (sorry, we couldn't help ourselves).


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Queen West
Banh Mi Boys
Photo courtesy of Banh Mi Boys Facebook page


If you are looking for a unique twist on a filling Vietnamese sandwich, you certainly can't go wrong with Banh Mi Boys. Right on Queen and Spadina, the sandwich shop takes the Vietnamese construct and gives it multicultural twists, from Korean to Japanese. People line up out the door in anticipation, serving the grab-and-go style quite nicely. It is a skinny, hip and modern restaurant which serves its sandwiches on retro checkerboard paper. Banh Mi Boys was an overnight sensation for Toronto foodies who had no idea how great five-spice pork belly could taste (now they do). Other mouth-watering choices include duck confit or kimchi fries slathered in mayo, kimchi and slow roasted pulled pork. Now it's your turn to get on the Banh Mi train.


Lee
Photo courtesy of Lee Facebook page


Since Hong Kong-born chef Susur Lee arrived in Canada in 1978, he's built a reputation on inventive cuisine that fuses the dishes of his homeland with other global influences. Lee is his flagship Toronto restaurant, with a menu that is built around sharable tapas-sized plates. Expect the unexpected with a mashup of Asian and Mediterranean flavours. Lobster ravioli and the popular cheeseburger spring rolls combine two favourite fast food dishes and successfully marry Italy and China. Save room for an inventive dessert, such as coconut creme caramel with black rice pudding and watch your taste buds do the happy dance.


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Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney

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