There’s a time-warp feeling at this Lebanese pastry shop: the sign with its area-code-free phone number, the plastic pear tree in the window, the cake boxes embossed with golden crowns. But the rows of Middle Eastern pastries – Toronto’s best, by a long shot – are Pâtisserie Royale’s most disorienting feature. The wardeh are airy, buttery, shattering phyllo pastry folded into pockets and filled with chopped pistachios. The baklava are all about nuts and butter, without the usual cloying sop of sweet. There are pastries made with dates, honey, marshmallow and rosewater, all superb; you can fill a box for about $20. 1801 Lawrence Ave. E., 416-755-6323.
Sri Lankan takeout shops aren’t special-occasion affairs so much as everyday conveniences in Scarborough. Tamil moms and grandmas here track restaurant openings and kitchen changes with blogger-worthy fervour, and this tidy takeout shop is at the top of a lot of go-to lists. There are cases of nuts and crunchy salted lentils, “short eats” of meat wrapped in bread or pastry, and steam trays full of curries, like gently gamey mutton and entrancingly sweet-mellow eggplant. The best bet for first-timers is the chicken biryani: moist tandoori meat served on rice prepared with turmeric, saffron and deep-caramelized onion, with a hard-boiled egg, a pile of candied-tasting anchovies, a breaded cutlet ball of mashed fish and potato, and a salad of red onion, coriander leaves and carrot. It’s a riot of ultra-bright colours, tender-crisp textures and punchy, palate-smacking flavours – all for the price of $7. Takeout only. 3268 Finch Ave. E., 416-626-8421.
Babu Catering and Takeouts
The crowds get to Babu at 5:30 a.m. daily, when the first mutton curry and chicken rice are ready, and it’s odd to find a lunch or dinner service where the line doesn’t snake out the door. The selection is enormous, with 30 feet of steam trays, dozens of curries, a cast of friendly countermen (NB: the silent, straight-faced, bobble-headed motion means “yes” in Tamil body language) and the constant drum of griddle cooks chopping curry, egg, onions and day-old flatbread into kothu roti – a street food delicacy – with marching-band precision in the back. The food is oily (a plus in many Tamil kitchens), the flavours massive. Order the okra, the crab curry with rice and definitely the kothu roti. Culinary immersion at its delicious best. 4800 Sheppard Ave. E., 416-298-2228.
There is one dish of consequence at Suvaiyakam: the string hoppers, sold in denominations of 25. They’re Tamil pasta, essentially – rice-flour dough extruded into weaves that look like racquet strings, then steamed. The ones at Suvaiyakam are some of the best ones going. A clear baggie of yellow sothi sauce made from coconut, tomato and carrot comes with them. There’s also a gently spicy sambal made with coconut pulp. Pour the sothi all over, then use the hoppers to scoop up the sambal: 100 per cent delicious. Even better, use Suvaiyakam’s string hoppers to eat mutton curry from Nantha and the fiery crab from Babu. It’s out of this freaking world. Takeout only. 2950 Birchmount Rd., 416-491-8241.
This tiny Malaysian restaurant is almost always crowded. There’s low seating for eight if you don’t mind staring at the other patrons’ thighs. The food, though, is aces: Kuala Lumpur-style noodles, sweets and street food cooked to order by a wife-and-husband duo. Char kway teow are smoky wok-fried rice noodles with prawns, shrimp paste and scallions; the laksa, a yellow, coconut-based curry broth that comes loaded with puffed tofu, perfectly cooked shrimp, fish balls, chicken, and thick egg noodles. If there’s any theme to the savoury dishes, it’s the high-wire sweet-acid balance, and depth of flavour from curry leaves, umami-rich shrimp paste and condiments like dark Malaysian soya sauce. On weekends, the owners’ son, Bryan Choy, makes otherworldly kuih dadar crepes coloured green with the nutty, herbal juice of pandanus leaves on four hotplates out front between taking orders. Be patient; the food takes forever. Saturdays and Sundays a lot of the best dishes sell out by 2 p.m. 8 Glen Watford Dr., 647-340-7099.
Ba Shu Ren Jia
The GTA’s best-known Szechuan restaurant gets better with every visit: it’s posher lately (they’ve upgraded from plastic tablecloths) and the service is sharper. And the food, built around impeccably fresh fish, chewy, assorted animal bits (the salted pigs’ ears are bucket list bar snacks), and the numbing-burning ma la effect of Szechuan peppercorns and red chilis, is tastier than ever. Must-gets: the lamb with wedges of onion, green pepper and drifts of pan-toasted cumin; flaky river fish in fiery “pungent sauce” (just ask for No. 227); the green beans stir-fried with bits of pork. One night, a friend looked across the lazy Susan piled with Yanjing beer bottles, his forehead sweating, a crazed smile on his Szechuan-numbed lips. “I can’t feel my tongue,” he told me. I smiled back and kept on eating. 4771 Steeles Ave. E., 416-335-0788.