One Hour Cafeteria
This bright, comfortable, Asian-modernist room off Spadina Avenue is proof that you can get good Chinese food in Chinatown. Opened last year by a young, U of T-trained architect who was raised in southwest China's Yunnan province, One Hour specializes in hearty, home-style noodle dishes, stuffed, made-to-order crepes and Taiwan-style bubble teas and big-straw drinks, all beautifully prepared and priced for student budgets.
The xiao guo rice noodles will taste familiar to fans of Bolognese sauce: there's ground pork, chopped tomato (tomato's popular in Yunnan, the owner, Han Shao, said) hot broth, long, spaghetti-like noodles and plenty of freshly ground black pepper, as well as refreshing bok choi. The signature braised beef noodles are slightly more straight-ahead (but also delicious). The sweet-and-spicy wontons come stuffed with delicate pork and chive (you can also get coriander, shrimp or watercress) in fantastic broth, and either 14 or 21 to a bowl; they put the old-school Chinese-Canadian standard to shame.
Start out with a plate of the marinated beef tendon – for real, it's only $5 and if you like beef you're going to love it. The crepes with house custard are great; ditto the sweet, slightly fruity dessert soup of rice balls in a crystalline broth. I'd order the watermelon slush or the honey lemon aloe drink, also. On first sip they both taste odd to white-bread palates. After the second it's hard to imagine drinking anything else. A last note: The seating, for the most part, is black leather bean-bag chairs. You can get in and out in the promised one hour if you have to, but you may want to never leave. 435 Spadina Ave. (at College Street), 647-346-2172; onehour.cc
Banh Mi Boys
Brothers David, Peter and Philip Chau grew up in the Vietnamese submarine-sandwich business. A couple years after their family immigrated to Canada in 1984, the boys' mother opened a banh mi shop. The family now owns four of them (they operate under the Nguyen Huong name), as well as a commercial bread plant, and another one that produces Vietnamese deli meats.
Last December, the boys, who are in their late 20s and early 30s, opened their own place, a minuscule shop on Queen Street at Spadina, with the aim of reaching a different market. They kept the submarine form, but added international ideas like kimchi, kalbi beef, five-spice pork belly, lemongrass tofu and even fried chicken. They started doing brilliant naan-based tacos, also, and steamed Chinese buns.
The food is cheap (the most expensive item, a duck confit bahn mi with onion chutney, as well as the usual pickled carrots, cilantro, cucumber and Kewpie mayo, costs $7.50). The textures are crispy and juicy. The flavours are 100 per cent on-trend and unassailably fresh.
Be warned that the lineups extend out to the sidewalk at lunch hours; it typically takes 25 minutes to order and get your food. The wait is absolutely worth it, though. And a new location just might ease some of the pressure. This week, they were working on securing a new location in the Eaton Centre food court. 392 Queen St. W. (at Spadina Avenue), 416-363-0588; banhmiboys.com
Le Ti Colibri
Caribbean food in this city typically comes via the region's post-British or Spanish colonies; save the odd Haitian restaurant, French Caribbean flavours have largely passed Toronto by. Kensington Market's Le Ti Colibri, which opened earlier this summer, is a welcome first.
Co-owner Kristel Procida was born in Guadeloupe, while her chef-partner Matthias Laurin's family comes from Martinique. There are fresh-tasting salads studded with tomato, green lettuce and avocado and dressed with zippy cantaloupe vinaigrette, as well as puffy, golden shrimp or salt-cod accras: habit-forming little fritters that you dip in assertive chili-laden sauce.
The go-to order is the savoury, punchy, gently spiced bokit sandwiches that come stuffed with a mix of mild salt cod, cassava flour and avocado (there are also vegetarian and tuna versions), then enveloped with crispy, flaky, bread pockets that Mr. Laurin rolls out by hand and deep-fries to order; have one with a glass of house lemonade, or, if it's a Saturday, try a few scoops of the house-churned vegan coconut sorbet.
The tiki hut, potted palms and cheery zouk and reggae soundtrack on the small back patio don't hurt, of course. "I feel like I've been on holidays for the last half-hour," a lunch date said as we were leaving. Exactly. 291 Augusta Ave. (at Oxford Street), 416-925-2223
When the people behind Guu, the eternally popular Vancouver-based Izakaya empire, announced this spring that they were doing a ramen shop on Baldwin Street, the city's noodle geeks could barely contain themselves. Japanese noodle soup is exquisite when it's done right: the long-simmered broth rich, massively savoury, hyper-seasoned and deeply flavoured; the noodles firm and springy; the toppings (scallion, toasted nori, oozy soft-boiled egg, fresh corn kernels and roasted-to-melting pork belly are a few of the common ones) prepared with Iron Chef precision.
Great ramen is a bowl of pure, gluttonous comfort, with every flavour and texture in perfect balance. Not that you could ever find that sort of thing around Toronto. Kinton has completely changed that. The room is gorgeous with raw, end-cut wood; the bandana-clad cooks shout eardrum-cracking greetings to customers every minute or so; the lineups at lunch average 20 minutes for a two-top, longer for a four. You should go, though.
Get the fried tofu nuggets (they taste exactly like Chicken McNuggets, if that's your pleasure) and a plate of the excellent gyoza. Then try the shoyu ramen (ask for it fatty) if you're a traditionalist, the way-off-the-wall but delicious Swiss-cheese one if you're not (there's a baseball-sized pile mound of the stuff, plus corn; the broth is nicely citrusy). You'll rub your belly and groan happily afterward. And to think you were seriously considering eating at your desk. 51 Baldwin St. (at Elm Street), 647-748-8900, kintonramen.com
Glory Hole Doughnuts
Yes, in fact we do realize that deep-fried dough doesn't meet the strictest definition of "lunch." But chef Ashley Jacot De Boinod's cheekily named new Parkdale shop makes doughnuts the way they were before Tim Hortons and its sad-sack Timbit boxes put Canada's old-school coffee shops under. They're moist, rich with eggs and sugar, tall from their yeast-fuelled rise and fried in small batches throughout the day.
But the toppings are the best part: The Elvis comes with cream-cheese peanut-butter frosting, banana chips, butcher bacon and a homemade marshmallow; the ever-changing lineup recently has also included chocolate pistachio, basic cinnamon and sugar, as well as first-rate lemon meringue (with blow-torched topping) and cream-capped banana-cream pie.
There are also doughnut holes: superlative lemon ricotta, last time I had them, with olive-oil glaze. Lemon? Ricotta? Olive oil? Those are salad ingredients. We told you this place does lunch.
$3 to $4.50 each, or $4 for three holes. 1596 Queen St. W. (at Sorauren Ave.), 647-352-4848; gloryholedoughnuts.com