Tag Archives: downtown

Signs

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signs restaurant

Signs, as the hearing but ASL-fluent host explained to us, is a unique concept restaurant whose servers and staff are all deaf people, in a meal experience designed to teach the general public about basic sign language and the deaf community. My family got the opportunity to eat here thanks to the Summerlicious event that several eateries across Toronto participate in. Essentially, each restaurant offers a smaller sample menu at a lower price to allow people to try out their take on a three course meal. It obviously works, as my blog has covered numerous restaurants through Summer/Winterlicious that it otherwise wouldn’t have been able to comfortably afford.

Callum & Nana

Me and my grandmother aka Nana

Even though none of us have severe hearing problems, my family does have some prior experience with American Sign Language. My mom had a deaf friend when she was sixteen, and quickly became fascinated with learning and studying the language, it eventually proved to be useful when she became an ER nurse and especially when she had me.

As my other blog (Autism Thinking) has pointed out, I was born severely autistic and non-verbal, so I was taught sign language as a bridge to speaking English. I have seen been re-learning the language I lost, which among other things has helped me communicate with a deaf teammate on my Special Olympic basketball team. However, Signs is very inclusive and encouraging of people who know no signs at all, and menus are provided to quickly teach basic signs so you can order your food and hold basic conversation with your server.

 

Compared to other ‘licious menus, Signs had a surprisingly extensive menu, going beyond the minimum three options for the appetizer and entrée rounds, with four and five options respectively. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, as the menu has signs for each food item and the restaurant owners understandable didn’t want people to copy their idea. As such, I’ll simply cover the dishes that we did try.

spring roll

My Vegetable Spring Rolls

My mother had the carrot ginger soup, my grandma the watermelon gazpacho, and I myself tried the veggie spring rolls with spiced dipping sauce. First off, all of the food came to us at just the right temperature, and this was consistent throughout the meal. That should go without saying, but all too many places let their food sit before serving, making it lose the freshness and warmth that I enjoyed so much here. For instance, my spring rolls remained toasty until the entrée arrived, and packed a fresh vegetable mix with mild wrapped inside a light and flaky pastry. I should also mention that the dipping sauce, while not spicy, was pleasantly sweet in a way not unlike good plum sauce.

carrot ginger soup

My Mom’s Carrot Ginger Soup

On the other hand, the carrot ginger soup had more bite than one would think, having just enough ginger to be prominent without being spicy or overpowering. Combine that with the mild creaminess of the carrot, and you’ve got yourself a classic heart-warming soup.

gazpacho

Nana’s Watermelon Gazpacho

However, the appetizer I would recommend by far would be, surprisingly, the gazpacho. There wasn’t much taste if watermelon in it, not that watermelon has much flavour aside from the noticeably absent sweetness, but there was a hint of tomato. What made this bowl was a plethora of fresh herbs that combined with the cold temperature to make something that could only be properly described as “crisp”.

jumbo ravioli

My Jumbo Ravioli

By the time a truly appetizing appetizer round was over, our entrée arrived with perfect timing. I ordered the jumbo ravioli, three huge cheese-stuffed ravioli (it doesn’t sound like a lot, but I really mean huge) in a spiced cream tomato sauce with what I noticed to be a bit of coriander sauce drizzled over as well.

beef cannelloni

My Mom’s Baked Cannelloni

My mom had a beef cannelloni in a rich and red tomato sauce covered in cheese, while my grandmother had a plate filled with goat cheese agnolotti (her favourite) and a sauce similar to what I had.

cheese ravioli

generous filling

What really struck me was how generous the filling of each ravioli really was. The warm, creamy cheese gelled perfectly with the orange sauce that offered little hints of nuanced spice one could notice building up bite after bite.

agnolotti with goat cheese

Nana’s beloved goat cheese pasta

The goat cheese ravioli were smaller and more numerous, with a powerful, tangy filling that I found to be of high quality but probably too strong for a person like me to eat an entire plate.

chocolate cake

Signs “Chocolate Avalanche”

For the dessert round, my mom and I both had the chocolate cake, while my gran decided to try the cannelloni. As a chocolate fan, I quite liked the cake we were offered, as it focused more on having mild taste of cocoa instead of just being sweet and brown-coloured. The texture worked well too, managing to be both richly filling and gently spongy all at once.

cannoli

Who can say “No” to a second dessert?

However, my grandmother–who has a low tolerance for sweetness–found her dessert too sugary which meant I had more of it than she did. I, on the other hand, quite liked its flavour: the pastry comes off as a high-end waffle cone and the filling had the right combination of density and creaminess to compliment its sweetness. I would say the cake is better for those woke like their desserts rich and mild, whereas the cannelloni is for people who like some creaminess sweetness that is balanced by a crunchy pastry shell.

signs restaurant interior

Before I wrap up, a couple of notes on the service. They are very friendly and non-intrusive, which can be a problem in some other places. Communication isn’t a problem, even if you struggle with the signs given to you on the cards (I, for instance, am still rather slow and difficult to read), the servers still manage to get their message across. Personally, I’ve found that a fair amount of deaf people are very good at using body language, not the stereotypical mime charades, but common motions such as facial expressions and universal hand gestures like the thumbs-up. On a smaller note, Signs’ atmosphere is obviously quiet, but is not unnaturally or audibly so. You can hear the customers next to you to a reasonable degree and the washrooms even had soft music playing.

To summarize, Signs is a unique concept restaurant created to help educate the general population about the deaf community while offering a skillfully prepared meal. It works on both fronts: on a purely technical level, you can come here on a date or with friends/family for a satisfying and interesting meal, while the establishment greatly helps spread awareness about this group of people who have adapted to life without a certain sensory organ that we all take for granted. I highly recommend it to anyone who was already interested in it, or looking for something truly different and unique.

Signs 558 Yonge Street

Signs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jackson’s Burger

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Jackson's burger

Despite using similar naming conventions as some gum-and-cigarette convenience stores, Jackson’s Burger turns out to be quite an interesting place, at least when it comes to the menu. There are more special burgers than I can remember, but suffice to say there’s a lamb burger, a beef patty covered with peanut butter and jam, and the usual “weird” options such as burgers topped with onion rings or lots of bacon.

 

menu

Just a small sample of some of the menu options

Quirky burger stops are practically a sub-genre in Toronto—like I said—sandwiches with fried egg or secret sauce are the norm. Jackson’s interior is nothing special: a small, downtown location with enough room for four reasonably comfortable tables and a bathroom; at least it isn’t cramped.

jackson's burger

What I found interesting was how the patties are made out of 100% Halal meat, with the option for a gluten free bun. Even the vegan option sounded intriguing: a burger with a chickpea patty that celebrated vegetables instead of making them into imitation meat. Be ye Muslim, vegetarian or celiac (or some cruel combination of the last two) this is a really friendly place.

halal

Alright, alright, we’ve already established the menu’s options are great, aware of people’s different needs and offering a lot of specialties, but that isn’t worth a bowl of gluten-free kale chips if the actual burgers are sub par. While I’m no burger aficionado—as evidenced by how my sandwich looks halfway through a meal—I can tell a juicy homemade patty from a dystopian slop squeezed out of the nearest Burger King. And Jackson’s is definitely the former, delivering savoury, moist patties with the best kind of char I’ve seen from a flat top.

 

Cheeseburger

Burgetta: with bruschetta mix, provolone cheese, fried eggplant, lettuce & pesto

During a family trip here, we got to try three different burgers: a chicken burger (filled with Philadelphia cream cheese and spinach) a Burgetta (Italian cheese, meat and herbs) and the Burgeritto (Mexican toppings, including a so-called “Avocado Explosion”). I found the Burgetta to be fascinatingly pleasant, tasting almost like a wood-oven pizza. With the melted provolone cheese infused with bruschetta. It was delicious.

chicken burger

My Nana’s Chicken Burger

Likewise, grilled chicken mixed with a creamy spinach cheese combo adds a ton of flavour to an otherwise normal sandwich. My order, the Burgeritto, was chosen as it was one of the more unusual options that I was actually willing to eat. That’s me, I’d eat crickets, but not the peanut butter/jam burger. Let’s just say they weren’t lying when saying it was an avocado “explosion”.

 

avocado burger

In case you were wondering where the guacamole was…Inside the brown fritter atop the patty

Avocado and beef go pretty well together; both bring a savoury, slightly fatty taste to the table, and the explosion’s clever breadcrumb shell kept the topping neatly inside the burger. To complement this was were some diced tomatoes and sour cream, adding a bit of tartness, and dusted onions for a little finisher. Pair this with a massive box of delicious, homemade french fries and you’ve got a perfect fast foodish meal.

avocado burger

My burger before the avocado explosion

 

Since Zomato has added a rating system, each review of mine will be paired with a 1 to 5 star ranking. While I understand the reasons for this, I feel it undermines the complexity of certain recommendations for my readers; what one person might consider a 5 star restaurant would be a one 1 star to someone else. So I decided to experiment with a loose pros and cons list.

Zomato

Pros: Jackson’s Burger intriguing burger combos, inclusive menu and the overall quality of the food itself. I’d definitely recommend it to people craving a burger while near or in downtown.

Cons: Really the only problem is Jackson’s small seating. Although I wasn’t fond of the music on the radio, that’s advanced nit-picking for a great burger place. If you live far from downtown—like in North York or Scarborough—you might want a closer establishment, but Jackson’s Burger is definitely a good Toronto meat-on-bread diner.

Jackson’s Burgers 374 Yonge Street

Click to add a blog post for Jackson's Burger on Zomato

TKRE The Kathi Roll Express

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TKRE exterior

Okay, okay, I know I haven’t posted in about a few weeks [unless you’re new to my blog or are from what I call the future, but believe me, it’s been a while], and I know there are probably some blood-thirsty subscribers asking where my content is. How do I know this? Because I occasionally read YouTube comments, the kind that are so angry and stupid you just want to punch someone who’s typing on a computer [no, no! NOT ME!]. I was in Montreal, and later went to see a concert. And for those who want Tarantino-Style blood, here’s your revenge: my iPad Mini’s screen broke. So say un-subscribe again, I dare you, I double-dare you!

Some weird sculpture in a park in Montreal.  I'm in there somewhere

Some weird sculpture in a park in Montreal. I’m in there somewhere

At the WOTE (Walk Off the Earth) concert.  Clearly having a great time

At the WOTE (Walk Off the Earth) concert. Clearly having a great time

Kathi Rolls, for those who aren’t in the know, are wraps with Indian ingredients in the filling, which are sold as street food. I would make a joke about the horrible traffic in India, but someone in the comments would probably make that controversial [“He’s talking about foreign politics: RACIST!” “Bad traffic is a real issue, insensitive monster!” “I don’t like this guy, I’m going to call him gay and insult his mom for no reason whatsoever lol!!!1!11!!1!”], soooooo, about time I actually touched the food in some way.

image courtesy of travelex.tv

image courtesy of travelex.tv

TKRE (The Kathi Roll Express) is a new place that opened up, and is the only restaurant in Toronto to cater Kathi rolls [pronounced like Ca-thee] as a specialty. It might seem weird to sell vender food in a sit-down place, but the results are delicious. First, however, we’ll talk about the décor.

TKRE interior
It is clearly inspired by India’s rich Bollywood film industry [call me racist now, I triple dare you!], with artsy posters covering the walls and scenes from different Indian movies, musicals and crime dramas seem to be quite popular, and there are some references towards Indian street food as well. I know I could’ve said ‘nods’ instead of references, but so many critics use that term it’s more stale than the jokes from The Big Bang Theory*.

*I might as well just annoy EVERYONE now right? I don’t think that show is stale [I’m a geek, how could I not like a geek’s comedy at least in passing?], I just don’t watch modern sitcoms in general.

And now to the promised land: The Food. It is filled with ultra-fresh ingredients, flavourful sauce that fill the flatbread to the brim, with an Indian Coke [how they got that I have no clue] on the side.

Chicken Tikka Roll

Chicken Tikka Roll

Coke imported from India

Coke imported from India

There are several varieties of Kathis to choose from, with perfectly prepared meat, and carefully brewed veggies, even the appetizers are on par with them, showing how hard the crew are trying at quality. There is a deceivingly large amount of sitting room, with some more seats outside in the back. Kathi rolls might seem like fusion food, but they are actually Indian, and that’s probably why they work with traditional ingredients.

Black Pepper Chicken Roll

Black Pepper Chicken Roll

Aloo Chaat Salad

Aloo Chaat Salad

TKRE back patio

TKRE back patio

It might seem like a bit of a stretch to say that a new place that selling niche food on a random street isn’t sketchy, but as Sir Francis Drake once said, “Greatness from Small Beginnings”. Yeah look at me being all smart… yeah I actually got that from the Uncharted video games, and it’s probably a made-up quote or something. I’ll put an actual historic quote down below.

TKRE; if I did specified ratings, would probably get that kind of rating that isn’t the perfect 10/10 or 5/5 but literally right behind it, the 9/10 or something. But since I just say my thoughts out before my approval, like right now, I’ll just have to say I definitely recommend TKRE. Here’s the quote, it’s from John A. Macdonald, the founding Prime Minister of Canada [you hear that? It’s the sound of people too occupied by lolcat videos to pay attention] while he was feeling a sick during a political debate: “Please excuse me, but that man,” [pointing at an opponent] “makes me sick.”

image courtesy of biographi.ca

image courtesy of biographi.ca

And that’s real too. But you know what’s better? Kathi roles at TKRE.

TKRE The Kathi Roll Express 692 Yonge Street
TKRE The Kathi Roll Express on Urbanspoon

Chipotle Mexican Grill

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On Yonge Street, just north of Dundas

On Yonge Street, just north of Dundas

Chipotle Mexican Grill  is a chain Mexican restaurant that shockingly is American and actually serves Mexican food instead of Tex-Mex.   It is in that little downtown strip mall that’s right across from the Eaton Centre, with its own entrance that connects to the street.
Obviously a popular place

Obviously a popular place

 The line-up is long, the hype is large, just like any bad place I ever went to, so I was skeptical, like I always am.  Since I was the first of my family to sit down, I should talk about the decor of the joint first.
a modern version of Mayan art

a modern version of Mayan art

 The fake Mayan art [can you tell the difference between the Mayans, Incans, and the Aztecs?  I’ll give you the general difference down below] was a neat touch and better than stereotyped sombrero, and I’ll forgive them for the incomplete ceiling, since it wasn’t that big a deal anyway.  One big complaint I have is the loud music, I mean rock concerts are quieter!  It seems one of many urban restaurant trends that people like to lose their hearing when eating.   The summer festival in my neighbourhood of Little India is okay because the noise is outside and has somewhere to GOOOO [although too often that is directly towards the library], instead of bouncing around like a flashlight in a hall of mirrors blinding people.  Needless to say, I wore my winter hat so the puffy parts would plug my ears.
We have got to find that smoked Chipotle tabasco for home

We have got to find that smoked Chipotle tabasco for home

There are different bottles of hot sauce everywhere, including milder jalapeño sauce, tabasco pepper, and smoked chipotle tabasco sauce.  All three were delicious, the jalapeño added taste to food instead tons of spice, the pepper sauce was the hottest and gave a real powerful bite, my favourite is the smoked chipotle tabasco, which really did give a smoky quality, and some heat as well.  My family had burritos and tacos, I honestly haven’t tried the tacos, but I did eat an entire chipotle burrito.
This is a lot of food for one person

This is a lot of food for one person

 Anyone who knows what that is knows that it is a giant thing with the probably half the mass of a human head, and the size of a full one [anyone who doesn’t know the difference between mass and size needs to review their physics a bit], stuffed with wonderful, grilled chicken, savoury sauce as a compliment, and some rice to boot.
Check out all the fillings

Check out all the fillings

 I felt a little like Godzilla taking on King Ghidorah [don’t worry about the Japanese, that building that got smashed was the center of taxes.  Kind Ghidorah is the foam rubber dragon by the way.]

 This burrito was so big, it could’ve been used as a way to die by the Deathnote.  That’s more Japanese pop culture, but I basically said the next cheesy installment of Final Destination could have someone die by eating the giant, delicious burrito from Chipotle.
The chips tasted homemade

The chips tasted homemade

Their tortilla dips were also home runs, the guacamole was clearly cooked instead of made artificially, and it shows incredibly, the salsa was alright but medium spice didn’t have much heat for me.
All in all, Chipotle Burrito, while unnecessarily loud, has great, healthy fast food to offer, certainly better than McDonald’s regardless.
Mom's grilled chicken tacos

Mom’s grilled chicken tacos

Now about those Mayans and so on.  The Mayans were thousands of years before the other two guys, and they built huge city-states, and died out/evolved into the Aztecs and Incans, who lived to see the conquistadors turn their land and the rest of the world into a giant Risk board for the microscopic continent of Europe [if they didn’t sort of have Russia and the  north-west parts of The Middle East then they’d be really small].  The two cultures were very different, warring with each other not quite for land or death toll, but for live captives so they could offer up human sacrifices to their brat gods, much like the Mayans did years before.  The Aztecs were sort of like the Mayans in my point of view, and the Incans are the ones who were rumoured in colonial/conquistador times to have El Dorado, the City of Gold, which is probably one hundred percent false.
mayan aztec inca
I don’t know what’s up for next time, but it might be more proof that Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America [maybe like the fact that people called Native Americans found it in the Ice Age, practically before ‘white man’ existed?].  Bye for now.
Chipotle Mexican Grill 323 Yonge Street

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Cafe California

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Cafe California exterior

Another Winterlicious joint, Cafe California, was a big trip into my past.  For one thing, it is named after the State I was born in, which is also a bit of a reminder of the politics that lead to my family being deported [don’t even ask what they were, if you’re curious watch a Michael Moore documentary], and as if that wasn’t enough, it was in the exact same neighborhood as my old school, Church Street Public School, and what happened there is personal too.  If you’re really curious about it… stop being a busybody [a joke, of course].  This was also when a big snow storm was supposed to arrive, but the hordes of shoveling neighbors and trucks skidding on slush was the day after we went, so we made it just in time.

snow storm toronto

Ironically for a restaurant named after a State where the only seasons are hot summer and not that cold winter, Café California was adorned with snow flakes everywhere that added a really nice touch [or just honoring Winterlicious].  Right next to it is Acme Burger, which also stirred memories of the time my sister worked at one, for two seconds.  Why it’s called that, is like asking a teenager about Sir Francis Drake, and the only answer they get is because of the video game series Uncharted.  For those who don’t know what that means, it’s like asking someone about Nazis but without telling you something from Indiana Jones.

Since there wasn’t a TNT explosion or an anvil that beaned someone on the head, I’m assuming it isn’t related to the factory.

image courtesy of ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com

image courtesy of ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com

Now let’s finally step away from memory lane, indestructible coyotes, and gun-toting archeologists  and back to the restaurant that I’m supposedly reviewing.

Cafe California interior

Another place that is armed with a coat rack, which is a big plus, and also really friendly service. The décor was pleasant as well, including the beads on the windows, and the square lay-out of the seating area.

But all this is mostly irrelevant if the food is bad.  Actually, it’s rather like a summer blockbuster movie with 3-D HD Surround Sound special effects when the story is bad.

Winterlicious menu

Winterlicious menu

About the menu above, I noticed that a lot of the foods, especially when they came to the table, where Indian in some way.  If an Indian person, by that I mean someone born and raised there, had eaten here, they would’ve enjoyed it.  I had the spring rolls, my grandmother had the beet and goat cheese salad, and my mom had the daily soup, which was a mild curry.

Clockwise from the top: My springrolls, Mom's curry soup and Nana's beet salad

Clockwise from the top: My springrolls, Mom’s curry soup and Nana’s beet salad

All were actually really nice, the beets and goat cheese were not too strong in anyway, the curry was likewise really good in a more herbal way, and the vegetarian spring rolls had flavour that worked most excellently with the plum sauce.  I also liked how there were warm but without a giant steam pocket that burns your mouth after biting into it.  Note: the curry soup had something  in it that sank to the bottom of the bowl, and my mom couldn’t finish it because of her nut allergies.  I would say that you should ask the waiter about the ingredients used if you have any food allergies.  I noticed how, along with other cultural cuisines, Indian dishes were quite popular, and were handled well.

Complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping

Complimentary bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping

The free bread was great, since they offered fancier marble and rye breads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, instead of cheap and easy garlic bread.  I think that shows some extra care.

For the main course, I had the beef stir fry with mango, my grandma had the curry chicken, and my mom had the grilled Atlantic salmon.

Beef Tenderloin and Mango Stir-Fry

Beef Tenderloin and Mango Stir-Fry

The stir fry was splendid, the beef was perfect for it along with the sauce, and I thought the tropical salad went with it surprisingly well.

Chicken Madras

Chicken Madras

The chicken had a nice sauce, and was milder, and I’d recommend it to people who don’t like as much spice as I do.

Atlantic Salmon Fillet

Atlantic Salmon Fillet

I really liked the salmon, which surprised me because usually I don’t care for that type of fish, I think the grilling helped with that.  We all agreed the veggies were done just right; the carrots in particular weren’t over cooked.

At this point I was thinking that they’d have to really tank [top] the desserts to get a bad score, which is very unlikely to happen.  Or is it predator drone the deserts in this modern era?  Maybe it’s F-18, but I’m just guessing. (Editor’s note: I believe Callum is doing a play on words with the use of “tank”; leading to the drone and F-18 reference.  We’re not sure.)

Sometimes the author of this blog goes off on some weird tangents

Sometimes the author of this blog goes off on some weird tangents

I had the, surprise, surprise, chocolate mouse cake, my mom had the crème caramel, and my grandma had the five berry desert.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

Chocolate Mousse Cake

The chocolate cake was okay, but not as moist as it sometimes is, I’ve often said that they are hard to mess up, but some places actually have had better chocolate cakes, but this one hasn’t fired its missiles completely.  I’ve had far better at other places but I’ve also had far worse, but this wasn’t the highlight of the meal for me.

Five Fruit Crumble

Five Fruit Crumble

The berry dessert was probably the best, it was crunchy and the berries were sweet and a little bit sour, and yes, it had walnuts.

Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel

The crème caramel was light and had a sweet, caramel taste that.  Actually I find that there’s hardly any flavour in most crème caramels, I personally think they taste like sugared aerosol would[aerosol’s an incredibly light and air-like solid used by NASA to get comet fragments in space], so I don’t like them that much.  All I can say is that this didn’t taste eggier than an omelet, unlike the one from Le Petite France.

All in all, Café California, although the name [coming from the guy who rambled about F-18s] makes no sense, is quite a nice place, and the multi-cultural techniques were really good.  This is recommendable for sure, and perhaps even a good go-to place. So, final verdict—ah, what’s this?

Oh great, it’s the F.B.I..  I think they’re not too pleased about those political cracks.  All right, I don’t have much time, they’re inside the house.  I recommend this place immediately foavopwhnv avho[ry9 bklgt=t8yqaun b

[Anyone who doesn’t get that that was an elaborate joke needs to stop taking things so seriously.  Peace.]

Cafe California 538 Church Street
Cafe California on Urbanspoon

Villa Madina

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Villa Madina Toronto Eaton Centre

Considering that I’ve tried this place out so long ago, and have eaten at it since then, it is rather surprising that I’ve never written about this place before.  Maybe it was because it’s easier to get hits [internet slang for views not actual hits] when a new and hot place is blogged on but today I’m going to review a place that’s been around a while: Villa Madina.  The Eaton Centre is a pretty big place, one where things can be both spectacular [like the crowd at Apple store tee-hee], amazing [like seeing a seven-foot man dressed as Spock

pic my mom took this past summer outside the Eaton Centre

pic my mom took this past summer outside the Eaton Centre

and a guy playing the largest wind instrument I’ve ever seen –  hey, that’s a call-out!, to the hellish [like eating at Szechuan, which was comparable to a nightmarish bathroom experience I had once].  So where does Villa Madina rank?  The really, really tasty.

While to some,  shawarma looks like the cook is giving a shredded off burnt crust, the slow cooking that the meat goes through makes it surprisingly better than first appearances would have it.  If you don’t believe me, ask Iron Man.

Anyone who watched movies last year would probably get that reference [consult the blatantly obvious photo or video for those who don’t know what I’m talking about].

My mom's Shish Taouk (chicken)

My mom’s Shish Taouk (chicken)

I’ve gone here so often that I’m recognized by someone every time I order, and I’m pretty sure I get just a little bit extra because of that, but regardless the serving sizes are incredibly generous, and of good quality food too.  It’s amazing that a place with prices easily less than twenty dollars and plates well past the size of two human heads piled with food and workers that actually seem to enjoy their work could possibly stay alive in the cut-throat world of fast food, but maybe it’s how many customers they get.  Enough.  Now it’s time for the food.

Combo Shawarma of chicken and beef

Combo Shawarma of chicken and beef

The combo meal I always get is the chicken and beef shawarma, which comes with potatoes, one of two rices, humus and/or creamed garlic, two of any salad [one of them is always chickpeas for me], as well as the optional hot sauce and tzeseaki [if that’s spelled right than someone fixed it](editor’s note: tzatziki).  That’s more than what I get at Taste of the Danforth! Heck, there’s probably more food types on this plate than there are conspiracy theories about who killed JFK [at least they aren’t any theories about aliens, we get enough of that from The History Channel].  The shawarma is always tender, and I’m pretty sure that they’re marinated too, because the meat is too flavourful to possibly not have some kind of spice in it.  Every thing else works brilliantly as well.

Their coleslaw, one of many side salad choices

Their coleslaw, one of many side salad choices

The potatoes are delicious, and the best with the humus and garlic, which are also delicious, and the salads are mostly good. I said mostly because the coleslaw, while delightfully original with the oregano, had too much vinegar that made it too sour.

Villa Madina is a popular chain for a reason, but sadly it’s not as popular as a particular one from the fifties.  That one is started by a now controversial business partnership known as the McDonald brothers, and their now-mostly global chain called McDonald’s.  Greenland gave them the boot you see, and the scientists in the Antarctic are happy enough to eat rations.

Always busy

Always busy

McDonald’s always has a line-up, I can’t say why because the only reason I like them is for their soft-serve ice cream and their hot apple pie, but surely that can’t be it!  It’s because of the burgers, and Big Smoke’s or even Five Guys have more taste than this old man’s farm!  Seeing them take away competition from Villa Madina is more annoying than watching a movie that’s said to be the best film ever only to find out it’s horse dung [cough Inception cough don’t kill me for saying that cough cough hoark]!

Just some of their healthy side choices

Just some of their healthy side choices

Aside from my typically no-mercy ranting, what I’m trying to say is that Villa Madina is not only tastier, and healthier, but it is just as fast.  It’s actually faster than Mickey-d’s, because they get you your food as you order it.  No lie! If you’re scared to try Villa Madina than I’ll tell you that it’s not only delicious, but has lots of meat and potato type of flavour most fast food restaurants hook people with anyway.  All I’m trying to say is please try this place and you’ll probably like it, and maybe you can post your experiences as positive criticism or just as your own opinion.  Please no heckling or saying anything offensive or hurtful to anyone because it’s not clever and you just look like a jerk.  This is probably the only positive restaurant review I’ve done that still turned angry.  Huh.

Villa Madina 222 Yonge Street
Villa Madina (Eaton Centre) on Urbanspoon

Five Guys Burger & Fries

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Their Yonge & Dundas location

Their Yonge & Dundas location

If you recognize this place, it may be from a trip south to the USA  [or you could be one of the surprisingly large amount of my American fan base] or maybe it just sounds familiar.  Regardless of your knowledge of the joint, it is of American origin and decided to move past [not over, a lot of Canadian\American stuff is all over Niagara Falls] the border to Toronto.  How will it fair in a new land?

Despite the fact the company’s Headquarters are in Lorton, Virginia, they did a really decent job pin-pointing the perfect downtown area a restaurant could be: right across the street from the Eaton Centre.  The only problem with this is that it puts a lot of pressure completion-wise, considering the Big Smokes outlet at the very mall.  I usually factor in how well a place does compared to other restaurants in the city, but this is a rare occasion where there’s an outright contest [I compared Dangerous Dan’s and The Burger Priest [cough] in the same way].

Let’s start with a rating system the Clint Eastwood would use: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good: there is no loss of seating or room, the joint’s huge.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries interior

I also liked how it felt like an eighties fast food place, and I won’t take away points for the temporary annoying men drilling the open door [the noise and cold air was punishment for someone who did something evil, I swear].  This is both convenient and smart, because we went at an awkward time during the week and business was thriving.

I'm happy because it's free

I’m happy because it’s free

Another plus is the Cheapskate value is over nine thousand, there are free peanuts, free refills, and ‘small’ orders of fries that look like a supersize order.

This makes my cheap (she says frugal) mother very happy

This makes my cheap (she says frugal) mother very happy

It crossed my mind this place could double as the cheapest bulk store ever [Mr. Krabs must be going arr-arr-arr-arr].  Aside from that, the Cajun fries are delicious, I liked how they weren’t too spicy for people with a mild taste, but they had lots of flavour for people like me, while most fast food places just add two chili flakes and claim it’s a Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Pepper dish.

Five Guys Burger and Fries fries

The Bad: the French fries are just as good at Big Smokes, and that keeps Five Guys from climbing up the score board.  A bigger omen of doom, I haven’t mentioned the burgers yet.  They definitely belong here, but like Angel Eyes from the aforementioned movie, it’s too complex with too many goods and bads’  to be considered atrocious.

"Regular" burgers come with two patties

“Regular” burgers come with two patties

The patties are juicy, and come from a very simplistic menu [simplistic in topping choices, but burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches are all up there], but they are average, which is a real kick to the head even if it weren’t  next to Big Smokes and A&W.  The cheese is processed, which my mum liked as if she were teenaged, but my Nana and I were a lot less pleased about it.  It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t good either.

Nana's single patty burger

Nana’s single patty burger

Oh, and when I said the patties were juicy, I meant excluding Nana’s, her single patty burger didn’t get the deluxe treatment the two-patties got.

The Ugly: yes, there are some things about Five Guys that fit in here.  As I’ve said before, there is a Big Smokes and, despite the fact it’s just nicer to eat inside the mall than outside it, A&W beats this place, as do other places in the City.

Some people may consider it unfair to constantly compare this restaurant to another, but if there is a better place nearby, it will inevitably affect an honest review, I’m sorry, but quite frankly you’ll thank me for it.

It's a bit of a treasure hunt to find your burgers under all the fries

It’s a bit of a treasure hunt to find your burgers under all the fries

Final verdict: Five Guys is amazingly average in general,  but when compared to its kin, some of which is  looming right outside across the street, Five Guys Burger and Fries is beaten into submission by its mediocrity.   If they were smart, they’ll run with their tail between their legs to wherever in The States they were accepted in the first place.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries 329 Yonge Street
Five Guys Burgers & Fries (Yonge St) on Urbanspoon