Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cheap 'n Good Vs. Cheap 'n Shitty

Cheap food doesn't have to be all quantity, no quality. Here is a list of restaurants that are cheap, filling, and even (gasp!) tasty.

Falafel Queen, at Queen and Bathurst
Late night falafel sandwiches (for two at less than $10.00) made fast and ready to go while waiting for the 24-hour Queen car really hit the spot at 2 a.m. Make sure to get 'em with spicy sauce. And napkins.

Green Fusion, 403 Yonge Street, near Ryerson University
Get a bowl of vegetarian soup (a.k.a. "pho"). It's large, it's cheap ($5.25 for a small), it's spicy, it's filling, and it's amazing. I love this place.

Coconut Grove Roti Shop, 183 Dundas St. West, near OCAD
Before heading to the free admissions night at the Art Gallery of Ontario on a Wednesday, some friends and I hit this spot to avoid overpriced slices of old and crusty "gourmet" pizza at Pizzaiolio. Rotis at Coconut Grove start at $2.99, and they also have special plate dinners advertised for less than $5.00 if you're looking for a more complete meal with rice and salad. The vegetarian options for roti include eggplant, squash, and spinach, which are all very good. Again, spice it up! Go for the hot sauce!

Chinese Food Cart on St. George Street, in front of the Robarts Library at U of T
For less than $10.00 you can get about fifty different chinese dishes. I once had the pad thai, and was amazed at its generous weight and size. It included various types of seafood (unusual, but excitingly filling). This is the place to go if you're looking for what I like to call "lupper" -- a combination of lunch and supper.

Rasoee, 140 Spadina Ave.
Vegetarian lunch specials start at $6.99 (which include naan or basmati rice) while chicken, beef, or lamb lunch specials start at $7.49. Rasoee lunches are not exactly extra-large man-sized servings (only 8 oz.) so if you're really hungry or expect a late supper, then you may want to go for the 12 oz. meal option, which is an extra $2.00 (still bringing your order under $10.00 before taxes).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gandhi and Island Cuisine: Sometimes I Do Leave Parkdale (to Have a Roti)

The roti -- now a staple of my Toronto diet -- is not exclusive to Parkdale. There's a roti shop further east on Queen Street West, called Gandhi Roti, which, rumour has it, is owned by the same people that own Mother India in Parkdale. The difference is that Gandhi is cheaper, less catered to fine diners, but to taker-outters.

I ordered the mixed vegetable roti, one of the cheapest items on the menu at $6.95 plus tax. Oddly, I had a very hard time communicating my order, due in large part, I believe, to my ignorance of East Indian languages. I think I was being asked how hot I wanted my roti, and I was instead responding that I wanted my roti size "small." Then I requested "medium," which delivered a large roti that was not at all spicy. The confusion was entirely my fault, and the service attendant apologized profusely for my own stupidity, in an attempt to make me feel less stupid than I was obviously behaving. Oh well.

The filling of the roti was quite sweet, consisting of sweet peas, carrots and potatoes in a red sauce. The roti itself (ie. the bread) was very thin compared to Caribbean-style rotis and lacked that crumbly layer in the middle that usually consists of ground chickpeas or other hidden gems. In the Gandhi roti, there was no layer of magic sandwiched in between two thin layers of dough, which made it more like a tortilla than most rotis I've had.

(One year ago, I didn't even know what a roti was, and now I consider myself a critic!)

Island Cuisine, located at 4205 Keele Street, across from York University, has damn fine roti. They know what I mean when I talk about the crumbly layer of goodness in between the thin layers of wrap. (Though if I said it like that, they would probably confuse my request, making yet another awkward encounter in ordering meals.) They make their bread fresh, and their doubles (similar to chickpea sandwiches at $2.00 each) are great for grab 'n go snacks on the run.

Although their vegetarian menu is a little lacking -- herbivores only have a choice of the potato roti -- sometimes, if available, although not on the menu, they offer free sides of fried plantain, which, byt he way, will buy a good review from me anytime.

Island Cuisine is new, and I get the sense that their menu may change depending on customers' tastes. So, vegetarians, keep requesting that veggie food, and they'll likely expand their menu.

My only critique of Island Cuisine is that the line-up takes about five minutes longer than Pita Pit next door, but the roti is definitely worth waiting for. Oh yeah, and their hot sauce is the hottest sauce ever! Get it on the side and share with a pal 'cause it'll knock your socks off!