Comfort Zone

The best new greasy, cheesy and carb-heavy takeout—because winter isn’t over yet

by liza agrba, caroline aksich, alex baldinger and rebecca gao
photography by daniel neuhaus

February 27, 2023

For Hong Kong–style café cooking

CafÉ Le Majestik

curry pork chop donburi

HONG KONG–STYLE cafés are trending, and Toronto’s newest one is named after the plaza it calls home: Majestic City, a shopping mall in Scarborough. The food at this colourful cha chaan teng (“tea restaurant” in Cantonese) is rich and warming, important hallmarks of winter takeout. It’s also affordable, which is a bonus when chicken breasts are going for $27 a kilogram at the grocery store. (Recently, even after tax and tip, it cost around $60 to feed three ravenous people.) The curry pork chop donburi is a crowd favourite. What arrives is a big bowl of steaming white rice drowning in a thick curry sauce, capped off with slices of pan-fried pork chop and a fluffy, buttery omelette. It’s best paired with a hot cup of lemon tea to beat the winter blues. 2900 Markham Rd., unit A45,

for a spicy south-indian breakfast

Minerva Tiffins

Masala dosas

ON THOSE WINTER days when the sky doesn’t get any brighter than slate grey and it’s hard to tell morning from afternoon, any time can be breakfast time. And this new fast-casual Indian restaurant in Scarborough specializes in just that—all-day Indian breakfast. Though there are more than 30 dosas on the menu—including some slightly unorthodox ones filled with things like pizza toppings or chocolate cream—we recommend sticking with the traditional masala dosa, plump with spiced mashed potatoes for a delightful crunchy-soft combo and served with chutney and sambar to help cut through the starch. To drink, try a kicky masala chai—because coffee doesn’t own breakfast. 16 Lebovic Ave.,

for a salad that eats like a sandwich


Smoked meat salad

ALMOST TWO decades ago, this Montreal salad empire started life in the back of a women’s clothing store in Westmount. Eight locations later, in April 2022, it opened its first Toronto outpost on the Ossington strip. Owned by sisters Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe—who have made it their life’s mission to subvert the sad salad stereotype—this spot’s secret sauce is contrasting textures, flavours and colours to help greens and grains be their best selves. For anyone who thinks lettuce and comfort food are mutually exclusive, there’s the smoked meat salad—Montreal-style smoked meat, diced dill pickles and salty kettle-cooked potato chips piled high on romaine and drizzled with a creamy caesar-mustard dressing. You won’t even miss the rye bread. 52 Ossington Ave.,

for caribbean comfort food

da endz

Smoked mac and cheese with oxtail

YOU’LL FIND THIS GEM of a Jamaican comfort food spot at FLIP Kitchens, a new North York food hall with city funding to help BIPOC, female-led or newcomer-owned ventures get started with below-market rent and access to business support. The oxtail with mac and cheese is already the bestselling combo, and here’s why: tender oxtail—slow-cooked and braised for hours with lima beans, bell pepper and scallions—meets a smoky roux and five kinds of cheese for an out-of-this-world mac. Owner Oquain Cameron recommends adding on a piece of barbecue fried chicken, and who could argue with that? 5210 Yonge St., main floor, @daendzrestaurant

for Belly-busting Banh Mi

Banh Haus

OG banh mi, vermicelli bowl with tofu and yellow curry

THIS VIETNAMESE spot in Chinatown has a choose-your-own-adventure-style menu of banh mi and bowls. One of the city’s most unique sandwiches involves fried chicken coated in banh xeo (kind of like pancake batter) between two halves of a Vietnamese doughnut. Or there’s a bowl of vermicelli, tofu cubes and veggies in a coconutty yellow curry that warms the soul. But, if there’s one must-order, it’s the OG banh mi, a crusty baguette stuffed with a trifecta of chicken liver pâté, soy-based Vietnamese sausage and pork belly balanced by pickled veggies, cilantro, cucumbers, aioli and special sauce. And, because Banh Haus is takeout-only, thoughtful packaging ensures that orders are in tip-top shape when it’s time to eat. 81 Huron St., lower level,

for a sandwich that’s also a salad


The Caesaroni

WHEN AN EVERYTHING bagel, a slice of pizza and a caesar salad form a throuple, you get Vilda’s Caesaroni. The blessed union at this Dovercourt bodega starts with a Harbord Bakery bun doused in carraway, sesame and poppy seeds. One half is layered with mozzarella, the other with DiNapoli tomato sauce and spicy pepperoni. After a stint under the broiler, some crunchy caesar-dressed romaine gets tossed on top for a nice cool-hot contrast. It’s not an elegant sandwich—it’s more like a five-napkin stack—but it’s a thing of sloppy, saucy beauty. 209 Dovercourt Rd., 

For at-home dim sum

Sue Fung Dim Sum Canteen

Design-your-own dim sum

AT COLLEGE AND BRUNSWICK, on the outskirts of Chinatown, Sue Fung doles out dim sum. But you won’t find any carts here—just place your order at the counter. The menu lists all the classics, like har gow stuffed to bursting with juicy shrimp, mammoth-sized shui mai and fluffy buns filled with saucy barbecue pork. But where Sue Fung shines is in more unique offerings, like a baked whole-abalone tart with minced pork in a rich and savoury pastry that’s perfect as a cold-day lunch. Deep-fried sesame balls filled with sweet-and-salty egg yolk custard make for a tasty two-bite finish. 356 College St.,

For boxes of fried bird

Grateful Chicken

Fried chicken and a bottle of cava

AT HIS NEW COUNTER inside Chefs Hall, Brandon Olsen wants you to judge books by their covers. But, in this case, books are chicken, and their covers are shatteringly crisp, craggy crusts. The buttermilk batter, seasoned with paprika, onion and a smidge of cayenne, has a tempura-like lightness, which allows for a high batter-to-meat ratio that will delight deep-fryer diehards. Inside, the bird is ultra moist thanks to an overnight lemony sea salt brine. Feed the whole fam with a box that arrives in custom packaging covered in art that’s Keith Haring meets the Grateful Dead’s dancing bears. Recommended add-ons: Olsen’s signature Basque cake and—because bubbles can brighten up these grey days—a bottle of cava. 111 Richmond St. W., @thegratefulchicken

For ridiculously fresh fish

Kingyo Fisherman’s Market

Otoro Deluxe Fisherman’s Bowl

WHEN THE PANDEMIC shuttered this buzzy Cabbagetown izakaya’s dining room, owner Koji Zenimaru hatched a plan: he’d reconfigure his restaurant into a Tsukiji-style fish market, complete with grab-and-go counters, fridges of fresh fish, and shelves packed with Japanese junk food as well as fancy sake and condiments. There are still a handful of dine-in seats, but takeout is the focus. The platters of sashimi and nigiri are great for groups, but for solo diners, the dons—like the Otoro Deluxe Fisherman’s Bowl—can’t be beat. Slices of fatty, melt-in-your-mouth otoro (marbled bluefin tuna belly) flown in from Japan top seasoned koshihikari rice. A slice of tamagoyaki (omelette) and a plump, oh-so-sweet spot prawn add some diversity to the dish. 51B Winchester St.,

for karaage bento boxes


Momo bento box, katsu sando

IF THE BEACHES can sustain Canada’s first location of this Japanese fried chicken chain, it’s a good sign that karaage chicken is ready for the mainstream. A bento box of Torisho’s karaage differs from a bucket of the Colonel’s both in its seasonings (there’s deep umami in every bite owing to a 48-hour bath in a citrus-soy marinade) and in its thin-yet-sturdy exterior, which gets its crunch from a dusting of corn starch before hitting the fryer. The thigh meat, or momo, as it’s known in Japan, is some of the juiciest chicken around. And, in a city obsessed with fried chicken sandwiches, Torisho’s is a standout, combining the best traits of the katsu sando and the sloppy, spicy American version. It’s layered with two fat pieces of chicken and piled with slaw, pickles and house tonkatsu mayo. 1940 Queen St. E.,

for turkish delights

Chef Mustafa

Iskender kebab

THANKS TO TURKISH TikTok celebrities with giant followings (Salt Bae really started something) and luscious underlying ingredients (grilled meats and cheesy bread boats are hard to beat), a cuisine that has its roots in the Ottoman Empire is having a moment in 2023. New Greektown restaurant Chef Mustafa is a young but reliable source for hearty kebab platters, pides and mezze in heaping portions. Their Iskender kebab is a giant serving of grilled doner beef slices tossed with cubes of soft bread and drenched in a savoury tomato sauce. It arrives with a big thwap of tangy butter yogurt on the side, its supreme sourness slicing through the richness of the meat. A side of lahmacun is a genius way to use up leftover yogurt—if you’ve still got any. 516 Danforth Ave.,

for Focaccia-like pies

Mac’s Pizza

Margherita Grandma Pie

SINCE THE PANDEMIC, Toronto’s home-to-storefront pizzeria pipeline has been very real, and Mac’s Pizza is one of the trend’s most successful examples. What started as a consistently sold-out Saturdays-only operation based in Josh McIlwaine’s west-end home is now a hugely popular bricks-and-mortar spot. His crust is cold-fermented for up to three days and leavened with fresh (never dried) yeast. It has the tang and tender crumb of dough that’s been lovingly fussed over. Toppings on his big, foldable NY-style slices and whole pies are purposefully uncomplicated. Going with a margherita is a foolproof way to get acquainted with Mac’s merits, but the Grandma Pie, a crunchy-chewy focaccia-like base—available in margherita, pepperoni or straight-up tomato—is out of this world. 759 Dovercourt Rd.,

for Filipino-Canadian fusion


Pork belly silog and longganisa rolls

THIS SELF-PROCLAIMED fusion joint started life as Hungry Moon, a food truck that was a favourite fixture at Scarborough Town Centre’s Street Eats Market. It’s now tucked away in an industrial plaza, sharing its prep space with a few other ghost kitchens inside Crave Food Hub. Buwan’s menu consists of silogs (a traditional Filipino breakfast) as well as poutines and burgers with a Filipino bent, like an over-the-top adobo fried chicken sandwich. The pork belly silog—with cubes of melt-in-your-mouth pork, a fried egg, fragrant garlic rice and a bright tomato-cucumber aioli to cut through all the fat—is a decadent eat-in-bed brunch. Add-on recommendation: longganisa rolls, seven fire engine–red sausages bundled up in spring roll wrappers and dropped in the deep-fryer. 1275 Morningside Ave., unit 7, 

for Bombay burritos

Mumbai Frankie

Mumbai Frankie rolls and tandoori momos

HEMANT BHAGWANI of Amaya Express fame is taking it to the streets with Mumbai Frankie, his growing line of fast-casual Indian street food spots, which expanded to Little India last year. The menu is vast, incorporating influences from South and East Asia into a signature line of “frankies.” Known elsewhere as Bombay burritos, they’re roll-ups that can be eaten on the go and, in Bhagwani’s hands, are just as likely to contain butter chicken or masala egg as they are Szechuan-spiced paneer. Addictive add-ons include the tandoori momos—delightful doughy packages of vegetables or ginger chicken—and the spicy-sweet honey-chili fried potatoes. 1386 Gerrard St. E. and five other locations,

for a hands-on Haitian feast


Bak fritay deluxe

LOCATED AT THE HEART of Greektown, this lively Haitian fusion restaurant does a banger brunch on weekends. But, since anything with an egg is best consumed immediately, we recommend ordering off the main menu for delivery. The bak fritay deluxe comes with a little bit of everything: four proteins (chicken, beef, goat and pork), sweet or green plantains, deep-fried thyme-spiced dumplings called marinade, akra (taro fritters), pikliz (a vinegary coleslaw electrified with scotch bonnet), rice and peas, some rich Haitian gravy for dunking or dousing, and—as if that weren’t enough—banana beignets for dessert. On weekends, an extra $5 gets you an upgrade to djondjon rice, infused with a black mushroom native to northern Haiti; the rare fungus lends the grains an earthy umami. 774 Danforth Ave.,

For Mexican deep dish

Puerto Bravo

The papa asada

IT’S SO VERY TORONTO that the city’s best spot for coastal Mexican street food has quickly become a mainstay in a part of town best known for chaats and lassis. Hailing from the port city of Tampico, Luis Bautista and Viridiana Cano opened Puerto Bravo with a short menu of tacos and tostadas. But, instead of carnitas or al pastor, the fillings are almost all from the sea: smoky grilled octopus hit with house-made salsa macha, marinated shrimp laced with enough acid to power a light bulb. The cold-weather comfort star is the papa asada: a Mexican version of shepherd’s pie featuring a base of mashed potatoes layered with steak, cheese, sour cream and salsa. 1425 Gerrard St. E.,

for Soul-warming soup

Yee’s Hand-Pulled Noodles

Lanzhou beef noodle soup

HAND-PULLED NOODLES are all the rage. And, while most of the best are found in Scarborough and Markham, this newish spot at the base of a condo at Yonge and Wellesley turns out some top-notch Lanzhou beef noodle soup. The warming winter staple—which originated in its eponymous northwestern Chinese city—is a big bowl of freshly made noodles swimming in peppery broth with thinly sliced braised beef. Takeout orders are expertly packaged, with the noodles and broth in separate containers, so the broth remains hot while the noodles keep their bounce. And, though we’re here to get warm, a side of cold shredded potato with sour sauce and chili oil is a delightfully tangy and cool counterpart to the steaming soup. 24 Wellesley St. W.,

foR Satisfying italian sandwiches

Bevi birra

The Giovanna or the Senza Carne

WOODBRIDGE BOTTLE SHOP  and Italian lunch counter Bevi Birra has brought its excellent selection of Ontario-made brews to the Junction—and, more importantly (at least for our purposes), its sandwiches, all made on house-baked focaccia that manages to have all the heft and chew without the usual grease. An early front runner is the Giovanna, stacked with slices of hot soppressata, garlic-infused ricotta, peppery arugula, surprisingly incendiary peperoncini and some squiggles of honey to offset the heat. And, for vegetarians, the Senza Carne is a caprese salad in sandwich form with the addition of pea pesto to make things a bit more interesting. Tack on a couple cans of beer to-go and head home for an ideal lazy lunch. 3072 Dundas St. W.,

for a burger-and-fries fix


Cheeseburger and loaded fries

THOUGH THE NAME is short for “Just Another Burger Spot,” JABS is anything but. Owner Janrikk Millan started out slinging his patties at pop-ups and wowing customers with his house-made condiments (his onion jam perfectly balances fruity sweetness and allium depth). Sold as singles or doubles, his burgers (all with cheese unless requested otherwise) pack serious quality under their potato-bun hoods. Add-on recommendation: loaded fries topped with a crumbled burger patty and blasted with secret sauce. 630 St. Clair Ave. W., @burgerjabs 

For rib-sticking jollof

Naija Jollof

Jollof rice with chicken

THIS MISSISSAUGA-BORN mini chain debuted in Toronto in 2022, joining a growing list of purveyors—most notably, Afrobeat Kitchen—bringing the signature flavours and dishes of West Africa to downtown dwellers. Unsurprisingly, any responsible takeout order here begins with the Nigerian-style jollof. What arrives is a heaping clamshell container of supremely aromatic tomato-braised rice stewed with peppers and spices. Savoury-sweet and extremely satisfying, it’s a full meal on its own—even more so when sided with hunks of grilled bone-in chicken and drizzled in pepper sauce. After all that, who needs an order of fried plantains? (No one.) And yet… 507 Parliament St. and four other locations, @naijajolloftoronto

This story appears in the March 2023 issue of Toronto Life magazineTo subscribe for just $39.99 a year, click here. To purchase single issues, click here

1 Founded in 1959, Second City popularized the art of long-form comedic improvisation, which thrives on a two-word ethos: “Yes, and…” Performers were encouraged to follow the lead of their fellow players, embracing the chaos as they wrote live comedy in real-time.