Ringing in the Lunar New Year
Yonge and Sheppard is where the party’s at
Outside of China, the eighth of February is properly known as Lunar New Year — not Chinese New Year — as a number of other Asian countries also mark the day with celebrations. Taiwan is on the list along with both Koreas, where the three-day festival is known as Seollal. Though not a public holiday, Japan’s Setsubun shares a historical connection and falls in the same week.
The ’hood at Yonge and Sheppard deserves more credit than it gets. North of the 401 and the terminus for a remarkably underused subway means it’s definitely not on the cutting edge of Toronto’s food culture, right? Not exactly. In the last few years, the intersection where Willowdale and Lansing meet has become remarkably attuned to T.O.’s contemporary food culture. There’s still a Firkin pub in the area, but a large number of eateries from Southeast Asian cultures are now competing with it for customers.
Joons has been in the area for over a decade and is showing its age to an extent. The still-very-solid menu has plenty of familiar items from the Korean cannon, but the unmissable specialty is the dak galbi. This regional bar food is built around stirfried chicken and a spicy sauce. A double portion is mandatory, and it gets better with add-ons like rice cakes, cheese and ramen noodles.
It’s one of the only spots open for lunch in this crawl, so is a great place to start. 4852 Yonge St., 416-840
TEA SHOP 168
How better to represent the changing times in North York than a co-location for Tea Shop 168 — one of T.O.’s popular bubble tea chains — and Subway, the world leader in fast-food franchises? The core bubble tea menu here is perfect for a quick tapioca fix. 5193 Yonge St.,
There are things other than Korean fried chicken on the menu, but really, who are we kidding? Order the special half and half chicken, which allows you to have your chicken two ways. Make sure one of the two options is sauce-free, either fried or crispy, for the truly excellent texture. 4864 Yonge St., 416-546
HAN BA TANG
A relative newcomer to the strip, Han Ba Tang has a cool, contemporary design and an ontrend menu to match. Drinks run from a few good craft beer choices (Amsterdam Boneshaker and Junction Conductor’s) to $19 flights of soju and a varied cocktail list.
The food is made to match, and Korean tacos are definitely popular. The so-called spoon pizza (mainly kimchi and sweet potatoes) with a nostalgic-tasting sauce is quite the experience. 4862 Yonge St., 416-5468218
The chain that convinced T.O. to line up for beer and Japanese bar snacks has changed its named from Guu to Kinka Izakaya. They still have an energetic atmosphere, made louder by the obligatory greetings for every guest.
If there’s any place to set aside faux sincere devotions to authenticity, this is it. Have the baked oysters with mushrooms and cheese, yaki udon and the deep fried brie cheese. Don’t forget the kabocha korokke, a pumpkin croquette. 4775 Yonge St., Unit 114, 647-346-6246
Yonge and Shep joins Malaysia and L.A. as one of the only international outposts for this popular Taiwanese bakery. Grab a tray and browse the bins filled with options that fit roughly into the bun category, but by this point in the crawl it’s mainly dessert we’re after. The mille crepe cake and mango mousse are remarkably well made. 4910 Yonge St., Unit 101, 647-346-3888
Clockwise from left: korokke at Kinka, Bake Code’s Earl Grey mousse cake and the Fry’s KFC