Born in Taiwan and raised in Nova Scotia, TV and radio host and producer (as well as writer) Pay Chen has been living in Toronto for 20 years, working with almost every notable network. She has been the guest on shows like CityLine, Breakfast Television, Steven and Chris and George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight.
Aside from covering all the happenings in one of Canada’s best food cities, her childhood of running around the Halifax Farmers’ Market where her parents have been vendors exposed her to all kinds of homemade goods, and has a hand in fostering her passion for small food producers.
I have two favourites because I can’t choose just one!
I love Morning Glory Café in the east end. It’s a small unassuming place with a simple but delicious menu. I always get the Classic Monday sandwich: caramelized onions, Brie, tomato and homemade aioli on a giant squishy bun. I add a fried egg to make it a complete breakfast.
The other place I like to take friends to is the Beast Restaurant in the west end. The brunch menu consists of a lot of buttermilk biscuits, fried chicken, chorizo, crispy pork hocks--you get my drift. This is not diet food. I love it.
Toronto has so many restaurants that I could easily eat at a new place each time I go out. One place I go to often is the Thai restaurant, Khao San Road. It’s in my neighbourhood and the food is always good. It doesn't take reservations, so you have to be prepared to wait or go a bit earlier than lunch or dinner to snag a table. The service is quick, though, and you can order your food as spicy as you want it.
If I’m in Leslieville, I’ll visit Belmonte Raw for some great vegan food. It’s full of fresh, colourful veg and makes me feel good for eating there. Its raw chocolate peanut butter dessert (it’s shaped like a small thimble) is truly one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten. It’s rich and decadent and doesn’t contain all the other stuff I am fond of eating (sugar, gluten, dairy).
One of the best deals in town is Porzia’s Monday night, three-dishes-for-$30 special. I love this little Parkdale restaurant and I usually ask to sit at the chef’s rail so I can see all the action. The pasta is made in-house and its chicken liver agnolotti is one of my favourite dishes.
Sometimes I just want cheap and semi-cheerful food, so I’ll head towards Chinatown for a bowl of noodles at King’s Noodle. I also go there because the staff usually just address me as, “lady”. I feel pretty good about that.
For good food and drinks with a hip atmosphere, walk north on Spadina a little more and stop in at People’s Eatery. The downstairs menu is of small snacks and plates that can be shared. The food reflects the history of the neighbourhood: a mix of Jewish and Asian. There’s also a tasting menu that changes regularly so you can really sample what the kitchen is experimenting with.
I am notorious for my sweet tooth and my fondness for carbs. Some of the best chocolates in the city are made by David Chow. He makes beautiful sweets in interesting and unique flavour combinations. I promise you, he will have at least a handful of things you’ve never tried before.
For the best focaccia bread, I’ll stop by OMG and stock up on bread and maple syrup butter tarts. There’s also homemade Pop Tarts and lots of brightly frosted temptations.
One of my favourite little pastry shops is Sweet Escape Patisserie in the Distillery District. When the weather warms up, it makes the best ice cream flavours. You’ll find macarons, S’mores squares and 30 varieties of sweet and savoury shortbread. Sometimes I hang out until the milk buns come out of the oven and eat it in all of its hot, squishy glory.