Vietnamese Noodle Soups on Gerrard Street East
By Daniel Polowin
In these long, dark winter months, with frigid temperatures and rampant seasonal cold and flus, there is nothing quite like a big bowl of steaming-hot soup.
I have been a soup nut my entire life. For a long period of my childhood, as a picky eater, the only food that would make me happy—not chocolate, ice cream, or pizza—was chicken noodle soup. Now as an adult, I will still have soup nearly every day of the week. Sometimes at restaurants, if the soup is good enough, I will forego the entrée and just double down on the soup.
No food culture supports my addiction more than Vietnamese cuisine with its signature soup: pho. Frequently mispronounced (it doesn’t rhyme with “go”), pho is essentially a gigantic, meal-sized bowl of soup consisting of the following: a clear beef, chicken, or vegetable broth; copious amounts of vermicelli rice noodles; aromatic herbs and vegetables; meat or vegetarian proteins; and an assortment of garnishes.
The standard bowl of pho will be made with a beef base and seasonings like cinnamon, star anise, ginger, onion, cardamom, and coriander. The broth is rich and flavourful but still delicate enough to allow the eater to garnish it according to taste. Thin slices of beef will be added, generally a mix of rare lean meat and tender well-done brisket. For more adventurous eaters, variations include beef tendon, tripe, and meatballs. Watch Anthony Bourdain wax poetic about pho in the video below to understand my passion.
When I first moved to Toronto, I was overcome with excitement when I discovered I lived near a plethora of pho restaurants in the east Chinatown area of Broadview/Gerrard. With so many different pho joints to try, I could anonymously indulge my pho addiction and seek out the best bowl of soup in Toronto. Here are some of my favourites.
610 Gerrard St. E
A venerable pho eatery formerly known as Pho 88, this is the stereotypical pho joint: a no-nonsense, brightly lit, and sparsely decorated take-out restaurant with a few tables. The pho here is consistently good; the quick service, affordable prices, and late hours make this a great place to get your pho fix.
Mi Mi Restaurant
688 Gerrard St. E
Mi Mi’s has the friendliest service of any restaurant I’ve ever been to. While the broth is not as rich and flavourful here as at the other restaurants, Mi Mi’s makes up for it with a wider selection of pho to sample and great rolls and entrées.
Hanoi 3 Seasons
588 Gerrard St. E and 1135 Queen St. E
The most upscale and finely decorated of these restaurants, the pho at both the Hanoi 3 Seasons locations is the most unique taste-wise, with a smoky flavour I can’t put my finger on. Hanoi also has the best pho ga (chicken soup) and pho chay (vegetarian pho) I’ve had in Toronto. The menu is simplified compared to other Vietnamese restaurants. This means, however, that there is just one size of pho, and it would only be considered a medium at some of the less fashionable Vietnamese restaurants.
Com Tam Dao Vien Peach Garden Restaurant
1018 Gerrard St. E
A little further east of the Gerrard/Broadview pho district, this Leslieville restaurant features more tables than the others and an intimidatingly big menu. The myriad of dishes here are hit and miss, but the pho is fantastic. The sheer variety of pho and bun (rice vermicelli) dishes available at Peach Garden is hilarious; it could take a lifetime to sample everything on the menu.
Photos of restaurants from blog.to