Vietnamese food is kinda weird for Canadians: the heaps of fresh herbs, the emphasis on broth, and the eating-technique of assembling things onto your spoon with chopsticks — All this means that Vietnamese restaurants in Canada have a dilemma — how to balance authenticity withtout freightening Canadian food expectations?
The best Vietnamese in Toronto restaurants don’t try to conform their recipes to Canadians familiarities — instead, they stick with the traditional ways of serving and eating, and emphasize fresh quality ingredients.
In this post, we (Vietnamese) document our culinary exploration of Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto, and rate the restaurants by:
- Vietnamese authenticity
- overall taste-experience within a Canadian context (e.g., as compared to all other competing restaurants, Vietnamese or otherwise, within Toronto).
Read below how we rate these Vietnamese restaurants. Note: we do not take any compensation for our reviews.
Our List of Reviewed Vietnamese Restaurants in Toronto
We will be adding more restaurants each month, so check back often 🙂
- Pho Tien Thanh on Queen West
- Saigon Lotus in Kensington Market
- Vietnam Lovely Noodle on Bloor
- QueenBee on College
- Ginger in the downtown
- Que Ling in East Chinatown
- Banh Mi Boys downtown
- Pho East in East Chinatown
- Peter Pho in Brampton
1) “Pho Tien Thanh” Vietnamese Restaurant in Trinity-Bellwoods, Toronto
Location: 57 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J 2Y9 (near Queen W & Ossington)
Hours: 11am to 10pm Daily
Canadian Rating: 9/10
Vietnamese Rating: 7.5/10
So far, Pho Tien Thanh has served us the best Bun Nem in Toronto (springrolls and Vermicelli noodles). The bun nem sauce was amazing, and authentically South Vietnamese. The spring-rolls were exceptional and better than we could ever do at home. Very good!
For Vietnamese noodle dishes, the pho broth and bun nem sauce are the make-it or break-it critieria — by this criteria, Pho Tien Thanh succeeded and won our hearts, being perhaps one of the best in Toronto. If they were located in Vietnam, they could even be passable: they do not try to re-imagine Vietnamese food to conform to Canadian expectations, which we appreciate.
Their noodle quality is fine. The ingredients are quite fresh and good. We especially like the heaps of fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, basil) which are key to authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Their tofu is just okay (nothing special), but this is more than made-up for with their amazing sauce and herbs.
We’ll definitely return to Pho Tien Thanh — it is the kind of restaurant we’d go out of our way to dine at (unlike the other Vietnamese restaurants below). The interior design and decor is gaudy-cheap and ridiculous — which in someways is also authentically Vietnamese!
What to Eat at Pho Tien Thanh?
Focus on the brothy noodle dishes, such as:
- pho, or
- bun nem/cha (vermicelli noodles with springrolls).
Don’t bother with the rice dishes… that’s like going Italy to eat Pizza Hut: Pho Tien Thanh excels at noodle dishes, and don’t deprive yourself the opportunity to have the nation’s beloved dish.
Saigon Lotus is located on the outskirts of Toronto’s hippie-valhalla known as Kensington Market, along a somewhat unsavory side street. However, the interior is tastefully decored and one of the few Vietnamese restaurants that is not embarrassing to visit on a date — nice murals, nice lighting, only somewhat random art.
Being in the land of hippies, it should be no surprise that Saigon Lotus caters to vegans and vegetarians. But, even if you are a meat-eater, please do not let this dissuade you — it is hands-down one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto, even if you aren’t big on veggies.
The bun nem “fish” sauce is incredibly authentic. The green lemongrass curry is addictively good. The spring rolls and tofus are great. The fake meats are okay (they are made of seitan, which has no nutritional value and doesn’t fill you up, so pass on those unless you’re a vegan).
One bonus is their attention to small Vietnamese details, such as marinating the fresh herbs in a slightly sweet and sour sauce (which is rarely seen in Canada) and they use a good mix of fresh herbs like mint and basil (unlike some other restaurants which use boring lettuce and carrot). These Hanoi-style fresh herbs earn our respect.
We highly recommend ordering one of the Combo Platters (to try a little of everything, including some unusual things) and the bun-nem (spring rolls and vermicelli).
Our only complaint is that the portions are not as generous as other places, and the prices are a little higher compared to other Vietnamese restaurants — but for a date or special occasion, it isn’t too bad.
Overall, the Lovely Noodle good serves high-quality SE Asian food with a Chinese bias, including a decent decor that is very un-Vietnamese. We’re a little turned-off by Chinese owners culturally-appropriating Vietnamese food and masquerading as a Vietnamese business. Nonetheless, we have to begrudgingly admit that Lovely Noodle serves excellent imitations — what they lack in authenticity, they make-up with skillful food preparation, great cooking technique, balance flavours, and exceptional sauces.
The prices are not too expensive for being on Bloor Street, and the proportions are fair as well.
The bun nem is very very good, with flavourful nem sauce and an exceptionally tasty homemade chili sauce (both of these sauces lean towards Chinese-style, but they work well). The spring rolls are undeniably excellent. The bun noodles are unfortunately re-hydrated and not fresh — this is another hint of being Chinese-owned (real Vietnamese restaurants will source fresh bun for sit-down restaurants). However, most Canadians will probably not notice.
The pho is southern style with a good balance of flavours and heaps of fresh-vegies that other restaurants seem to shy away from (we like that!) The rice plates have good quality meat — the meat is tender and marinated with a delicious sauce, and really showcases their careful skill.
The decor is tasteful and simple, as if it were a former Japanese restaurant. For example, there are zen sand gardens (or maybe they just culturally-appropriated that too!) All in all, its a fine establishment where you won’t fell too embarrassed bringing a date or client.
We hope other Vietnamese proprietors in Toronto will take note of the Vietnam Lovely Noodle and up their game.
If you’re looking for a slightly-swanking, family-run Vietnamese restaurant on College St., Queen Bee should definitely be on your list. The restaurant boasts a lovely decor with tasteful greenery (very fashionable in Vietnam). You could bring a date here and not feel embarrassed.
They also serve alcohol and feature a modest cocktail lounge — but like many Vietnamese family-run operations, the owner’s infants are sometimes running around the restaurant. While some might find this distracting, it is genuinely Vietnamese (i.e., there is no separation between domestic- and business-spaces in Vietnam).
The menu is somewhat limited. However, they make up for it with their attention to detail. For example, they marinate the free veggies that come with the bun noodles, which adds a subtle high-quality kick. Their Bun noodles are freshly made, and not rehydrated — this suggests they are tapped into the local Vietnamese business network (unlike some other non-Vietnamese faux-Vietnamese restaurants).
One thing to note is that they have slightly Westernized some of their dishes, such as serving lettuce and baby kale with the bun nem. This is definitely not Vietnamese, and may be off-putting to some (we imagine they’re trying to appeal to yoga-wholefood types).
Overall, the food is good-to-great. However, the portions are modest and the prices are slightly higher than most other Vietnamese places in Toronto, so keep that in mind.
It’s worth noting that the brother also runs the “Dzo Eatery” restaurant on Dundas, which is a big hit with great reviews.
5) Ginger Vietnamese Franchise in Toronto
Official Website: www.gingerone.ca
Downtown location: 212 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1Z2
Bloor & Younge: 695 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4Y 2B2
Weston Location: 2590 Weston Rd, North York, ON M9N 2A9
Hours: 11am – 10pm
Canadian Rating: 6.5/10
Vietnamese Rating: 5.5/10
Ginger is a local South-Vietnamese fastfood franchise with multiple locations in Toronto, plus a copy-cat competitor (which is also very Vietnamese, sadly).
What is striking about Ginger is how it sacrifice authenticity to conform to Canadian’s expectations of fast-food, from the burger-joint-esque placards to employee visor-bands, including some non-Vietnamese food innovations — in the same way that Burger King will occasionally have a “Cajun Chicken Burger”, so too will Ginger add various curries and thai offerings.
Needless to say, Ginger isn’t superficially Vietnamese. But what about the taste of the Vietnamese dishes? Fortunately, despite the Burger-King ambience, Ginger’s Bun Nem (vermicelli noodles and spring-rolls) are pretty good, and somewhat close to the real thing. They have very good sauces and good noodles and good ingredients, and a decent amount of fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, basil). As we mentioned above, the quality of the soup/sauce, and the serving of herbs is a key thing we look for.
Also, the tofu is exceptionally good — a certain special seasoning that makes-up for the muted taste of other things. Speaking of….
The spring-rolls and the Banh Mi lack a certain something, like their flavours have been dialed-down slightly so as to not offend the Canadian palette. These would be mildly disappointing in Vietnam, but in the Canadian context, the Banh Mi definitely and unambiguously beats Subway, and the spring-rolls beat anything you’ll find in a Chinese restaurant or at Loblaws.
Overall, Ginger’s healthy fast-food alternative that gets you 60% of the way to true Vietnamese food, without blowing the budget or belt. It is worth a visit if you’re passing-by and hungry, but there is no reason to go out of your way to visit Ginger.
NOTE: there is a 10% discount if you pay in cash.
Que Ling is an unusual Vietnamese restaurant in Toronto’s East Chinatown near Gerrard and Broadview (exact location here). It is run by South Vietnamese ethnic Hoa who likely fled after the fall of the South to the North.
Que Ling has an excellent sauce that gives it a descent score. However, the amount of fresh herbs is low compared to what is normal in Vietnam (or even Canada). It is almost as if they tried to adapt the dishes to Canadian carnivores, who probably don’t know what to do with the traditional heaps of herbs. This hurts them according to our Vietnamese Rating system.
Otherwise, the sauces and the ingredients are mostly authentic. They have amazing tofu! We recommend trying their Banh Cuon — these wonderful flat-ish noodles are hard to find in other Toronto Vietnamese restaurants.
The decor is also hilariously authentically Vietnamese: it is a mismatch of tables and chairs and tarps grafted onto someone’s home. Que Ling isn’t the kind of place you would take your date to, but it offers fine ingredients at a fair price. If I were working nearby, I would eat there several times a week for my lunch take-out.
Note: Cash only!
7) Banh Mi Boys – Vietnamese Fusion Franchise in Toronto
Official Website: www.banhmiboys.com
Younge & College Location: 399 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M5B 1S9
Chinatown Location: 392 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 2A9
Midtown Location: 2365 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4P 3J6
- Canadian Rating: 8/10
- Vietnam Rating: N/A
What can we say about the award-winning Vietnamese sandwich/burrito Asian-fusion fast-food shop known as Banh Mi boys? They aren’t authentically Vietnamese, nor do they pretend to be; instead, they offer delicious sandwiches and tacos inspired by Vietnamese ingredients and sauces (it works!) Therefore, we’ve dropped our “Vietnamese rating”
If you want a quick, flavourful bite to eat that is vaguely reminiscent of Chipotle or Subway wraps (but much better), then definitely consider Banh Mi Boys burritos. We like them after an work-out, or a snack after work.
Banh Mi Boys isn’t a place you take a impressive date, but they are our go-to place for a quick eat.
The good thing about Pho East is the price and big proportions. However, we suspect that it is a Chinese-run establishment pretending to be Vietnamese. Why? We explain…
First, the ingredients in the Pho are not authentically Vietnamese, such as bok choy and carrots. This is like putting cherries and cucumber on a pizza — Vietnamese would not do that.
Secondly, the bun noodles were not fresh, but re-boiled dried vermicelli. A typical non-Vietnamese customer would probably not notice. But, for Vietnamese, it is unacceptable to not serve fresh noodles — especially in Toronto where the other restaurants (e.g. Ginger, Pho Tien Thanh and Que Ling) do serve fresh bun noodles. The owners of Pho East are probably not connected with the local Vietnamese community and don’t know (or don’t care to cater to Vietnamese).
Third, the hand-made spring-rolls (which are quite good) use the Chinese-style wrapping, not Vietnamese-style rice-paper. Lots of other servings are also more Chinese or Thai.
Most of the above complaints are probably over-the-head of most Canadians. On the whole, the cheap price, jumbo proportions and pleasant decor may be worth your consideration if you are in Chinatown East. But if you want the real thing, at the fine-ingredient level, than we recommend most the above restaurants instead.
Pho Peter isn’t technically in Toronto — it is in Brampton, just off of the Hwy 410. However, it is such a well-deserved favourite of local Bramptonites, so we had to review it due to its popularity.
The proportions are large-ish yet priced on the lower end, without compromising authenticity or taste. As a result, locals love it, and the place can be packed during peak hours.
The spring-rolls are fantastic and very authentic. The bun sauce is simply exquisite — among the best we’ve had in Canada (even good when compared to Vietnam proper!). The restaurant even has hand-made sweet chili-sauce (we think) which was very delicious and worthy of respect.
The bun nem noodles are excellent: we especially like the proper mix of fresh-herbs (mint, cilantro, basil) that other Vietnamese restaurants cheapen-out or compromise in some way that destroys the authenticity.
The sticky rice goes well with Southern Vietnamese culinary traditions. Our one complaint was that the grilled-pork with rice and vegies was almost too flavourful, i.e. you can get weary of the intense-flavour after half-through the meal. People with sensitive palates may want to dine on several appetizers, rather than commit to a large plate.
Ambiance: the place is small, the decor is slightly better then most other Vietnamese establishments (which isn’t saying a lot, sadly). It stops shy of being Viet-gaudy. There was a Blue-Jays game blaring throughout the small restaurant as we dinned — take that for what you will (fine by me). Pho Peter isn’t the kind of style to impress a hot date or important client, but it is absolutely good for a family outing or lunch with friends.
How We Judge – What do we look for in terms of taste and authenticity of Vietnamese food?
What do we look for when we rate the Vietnamese food? We *do not* care about decor or even price or value for dollar. We look at:
- taste of the sauce/broth*
- heaps of fresh herbs
- quality of main protein ingredient (e.g. meat, tofu)
- quality of noodle
- overall balance of proportions of different ingredients (herbs, noodle, protein, spring-roll, sauce)
In particular the quality of the sauce/broth is the may it or break it criteria. An excellent sauce can make-up for other issues.
If the above criteria don’t seem important (such as the heaps of herbs), see our commentary through out.