In many ways, the Toronto lunch melee has become as competitive as the dinner one. As opposed to the drawn-out, cocktail promoting, upselling strategies of the evening scene, the lunch philosophy is a bit different…quick, fresh and cheap. There are a few main events on the midday fight card; the burger battle, the ramen rivalry, the sushi skirmish and the burrito brawl. I plan to tackle each of these battles separately but first there is a need to discuss Banh Mi Boys, a popular lunch spot that beats by its own drum, offering real fusion flavours unique to this Queen West take out joint. I tried a variety of offerings including the Banh Mi (sandwich), tacos, steamed Bao (buns) and even a few fries.
The Banh Mi sandwich threw me into blissful confusion. A baguette topped with delicious tofu (yes those words can co-exist) and topped with a signature mix of pickled carrots, cukes and cilantro jilted my gustatory system with an offering of French, Mexican and Asian flavors. The bread was surprisingly delicious, with a texture competitive with other gourmet sandwich offerings spattered throughout town. It was comforting yet edgy but quite satisfying and at a decent price point of $5.49.
Kimchi fries….hmmmm. An interesting concept providing you like kimchi..and fries. Supplemented with mayo (maybe a bit too much) and green onions, this $5.99 dish (although it is quite a sizable portion) is a definite deviation from standard poutine offered at almost every food truck, gastropub burger joint within a 15 km radius. Kimchi is one of those “in moderation” type foods I could only take these fries in a small dose. The mayo offered a creamy texture and rich flavor but the fact that the meltiness of the cheese and heat of steaming gravy was missing left me just a little sad.
The $3.99 taco was also unorthodox, moving away from the traditional mexican corn or wheat shell toward a thicker, stretchier chapati-type cortex surrounding, in this case, a southern type pulled pork filling and topped with the right amount of kimchi, crunchy cabbage and those incredible pickled carrots.
Even a decent braised beef cheek and the magical carrot elixir couldn’t save the bao (see above) which tasted as if it might have been steamed a while ago. It lacked the melt-in-your-mouth-wonder-bread-dipped-in-a-bit-of-sugar taste I associate with a perfect steamed bun. Sigh.
I applaud Banh Mi Boys’ understanding of fusion cuisine to mean more than adding salsa to pizza and calling it Mexican-Italian. This is one of the more unique lunches you can score along the busy Queen street corridor, mixing flavours and concepts together create a tantalizing smorgasbord of pungent, sweet and savory gusto surrounded by world examples of starchy staples at a decent price. Currently, Banh Mi Boys stands alone but given it’s apparent success and unique concept, there will no doubt be other contenders throwing their culinary aprons in the ring attempting to attract those not interested in burritos, burgers or one of the other ubiquitous main events peppering every downtown street corner. I can taste the jalapeno, panko-coated bologna calzones already.
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