Who Are We? We're BFFs whose love of stuffing our faces has taken us to the US and Europe in search of the world's top restaurants. But recently, we decided to have some food adventures closer to home. We're setting out to try one new (or at least new to us) Toronto restaurant every week for a year – or at least until we can no longer fit into our clothes.
And here's the catch… we want to give you an authentic experience so all of our reviews are done anonymously. As far as the restaurant is concerned, we're just two patrons who take lots of photos of their food. Or are we?
This week, we hit up Lucky Red, Toronto's newest bao shop.
Address: 318 Spadina Ave.
Closest subway: St. Patrick Station
Drink menu: Homemade lemonades and Vietnamese iced coffee
First Impressions: David, Phil and Peter Chau, the brothers behind the ever-expanding Banh Mi Boys restaurants, opened a new shop earlier this month in Chinatown, this one focused on bao sandwiches. There are 11 varieties on the menu, which are served on your choice of a steamed or baked bun. Whether you want to eat in or take out, you start by placing your order at the counter in the back of the room.
We tried Lucky Red's homemade lemonade. The lychee flavour was very sweet and topped with three big pieces of fruit, while our favourite was the yuzu (a type of Asian citrus fruit), which was wonderfully tart and pucker-worthy.
Pork Belly Bao ($3.99)
We love the steamed five-spice pork belly bao at Banh Mi Boys, and were intrigued to see how the Chau brothers would put a different spin on it for Lucky Red. Instead of the usual pickled veggies, this version is topped with mustard greens, cilantro, peanuts and cucumber. We wish they hadn't been so heavy-handed with the cilantro, which threatened to overwhelm the thick slices of tender, lightly spiced pork belly, which tasted like it had been BBQ'd.
Cheese Steak Bao ($3.99)
This sandwich's thinly shredded and nicely sauced meat stood up to the kimchi, which we sometimes find overpowering. We wouldn't have said no to a bit more evidence of cheese, but the great texture and tender meat would have us ordering this one again.
Pulled Pork Bao ($3.99)
Instead of a steamed bao, we opted for the egg-washed baked sesame bun on this one. The meat was moist but not remarkably spiced. The sweet onion chutney added a needed burst of flavour -- too bad it was only present in a small clump in the middle of the sandwich. We wished we'd ordered this one with a bit more heat, as the Asian BBQ sauce didn't really lend it the kick we were hoping for.
Lo Mien with BBQ Chicken ($6.99)
Two generous pieces of BBQ'd chicken rested on top of a bowl of ramen, pickled corn, cilantro, crackling and green onion. The broth was dark and rich, and the noodles were perfectly cooked. The highlight of this dish, however, was the tiny bits of crunchy pork crackling. We couldn't finish the bowl, but we made sure not to leave any crackling behind.
S'mores Bao ($2.99)
We finished the meal with the dessert Lucky Red is quickly becoming known for: their version of a s'more. Two toasted jumbo marshmallows are sandwiched between Nutella-laden baked buns and topped with crushed graham crackers. It was a gloriously messy and sweet way to top off the meal.
Final Thoughts: The space is both simple and trendy, with a huge cartoon mural by Toronto artist Uber 5000 of the Chinese Zodiac covering an entire wall. Though you can probably find cheaper bao and lo mien in the neighbourhood, the flavours and modern twists the Chau brothers are becoming known for will have us coming back to Lucky Red for more.