Sometimes we don’t have all the answers. Not often, but sometimes. Those times we’ll ask a guest to help us out. This is one of those times…
Ratty: Have you ever been in an unfamiliar neighbourhood and totally starving? You would like to eat something, but you have no idea where to go?
Mole: I am at a loss for what to do. If I can broaden the situation slightly, I lived in Brazil and found myself in unfamiliar neighbourhoods constantly. Where to go? What to eat? Sadly I usually went to McDonald’s where I familiarized myself with Quaterao (quarter-pounder with cheese), McNifico Bacon (magnificent bacon), and other diabetes-inducing delights. As a result of my uninspired eating choices, I refer to my sojourn in Brazil as my Rubenesque period.
Ratty: McDonald’s sounds so much better in Portuguese! McNifico Bacon sounds like it could be Kevin’s alter ego if he decided to pack in the acting and fight crime in Fortaleza. Quaterao sounds like some kind of folk dance you’d do with four people. Anyway, I’ve done the same thing! But not in Brazil. I ate McDonald’s in Paris and one of these bad boys in Stockholm. Sometimes you just need to cling to the familiar. I wish I had the tools to make a decision on a restaurant though. Like without needed to scour Yelp reviews. It can be paralyzing.
Mole: Well good thing we are lucky enough to know Velta, who knows everything about food. She is our personal Zagat’s. So we asked her: What do you do when you’re in a new neighbourhood and you’re hungry and you need to decide where to eat?
Velta: I always look for who is in there because I think if you already in a target rich environment and there are places that are completely empty, that is always a telling sign. I would also perhaps stop at a convenience store or a non restaurant location and enquire about what they would recommend in the neighbourhood; and then last but not least I’d go by menu, but menus aren’t always very telling, for me. I would always want to go with a local recommendation or just even just stopping someone on the street, like people who have pets are normally from the hood, so then you just ask them.
Mole: Can you tell us about a restaurant you discovered in the way you just described?
Velta: Tacos El Asador on the corner of Clinton and Bloor in Koreatown. That’s right, you would think that people would have recommended the Korean food but it turns out that if you live in the neighborhood you know the great Korean places too but the one that you recommend is El Salvadorian. This is a tiny place with 7 picnic tables but it does not matter because you go there for the food not the ambiance.
Ratty: How do you stop a stranger and ask them where to eat? What exactly do you say?
Velta: “Excuse me. I am not familiar with this neighborhood and would like to have lunch. Do you have any recommendations with really good food?”
If they ask what kind – I always say that “I am up for anything; you pick!”
Now, to be clear sometimes people will not even stop, no acknowledgement just a strange face or no reaction at all. Other times people apologize and keep walking. And then every now and then someone will ask, “Are you new to Toronto?” or “What a great idea to ask someone? Do you have a recommendation for me?”. That is my favorite when you actually hit-up another foodie for information!
Mole: I am not brave enough to ask someone that. I’m just not. If I go to Kensington Market and see all the choices of places, I can’t decide. I play this “what if” game. What if this place sucks? What if the place across the street is way better? So, what I usually do, is just walk into a bakery and buy a cookie. Even if I’m starving. I’ll just buy a cookie. What about you Ratty?