If any of you are familiar with Toronto’s Dufferin St and Eglinton Ave W area, you know there are only a few key commercial identities in the main intersection: A Shoppers Drug Mart, a few barbershops, a convenience store and a strip club (about one block north and number eight on this list).
I’ve driven through the commercially bland but “people busy” intersection probably twice a month since I was a kid, as my grandparents live at Dufferin and College Sts, so when Tristan, fellow contributor, said, “Let’s go to this Thai place called Thai Shan Inn at Dufferin and Eglinton,” my first thought was: “Sorry, where?”
The restaurant at 2404 Dufferin St is relatively new to the area, having just relocated, which would explain why I had no idea it existed before stepping foot in it on Friday evening. However, once inside, the small, quiet restaurant made me forget that I had just taken the crammed 32C bus from Eglinton West Station to get there.
I could smell the peanut sauce upon entry, I was greeted with a, “Hello, sweety,” from a very petite and happy Thai woman, who had her hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, and within .25 seconds, I was sitting with a pot of hot green tea in front of me. Though empty, besides a table of gossipy parents behind me, the restaurant was covered in unique Thai décor that embroidered each booth with deep reds and golds.
I stood up from the booth to explore the paintings, knicknacks and sculptures and when I returned, a plate of fresh shrimp chips and warm, yes warm, peanut sauce lay on the table in front of me.
I have eaten at countless Thai restaurants, but none have ever presented me with peanut sauce without me having to request it. You go, Thai Shan Inn. You go!
Once Tristan arrived and we put in our order, the two of us chatted over tea (for me) and beer (for him). It barely seemed as though 10-minutes had passed before we received our orders. I caved and got the typical Pad Thai, Tristan got their Pad Woon Sen, stir-fry glass noodles made with chicken, shrimp, green onions, onions, oyster mushrooms and egg and the two of us each got a spring roll!
The noodle entrées came on small square plates, but were piled high. The Pad Thai wasn’t too sweet, had just the right amount of peanuts and came with freshly crushed chili pepper flakes. I can’t speak for how Tristan’s Pad Woon Sen was, but his words to me were, “There’s so much food here and I’m so full, but it’s just too good and I cannot stop eating.”
While we were chowing down on our noodles, we let our spring rolls cool (I had bitten into mine a little too early and may have burned my tongue in the process). They were flavourful, didn’t have an overpowering amount of bean sprouts and the fried shells weren’t too oily.
The environment at Thai Shan Inn was so comfortable, Tristan and I stayed and chatted for two hours post-meal. When we were getting up to leave, we noticed there was a table set at the back of the restaurant. As soon as we left, the restaurant owners thanked us for stopping in, and quickly locked the door behind us to enjoy their own dinner together, as both a family and a group of co-workers!
As awful as Tristan and I felt for making these kind restauranteurs wait for us to leave, I walked away feeling perfectly content: I wasn’t overfull and I knew that the food I had just devoured was cooked with care, as the staff themselves were about to enjoy a similar meal. The only bummer about Thai Shan Inn – they do not serve wine.
My experience at Thai Shan Inn on Duffern St, north of Eglinton Ave W, proves that though Toronto isn’t the top street food city in North America, nor is it on this list of the top 10 best food cities in the world, there are some amazing hidden gems where authenticity, customer service, décor and most importantly – flavours – are a top priority in this city.
Which Toronto restaurant could you call your favourite hidden gem?