The Ultimate Markham Foodie Tour: 14 Must Try Asian Eats

I spent my formative years living in Markham. My fond suburban childhood memories include a joyous parade at the annual Unionville Festival, an outrageous amount of cotton candy and funnel cakes consumed at the spectacular Markham Fair, and sweet summers spent strolling along Toogood Pond.

After finishing Grade 7 my family moved to Oakville and since we didn’t have any extended family in town I hadn’t had an opportunity to return to my roots until recently. Always keen to explore foodie destinations a short day trip from Toronto I was eager to return to Markham to see how the city had developed in the last two decades. The region just north of downtown Toronto is now famous for its culturally diverse community, playing home sweet home to some of Canada’s top Asian restaurants.

I spent weeks researching Markham’s finest Asian fare, asking fellow food writers and passionate dim sum-loving locals about their must-try restaurants. Renee Suen is a Toronto-based food and travel writer who in the past has acted as a judge for the Chinese Restaurant Awards. Suen is my go-to expert on regional Asian cuisines so I asked her what advice she’d give to foodies keen to explore Markham’s restaurants for the first time:

“The easiest is to go with someone who’s familiar with the area. Although you can order off the menu, there are still many places with menus that are written in Chinese on the wall or in menu inserts. There are even “secret” or VIP menus/dishes that are only available to those in the know. A great example would be king of kings barbecue pork, an off-menu specialty at John’s BBQ. I first wrote about it for Toronto Life years ago, and we awarded it for the first Chinese Restaurant Awards, and if you didn’t know to specifically order it by name, you could be dining on the regular iteration. It’s also important to just be open and try new things. Don’t be scared, even if the menu translation doesn’t make sense, to order something that a neighbouring table has ordered that looks delicious or smells incredible. You won’t know until you taste it. The one thing to embrace about the GTA’s Chinese food scene is that we have a great representation of the country’s regional cuisines (stronger in Northern Chinese), which means not every restaurant would have the same dishes or specialties. So keep an open mind (and palate) when heading to a restaurant because you don’t know what you might encounter that would both surprise and delight.”

While you can always plan an easy day trip to Markham I was keen to dive head first into the dining scene, visiting 14 restaurants over a weekend. I stayed in a suite at the centrally located Hilton Markham (fun fact: I immediately recognized the buildings unique architecture as this is where my mother would play squash and teach me how to swim as a toddler) and planned an itinerary that would have me “shopping plaza hopping,” to the city’s best kept secrets. Markham must be Canada’s Bubble Tea capital, with every corner of town offering the popular Taiwanese slurp, and plays host to a finger-licking-good collection of Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Chinese and contemporary concepts.

Whether you’re in Markham visiting family and friends, in town for a business trip, or a Toronto foodie looking to organize a brilliant Asian eats binge, here are 14 spots worth tucking in for a feast.

Markham is home to several Szechuan-style hot pot restaurant concepts and during my research learned that locals are wildly opinionated on who does it best. Morals Village Hot Pot offers an all you can eat offering in an elegant setting. The restaurant only makes reservations for large groups so if you’re eating later in the evening expect to wait for a table. You have the option of selecting one or two broths (we opted for Hong Kong Satay and Pork Bone) which bubbles in the centre of the table as you add a parade of protein and vegetables with your chopsticks. Highlights included spicy beef, plump shrimp, cheese stuffed meatballs and freshly made Chinese noodles.

Skip across the street to the Kennedy Square Food Court and you’ll find dessert fans lining up at Woofles and Cream. The petite shop serves up Hong Kong Style Egg Waffles which you can pair with any of the two daily ice cream flavours. You can opt for a classic plain waffle or select from a list of creative offerings stuffed with Oreo cookies, chocolate chips, and sesame. During our visit they were serving classic vanilla and genmaicha (popcorn green tea) soft serve.

Coco Fresh Tea and Juice is the world’s most popular Bubble Tea brand. Originally opening in Taipei in 1997, the refreshing thirst-quenching concept now has over 2000 stores around the globe. In an effort to familiarize ourselves with Coco’s extensive menu we sipped our way through five of their most popular drinks with favourites including Red Bean Match Milk Tea, Sago Taro Milk Tea, and Black Tea Macchiato.

Located in Markham Town Square Plaza, the always popular Wonton Hut offers a cheap and cheerful dining room which specializes in Shrimp Wonton Lo Mein Soup. The dish whizzes out of the open kitchen in just two minutes, offering a massive bowl of steaming broth topped with plump wonton dumplings filled with fresh shrimp. Jazz up your bowl with classic condiments such as red vinegar, homemade chili oil, and soy sauce and slurp to your hearts content.

No trip to Markham is complete without a stroll through the Pacific Mall. If you’ve got a sweet tooth hop in line at Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecake and take home the bake shops two signature sweets: a fluffy cheesecake and box of massive Honey Madeleine’s. While you wait in line enjoy a moment of culinary theatre as a choir of bakers whirl and twirl as they prepare thousands of cakes in the shops open concept kitchen. 

Head upstairs to the Pacific Mall’s second floor and you’ll find an epic food court. Sun’s Kitchen is probably the food court’s most famous tenant as fresh Chinese noodles are prepared live in front of your very eyes. Skilled noodle experts thwack a log of dough against a lightly floured counter, then roll it out, pulling the dough between their fingers to create a web of noodles which are quickly dropped into a boiling pot. Their classic noodle soup is served with steamed bok choy and your choice of BBQ duck, seafood, wonton, or roast pork.

Skip across the food court and you’ll find Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, a popular fast food fried chicken concept from Taiwan. Hot Star’s signature dish is the “original large fried chicken,” which you can have spiced with pepper salt, spicy, seaweed or, plum. I opted for the gigantic cheese stuffed chicken, which pulls apart to reveal a stream of ooey gooey fromage!

If you’re looking for a mid-day pick me up head to Dak Lak, the Pacific Mall’s petite cafe specializing in Vietnamese coffee. The ladies who run the shop import Vietnamese beans which they brew and muddle with condensed milk just like back home in Saigon.

A team of Korean culinary geniuses are behind the wildly popular Fat Ninja Bite. Everyone comes here for the jaw-dropping Chicken Katsu Burger, an Asian fusion masterpiece featuring an oversized crispy chicken cutlet topped with tomatoes, lettuce, slaw, red onion, pickles, Japanese mayo and sweet Katsu sauce.

If Markham had a best kept secret it would be the “hidden from view,” Japanese courtyard which sits perched over Steeles Avenue. Stroll through the space and you’ll find a wild variety of Japanese businesses: a Japanese grocer, Izakaya, green tea lounge, Japanese tableware outfit and one-of-a-kind pastry shop. Pop by Sasaki Fine Pastry and you’ll find row upon row of brightly coloured mochi, a traditional Japanese rice cake prepared with glutinous rice dough that is filled with flavours such as sesame, matcha, strawberry and mango.

Drive over to First Markham Place and you’ll find one of the city’s most bustling food courts. Malay Thai Famous Cuisine is owned by a Malaysian family who offer classic dishes you’d find at hawker stalls in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Their most famous offering is a massive bowl of Chicken Laksa, a spicy coconut soup featuring rice noodles, fish cake and deep fried tofu.

Also located in First Markham Place, you’ll likely find a long line snaking out the door at KaKa All You Can Eat. The always buzzing AYCE sushi restaurant offers high quality classics such as crispy gyoza, thinly sliced beef tataki, shrimp tempura topped ramen bowls, and a parade of pretty maki. Be sure to order a selection of KaKa’s signature torched sushi and Oshizushi (pressed sushi with combinations such as salmon, serrano pepper, and Kaka sauce).

If your a diehard dim sum fan head to Casa Victoria to indulge in Markham’s most elegant Cantonese brunch tradition. As soon as you step in the door you’re wowed by the grand space featuring Italian granite flooring, crystal chandeliers, floor to ceiling marble pillars, and luxurious drapery. The extensive dim sum menu stands out for the kitchen’s use of high quality ingredients, which you can taste in each bite. When our basket of Siu Mai (shrimp and pork dumpings) arrived at the table our eyes bulged as they were twice the size of what you’d normally see at other establishments. Other highlights include roast pork stuffed rice rolls, chicken and ginger buns, and finger-licking-good honey spareribs.

The best spot to indulge in the Chinese capital’s tradition of devouring roast duck is at Dayali Beijing Roast Duck. The table is classically set with sliced scallions, cucumbers, Chinese pancakes, and hoisin. When a mountain of crispy roast duck arrives at the table enjoy a DIY dinner wrapped up as a warm crepe.

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