There’s a few restaurants out there that, upon visiting for the umpteenth time, make me say to myself “Huh, I can’t believe I’ve never reviewed this in my blog”. Papa Chang’s is one of those places. Funnily enough, after getting married I (relatively) recently moved into a neighbourhood that’s actually closer to this restaurant than my old place. So I suppose it’s a sign, the stars have aligned, cats and dogs living together (whoops, wrong quote), I HAVE to review this place now.
Toronto isn’t short of Taiwanese restaurants. In fact, you can view a lot of them right here (who’s that handsome dude who wrote this Dickensian article, I wonder?). But Papa Chang’s has always been, and most likely will always be, my favourite. Coincidentally, the post also lists this place first. What a coinkydink.
I first became aware of Papa Chang’s when I visited some food fair or another in Markham many years ago. It may have been Taste of Asia, but I can’t be sure. The fried fish that they sold was so awesome that I could scarcely believe it when they handed me a takeout menu. “You mean this food vendor actually HAS A PHYSICAL LOCATION?”. Needless to say, shits were lost and I immediately went to the restaurant. I loved it ever since and, despite its cramped interior (it seriously feels like dining in someone’s brightly-coloured warehouse) and haphazard seating, have fallen in love with the place, visiting it over and over again.
On this recent visit, I was happy to see that they’ve updated the signage and the menu. The logos now look consistent and cohesive (something that always tickles my fancy as a marketer) and everything felt a bit more organized. It felt like a stronger brand, and I loved that: seeing the place actually become more established and refined. We ordered our regular favourites, hoping that the new sleeker look hasn’t had a negative impact on the food taste. We needn’t have worried.
This time we ordered the popcorn chicken bento box (our favourite!) and the Japanese-style fried shrimp. Yes, this makes this meal a little deep fried-heavy and no, this isn’t the only type of stuff that they sell. But we were craving for some good ol’ Taiwanese street food goodness and these certainly were perfect. We also ordered the Taiwanese sausage + minced pork rice, for good measure.
The popcorn chicken is delicious, as always. Something which I appreciate is how they’re able to ensure that the chicken meat itself is flavourful. Most Taiwanese popcorn chicken I consume have a nice crispy outer layer but pretty bland inner meat. This wasn’t the case here, which I loved. I also liked the vegetables and fish cake that came in the little cute lunch box too, everything was tasty but not overpowering.
The Japanese-style fried shrimp was basically like a poor man’s version of tempura, but using a simple breadcrumb batter instead of tempura batter. These, as expected, didn’t actually have too much taste to them, but were fried just right and went well with the smattering of sauce that they provided. I kind of wished that they had more of the sauce on the side to dip in, but then again I do have a sauce problem.
Finally, the rice bowl. The portion was adequate and the minced pork was lovely and fragrant. I thought the Taiwanese sausage was OK (I’ve always been a bigger fan of the old-school fatty Chinese lap cheongs, but this is hardly the restaurant’s fault) and complemented the dish nicely. It’s a good, filling dish and actually would pair nicely if whoever you were dining with had the Taiwanese beef noodle soup (which we didn’t get this time around but have done so before – DELICIOUS!).
Overall, Papa Chang’s was (and always is) an enjoyable experience. The food is excellent and prices for these dishes, most of which are around $6-$7, basically push it into the stratosphere of excellence for cheap Chinese people like myself. The service is always pleasant, and I find myself craving their dishes from time to time (a good sign for a restaurant). What’s more, I heard they opened up a smaller version of the restaurant in Pacific Mall called Papa Chang’s Express. Long may it continue, Papa!
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
5970 16th Avenue #110
Markham, ON L3P 7R1