Pho and its fellow Vietnamese dishes have been taking over the city’s cuisine for some time, and Toronto’s Ginger is at the forefront of this movement. With complete meals for under $10 and three locations downtown (on Church Street, Yonge Street, and Carlton Street), Ginger is a lunchtime hotspot for downtown residents. What you’ll find here is inexpensive grub that you'll start craving again and again, leaning on the greasy side but delicious nonetheless. Don’t be fooled by the chain's “taste of health” motto — Ginger has a solid relationship with its deep fryer, and its frequent customers don’t have a problem with that.
The Church Street location at Wellesley is known for its must-try pho (Vietnamese soup) and banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), available as a chicken, beef, pork, or tofu sub for $3.50. This location is nestled right in a booming neighbourhood where young professionals working in the downtown core often find themselves looking for a cheap place to have lunch outside the office. This means places like Ginger are packed for most of the afternoon. The inside is decorated casually, with diner-like chairs and tables, offering a nice view of the city street. But if this isn’t to your liking, Ginger offers delivery and take-out options as well.
Most dishes come in huge portions, like the fried fish with ginger lime sauce and tangy green mango rice ($8.25), green curry beef on rice ($6.50), or spicy grilled chicken on fried vermicelli ($6.50), a dish made a bit on the greasy side, but which has enough chilli spice and flavour to get your nose running. Other dishes to try include the delicious crispy, crunchy spring rolls and tamarind tofu noodles, which are saucy and sweet — showing the variety that Ginger offers from its extensive menu. Your biggest problem will be trying to choose what to have. The pad thai in particular has the combination of flavours you've come to expect from a decent Vietnamese restaurant: a combination of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty served with crunchy, sauce-dripping veggies on the side.
The pho is flavourful, but my go-to on these cold winter days is definitely the oxtail or hot and sour shrimp soup. If it isn’t spicy enough for you, there's a sauce station next to the cashier for your use. You really can’t go wrong, because for the same cost as a fancy coffee at Starbucks, at Ginger, you find yourself with a full combo of grilled chicken and spring rolls on rice. Plus, Ginger has a selection of bubble teas, in-house brewed iced tea, and beer for about $4 a bottle.
Where Ginger needs to focus more is in its atmosphere and overall cleanliness. Many customers complain about sticky tables, messy washrooms, and cafeteria-style setting. It's hit or miss with staff friendliness, but the help-your-self way the restaurant is set up doesn’t leave you relying on them for too much, and they’re always quick to bring you your food. If you’re looking for fine dining or a place to impress a first date, this is not it, but for a good bang for your buck and tasty (although greasy) Vietnamese, this is the place to be.