by Andrew Coppolino
Yes, you can easily tell: school is back in session. That much is obvious from the busy and crowded streets near any university with throngs of students, tightly packed and grouped together, as they make their way through the course of a day – including the pursuit of, not higher knowledge, but something good to eat.
Here are a few selections, grouped in a few “zones” that anyone, and not just students, can put on their list of restaurants to check out.
Waterloo Restaurant Zone 1 – King Street and University Avenue
There must be two dozen varied food outlets in these couple of blocks, from finer and more expensive dining at the inimitable Bhima’s Warung for the best Indonesian fare in southwestern Ontario, to the fabulous wings – and the tens of dozens of them they serve weekly – at sports bar Morty’s.
The new Poke Box in the plaza on the west side of King Street across from Bhima’s is owned by a University of Waterloo graduate who also owns a sister restaurant in the financial district in Toronto. The boxes can be raw or cooked, can be very healthy and are certainly filling. Next door is the popular Meltwich Food Co. for a variety of cheesy-melty sandwiches, along with an amazing fried schnitzel-like chicken creation that you can enjoy at Hot-Star Large Fried Chicken as well; it’s a piece of chicken that’s as large as your face. And there are several congees available at Jia Jia Lok, too, if you’re looking for that dish.
There is also an “annex” to this zone that includes a few of the arboreal streets in the area, including Hazel, Balsam, Hickory and Spruce streets. There you will find hidden treasures such as Bogda on Balsam, which serves Uyghur food (peoples of the Xinjiang Automous Region of China). On the lower floor of a similar apartment complex on Spruce is MiMO Thai Kitchen; they prepare some excellent Thai and Vietnamese dishes, like their khao piek sen noodle dish. King Tin, a few doors down, has a buffet, dim sum and among the best Cantonese crispy chicken around.
Waterloo Restaurant Zone 2 – Lester and Hickory
Pilaf on Lester Street features Indian and Pakistani rice dishes – hence, the reference in the name – while Chickooos Peri Peri Flamed Grilled Chicken picks up on the recent trend that draws on Portuguese (and its ancient discovery – if not imperialist appropriation – of Angolan ingredients) peri peri spice. Also on Lester, The Watchtower doesn’t have anything to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses but a lot to do with gaming and entertainment fun – along with wings and Watchtower burgers. In addition, while it’s tucked in behind a couple of buildings, spending some time looking for Bao Sandwich Bar on Balsam is an absolute must: it is full-value for banh mi and bao.
Waterloo Restaurant Zone 3 – University Plazas
At University Avenue on both sides of Phillip Street are plazas that hold a couple of dozen dining possibilities. A second location of Shawarma Plus (their first is in zone 1 across from the Laurier Athletic Complex) is in the main plaza, and alongside of it is DoShack (pronounced “dough shack”), a new pizza joint that has replaced Urban Bricks (which sadly came and went rather quickly). Next door is the popular Aunty’s Kitchen for Indian and a door or two down is Morals Village for hot pot (hey, they are the self-proclaimed “Szechuan hot pot tripe experts”); hot pot is a little more expensive, but it’s an interesting food experience. Among several more, including a Persian restaurant, there is also Lazeez Shawarma and the long-standing Kick Off for pub grub and an excellent beer selection. We would be remiss if we did not head across Phillip to the old favourite for diner fare, Mel’s Diner: it’s just as popular as ever. There is also top notch ramen at Kenzo as wells as Mr. Yin for steamed bao.