Owl of Minerva (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 5324 Yonge Street
Type of Meal: Dinner

Owl of Minerva is a Korean chain restaurant with locations throughout the GTA.  I’ve only ever been to the North York location, which is opened 24 hours and busy no matter what time you visit.  It’s a no-frills restaurant with quick turnover, so even if there’s a line-up you can normally get a table in less than half an hour.

During warmer weather, Owl of Minerva offers Korean barbeque on their patio out back between the chaotic parking lot and the restaurant itself.  They were smart enough to build a wooden fence around the patio so that you’re blocked off from the unsightly parking lot.  Even though you’re sitting outside, it can still get smoky so this is really somewhere you eat if you don’t mind smelling like food afterwards.

Unlike typical Korean barbeque joints, it’s not all you can eat and there are a limited number of types of meat available (five). My friend and I shared the beef rib combo ($35.99) which comes with five pieces of kalbi, four bottles of beer or a bottle of soju, a soup to share and some vegetable wraps with fixings.  Dishes for one, which comes with three pieces of kalbi, are available for $13.99.  Beer is available for the low price of $3.50 a bottle so you can easily make your own combo.
The staff there happily cooks the meat for you, if you’re squeamish about doing it yourself.  However, they do it too quickly and the fact they keep putting the tongs back in the raw meat juices after using grosses me out.  So, my preference is to cook it myself.  Even though Owl’s staff speaks limited English, they are friendly and try to be helpful at explaining on how to prepare and eat the barbeque.

Owl’s kalbi is a nice thick even cut, but served as-is so relies heavily on the bean sauce and fixings to add flavour.  I would have liked the meat to be marinated prior to adding to the grill to give it more depth of flavour.

Everything is served ssam style where Owl provides you with a basket of vegetables (romaine lettuce, napa cabbage and perilla leaves), a sweet bean sauce, marinated onions and a green onion & lettuce salad.  You simply take a piece of meat, add some sauce & fixings and wrap it in a leafy vegetable before eating.  It’s a great summer alternative for a lighter meal.
Additionally, the meal comes with two banchan – kimchi cabbage (which they serve in hot by putting on a bowl on the grill) and kimchi pickled cucumbers.  I’m a little disappointed with the limited amount of banchan as that’s what I enjoy about Korean barbeque.  A bowl of chicken and bean sprout soup also arrives in a bowl to share amongst the table.
Without a doubt, Owl of Minerva’s “star feature” dish is the kamjatang or pork bone soup ($7.99).  No table comes into Owl without ordering this hearty spicy savoury stew of pork bones, a large hunk of potato and napa cabbage.  Topped with diced jalapeno and cracked pepper the deep red soup has a kick to it.  If you ask for it extra spicy they will add red chili flakes to it, but watch out that gets very spicy. 

The best part of Owl’s pork bone soup is it’s served in a hot stone bowl and generally arrives bubbling hot.  I’ve included two pictures below, the first taken by me over a year ago with my less than ideal Blackberry camera and the second by someone who obviously has way better skills than me.  In all fairness, the second photo actually looks more like what you expect to get.

Pork bone soup is perfect for Canada’s cool weather and really warms you up.  Served with a bowl of white rice and dishes of banchan (cold cabbage kimchi, pickled cucumber kimchi and turnip kimchi), it’s a great value meal and super filling.
Throughout my years of eating at Owl, I’ve tried other dishes including their bibimbap, bulgolgi, stir fried kimchi pork belly, pan fried seafood pancake and hot & sour chicken wings.  All these other dishes are good, but nowhere as good as the pork bone soup.  So, if it’s your first time trying Owl of Minerva, you need to make sure you have at least one pork bone soup for the table to share.  But, keep in mind there are generally only three bones that come with it so you may need more than one or risk fighting for this great dish.

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System
  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!