Han Ba Tang (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 4862 Yonge Street
Website: http://m.mainstreethub.com/hanbatang
Type of Meal: Dinner

Han Ba Tang isn’t the easiest name to remember, unless you’re Korean perhaps, so look for a light green sign amongst the strip of ethnic restaurants along Yonge and Sheppard (you’re close when you’re at the Frog). It’s a jovial atmosphere attracting younger patrons and is more reminiscent of downtown than the suburbs of North York. 

As a warning, you may not want to visit if you’re planning to go out afterwards as ventilation is poor and your clothes and hair will reek of food.

The taco fad continues on their menu. Since Estrella Taqueria closed across the street, North York may support another restaurant trying their hand at it. Han Ba Tang has five flavours available (kalbi, chicken breast, spicy pork, chilli shrimp and asparagus) in single ($4-$5) or trio formats ($10-$11).

If you want to try more than one flavour (and get the trio deal) there is the HBT Tacos deal for $10 including the kalbi, chicken breast and asparagus. The restaurant should just considering charging $11 (the most you’d pay for three of the kalbi tacos) and allow patrons to customize to their liking as the sound of asparagus tacos just doesn’t appeal to the carnivore in me.

My friend and I ended up sharing the kalbi ($5) and chili shrimp ($4) tacos. For me, the kalbi was the highlight with tender strips of beef in a sweet flavourful sauce. The crunch of the coleslaw and sharpness of the raw onions went well with it. The chili shrimp was too over battered for my taste and lacked the spiciness I’d expect from its title.

The kimchi fries ($10 for the small size shown below) is a starred and circled dish on their menu. Presumably, this means it’s the chef’s recommendation as a “must-have” item. Regrettably, this shouldn’t be the case. If you want saucy fries, then sure try out the dish. There’s plenty of gravy, mayo, mild kimchi and green onions on it. But, it’s a far cry from the sour spicy fermented cabbage taste I was expecting.

My favourite dish (and the sole one I’d consider ordering again) was the spicy seafood soup ($10 for a small with an extra $2 for adding instant noodles). Of course, there's nothing fusion-like about it but sometimes tradition wins. The broth was filled with a deep seafood essence and had just the right amount of heat to cause you to sweat a little. Filled with a generous portion of mussels, shrimp, blue crab and vegetables everything tasted fresh and made-to-order. Who knows, I may come back and just order a bowl of this to myself – a satisfying and comforting meal on a cold winter’s night.

I'm also glad there’s now a place nearby that offers inventive cocktails rather than bottles of beer or soju and ginger ale. We watched as the bartender intensely crafted the HBT old fashioned ($10) by cutting up fresh citrus, heating up the peel and swiping it across the lip of the cup.

But, what caught our eyes more was the canisters of soaking soju. What a beautiful display in front. So, we decided on the soju flight ($15) giving us a choice of three of the six flavours (pineapple, strawberry, apple cinnamon, cucumber, citrus and ginger). 

Our waiter suggested the pineapple, strawberry and apple cinnamon. These babies are dangerous as they’re so easy drinking! The apple cinnamon was surprisingly good and would be such a great after dinner drink over the holiday season – wonder if Han Ba Tang could legally sell me a bottle?

Service is friendly but disheveled despite being opened for months now. Getting seated was a bit chaotic. No one seemed to know where to sit guests – at least three people became involved before someone finally decided how to sit three tables of two.

Moreover, promised sitting times don’t appear to be communicated amongst staff – the gentlemen who seated us noted they’d need the table back after two hours but the women (who appeared to be the owner) came over after just over one hour to pressure us to get the bill. Luckily, we had received and finished our food by that time; but, my friend who just received another beer had to finish it hurriedly. To avoid all the confusion, I strongly suggest making a reservation before heading to the restaurant.

Other than the seating fiasco, everyone was pleasant throughout the evening. Food and service came at a good pace and individuals frequently checked on us to ensure needs were met. In the end, I’m glad Han Ba Tang opened up in the neighbourhood and wish more non-chain, not completely ethnic restaurants will join suit. 

Unlike downtown, you won’t pay $15+ for a cocktail or be subjected to ridiculously small portions. But, there also won’t be the fancy phone charging stations seen at Speakeasy 21. I say who needs something that fancy when an outlet, plug and hand drawn sign works just fine?

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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!