Taste Test: Toronto’s best Kung Pao chicken

Chefs Mark McEwan and Missy Hui try the city's top take on a Chinese classic

Traditionally a spicy stir-fry of chicken and peanuts, Kung Pao has since taken on some sweetness. Chefs Mark McEwan and Missy Hui use their expert palates to rank the best variations of this sweet and fiery dish perfect for Lunar New Year or a spicy Valentine’s meal.

“This one has the best depth of flavour,” says McEwan, and Hui agrees. “It’s rich, and it hits your taste buds in all the areas,” he says, adding that you can see whole peppers in the dish.
900 Don Mills Rd., $14.99

It was almost too close to call. McEwan praises the “excellent spicing with a real robust umami taste to the sauce thanks to the fish base. It has a very authentic sauce in terms of reduction.”
69 Yorkville Ave., $20.95

“The meat is super tasty and tender, and there’s a little kick and boldness in flavour,” says McEwan. “I think it’s marinated dark meat, almost minced,” adds Hui. “The vinegar in it is quite nice.”
1496 Yonge St., $18

“If it was a little less sweet, it would be the best one,” says McEwan. Hui agrees, adding, “It is too sweet, but it has the most traditional flavour to it with the peppercorns and the chilies.”
160 York Blvd., $10.99

McEwan is not taken with the flavour, saying, “It’s really very flat on the palate.” Hui is more appreciative. “It has cucumber. That’s neat. It’s very northern Chinese to have sautéed cucumber.”
108 Chestnut St., 2nd floor, $22 

“It’s very Canadianized, which I love,” says Hui, adding, “The sauce is nice but has a high sugar content.” McEwan says, “This more North American version is a little goopy, but the chicken is good.”
2685 Yonge St., $12.50

Hui says, “It’s not that spicy, though it builds a little at the end.” McEwan likes the sauce but says, “This one is the least attractive. It hasn’t been thickened with cornstarch. It’s in the middle of the pack.”
10 Ravel Rd., $14.50

“The stir-fried celery holds a special place in my heart — it adds dimension,” Hui says. McEwan comments that, although the composition is nice, the taste is neutral: “It was a little mild in flavour and spice.”
338 Spadina Ave., $13.50