Spice City Toronto: A 24/7 Taste of Persia
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Spice City Toronto: A 24/7 Taste of Persia

Satisfy those 4 a.m. saffron-rice cravings at a Don Mills bar and restaurant.

Darband Restaurant's lamb kebab with saffron rice.

In a dingy strip mall in Don Mills, there’s an amazing restaurant that serves what just might be the best rice in Toronto. Darband Restaurant is a 24-hour bar and restaurant that serves Iranian food. In fact, the 10-year-old restaurant is often busiest at 4 a.m., as it serves as a gathering place after concerts and other events in the Persian community.

I used to work nearby, and I came in here often for lunch to get the delicious koobideh kebab ($8.99), skewered strips of seasoned ground beef. The portions were giant, so I would save half and eat it for lunch the next day. It was always served with a mysterious plate of raw onion and parsley. Turns out this is meant to aid digestion, the waitress told me. A jar of sumac, a red-powdered spice, is on the table to further help with digestion.

Also on the menu: fesenjan ($8.99), a fried-walnut pomegranate sauce mixed with chicken and rice, and ghormeh sabzi ($7.99), sauteed vegetables with veal cooked with dried lime. Vegetarians be warned: you won’t have much to eat here, save the fried eggplant appetizer.

I started out with the maust ‘khiar, a yogurt and chopped-cucumber spread with mint that was similar to tzatziki. Then I had the chenjeh kebab, made of marinated spring lamb tenderloin ($10.99). The lamb is succulent, tasty, and perfectly spiced. And the rice! It’s incredibly fluffy and buttery, with some of the long basmati grains tinted yellow from saffron.

This style of Persian rice is made by partially cooking it by boiling it, then the water is drained and it’s steamed to completion, resulting in a fluffy rice where each grain is separated. It’s cooked with some oil, salt, and saffron, which adds colour to the plate.

Darband Restaurant (879 York Mills Road), 416-445-1777, open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world. Find more photos and details about Darband Restaurant here.