First Look: Hot Bunzz, the latest Toronto Underground Market success story


Sicilian sausage bun (Images: David Ort)

The list of successful Toronto Underground Market vendors that have made the jump from pop-up to full-fledged restaurant includes La Carnita, Rock Lobster, Fidel Gastro's and Seven Lives. Now Hot Bunzz has joined the club, but founder Mark Oliver has taken a slightly different route.

Oliver licensed the name, concept and menu to Mandy Lau, who has just opened an upscale food court known as Urban Bistro at Yonge and St. Clair. Urban Bistro has three counters, each with a different menu. Hot Bunzz is one, and there's also a salad bar and a stir-fry station.

Lau has over 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry (including a stint as franchise owner of the Lettieri and Hero Burger combination that was last in the space), and he noticed that Cantonese cuisine still sits outside the mainstream in Toronto. Urban Bistro offers a quick-service take on the style.

In the beginning, Oliver and his team will provide training and support behind the Hot Bunzz counter. The menu — inspired by Oliver's lifetime of travels through Asia — features familiar staples from the pop-up. The buns, stuffed with protein-heavy filling, are Oliver's rough adaptation of Chinese bao, featuring Western flavours that range from Brazilian BBQ beef to vegetarian options like Quebec three-cheese with mushrooms and spinach.

The Hot Bunzz menu has some complex combinations that deserve a special explanation. One bun from the standard “street cuizine” menu, plus a soup or salad and a drink, goes for $8. It's $9 for a combo with the daily featured bun (pork belly, Canadian elk and bison short rib are examples), $10 if you want to add a second bun from the regular list (which includes spicy Sicilian sausage, Thai basil beef and Texas pulled pork) or $11 to double up on the featured bun. Hot Bunzz also does six buns with a large salad (designed to be a family takeout meal) for $20.

The fixed location doesn't mean an end of pop-up appearances for Hot Bunzz. The vendor will be at the Field Trip Music & Arts Festival (in collaboration with TUM) in June, as well as the lunchtime Tasty Thursdays at Nathan Phillips Square and the ROM's Friday Night Live events.
For now, buns are available from 11 a.m. to close, but Oliver says they are working on developing options for breakfast along with a sweet afternoon snack.

Hot Bunzz at Urban Bistro, 21 St. Clair Ave. W., 647-748-5510

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