...Without eating some of the best food you've ever tried.
Having lived in Toronto now for seven years, I have come to learn firsthand that it is an incredibly diverse city. There are neighbourhoods where - upon entering - you are transported to a different nation. You hear different languages spoken, and even the street signs and shop windows feature foreign and sometimes exotic words. The most noticeable, however, are the smells emanating from the different food vendors. Food in Toronto runs the gamut from high-end restaurants with award winning chefs at the helm to humble stalls and food trucks. Uniting all are a sense of the diversity that makes Toronto unique.
A visit to Montréal would be incomplete without a visit to Schwartz’s Deli, and anyone hungry for some delicious smoked meat deli here in Toronto should visit Caplansky’s. They’ve got all-day breakfast, sandwiches piled high with smoked meat or corned beef, and knish!
On the other end of the food spectrum is the recently arrived Momofuku. There’s the noodle bar where you can grab a quick lunch of hot, spicy noodles, or daishō and shōtō for something more upscale. No matter what, don’t forget to go to the tiny glass cube above the Noodle Bar called Milkbar. Unlike the New York locations, you can’t get ice cream at the Toronto Milkbar, but you can get some of the best, chewiest cookies in the city, and a slice of the aptly named Crack Pie. Though Momofuku is a New York instituion, it’s arrival has been very special for Toronto. It’s also nearly hidden right in the downtown core on University Ave. It’s got international appeal, but it feels incredibly local.
For another Asian-inspired meal, try Toronto’s very own Bánh Mì Boys. They’ve taken the already delicious classic Vietnamese subs and made them their own. From crispy pork belly to duck confit, and fries piled high with kim chee, you can enjoy a local and independent spot right on the cusp of Chinatown.
Moving on from Chinatown brings to a little further Northwest to Little Italy and Little Portugal. There’s nothing elegant about eating a huge veal sandwich, cooked spicy, and topped with the works but you’ll be glad you did. The first time I tried California Sandwiches I was hooked. The place is easy to miss but placed by the often long line up going in the door, and hands clutching grease-spotted bags coming out. These sandwiches are big and messy, with thin crispy veal coated in bright red sauce and they are the best in the city. The best thing to do upon completion of one of these sandwiches is to walk a few blocks to College Street to get some ice cream. There are a few go-to spots in the city (roasted marshmallow at Greg’s isn’t to be missed!) but in Little Italy, The Big Chill is the place to go. They have tonnes of options from decadent ice creams to dairy-free fruit ices, and exotic flavours - any one you choose packed into a still-warm, freshly made waffle cone. You can even get your scoop topped with whipped cream and a miniature oreo!
Though Toronto does international foods in both inventive and traditional ways, one of the things that Toronto restaurants do best is burgers. In the city you can get gourmet burgers, gigantic burgers, and some of the best diner-style burgers this side of In’N’Out Burger. There’s nothing better than when humble food is done simply with the best, freshest ingredients possible. In Toronto, that means Burgers Priest. There’s a few locations of Priest now, but the one thing they all have in common is that they serve no-fuss burgers and fries and they do it the best. Beef is ground fresh on-site, grilled to order, and served up with a few simple toppings on a white bun. No bells and whistles here, simply the best humble burger you can find here in the city.
Finally, there are a few hole-in-the-wall places that I’ve come back to year after year. They aren’t fancy and they seem almost to be lost in time. Orders are yelled back to an anonymous cook in the tiny kitchen and part of you wonders about how clean that kitchen may be. Your doubts fall by the wayside, however, because the food is too alluring to ignore. In Kensington Market, there is Jumbo Empanada. The side of the building is adorned with an anthropomorphic empanada, smiling and waving, inviting you into the cramped space beyond the sliding door. You order at the counter and hope to get a seat. Your savoury little pocket of beef, chicken, or cheese will arrive in a little brown paper bag with a side of the best homemade salsa I’ve ever tasted. Though Torontoians seem to love their burritos, I’d take an empanada with extra salsa any day. Better still is that Jumbo Empanada is located in the heart of Kensington Market - a can’t miss spot to visit in the city. To work off your empanada (and maybe a churro for dessert) you can peruse vintage clothing stores, record shops, and paper goods from local designers at Kid Icarus.
Another easy-to-miss spot is found on one of the biggest intersections of the city - Queen St. West and Bathurst. There’s a humble sign hanging in front of the shop that says simply “roti” . That’s all you need to know when you enter the shop called Gandhi. The roti are huge, fresh, and spicy. There’s only about three tables in the restaurant, but if you can get one you won’t want to leave.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my personal favourite. Café La Gaffe is hidden between the Art Gallery of Ontario and Chinatown and serves (in my opinion) the best Eggs Benedict in the city - indeed, the best I’ve ever had. How could your favourite meal not be brunch when you’ve got perfect hollandaise, crispy fried potatoes, and freshly squeezed orange juice on the table?
Finally, when in doubt get street meat. It’s probably the least glamourous option, but there always seems to be a hot dog track around when you need one. The food is hot and much more delicious than one would think. If you’ve had a few to drink, and you’re stumbling out onto the street after last call there’s nothing more alluring than one of those little yellow carts. You can pile your hot dog high with saurkraut or corn relish, fresh onions, or bacon bits. It’s greasy and messy but there’s no more satisfying meal than the one eaten on the sidewalk while mustard drips onto you shoe.
Toronto is a diverse place and that diversity leads to some of the best foods the world has to offer. Within the space of only a few blocks one can travel the world, experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of exotic places amidst the honking cars and bell-ringing cyclists.
This post was inspired by Vroom Vroom