What is more exciting than planning a culinary getaway to Toronto? Here are a few recommendations and tips for navigating the vibrant and ever-changing restaurant scene and some of Toronto’s hottest culinary tickets.
Park your vehicle. There is an efficient transit system that makes it easy to get around the city. More than that, Toronto is a walkable city of many communities with great restaurants, markets and culinary retailers.
Located on Front Street and operating since 1803, the St. Lawrence Market is heralded as the world’s best food market by National Geographic. The other must-see is Kensington Market, another noted gastronomic attraction, and colourful vestige of the area’s storied history. The market is an expansive multi-cultural culinary scene sprawling across numerous blocks to the west of downtown’s vibrant Chinatown. Both markets remain a fundamental part of Toronto’s epicurean culture, even for the most jaded of visitors.
The revitalization of former industrial neighbourhoods like the Junction with its proximity to High Park has meant a proliferation of upscale restaurants, stylish cafes and indie bars opening along Dundas Street West. The Junction neighbourhood was ostensibly dry until 2001, and the elimination of prohibition has had an irrefutable
effect by attracting a new hip demographic. The Indie Ale House brewpub in the Junction is perfect for craft beer aficionados, who like beer flights or quality upscale food offerings, or maybe just want to pick up a growler to go. Praiseworthy spots in the ’hood are Cool Hand of a Girl, Nodo, and Bricco Wine Bar. Other standouts are Honest Weight, a New England-inspired fishmonger/seafood spot, and a gourmet take-out sandwich shop, Cut the Cheese. The Hole In the Wall is cozy venue for live music, craft beer and cocktails. Don’t forget the Junction Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
Chef Rob Gentile and his partner’s third and most sophisticated restaurant is the style-driven 100-seat Buca Yorkville, on the main floor of Yorkville’s Four Seasons condo tower. A personal favourite, Buca Yorkville has a stylish Italian design sensibility and a seafood-focused menu. The initial Buca, squirrelled away down an alleyway on King Street West, is still one of the city’s great osterias. And Bar Buca, Gentile’s chic aperitivo/snack bar at King and Portland reflects the mouthwatering diversity of the Italian foodscape in Toronto.
A new and great place to check out is the tiny, recently opened southern French-inspired Chabrol, located in the refurbished 20-seat back dining room of what was previously Le Trou Normand. Until this past summer, Le Trou Normand was Yorkville’s oldest French restaurant, where I once worked with a young Susur Lee during the restaurant’s heyday. Speaking of Lee, he recently opened the upscale comfort-food-style Frings with rapper Drake, on King Street — where it remains difficult to get a reservation.
David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar started the “Lucky Peach” empire and that’s why dining at the Toronto outpost attached to the Shangri-La Hotel on University Avenue is de rigueuer before venturing to Chang’s other restaurants, Momofuku Daisho and Momofuku Shoto. With innovative takes on what would ordinarily be considered street food, Noodle Bar’s signature specialty is ramen with pork belly and shoulder, fish cake, and egg — and of course its famed fried chicken. Be sure to pick up a copy of Lucky Peach, a quarterly food and lifestyle journal.
Interesting restaurants paying homage to the nostalgic underpinnings of Canadian food culture are Actinolite, Boralia, Richmond Station and Edulis.
The ingredient-focused and technique-driven Richmond Station is just south of Richmond Street, off Yonge Street. Chefs Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan have a daily chalkboard menu.
What started with a few independents on Ossington has morphed into many resto/bars locating in the in the area in the last couple of years. We appreciate chef Justin Cournoyer and co-owner Claudia Bianchi’s venerated Actinolite restaurant, which was decreed by Toronto Globe and Mail dining critic Chris Nuttall-Smith as “one of the most essential places to eat in Ontario, if not in Canada.”
At Boralia, on the southern part of the Ossington Strip, chefs Wayne Morris and Evelyn Wu offer top notch dishes inspired by indigenous peoples and early settlers — think modern riffs on Canadian frontier food.
Another Ossington hotspot is the 40-seat Bellwoods Brewery located in a repurposed garage. The beer is brewed on site and it’s an alternative spot to pick up a growler.
Chefs Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth’s Edulis is a much acclaimed gem located below the King West beaten track on Niagara St.
The Wychwood/Hillcrest Village is another foodie favourite hub, forging the longest corridor of the most ethnically diverse culinary establishments in mid-town. The southern barbeque at The Stockyards, sustainable ocean-wise certified fish and chips at Sea Witch, and modernist spins on Indian cuisine at Pukka are all highly touted.
The area is also home to Artscape Wychwood Barns, originally built as a streetcar maintenance facility in 1913. The converted heritage building is a community centre and cultural hub with a mix of amenities including arts, culture, food security, urban agriculture, environmental and other initiatives. The Stop’s Farmers’ Market there on Saturdays attracts foodies with its diversity of quality farm fresh food and artisanal products.
The range of choice in Toronto, gastronomically speaking, is endless. Check out my blog for other recommendations, at ethicalgourmet.blogspot.com