Regional food specialties
-Canada's Largest City: So International!
Beautiful Weekend to be here...
...eating and drinking in this world class city
Toronto was my top choice for my most recent recreational trip. As time passed, flight prices rose sky-high to out of country places I had in mind. So why not Toronto? It's not in America and it's only an 8 hour drive from Chicago. After this trip I'm ready to say it's easily the best place to visit that you can drive to in that time frame from here. Hell it might be my favorite city to visit in all of North America. There's also the added bonus of Niagara Falls nearby so if you've never been there to see that, this road trip is well worth it. Totronto has alot of similarities to Chicago down to it's beginnings as the center of the countries Stock Yards. Actually Toronto just passed Chicago in population as it keeps on growing.
Before this trip was decided upon me and some friends have had a trip here planned for when Caribbean Carnival aka Caribana kicks off. It's the largest outdoor festival in North America with over a million visitors each year. It's rare for me to be overwhelmed with food options but there was no way I was going to be able to cover what I wanted to eat on three nights in town. That said I still think I did the city justice with this. It's a vibrant multicultural city that cant be covered in one, two or even three trips thru. The type of place you look forward to going back to and see what else is going on. Let's do it.
Popular Sandwich Shop in Little Italy
We got into town around lunchtime and decided to check out this trendy area before checking in. Traffic is pretty bad in Toronto but we did find it easy to get around in other ways when needed. The Fish Store and YuNes' Sandwiches was a high priority as far as eats go and my hunch was dead on. Fresh fish for sale and grilled sandwiches to-go are what they do. There's a few seats outside but other than that it's small. I went with the Artic Char Sandwich and added on avocado for a bit extra.
YuNes' Arctic Char Sandwich
As tasty as it is pretty. Simplicity wins here. Perfectly grilled Canadian water caught fish with just garlic and herbs served on a soft Portuguese roll by a cute old Asian couple. This eclectic mixture of things became a trend on this trip. After that we strolled over to another spot I wanted to try. I found this BlogTO site to be pretty useful as far as finding locally loved food goes. They cover every last bite.
Another popular Sandwich Shop in the neighborhood called Porchetta & Co.
Porchetta is what they do here. Obviously. Although on our Friday visit they were serving soft shell crab sandwiches which were on special all weekend. If they were half as good as they looked then I know they were great. As was their signature sandwich. The Housemade porchetta with cracklins' topped with grain mustard and Parmesan cheese served on the perfect roll to hold it all together was memorable to say the least. One of the best sandwiches I'll eat all year which puts it in running for the King.
Their Signature Sandwich is one of the best you'll find anywhere
Couldn't ask for a better start with that 1-2 punch huh? We stayed downtown not far from the shopping district which is where you'll find Eaton Centre. It was an absolute madhouse on this Friday around 5p. All of downtown Toronto was, it actually made Chicago seem kind of tame. Eaton Centre is one of the prettier damn malls I've ever walked thru. Taking up an entire block it's multi-leveled with a vaulted glass-ceiling galleria thats modeled after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. I believe I read it's the cities largest attraction with one million+ visitors each week.
Inside the Eaton Centre
I had to leave her behind to do her shopping solo while I went and had a beer. Beer Bistro in Toronto was right down the street from our place of rest so that's where I went. Plenty of good cold beer options here as well as some really nice looking bowls of mussels and what many call the best fries in Toronto. They were just ok. Either I've never had real frites or every place I've ever had them at serves them authentically limp. Still good beer food.
Beer and Frites at Beer Bistro
Toronto has a little bit of an Izakaya Scene going on. It seems that most of these places come from other parts of the world. Mainly Japan but also Vancouver which is where Guu is from. They call themselves "the Pioneer of Izakaya" there on the West Coast and have a 2nd outlet in Toronto. It was on or list for Friday night. Don't miss this.
Guu Izakaya via Vancouver
We put our name down and were told a 35 minute wait which ended up being well worth it. The atmosphere makes you want to drink and the food is well done and of all the places stopped in at on our trip, it probably had the best bang for your buck value. The entire staff is imported from Japan and it's like having one big happy family welcome you to their home. Everything we ate was great, service was top notch and everyone in there was leaving with a smile on their face. Fantastic place. I can easily see why it's so popular.
a peak inside
Scallops Wrapped in Bacon and Takoyaki to start off
Spicy Negitoro (Chopped BC Tuna w/ Scallion)
Grilled Saba Mackerel w/ dill herb, garlic, lemon and onion on sizzling plate
Maguro Tataki (Seared BC Tuna Sashimi w/ Ponzu and Garlic Chips)
We stopped into to a couple other popular izakaya's on this trip. Izakaya Nejibee has over 30 spots in and around Tokyo with their one location outside of Japan located in Toronto. The subway was pretty easy to navigate and well ran. We used it a few times to get around while in town including our trip here. The place is hidden off a busy street in downtown Toronto.
Izakaya Nejibee via Tokyo
Nice place to start the night, or end it I imagine. It was rather quiet here compared to the scene at Guu the night before but it was earlier in evening. Ice cold Asahi from the tap to start was so fresh and so clean. They have different Teppanyaki style items on the menu including their signature "Keichan-yaki". It's a popular eat in Hida-Takayama, Japan made with diced chicken thigh meat, assorted vegetables and a signature sauce served on a sizzling hot plate. Good drinking food. I almost ordered another round despite being headed elsewhere after that.
Saturday around 1a we stopped into Ryoji in Little Italy post bar for some late night slurping. "The only Okinawan-style Izakya in Toronto. With Okinawa's rich history and slightly different culture from mainland Japan, Ryoji offers traditional and inventive Okinawan cuisines and Ramens." This is the first location outside of Japan. There's five others in Okinawa.
Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya via Okinawa
Large space with indoor, outdoor and bar/grill seating available. Our bartender was an engaging guy saying "bet you never expected to find a black bartender at a Japanese bar in an Italian neighborhood in Canada?" but as I said earlier this was a recurring role. Almost 49% of Toronto's population was born outside of Canada. Tonkatsu Ramen is their most popular item and a good way to end a night of drinking. I've never been asked "How would you like your noodles done" when eating ramen before and that was a good start to everything about the bowl with the exception of the meat itself which was too tough.
I spied this place below that was flooded with cabs, some double parked to grab food to go, while waiting outside at Guu Izakaya and went inside to try a samosa as an appetizer.
Popular Cabbie Stop
Had to pass on steam table options but fried to order curry chicken Samosa was good
We made it to a few places as far as drinks go with SpiritHouse being one of the fun ones for crafted cocktails. Yep they've made their way up into Canada, eh. Not cheap, but what places are? Even beer is expensive up there. That said SpiritHouse pours some very good drinks.
Inside Spirithouse for Cocktails
Strolling around town
Saturday Morning was going to be spent at the St. Lawrence Market. This is the day to be there and it was just a 10 minute walk from our hotel so this was one of the things I had on my "must visit" list. I'll just reiterate what everyone else says, why don't we (Chicago) have anything like it? Only answer I can give is that there's not many places in North America that have something similar. What a spot.
St. Lawrence Market
The Market is open Tues, Wed, Thurs and Fri from 8a to 7p. On Saturdays it's open from 5a to 5p and gets full use with a farmers market and the entire south part of the market open for business. "Pictures say 1000 words" is the old saying so I put a little collage together. It can do most of the talking. I'll just add it's an amazing place to walk thru on Saturday's.
Strolling around the Market
Man it was almost torture not being able to buy much since I had no time to cook any of it. They pretty much have any and everything covered as far as food goes. Every last inch of Toronto's oldest market which has been greatly expanded was covered with vendors. I had an excellent wood fired bagel from St. Urbain to start the day. This is just one of many places cooking food to order inside. I also got some stone crab claws for a $1/each off some kid selling them alongside one of the fish vendors permanent stands and tried plenty of samples from other sites inside. The other item I was going to have to give try was Toronto's signature sandwich.
Which one is it gonna be?
The peameal bacon sandwich might be Toronto's most iconic food offering. In a metropolis filled with delicacies from all over the globe, this is an eat people from the city can call their own. Nothing fancy here, it's very straightforward in fact. Just thick cut slices of peameal bacon on a fresh baked Kaiser Roll. What's Peameal? "The name reflects the historic practice of rolling the cured and trimmed boneless loin in dried and ground yellow peas, originally for preservation reasons." St. Lawrence Market has two places that serve a popular version of this. I chose Carousel Bakery over Paddington's Pump.
Peameal Sandwich from Carousel Bakery
The bacon itself was really good as was the bun. So obviously so was the sandwich but if they added an egg and some cheese you got a world class breakfast sandwich to be had here but you cant wish ill-will towards those that don't want to mess with tradition.
Street Performer outside St. Lawrence Market
Toronto's other signature eat might be Roti. Not originally from there but popular around different parts of the globe, it made its way there with the people that eat it. It's a south Asian bread made with stone-ground wholemeal flour consumed in places like Pakistan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka as well as South Africa and the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago in particular. Toronto has all sorts of variations of these on offer. I decided to wait on the Caribbean roti's which should be abundant during Carnival while trying a popular place for East Indian style ones instead.
Eastern Indian Style Roti Shop on Queen Street West
I read this is one of the cities best places for Roti of any kindso I had to try. They were making the roti fresh in the hot stove before filling it with any of their wide variety of options. I chose a butter chicken with some mango chutney on the side. Similar to burritos although this roti wasn't eatable by hand. I was fine with that as it was excellent. Nothing like it here in Chicago that I know of so I may have to go back when I return.
Butter Chicken Roti from Gandhi
My favorite neighborhood on this trip is another popular marketplace that has a multicultural community within it. The entire area of Kensington Market is a National Historic Site in Canada. It's a unique blend of specialty food shops, bars, restaurants and homes where many people from all walks of life in Toronto descend upon, especially on the weekends when it's nice out. That it was on my strolls thru the area which I visited 3 of the 4 days we were in town. Let's have a look around.
Some sights from the neighborhood
Just like St. Lawrence does, Kensington gives shoppers the luxury of a wide range of cooking needs all within a one stop reach. But here they're open for business seven days a week. It's not centered on food though you will find plenty of options for that. It's Chicago's Belmont and Clark mixed with Logan Square, Hyde Park and Maxwell Street Market and whatever summer street festival is going on all rolled into one. Tons of specialty stores ranging from clothes to music with most every bar and restaurant offering outdoor seating in the middle of all of it. If you're looking to step away from the chaos you can check out the world famous Hot Box where $5 gets you a non-alcoholic drink and access inside to pool tables, board games and a nice outdoor space in back to make all those things more enjoyable.
I'll be right back...
I stopped in for research to see what was up. "We do not sell Marijuana" greets you a few times upon entry. But they do have papers, pipes etc. After you give them the fee you're free to play Hungry Hippos, shoot some pool or do whatever it is you do out back. What I walked into was a scene similar to the rest of Toronto. A few young Asian ladies speaking in native tongue followed with some hipsters seated next to a group of well dressed 40 something doctor looking yuppies with a Jamaican crew blowing big ones in back. No violence or tension whatsoever but there were quite a few blank stares. So uh yeah, you know where to roll. My bottle of Ting was as refreshing as ever. As far as crack dens go? I dont know, you'll have to ask the Mayor where to find those.
Toronto is the North American hub for Caribbean people so there's no shortage of snacks from the islands. Mentioned on BlogTO's "Best Patty list" I took note that the Patty King had a location in the Kensington neighborhood. Ever since my first (of many) trips to Jamaica I've had more than one love, beef patties included. This is a Asian-Caribbean owned bakery putting out some top notch patties and a common street food in Trinidad & Tobago called Doubles. They're sandwiches made with fried flat bread with curried chick peas in between. Chutney toppings vary.
Jamaican Beef Patty and a Trinidadian Double from Patty King
Good Mexican Food Too!
While walking around one day we got a whiff of some really great smells coming from a small walk in space with lots of people around it. Upon stronger smells I realized it was a taqueria which goes by Seven Lives Tacos y Mariscos. With the smell too much to pass up we got a spot in line.
Inside Seven Lives Tacos
The people who opened up this popular place came from San Diego so the tacos are reflective of the offerings you'd find there. Both the blackened mahi-mahi and their signature Gobernador were excellent. The latter coming with smoked marlin, shrimp and cheese. At $5 each they weren't cheap but were stuffed as far as fish and shrimp goes. Really good.
Blackened Mahi-Mahi and a "Gobernador" Taco
One of our days walking around we decided to sit-down on the patio at Amadeus which is a Portuguese restaurant around the action. Sausage was good but expensive as were the mussels and sangria. This is one of the few places I'd probable have little interest in going back to but would be down to drink on the deck.
Outdoor Lounging/Dining at the Market
Sangria and Mussels in the sun at Amadeu's
Aside from Guu we had two other dinners planned and unfortunately I forgot my camera in a rush to make our reservation at Enoteca Sociale in the West End. So those of you with the attention span to read this report take note, the place is f'ing amazing. Nothing fancy just simple Roman cooking with the best possible ingredients. Amazing pastas and perfectly paired drinks. Rodney's Oyster House is the 2nd location from a Vancouver original. If you're in love with bi-valves like I am this is a great stop. Wonderful selection from both coasts and plenty of freshly grated horseradish and strong martinis to boot.
The bar at Rodney's Oyster House
a pretty plate of slurpers served
On our last day before heading to the Falls we spent the morning and early afternoon walking around the Spadina avenue Chinatown (there's four total in town) and just like every other market and mall we went too on this visit, it was pretty impressive.
Spadina Avenue Chinatown
I love me some dumplings and had seen the Dumpling House mentioned over at LTH amongst other places and decided to walk in for breakfast which ended up being perfect. An order of the pork ones fried and the pork and cabbage steamed were around $10 and normally would of been more than enough for two people but these were really hitting the spot and as good as any I've had in some time. Particularly the fried ones.
Handmade Dumplings - Steamed Pork and Cabbage
Fried Pork Dumplings
Final activity was to take the drive around some different neighborhoods we hadn't seen since my car was left with the hotel valet for most of the stay. As we did this I was left with wanting more and excited about the prospect of coming back. Added bonus while doing this I also managed to squeeze out a couple spots I'd had on my hit list.
Rolling thru the neighborhoods
The Original Mr. Jerk in Cabbagetown
1/4 Jerk Chicken Dinner w/ Cole Slaw and Rice & Pea's with Gravy
Fantastic 1-2 Punch to end my trip. Mr. Jerk is a popular place with several outlets outside of the original I visited. The chicken might of been a tad bit dry from sitting in the warmer but it was authentic with hints of smoke and a really nice paste on top of the gravy they lace over the rice. Some of the better stuff I've had outside of the island served by a sweet Chinese-Jamaican lady.
Pizza Pide in East End of Toronto
Turkish Pizza from Pizza Pide
I've never been to Turkey but now love me some Turkish style pizza courtesy of Pizza Pide. Fantastic! I got the Turkish sausage with cheese after a long contemplation of some excellent looking offerings. It was enough to feed two ($10) which worked great because the leftovers were better than anything I was eating in Niagara Falls later that evening. All the side toppings of parsley, onions, lemons etc and the bread itself was something I want now but know I cant get any until I return to one of the great melting pots in all of the world. Toronto, if you didn't know, you need to go.
Hope you enjoyed the ride...see ya next time
The Fish Store & YuNes' Sandwiches
657 College St
Porchetta & Co.
825 Dundas St W
18 King St E
559 Bloor St W
24 Welesely Street W
Ryoji Ramen & Izakaya
692 College Street Unit 690
487 Adelaide St W
St. Lawrence Market
95 Front St E
Gandhi Indian Cuisine
554 Queen St W
187 Baldwin St
69 Kensington Avenue
1288 Dundas St W
Rodney's Oyster House
469 King St W
328 Spadina Ave
Toronto, ON M5T 2E7, Canada
209 Wellesley St E
949 Gerrard St E