In Canada’s bustling commercial capital, there’s newfound vigour – several landmark building projects have been commissioned and there’s a thriving arts and design scene, punctuated with a myriad of cuisines that define the multicultural identity of Toronto. While the city has always been known as the frontier town where new immigrants to the country land, bringing their native flavours, its gourmet scene is seeing a new freshness. As older and rougher neighbourhoods are revitalised and newer precincts emerge to accommodate Toronto’s ever expanding population, their gastronomic influence too is evolving, and there isn’t a better way to experience this than to explore its various districts.
West Queen West
If London has Shoreditch and New York City has Brooklyn, then West Queen West (spanning an almost 5km stretch along Queen Street) is Toronto’s answer to those iconic hipster hoods. Packed with artisanal shops, galleries, designers and artists, it has become the city’s creative epicentre. The chic bars on the ultra-cool Ossington strip and the upscale family-friendly neighbourhood Trinity-Bellwoods, located slightly up north, have turned it into a truly stylish outpost. And a number of dining establishments have set up shop there.
A fine example of the new breed of eateries that has recently appealed to Torontonians is the hidden Spanish tapas bar Attico (ricardas.com), which is modelled after speakeasies. Sample the sophisticated cocktails, which are served alongside Northern Spanish pintxos.
Another new entrant to the scene, Canis (canisrestaurant.com), is a sleek restaurant with a well-curated bistronomy menu highlighting seasonal produce. Feast on dishes such as beef tartare served over a bed of creamy garlic aioli, sunflower seeds and tangy pickled onions, heirloom tomato salad and buckwheat, as well as white chocolate ice cream.
With Hawaiian-inspired fresh poke bowls all the rage around the world, how could one of the coolest hoods in the world be not expected to be in on the game? A new opening, Pokito (pokito.ca), doesn’t just dish it up in bowls, but also rolled up like burritos in seaweed wraps. Diners can design their own mix-and-match combinations.
With millennial start-up entrepreneurs and creative types moving into King West, down south from Queen West and flanked by Bathurst Street on the west, the place is becoming the ultimate urban playground. Its close proximity to the financial district means that it’s home to high-income professionals who’re more than willing to splash their cash at one of the many cool bars and restaurants in the neighbourhood, where historic factories have been converted into avant-garde leisure and retail destinations.
Lavelle (chezlavelle.com), a contemporary French restaurant and rooftop bar, lets you enjoy downtown views from an interesting and rather glamorous 16th-floor poolside setting. Its herb-encrusted lamb with polenta fries is highly recommended, and is best downed with some original beverage concoctions from its hip bar.
For a taste of rustic Canadiana, head to Beast (thebeastrestaurant.com), a restaurant that champions local produce from sustainable farms and serves poutine-style dishes. Try their tasting menu to figure out your favourites before ordering from the full menu selection.
There’s rarely a cuisine that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in Toronto. Newcomer Baro (barotoronto.com), a modern South American eatery that serves innovative Latin food and drinks. If the Colombian empanadas stuffed with beef and served with pork chorizos are too hefty, try the yellowtail ceviche from its raw bar.
This fashionable outpost has come a long way from its bohemian days in the 1960s. Well-known Canadian singers Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are rumoured to have started their careers here. Fast forward to the early 21st century, and its hippy streets have earned the moniker “Mink Mile” due to the presence of high-end brands such as Hermes and Chanel, condominiums, and fine dining restaurants. Celebrity chef Daniel Boulud spotted the area’s potential and set up Cafe Boulud at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Chabrol (chabrolrestaurant.com), a small, cosy bistro serving French comfort food, proves that passion projects often turn into some of the most successful ventures. For an ideal lunch, try the sumptuous foie gras and baked escargots with a selection of fine French wines.
Toronto is nothing if not innovative. Just head to Planta (plantatoronto.com) to understand the city’s varied approach to food. Paying homage to Canada’s fresh and seasonal vegetables, the eatery, as the name explains, serves only 100 per cent plant-based dishes in its uber-modern interiors. Expect artfully presented novel items such as coconut ceviche, carrot dogs, and cauliflower tots, cooked using the same techniques that are more commonly seen in meat dishes. Cocktails featuring cold-pressed juices also feature prominently on the menu.
During the annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the area becomes the popular haunt of celebrities and paparazzi. Try the iconic Sassafraz (sassafraz.ca), which takes great pride in its French-inspired menu which features lamb meatballs and spiced duck pate.
Built around the dynamic Yonge (pronounced young) and Dundas Square, the area is packed with restaurants and bars. At the square itself, visitors can enjoy free concerts, movie screenings, and music and cultural events.
Located in a former historic art deco building, Lena (lenarestaurante.com), is a South American restaurant that serves breakfast dishes like potato egg tortillas and bar bites like quail eggs and salt cod fritters, culled from its executive chef’s family recipe book. Visit during cocktail hours to sample some innovative mixology.
For more drinks, check out Clocktower Bar (clocktowerbar.ca), a minimalist nature-themed cocktail venue, which is fast becoming a go-to place for connoisseurs of expertly created libations.