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toronto specialties?

  • t

I'm coming to Toronto for the first time tomorrow and was wondering if anyone can tip me off to the kinds of places that are unique to Toronto ie that serve food that you can only get in Toronto (coming from NYC so not looking for the best indian or thai, etc.) did some searching on the board and didn't come up with much besides a few fish and chips places. I'll be around the Rex hotel and looking for somewhere decently cheap. any suggestions greatly appreciated and looking forward to seeing Toronto for the first time! thanks.

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  1. Make your way to the St. Lawrence Market on Front Street at Jarvis for the peameal (canadian) bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery - everyone will tell you that. You'll find a lot to keep you busy there (including Montreal-style bagels, if you're interested)and if you go on Saturday, the north market showcases all manner of local producers. Check out California Sandwiches on Claremont Street (north of Dundas)for a veal sandwich - an Italian-Canadian specialty you don't get in New York's Italian shops. Don't forget to grab a bag of Ketchup flavored chips - strangely a Canadian treat. If you go for the fish and chips you mentioned, do head west on Queen Street toward Strachan and find Chippy's. Head closer to Strachan where you will find Clafouti, a tiny French bakery for top-notch croissants and other treats.

    Finally, should you have transportation I'd recommend a trip north of the city to Centre Street Deli in Thornhill near Dufferin and Centre Streets. That's where, in my opinion, you will find the best Montreal-style smoked meat this side of Quebec.

    That's all I can think of right now. I hope you enjoy your visit.

    7 Replies
    1. re: munster

      Great suggestions on the whole.
      Just one small point- many of the Italian bakeries, delis, sandwich shops, pizzerias and restaurants in New York sell veal sandwiches which are pretty much identical to what you find in Toronto. The veal sandwiches in Toronto are tasty, but you could easily find equal or better in Manhattan.

      1. re: sunnyside

        Thanks for the comments, but I'm not so sure the veal sandwiches are the same. Similar, yes. The hoagies as they call them, with all the toppings and such. In my experience a veal sandwich in Toronto is far superior and, yes, unique. Perhaps our friend from New York could be the judge?

        1. re: munster

          Not meaning to be start anything, but I actually wasn't talking about hoagies.Hoagies are generally similar to our submarines. The veal sandwiches in New York come with tomato sauce on a crusty Italian roll, and optional parm, peppers, mushrooms, onions, just like our sandwiches. I lived in Manhattan for a year, and ate them quite often, so I think that I would have as much insight as the visitor from NY on the subject.

      2. re: munster

        A good Canadian bacon sandwhich is about the only real local food that I've identified. Eating one at St; Lawrence market is about as Toronto an experience as you can find.

        1. re: munster

          Thanks everyone for your help. I had about 3 whole hours to explore as much of the city as I could. In that time, I managed to grab a nice cinnamon-brown sugar croissant from Clafouti and hiked across queen st making my way to the st lawrence market (cool place) for a peameal sandwich which I enjoyed. what is that crunch on the bacon? do they use bread crumbs or something? didn't get a chance to have a veal sandwich so can't compare to nyc but I did get to try ketchup potato chips which I kinda liked. someone we met told us we had to try Tim Horton's for donuts and "nicotine laced" coffee. looked and tasted like dunkin donuts to me. anyway, thanks for your recs hounds!

          1. re: tuber

            I believe the crunch you are referring to is from the cornmeal.

            See ya!

            1. re: Goober

              Yes it is cornmeal, but, oringinally it used to be peameal (obviously).

        2. People talk about

          601 King W Toronto
          (416) 603-2205

          66 Wellington Street W. (54th floor, TD Bank Tower) Toronto (416) 364-0054

          Hiro Sushi Restaurant
          171 King E Toronto (416) 304-0550

          Auberge Du Pommier
          4150 Yonge
          North York
          Phone: (416) 222-2220

          list of restaurants

          Link: http://www.toronto.com/feature/13201/...

          9 Replies
          1. re: keane fan

            I would avoid Susur unless you can call 'service with an atitude' a Toronto specialty! Try Perigee in the distillary district instead! Unique part of this restaurant is that almost all tables faces the huge open kitchen where one can watch and interact with the chefs whilst they prepare your very tasty and innovative 'trust the chef' multi-course tasting menu. The last time I ate there, the gentleman sitting next to my table was actually a NYC food critic who came up specially for the experience!

            Apart from the view, the food of Canoe is borderline mediocre when compares with other Toronto 4 stars restaurants such as Splendido or Chiado. Would go up to CN tower for the view instead and definitely elsewhere for food!

            With NYC featuring such great Japanese/sushi restaurants as Nobu, Sugiyama, JB's sushi and Sushi Yasuda etc. Why waste time having Japanese in Toronto? If ethnic food is in your agenda, then, definitely try out Toronto's Chinese food. I would rank it just a touch behind Vancouver but way ahead of San Francisco and New York. Two must try regional cuisines are Cantonese and Shanghainese. Both types are very close to Hong Kong standard. Unfortunately, most good restaurants are located north of Toronto in Scarborough, Markham, Thornhill or Richmond Hill. If you can't make it up north, then try King's Garden on King Steet West and Lai Wah Heen in the Metropolitan Hotel on Chestnut Street. Both of them can easily surpass what NYC's Chinese restaurnats can offer.

            Finally, I hate to sound overly critical but, once again, with so many world class French restaurants such as Daniel, Bouley, Jean George and Alan Duccase , to name a few, based in the big apple why even bother trying out French restaurants in Toronto?! Use the money for Auberge du Pommier, rent yourself a car and drive out to the wine country in Niagara and have yourself some fine food and Ontario wine pairing experience! The restaurants at Peller Estates Winery or Hillebrand Vineyard are two good destinations!

            Have a nice time in Toronto and don't forget to post a trip report to let us TO Chowhound know of your gastronomic adventure outcome!

            1. re: Charles

              Completely agree with the advice that the better Chinese restaurants are further North close to 'New China Town' (highway 7). I've had King's Garden and found it distinctly bland, unoriginal, and overpriced. There was nothing obscenely bad about the restuarant but it just seemed like a 'theatre district' joint and the prices they charge aren't justified.

              I highly recommend Dynasty, at Bloor and Avenue. Excellent weekend dim sum with good service, a rarity in the Chinese restaurants on highway 7.

              1. re: Charles

                As I recall, our friend from NYC said:

                "I'll be around the Rex hotel and looking for somewhere decently cheap."

                I don't really consider suggestions like Auberge du Pommier and Susur in the "decently cheap" category. But then again, it's just me. Yes they are excellent restaurants but it sounds like he is looking for:

                Something downtown.
                Something different than what he can get at home.
                Something inexpensive.

                For that I would suggest he wander around St. Lawrence Market and try a Peameal Bacon sandwich. Try Fresh on Queen West for vegetarian. Have a wander around Kensington market and try a pattie or an empanada from Jumbo Empanada.

                Go to Burrito Boyz for lunch (it's worth the line up, try the Halibut, it's good!) or if you want something a little more upscale, try Bandido's on King West for their lunch specials - nothing fancy, but good inexpensive Mexican.

                Again, just my suggestions.

                1. re: Mike

                  Due to the much larger numbers of Latin American/Mexican immigrants in NYC, I'm not sure our limited burrito and empanada spots would be that impressive. But they are cheap & near the Rex, yes.

                  I am not a huge Chinese fan myself, but two places in Chinatown that get decent reviews on here are Asian Legend and Chinese Traditional Buns. These two sound a little more unique than the average cheap Chinese lunch offerings. I know that Vietnamese subs exist in NYC, but at $1.50 they are certainly cheap. There are two shops on the west side of Spadina just north of Dundas that sell these. In any case, the Chinatown/Kensington area is close to your hotel, and offers a high density of cheap selections. Look for mangosteen at the Chinese grocers if those are still illegal in the US.

                  Link: http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2002...

                2. re: Charles

                  Please note I'm not trying to start a flaming war here.
                  We have good Chinese restaurants here. I agree that most good restaurants are located north of Toronto.

                  However, I believe New York has better Chinese restaurants compared to Toronto. My parents live in New York, and every time I visit them, they take me to fantastic Chinese restaurants over there. No English menus, my parents have to order all the food. Note that the 'fantastic' comment is for the food, not the restaurant ambience. Manhattan Chinatown has better Cantonese restaurants. Queens (Flushing) Chinatown has better Taiwanese restaurants. Brooklin Chinatown offers better cuisine from the rest of Mainland China.

                  Maybe you just haven't had good Chinese food in New York. I believe our fellow Chowhounds in New York will gladly help you find superior restaurants in your next trip to the Big Apple.



                  1. re: ThomOnTheNet

                    Hi Thom,
                    Thanks for your brief summary of NYC's chinese food scene. Actually, I'll be heading down there in a couple of days! If you can actually recommend a couple of really good ones for me to try out so that I can make comparison with the best of Toronto, that would be great. Every year, business and pleasure took me to a great number of Chinese gastronomic temples in Hong Kong, China, Toronto, Vancouver, San Francisco, New York, London and Tokyo. To date, unfortunately, I must admit NYC's chinese food to be the most un-inventive and least interesting of all of the above. (Thats why I always eat French,Italian or Japanese when I stay in the big apple these days.) Finally, I think I should be able to differentiate good Chinese food from mediocre ones since afterall, I was born and raise in Hong Kong and my family was in the restaurant business!! So, hearing from you that NYC's chinese food is superior to Toronto's really comes as a big big surprise!!

                    1. re: ThomOnTheNet

                      maybe you just don't know where the good chinese rest are or never been to one. Believe me, I have seen too many people who don't know chinese(read/speak) and incapable of ordering good chinese food. hench, never had good chinese food or don't know which rest to go to.

                      1. re: Qiang

                        I used to got to a chinese restaurant with my freind from Macau he would order in chineese and we would get wonderful food... I went back to the sam eplace and ordered the same dish with my non chinese friend and the food was totally different.. canadian veggies instead of chinese, toned down sauce.. etc.. and of course a fork instead of chopsticks offered...

                        So sometimes it is not what you order but who is ordering it...

                  2. re: keane fan

                    all these places are LARGE dollars Susur is probably $400 for two for dinner...

                    If you want inexpensive & true canadian try thr Chip Wagons on Queen Street in front of city hall just east of university for Poutine..

                    All the rest in the area is pretty much international .. good indian across the street for lunch buffet at Little India.. Rex probably has good traditional pub food but I have not eaten there.. Korean at Ho Su at Queen and John

                  3. Portuguese custard tarts. I have never seen them outside of Portugal and Toronto. I heard someone has seen them in London, UK but there is no confirmed sighting. They are very good if you have a sweet tooth.

                    Bakeries near Kensignton Market and along College street would have them. Also, I do not know of a good Portuguese restaurant in NYC - Chiado here is very very good (and their other half - Senhor Antonio - is somewhat more economical and relaxed way to go to Chiado).

                    Peameal bacon sandwiches are not common in NYC either

                    Susur (a restaurant with a creative chef) is an intriguing dining option, though pricey

                    Excellent Chinese food - some would argue it is better than in NYC for certain regional cooking, but I do not know enough - you might want to explore.

                    1. try Malabari Cuisine at Maroli a small family run takeout place at yonge & davisville

                      22 balliol street, beside lazy lizard

                      tel : 416 483 5393

                      1. Here is Toronto food in a nutshell. When I made my first trip to Toronto from the US many years ago, like you, I was really up for a local food experience. I went into a restaurant, looked at the menu and saw "Canadian Cheese." Great! Local food. I ordered it.

                        It turned out to be what I had grown up knowing as as "American Cheese." That, my friend, is the difference between NY and Toronto food.

                        However, you might want to look into Montreal bagels. They are quite differnt from the NY ones and can be very good. But whatever you do, avoid "Toronto bagels," aka bread ith holes in the vener.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Kerr

                          With respect to your personal experiences, I think a subject like "Toronto food" can't be summed up in a nutshell.

                          1. re: munster
                            Vinnie (Benny) Vidimangi

                            It sure can and this is it: "Toronto" has over 400,000
                            Italians-and relatively recent immigrants- and it is virtually impossible to find a decent pizza. In NYC it is very hard to find a pizza that is not good.

                            My suggestion for "Toronto food" is to go to a Hungarian deli (too bad Elizabeth closed, Tuske is further along Bloor and there are others; Prauge on Queen will do) and get some cold cuts and get some buns from a Portuguese bakery (the smaller ones, who still don't use preservatives, avoid Nova Era) and enjoy. Get an apple for dessert from a nearby fruit store, but you need to know your apples. Coffee and donut at Tim Hortons.

                            1. re: Vinnie (Benny) Vidimangi

                              Hey Vinnie,

                              What do you know about Nova Era that I don't? I find their products pretty authentic (what do I know?). Especially the heavy bread made with corn flour and those light, crusty buns. The shrimp turnovers and cod fritters ain't bad either.

                        2. I just came back from New York and there were two things I did not find there that we have in abundance here (rest assured that I found plenty of things I loved there and would love to have here):

                          1) banh mi - yes, they are found in New York but are nowhere as good and as various as in Toronto. the chowhounds on the new york list concurred. walk up spadina to dundas and sample some - my personal fave is the bbq pork.

                          2) good coffee - there are a million of cafes in new york, yet i was forced to get coffee at starbacks. even italian restaurants leaned towards weak coffee. what's up with that?

                          here, one of the best ways to relax is to find a cozy coffee place, grab an espresso and read the paper. some of my favourites are arabesque on dundas and gladstone for arabic coffee and excellent baklava, beaver cafe on queen at dufferin for an americana and an excellent sandwich, and caffee brasiliano for a good espresso or macchiato and some soccer on flat screen tv. these are also in great non-touristy but fun parts of toronto. others will have other favourites, becasue toronto has a great coffee culture (even though the proliferation of starbacks here makes it hard to notice it for newcomers).

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Kasia
                            peppermint pate

                            For coffee, don't forget Louie's at the corner of Augusta and Baldwin in Kensington Market for great java and great people watching any time of year.

                            Kasia, it's funny that you write about banh mi because I've eaten them in SE Asia and New York but not yet tried them in my own backyard. I know there a bunch of shops on the east side of Spadina near Dundas - any in particular you'd recommend? Also, have you ever tried the stuff in the pre-packaged containers from those shops? There's this one thing they make with eggs and rice flour and some other stuff, all fried up - so tasty.

                            1. re: peppermint pate

                              agree on Louie's - sipping coffee on their benches is one of the best things to do in the summer.

                              I don't have favourites for banh mi. I've tried most of the shops on the strip but never remember which sandwiches I like in which shop, so I go fairly randomly. I do think the Spadina places are generally better than the Vietnamese shops in East Chinatown on Gerrard.

                              1. re: peppermint pate

                                My favourite banh mi shop closed recently (Co Yen), but the one right beside it, on the west side of Spadina, just south of St. Andrews, I think, is good too. Prices have increased recently by 50% to the whopping sum of $1.50.

                                Thanks for all the great coffee tips.

                                1. re: blair
                                  peppermint pate

                                  $1.50 huh - well considering it cost me just shy of that for a spectacular banh mi sandwich in Laos, where the cost of living is just a wee less than here, I think I can dig deep and meet their new price. Yes, I meant the places on the WEST side of Spadina so I'll try and find the one you mean. Thanks.

                                  Here's another coffee spot I like. If you're ever in the area, try Black Camel on Crescent, just east of Yonge (opposite Rosedale subway station). Lovely espressos, americanos, lattes, etc. and good fresh sandwiches in a cute little spot with friendly owners. The cafe name isn't posted but it's the one with the picture of the camel out front.

                                  One more thanks - I think you were the original poster for Burrito Boyz. Finally tried it a couple of weeks ago. Who knew they could make such tasty food in a busy, underground shoebox? Very cool spot.

                            2. t

                              Well, it's a Canadian specialty, not just a Toronto one, but once you've have one and realize you can't get them in the States, you'll cry.

                              mmm, ceasars...is the bar open yet?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: TwinklyTerrapin

                                I saw your comments, and just had to add mine. The Bloody Caesar is, quite simply, a monumental cocktail. It's wonderful. It contains at least 3 food groups. Bloody Mary is so boring compared to her Canadian cousin.

                                I love mine with lots o' fresh lime juice, and lots o' Worcestershire.

                                They were invented in Alberta (Banff) for the opening of the Banff Springs Hotel restaurant (I think).

                                1. re: Fwagra

                                  Hmmm...you ALMOST got it right regarding the lineage of the Caesar. The Caesar was, in fact, invented at Caesar's Steakhouse in Calgary.

                              2. Yes I do think Portuguese food is quintessentially Toronto (and ok maybe Montreal but not in such abundance as here). If I wanted to pretend to be a tourist I'd buy some takeout churrasco chicken and some Portuguese cornbread, a bottle of vinho verde and a blanket, and take the ferry to Toronto Island. Sit near the water, enjoy the skyline, and eat that chicken...

                                I love this thread...anyone else with ideas besides peameal bacon and banh mi?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: hungrygrrrl

                                  I agree with Portugese custard tarts and Portugese food in general (although Ferreira in Montreal certainly rivals us). How about Korean walnut cakes or anything else in Korean district on Bloor West? Although, I imagine you can get just about anything in NYC or London that we get here, even if the quality varies. Places like Pacific Mall and J-Town seem unique to Toronto, even if the food isn't.

                                2. Live Organic Food Bar on Dupont is pretty special...

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bestandworst

                                    You're right, Live is fantastic, but I am not sure the raw idea is a "Toronto experience".

                                  2. Agreed, but it was a pioneering resto.

                                    To me the best description of a toronto experience is the ability to enjoy a sampling of great foods from around the world all in one day and on a budget.

                                    As well, no city I know of, other than NY has pizza slices available anywhere and everywhere like we do...but who cares. I would rather have all NY's sold by weight salad bars everywhere.

                                    1. The "Toronto experience" definitely includes elements of multiculturalism, unique experiences/atmosphere, and local ingredients and recipes. Simply copying authentic (or otherwise) recipes from other places around the world doesn't make it a "Toronto experience". Perhaps the recipe or presentation needs a local "twist" for it to qualify. Bestandworst might be on to something when defining it as a "sampling of great foods". However, not everything in the "Toronto experience" is great for everyone - take pad thai made with ketchup, for example, which seems to be popular here (though it's not exclusive to Toronto or Canadian restaurants).


                                      1. it is hard to specify a Toronto specialty, as everyone has said thus far, because toronto's culinary claim to fame is its diversity. So while I would want to say Trinidadian Doubles or good cheap authentic chinese food, they are almost inherently not "Toronto" specialties.

                                        Three things, however, I might venture to say are "Toronto specialties"
                                        1) already mentioned, is Toronto street meat. I'm from New York and love my streetside Sabrett, but I think the Toronto Hot Dog (with the traditional array of toppings including Corn Relish) is my favorite hot dog....it is something I would see as distinctly Torontonian.
                                        2) I could be off base with this but I associate it with Toronto and that is a Brie and Avacado sandwhich. It is pretty self-explanatory. I might only think this a Toronto-food because of the amount of time and money I've spent at the Green and Red Rooms.
                                        3) I'm sure there are, but can't think of any, types of maki or sushi that are unique to Toronto. Is sushi pizza unique to Toronto sushi restaurants? I can't say that I have ever seen it on a menu outside of Toronto. Then again, I can't really afford to eat sushi outside of Toronto.