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Toronto's Best Food Neighbourhoods?

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In which part of the city do you think a Chowhounder would be happiest?

In terms of grocery stores and specialty shops, my vote is for Bloor West Village. They have several bakeries and delis, quality butchers, a notable fishmonger, as well as excellent produce from several vendors. Even their No Frills is higher quality than most, making it a good stop for cheap non-specialty groceries. I can't think of any other Toronto neighbourhood that has so much in one area. Maybe Kensington, but the quality there can be dubious.

St Lawrence Market is obvious, but I'm thinking more along the lines of businesses that span several blocks.

I ask because I'm about to move and find myself trying to think of what parts of the city would offer the most convenient and high quality food options. BWV really impressed me, but there may be something better out there, so let's hear it.

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  1. The problem with BWV is there are no good restaurants there (unless I just don't know about them, which is possible).

    I might vote for the area around Rosedale subway - because of the five thieves, and how near it is to good restaurants at every price point.

    I might even vote for my own neighbourhood (Queen & Bathurst). The Healthy Butcher and Fresh & Wild have stepped up on the grocery front, plus we're within walking distance from Kensington and the Yorkville Pusateri's and Whole Foods. And there are a trillion pretty-good midrange resturants.

    5 Replies
    1. re: spigot

      You're right, BWV doesn't have the same advantage in terms of restaurants. I've eaten at Sunset Grill, Queen's Pasta, Bread and Roses, and Bryden's -- all of which provided satisfactory experiences for what they were worth. But the real star of the Village seems to be its convenient collection of specialty purveyors.

      The five thieves are indeed convenient (I live near Yonge and St Clair), but the exuberant costs keep me from returning too often. Preppy Rosedaleites with bottomless pockets might shop there without reflection, but I can't. They lose points in the value department.

      But it's true, if I were rich and oblivious, that whole Summerhill intersection would be a haven. The LCBO superstore is a big bonus.

      1. re: SxCx

        What about Toro and Bloom in BWV? Bloom has got a couple of bad reviews recently. But Toro has been consistently good.

        I have also been to Sharkey's and the Yellow Griffin. Both are decent for what they charge.

        1. re: cecilia

          I must agree with your first paragraph...but Sharkey's & the Griffin both leave a lot to be desired...more so the Griffin...I don't know why people go there...maybe the worst service I have ever encountered..

          1. re: BloorWestie...

            agreed.. i was hoping it was a one time offense when i was there (I couldnt believe how long it took for a burger and fries to come and they even messed up our orders for sides.. people were begging me to take their order, and i would have done anything to just go in the kitchen and cook the damn burger myself).. will NEVER go back.

      2. re: spigot

        Queen/Bathurst to Yorkville must be more than a 30 minute walk!

      3. I used to live on the Danforth (near Riverdale, but on the north side), and that was a fantastic foodie address. From Pape to Broadview you have:

        1. Sun Valley - Pusateri-esque grocery with "high-end" items including meat and produce.
        2. Big Carrot at the Carrot Common is a fantastic organic grocery (meat from Cumbrae and a takeout counter too).
        3. A Loblaws at Broadview and another grocery (IGA?) at Pape.
        4. Traditional Greek bakeries plus some great new patisseries.
        5. Traditional butchers and a fishmonger.
        6. Plenty of greengrocers.
        7. LCBO on the strip.

        Most of the Greek restaurants are admittedly mediocre (my fave was Avli), but there are all sorts of reasonable ethnic options (Japanese, Italian, Thai, Indian), decent pub food, and (for high end) the Globe Bistro.

        If you're ambitious in summer months, you're trekking distance from the little Chinatown at Broadview and Gerrard, and to Little India at Gerrard and Coxwell(ish), and the new Leslieville-ish strip.

        I also find that the Danforth feels a little less "isolated" than BWV - it's a little closer to the downtown core when you want for more options.

        Oh, I miss that neighbourhood...
        Rab-bit!

        20 Replies
        1. re: Rabbit

          Is there a decent (non-Greek) bakery in Riverdale? Because that's always the real stumbling block for any neighbourhood for me - good bread.

          I've been eating the croissants from Bonjour Brioche a lot lately, and to be honest, I'd practically move back to Leslieville just to be nearer to them :-)

          1. re: spigot

            St. Johns Bakery on Broadview just above Queen makes excellent bread. Also you might try Altitude. Less likely is Sweet Bliss, I don't think they have bread.

            1. re: spigot

              Europa on Danforth east of Pape has some excellent baking, but also some crap. The Portuguese baking is good; the Greek not. Other things vary, but it's worth trying if you are nearby.

              1. re: embee

                Yeah, but I have to say that the bread there, well above average, is not stellar. I'd rther go the extra distance and but Ace from Sun Valley (and I think IGA as well). The custard tarts at Europa are, however, sublime, and we have had extremely good luck there with cake, but not consistently.

            2. re: Rabbit

              Interesting, I wasn't aware it was such a fruitful neighbourhood. I may have to revisit.

              1. re: SxCx

                The trick is to do what i do and live halfway between the Danforth and Queen St. That way you get the best of both Greektown and Leslieville, with all the various shopping, bakeries and restaurants that implies.
                Wouldn't live anywhere else.
                R.

              2. re: Rabbit

                Lots of places actually sell rabbit (meat) too :)

                I agree, it's a pretty goood shopping area. Disagree only in that there are no proper patisseries (proper to me means French, my bias) and no great bread. St Johns' bread is available at the Big Carrot.

                I will add a few things:

                Alex Farms for cheese and some decent prepared items in the freezer.

                The No Frills on Carlaw north of Gerrard is great for cheap basic groceries

                Strictly Bulk is good for cheaper organics and some specialty things like "soft" organic whole wheat flour

                There are often great deals to be had on produce at Fruit King - can't count on any given item any given day, but I've bought for example mache, meyer lemons, local wild blueberries & local strawberries there at great prices

                And east of Pape we have Maselli's, where they cure their own prosciutto and make good sausages; Tahsin market for Turkish items (and oddly, the only place where I can find dark maple syrup) and Europa, where they have Portuguese Custard tarts otherwise tough to find in the east end. Their bread could be a lot better though.

                North on Donlands there is also Fresh From the Farm for Mennonite goods.

                1. re: julesrules

                  If I can add to this, Masellis also sells rabbit, and Tahsin sells (but does not make) the best baklava I've had outside of the Middle East. Their secret is the very high pistachio content....

                  1. re: bluedog

                    In a good year, Masellis also makes a darn fine prosciutto, close to that imported from Parma. (I believe the owner spices and cures it himself.) Other years they don't quite nail it, and it's as stringy and blah as any Canuck proscuitto. But when its good its really good.

                2. re: Rabbit

                  For bread, try the North Pole bakery. Limited in scope, perhaps (you won't find any flaxseed bread), but a damned fine bakery, nonetheless!
                  I'd say skip Alex Farms, when it comes to cheese, and make the trek to Kensington.

                  1. re: pouletsecret

                    North Pole? Is that the Italian place, north side near Greenwood? If so I do like their rice balls and will have to try the bread. If not, I'm clueless - where is this place?

                    1. re: julesrules

                      Yes- North Pole is on Danforth just east of Greenwood. I love the rice balls too,plus they have some hot food during the week. And of course all those Italian pastries!!

                    2. re: redearth

                      I've always been skeptical of the Kensington cheese shops for some reason. I remember wandering in once and seeing they were selling mozzarella di bufala for something absurdly cheap, like $4 per portion or something. I'm so used to paying at least $9-$10 that I just assumed there was something wrong with it or it was completely inauthentic.

                      Was I wrong? A "too good to be true" situation...

                      1. re: SxCx

                        No, you're not wrong. The Kensington cheesemongers are notorious for giving someone a sample of one cheese, then wrapping up something completely different for them (I've several times rushed home to excitedly rip open my package, only to discover that the cheese they'd given me was well past the sell by date). Beware!

                        1. re: redearth

                          St Lawerence too. Must watch for this everywhere...

                          1. re: deelicious

                            Surely not at Alex Farms? I've actually never bought cheese at anywhere else in the St. Lawrence Mkt besides Alex...

                            1. re: redearth

                              Alex is at the back i believe and i always buy my 30 yr old cheddar there. The one that looks like cantalopue. It is amazing. I have had problems buying the soft cheeses from both alex and chris' in the past and now I always keep an eye open.

                                1. re: redearth

                                  I've never had a problem at Alex. What was the nature of yours, deelicious? Different cheese? Overcharged?

                                  And, yep, that must have been mimolette.

                                2. re: deelicious

                                  Yes, sounds like Mimolette.
                                  But tell me 30 years was a typo.

                    3. I like St Clair W from Bathurst to Landsdowne, College from just east of Bathurst to just west of Ossington, Bloor from Spadina to Christie and further from Shaw to almost Dufferin, and Spadina from College to just south of Dundas.

                      1. South Bayview/Leaside is pretty solid as well:

                        * Outlets from Cumbrae's and Whitehouse Meats
                        * Alex Farm Products for cheese
                        * Epi Breads (and one other bakery I can't think of)
                        * Nunzio's for specialty grocery, fish, and meat
                        * Loblaws down on Moore, Dominion up on Eglinton for general stuff

                        Plus some notable restaurants like Duff's, etc.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: SxCx

                          Plus there's Bagel House for amazing Montreal bagels and Hollywood gelato for those hot summer days. Then on Mt. Pleasant, there's Celestin and Jules. And on Laird we have Old York Fish and Chips and Viking smokehouse for wonderful smoked meats and fish.

                          1. re: ctl98

                            agreed- i'm at mt. pleasant/davisville area- I think we're spoiled for choice and a good range of high -to-low. Have yet to try Kama Sutra on Bayview, but heard good things. up mt. Pleasant is acquolina (perfect pizza pasta place) lolo (good for a parent meal) over to yonge you've got quite a range from low to high: mariachi's, tabule, grano, quince, zucca...go a little farther north and there's La Vechhia and of course Centro etc..

                            1. re: ctl98

                              Viking smokehouse? I've never heard of this. What's their story?

                              1. re: SxCx

                                It's a small Norwegian store on Laird just south of the smart centre with LNT and Best Buy. They sell sausages, ham, smoked fish (trout, salmon), pastries, mustards and other ingredients (like pearl sugar) which are hard to find elsewhere. Very friendly staff too!

                                1. re: ctl98

                                  Actually it is not Norwegian, it's Finnish (very authentically Finnish). An absolutely wonderful assortment of imported foods as well as homemade dishes and smoked meats and handmade breads abound in this tiny little store.

                                  My grandmother used to shop there regularly (with me in tow as a child) and bring home all these wonderful casseroles and foodstuffs for Christmas (taken VERY seriously in Finland). You can buy traditional dishes such as "rosolli" (marinated diced beet, potato and herring salad) and "pulla" (braided coffee bread fragrant with cardamon) and authentic turnip or potato casserole side dishes and the best salted liquorice in the world!

                                  From Toronto Life magazine:
                                  "Owners Heikki and Liisa Ottavainen are a talented team. While Heikki is busy in his smokehouse, preparing all manner of pork, fish and fowl, his wife, Liisa, labours in the kitchen, turning out a full repertoire of traditional Finnish fare. For starters, there’s cold-smoked salmon, double-smoked bacon, pork chops and ham, homemade sausages and smoked chickens. Customers travel from afar for Liisa’s rye bread (her mother’s recipe) and her heavenly doughnuts. Closed Sunday and Monday."

                                  Located on the east side of Laird south of Eglinton and north of Overlea Blvd. (this is where the small but vibrant Toronto Finnish community is)

                                  1. re: Finn Girl

                                    http://milbreeviking.com

                                    -----
                                    Milbree
                                    133 Laird Dr, Toronto, ON M4G3V5, CA

                          2. The Beach isn't bad. I was impressed with Meat On The Beach when I stopped in there a few months ago. Some decent produce vendors east of Woodbine as well, not to mention another Alex Farm. Didn't spot any fishmongers or bakers, unfortunately.

                            There was an organic food store closer to Victoria Park that was kind of underwhelming.

                            1. Kensington Market. Not so much for upscale stuff as much as for variety and value. Ideal Coffee for some great locally-roasted coffee, The Spice Market for easy access to just about every spice one can imagine, bulk food purveyors galore, My Market Bakery for pizza dough that you can freeze and defrost to make bread whenever you need to, Cheese Magic for a decent selection of cheeses, Urban Herbivore for good vegan and organic soups, sandwiches, and prepared foods, Torito's for decent tapas, La Palette for good bistro fare, steps from Chinatown for tropical fruit stands, and the list goes on.

                              1. I would echo the suggestion that Kensington Market is a great neighbourhood for food stuffs and in the core so your choices for dining are not limited as compared to BWV. By the way, what happened to College St.? I went there on a saturday night and it was empty, and I had the misfortune of getting one of the worse tiramisu in a chocolate egg shell i've ever had from a bakery there :(

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: yellowjello

                                  College (specifically Little Italy) isn't the mecca people make it out to be. Outside a handful of specialty shops and worthwhile restaurants, I don't find anything particularly remarkable about the strip. The outdoor produce vendors near Montrose gross me out as half their stock is wilted or rotting at any given point, the Dominion at Crawford is one of the worst maintained I've seen, and Diplomatico is one of the most perplexingly overrated food spots in the city. If it weren't for the patio, I don't know how they'd stay in business.

                                  1. re: SxCx

                                    Yeah.. the Dip is all about the patio and cheap food. Nobody goes there for high quality grub.

                                    College has a few good spots but sadly it doesn't make the grade as a culinary destination. Cuccina is good, Reggina Trattoria is good, Gamelle is very good, Giancarlo is good but over-priced, San Francisco's makes a great Veal sandwich ... for meat and cheese, Grace Meats is good but can be a bit expensive. As for produce, Little Italy can't be beat - at least in the summer - but you need to live in the neighborhood and either grow your own tomatoes, or live next door to an old Portugese or Italian couple that does. :^)

                                    Salut

                                    1. re: SxCx

                                      I totally agree with you both - College really isn't that great - I haven't been there in years.

                                      And actually, speculating ........I wonder if maybe every Toronto generation has its own brief College Street fling? Like when you're in your mid-twenties, and in lifestyle terms, you're kind of midway between Cora Pizza and Kalendar. You've been to Europe, and you think takeaway gelato is the height of sophistication. Woo hoo! :-)

                                  2. What about the Bay/Wellesley/Yonge area:

                                    Church St -- Cumbraes, Pusateri's and Reithers
                                    Manulife - Alex's Cheese
                                    Then there are the really customer oriented 'convenience stores' in the area like Rabba and Freshie who have the oddest selection of ethnic ingredients based on what their customers' request. Plus a Whole Foods, Sobeys and Dominions and Valuemart within spitting distance for basics. And chinatown / kensington is within easy walking distance

                                    There aren't any good bakeries really though unless you walk over to Harbord.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: orangewasabi

                                      OW,

                                      are you saying the best neighbourhood is inclusive of queens park, the village, yorkville, chinatown, kensington and every point in between?


                                      Chow!
                                      HL.

                                      1. re: HarryLloyd

                                        yep, if it can be reached in under 20min with my two feet and a heart beat, it's in my hood

                                        1. re: orangewasabi

                                          Then give me Bloor & Bathurst (and a 2km radius).

                                          The Annex
                                          Korean Town
                                          Harbord
                                          Little Italy
                                          Kensington
                                          Chinatown
                                          Little Portugal
                                          WQW
                                          Bloor & Ossington (African)
                                          Yorkville
                                          Bathurst & St. Clair (Central American)
                                          Corso Italia


                                          Chow!
                                          HL.

                                          1. re: HarryLloyd

                                            I agree with this assessment. I live closer to College between Bathust and Ossington and whole heartedly agree that all the forementioned neighbourhoods are within easy reach whether by foot, bike, scooter, subway, rollerblade, or superquick car/cab ride. Nothing is out of my reach. I'm surrounded by great butchers, bakeries, cheese shops, as well as Fiesta Farms which has some interesting offerings, a great Sobey's, a decent Loblaw's, a conveniently located Dominion. Virtually any world cuisine or contemporary style food I desire at any price point is within reach. We've been renovating and without a kitchen since October and I have yet to be bored with all the order in and dine out options at my disposal.

                                            1. re: Delish

                                              A pretty solid part of town all in all, although it's missing a solid fishmonger. The places in Kensington and Chinatown seem to be of dubious quality, although I might be wrong.

                                              Whole Foods qualifies but they can be overpriced...

                                              1. re: SxCx

                                                I know that there are two Portuguese fishmongers at Dundas and Ossington. I was chatting with an older Portuguese woman in my 'hood and she said that's where she buys her fish. I walked into one of them just to see and I didn't detect any fishy smell and they had a hunk of tuna on display as red and fresh looking as it could possibly be!

                                                I haven't bought fish there yet, but I plan to as soon as I have a kitchen again.

                                                1. re: SxCx

                                                  Have you ever been to a fish monger in Chinatown or Kensington?

                                                  Dubious? how do you figure? Many of them have several tanks of fresh fish and will fish out your pick and clean it for you as you watch.

                                                  You also have a couple good ones in Koreatown. although you may consider them a little dubious.


                                                  Chow!
                                                  HL.

                                                  1. re: HarryLloyd

                                                    Kensington fish places seem sketchy due to the pervasive fish stench that I don't associate with quality businesses. Many of them are also quite dirty and cluttered, and the fish often look roughed up and mistreated.

                                                    I can't say the same for Chinatown's live fish tanks as I haven't spent much time looking for fish there. I actually should give them a proper chance.

                                                    1. re: SxCx

                                                      I once bought a fine-looking fish, live from a tank in Chinatown, and it was cleaned and gutted on the spot for me.

                                                      Unfortunately, the taste was... muddy. Like the poor thing had been swimming in a silty tank without decent filtration.

                                                      It was some years ago, so they may have cleaned up their act (so to speak), but I've never shopped for live fish there again...

                                                2. re: Delish

                                                  We used to live south of Harbord, north of College and loved it - everything was so close by. Great restos, decent food stores and a god mix of ethnicities. We're east enders now and still getting used to the lack of places to eat close by (and by that I mean more than 1 or 2 places to choose from with 5 minutes or less walk). But, we do have almost every chain grocery store you can think of and the Greektown shops are close by.

                                        2. I'm really partial to my area as well... King and Bathurst.
                                          For general groceries, the 24 hour dominion is close by.
                                          I can also walk to Queen St. for restaurants, Kensington Market for fresh produce, breads, meats, fish and cheese and Spadina for Chinatown. What more could I ask for?

                                          1. Have you decided where to move yet? I have enjoyed reading this but was wondering if you wanted to know about the best neighbourhood or best location? As answers have come in for both.

                                            By the way, Kensington gets my vote for single neighbourhood. Cheese, fresh veggies, fish, unique restaurants, butchers, bread. All great!

                                            - Kelly

                                            1. BWV has been covered, but...If you expand the BWV to its immediate neighbours, you have a fantastic choice/variety - Roncesvalles - Silver Spoon, Blue Bay Cafe, Freshwood Grill, Easy, Butler's Pantry, (...few others).....then there's Kingway just west - Casa Barcelona, Vibo, My Thai Kitchen, Momiji Sushi, Cru and lot's of good fresh quality produce at local small grocers (organic and conventional - including Whitehouse meats, organic abundance and the High Park weekend market).....That part of town would get my vote.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: DDD

                                                DDD said: BWV has been covered, but...If you expand the BWV to its immediate neighbours, you have a fantastic choice/variety - Roncesvalles - Silver Spoon, Blue Bay Cafe, Freshwood Grill, Easy, Butler's Pantry, (...few others

                                                To add to DDD's Roncesvalles list:

                                                - Qi (great health food store with lots of the otherwise missing "world ingredients")
                                                - Loblaws (always great for filler)
                                                - Granowska's (for the best polish rose-hip jelly doughnuts)
                                                - Polska and Chopin for Pierogies
                                                - Thin Blue Line (a treasure of a cheese shop)
                                                - Cherry Bomb Coffee (lineups when the doors open seven days a week)
                                                - Coming soon? Bravo Gelato and Budha Dog (gourmet hot dogs! can't wait)
                                                - I'm sure i'm forgetting something. Roncesvalles is a food-lovers delight.

                                                1. re: marckb

                                                  Just a head's up that there is a new outlet of the Freshwood Grill that has opened in Kensington Market (Baldwin/Augusta)...