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May 29, 2007 01:21 PM

Unique in Toronto?

Where can I eat in Toronto that serves food that's not like anything I can get in Minneapolis or Chicago? What's unique to Toronto, restaurant-wise?

Fancy shmancy haute cuisine with 10 or 12 little artsy-fartsy courses I can get at Trotter's or Alinea in Chicago.

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  1. what makes Toronto food unique? probably the abundance of authentic ethnic dishes that could only be rivalved by their respective native coutries.

    Lebanese? Ethiopian? Argentinian? Portugeuse? Vietnamese? Ukrainian? Chinese? Jamaican? Guyanese? Indian? Pakistani?

    I could go on.

    1. I fully recommend Sneaky Dee's at College and Bathurst ave. Amazing Mexican food, good local beers and tons of 'art' covering pretty much every surface imaginable. Here's the website for a little preview if you're interested.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PrescriptionX

        I heartily disagree. I don't mean to be negative, but I'd hate to think of a visitor making a special trip to Sneaky Dees (ick!) or one of those marginal noodle places on Spadina when there are some excellent other choices a couple blocks away. Just my two cents =)

      2. When this question comes up, which is does fairly regularly, the general consensus is that there is nothing that is 100% unique in terms of Toronto food, or even Canadian food for that matter, unless you consider poutine to be an exciting delicacy (in fact it is just fries and gravy with cheese curds, and is actually Quebecois in origin) .

        But what Toronto has going for it in terms of food is the ability to enjoy many interpretations of different types of food from around the world. It is a city of many recent immigrants, and a city of interesting neighbourhoods, though sometimes you need to travel a bit to get from one to another.

        The Toronto area has a very large number of Chinese immigrants, so options abound for that kind of food. Tourists are usually directed towards the Spadina Chinatown, where you can find some fairly decent and authentic Chinese food. Which particular restaurants on that strip are "the best" is a matter of opinion -- a few quick searches on this board might help.

        There are also a number of decent Indian restaurants in Toronto. Some are in the Little India neighbourhood on Gerrard St., and others are scattered around in various places. A confusingly named restaurant called "Little India" is one of my favourites, though it is actually on Queen Street West and not in Little India at all. The Host is another fairly decent and more upscale Indian restaurant, and it is also located near the Royal Ontario Museum where many visitors probably find themselves at some point.

        For something that's a bit more unusual, there are a few Tibetan restaurants popping up on Queen West. I like the place called "Little Tibet". It's minimalist food, simple, but cooked well and not nearly as bland as some people describe it.

        For a slightly different experience, you can visit the Kensington Market neighbourhood, which is a series of small specialty shops, bars and restaurants that is quite different from most neighbourhoods in North America. It contains a wide variety of places to eat, from quick takeout at Jumbo Empanada to interesting tapas at Torito to funky French bistro at La Palette (which also specializes in horse meat... hey, I believe that's something you can't get by law in the US, no?)

        The consensus is that good Mexican food is hard to find in Toronto, and doesn't compete in quality with what you can find in most American cities, including Chicago. I think this is simply due to the fact that not nearly as many Latin Americans have immigrated this far north.

        My personal opinion is that Toronto is a great place for a foodie to explore, but you won't find any particular standout specialty dish that people come from all over the world to try. Your best bet to get the most out of Toronto is to just be open minded and try to take advantage of the variety -- you could easily eat here every night for a week and not have the same type of cuisine twice. Good luck!

        19 Replies
        1. re: Gary

          I agree that there isn't anything unique since the Timber Lodge closed. I completely disagree with your comments on Chinese restaurants. Chinese food has very little diversity in Toronto because the vast majority of immigrants from from a just a few places - mostly Hong Kong of late. Try to find Hunan, or Nanking food in Toronto. Forget it. Also, the Chinese food in Chinatown is fairly poor and should be avoided.

          The best Toronto food experience is to go to St. Lawrence Market, order a peameal bacon sandwhich from one of the vendors and sit outside to eat it. That's about as Toronto as it gets.

          1. re: wordsworth

            No more, that's 8-10 years ago. Most of the chinese immigrants are from Mainland China nowaday.
            I like the food experience at St. Lawrence market but whether it is the best Toronto food experience is debatable.

            1. re: skylineR33

              I would agree with ww that the St. Lawrence Peameal sandwich is as TO as it gets. We just don't do our own stuff. So go there, get that and stay and enjoy the market. It's full of great places.

              We do have a bevy of great food. It's just from other parts of the globe is all.


              1. re: Davwud

                If you were writing an ad for why people should visit Toronto would you use the SLM as the culinary attraction? Is SLM really the definition of Toronto eating?

                I think Toronto eating is much more like it has been described in other threads...Go to Greektown and walk from restaurant to restaurant and see which menu and ambience appeals to you. You can take cues from CH as 3 or 4 restos are always listed favourably. Do the same with Chinatown and enjoy the streets that are unique to Toronto. Check out Queen West of Bathurst where one finds great food spots and shopping. Baldwin St. Or Kensignton Market and grab some food on the street or end up at Toritos. I dont know our India section well enough to know if it could be included. People visiting from non-Italian towns enjoy College St very much.

                When I am entertaining visitors to Toronto over a short time. I never go to SLM. I reserve that for longer visits, people looking to move here or when I am shopping to make dinner at home with them.

                Our streets and communities are awesome! Let's sell them!

                1. re: deelicious

                  I think you misunderstood me Dee.

                  The OP was asking for foods that are unique to Toronto. I hardly think that Greek/Chinese/Indian/etc. are not uniquely TO. What makes TO great is you can do a culinary world tour right here in the city.

                  As for the SLM, I don't see what the problem is with it. I have plenty of people who come up from the states that think it's great. They don't have anything like it where they come from.
                  And while you can get peameal on a kaiser outside of TO, it's just about as TO as it gets.


                  1. re: Davwud

                    Point taken although I have to say that many of the bigger cities now have places like SLM - and better. But if the criteria is strictly a food that is unique to Toronto, and not a food experience, I would sooner walk a pal up to a street vendor and grab a sausage off the grill and sit in a park as that is unique to Toronto.

                    I guess I really just don't like the peameal at SLM anymore as it is not juicy and well grilled like it used to be...IMO. Perhaps a veal sandwich with eggplant would be a better choice - if only the sauce had more flavour.

                    1. re: deelicious

                      Don't be too quick to dismiss SLM though.


                      It's actually been picked up by a number of other travel information sources.

                      A bit dated but still a source of pride for our fair city I'd say.


                      1. re: Davwud

                        Dated is the article. I would have agreed with it when it was written 3 years ago. But as I mentioned, that sandwich is no where near what it used to be...

                        And if I had to pick one market in Canada, I believe I would prefer Granville in Vancouver....tough call because as a visitor to their city, new is always an eye opener. Not sure what I would think if I lived there...its pretty expensive.

                    2. re: Davwud

                      Hi Davwud,

                      Talking about what OP is asking, OP is asking this :

                      "What's unique to Toronto, restaurant-wise?"

                      And when you see the word "Trotter's", it means something high end, something which is the best dining experience and innovative in Toronto, not a food experience at SLM.

                      1. re: skylineR33

                        i think there seems to be a gross miscommunication.

                        restaurant means sit down and service to me and Alinea or Trotters only fits within a subset of restaurant known as extreme fine dining.

                        after having done a trip down to chicago and splurging on Tru, there is absolutely no doubt that if you were even seeking a fine dining experience you will be sorely disappointed. it was the best (albeit most expensive) dining experience i have ever had in my life thus far and nothing in toronto has even matched it on a relative monetary scale. i spent 1.5x than i did on perigee and now i can't even bring myself to say that perigee was more than just plain old good.

                        our strength is restaurants is the sheer variety of ethnic cultures that for the most part haven't adopted many north american practices into their recipes. the best of this stuff is almost never served in a restaurant setting and intended for take-out or eat while walking.

                        i did not come across a single roti joint while there, as torontojo has mentioned. my personal fave in this city would be Roti Lady for her curried goat.... the wrapper is a little less impressive (needs a touch more cooking time) but the goat is tender, flavourful, moist and beautiful.

                        beerbistro is a nice quirky beer place.. but i loooooved my beer bar experiences in chicago and wouldn't necessarily recommend the toronto beer scene over it (darn importing and lcbo!)

                        1. re: skylineR33

                          It may just be me, but the I think the OP was saying, "please don't reco artsy fartsy like Trotters because I can get the best at home....give me something unique"

                      2. re: deelicious

                        I would totally use SLM as a culinary attraction worthy of a visit. My demanding parents visited me last weekend and we took a few hours to walk around SLM. They were very impressed with the quality of the offerings and the jovial atmosphere. Yes, Toronto is much more than SLM, but I feel it's at a minimum worthy of a stroll-through before dinner at one of the great resturants in the area such as Jamie Kennedy's, George, etc.

                        1. re: spades

                          I agree it is a GREAT destination as a tourist attraction and locals alike. I just wouldn't send the OP there for a meal.

                          1. re: deelicious

                            Frankly, I've never liked the peameal bacon sannies, but I'm not a fan to begin with... But I love SLM... get some cheeses, dried sausages/salamis, antipasti, bread, get a bottle of vino from the LCBO and go break the law with an al fresco lunch at St James's Garden.

                  2. re: wordsworth

                    I disagree. Granted you have to venture to the outreaches of Markham, Richmond HIll and Scarborough, but you can find some really great Hunan and Hakka restaurants. There's enough Chinese in Toronto to find the most remote chinese cuisine. You just might have to drive to it.

                    Additionally, there's a wide variety of Mandarin and Cantonese restaurants downtown that are worth checking out.

                    1. re: goodcookiedrift

                      Fine. Where's a good Hunan restaurant?

                      As far as Hakka is concerned, the places I've tried are downright aweful. Cantonese is blah. I know of a couple decent North places. But this is hardly diversity.

                      1. re: wordsworth

                        Ouch, that's my cuisine and ethnic background you're dissing. Cantonese food that is done right with good "wok hai" is divine.

                        I like food with a bit of bite too but Cantonese food is not "bleh."

                        Play nice please.

                        1. re: Zengarden

                          You really can't take things personally. Most people on this board are open minded about the food that other nations enjoy.

                          Not only is Cantonese an important asian food, there are excellent examples of it downtown... Dim Sum, Dumpling Soup, BBQ pork, Crispy Roast Pork and Soy chicken are cantonese fare and these are all excellently prepared in and around our city...without dispute!

                          1. re: Zengarden

                            Don't rise to the bait - he plays nasty on almost every post then fails to respond when challenged.

                  3. As people have said, most places are similar.
                    At the high-end there are two that you won't find in Chicago (or New York).
                    Chiado is very upscale Portuguese food (think French in concept and service) - IMO probably the best portuguese in North America. Go for the more modern dishes rather than the traditional dishes.
                    Lai Wah Heen (in the Metropolitan Hotel) serves extremely sophisticated Cantonese food (at a price). I prefer their dim sum lunch which is a la carte (as opposed to travelling carts) and changes seasonally. Unlike anything you'll find this side of Vancouver (or possibly SF). And anyone recommending Mexican here (or any central/South American) just doesn't know Chicago!
                    And, of course, we have foie gras!!!!!!!! And lots of it.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: estufarian

                      Thanks folks!

                      I'll try Chiado. I've never had serious portuguese food. Chinese sounds reasonable, as Calvin Trillin says, always trust the overseas Chinese.

                      As some of you noted, in Chicago there's some pretty amazing Mexican food. Minneapolis, where I live, has very good authentic mexican food. The kind where you get tacos with cilantro and white onion, no cheese and no ground beef.

                      Minneapolis has a very large Vietnamese community (>100,000?) so we have hundreds of Vietnamese restaurants. We also have a large Ethiopian/Somali immigrant community and that food is all over the place. We have Indian and Thai, but not like Chicago.

                      1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                        I lived in Chicago for a few years, a few years back, and agree completely with the above postings.

                        I always found the greek food to be average in Chicago and much better here at Pantheon and Mezes - especially the dips and squid! Many CHs speak highly of Avli although I havent been.

                        I don't know how good your best sushi places are these days, but there is no place on earth like Sushi Kaji!!!!

                        1. re: deelicious

                          Yes, Sushi Kaji is definitely one of the places you should go, if you are looking for something you can't get in everyday north America.
                          For fun and cheap, the food is not great. But my american friends always like to go to Richtree (formerly Movenpick) at BCE place downtown. you get a stamp card and go to various food stations for pasta, mussels, dessert, etc.

                        2. re: JimGrinsfelder

                          Estufarian is spot on with Chiado and Lai Wah Heen. On a much different level, another food that Chicago and Minneapolis do not have is roti. Not the Indian flat bread, but the dish roti, which is curry wrapped in a very thin flat bread. It's delicious, addictive and cheap. It's a West Indian invention, but my favorite is actually from an East Indian place -- Gandhi. Don't let the rather grungy facade deter you. The curries and the wraps are made fresh to order.

                          If you are a fan of Vosges chocolate in Chicago (or really any chocolate), I would hit Soma in the Distillery District (which is fun destination in and of itself). Fantastic artisanal chocolates. Don't leave without trying a Mayan hot chocolate shot (undiluted). Also in the Distillery is the Mill St. Brewery, where you can sample some lovely local brews. Try the coffee porter.

                          If you are a beer fan in general, the beerbistro is a good destination. Amazing international beer list. Flights available, too.

                          Enjoy your trip and please report back!

                          1. re: TorontoJo

                            We have roti back in Minneapolis, too.

                            Don't know about Chicago.

                            1. re: huxinator

                              Fair enough! I really should have just said Chicago, as that is where I grew up. If roti exists there, it's very well hidden!

                      2. Hey, welcome to TO! Here's a recent discussion:

                        The above comments are spot on.

                        I love Chiado! Great food, great wine cellar! I'm also an Avli enthusiast. It's not your typical souvlaki joint at all. The rabbit pie is intoxicatingly aromatic, and speaking of intoxicating, it has one of th best Greek wine lists you will ever see. The horse at La Palette is quite good. Take a look at the thread I've copied here for other thoughts.

                        As I say to everyone from away who posts on the Ontario/Toronto board, PLEASE post your observations after your visit. I (and, I'm certain, others) are curious about which suggestions you've followed, and what your reactions were.