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Toronto Ethnic, on a student budget

Hey folks,

I'm coming in for four days from Saturday-Tuesday on a last minute road trip to visit Toronto, and would love advice on what to eat! I hear there is really terrific food there...

A little background: I currently go to grad school in Baltimore, where ethnic food choices (besides Mexican) are particularly lacking. I've lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, and am a big fan of ethnic foods, particularly Eastern Asian (Japanese, Chinese (all the different regions!), Vietnamese, Korean). Some of my favorite dishes are pho, soondobu (Korean tofu stew), ramen, dumplings, dimsum, sushi and sashimi, all of which are difficult to find in Bal'more!

Besides east asian cuisine, I also really like exploring other ethnic cuisines. For example, Afghani, Greek, Ethiopian, which Baltimore does have some good examples of.

I also love fresh seafood, oysters, fish, shellfish, etc.

I'm on a student budget, so I put some emphasis on value. For me, that means most meals of great ethnic food from small hole-in-the-walls for <$15, but I'm also willing to spend say, $50 one-time on a really terrific meal.

I will be primarily in the downtown area, but will have a car and am willing to do a little driving for terrific food. I'll also be alone, though I find that when I travel, I tend to meet and eat with fellow travellers.

Bottom line? I'm looking for great food of all types, focusing on ethnic and value.

Some suggestions I've already garnered from the board:
Tokyo Kitchen (ramen)
By The Way Cafe
Ka Chi (pork bone soup, or kimchi chiggae)
Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar (chicken liver pate)
Asian Legend (soup dumplings)
Sushi on Bloor
^- last two recommendations from a classmate who lived in Toronto.

Thanks in advance!


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  1. Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar is lovely but not within a student's budget; but perhaps worthy of the one splurge meal that you need on a trip away from your home town. To cut down on travel expenses, check out the YHA/Hostelling International hostel which is within walking distance of St. Lawrence Market. Save our money for the items that you can eat.

    If you're looking for ethnic and interesting, perhaps Indian or Turkish. Little India is great for all you can eat buffet meals. Or for vegetarian go to Udupi Palace. Lovely food.

    My favourite spots would include Chinese Traditional Buns or Mother's Dumplings. If you really want to scale back finances on one meal of the day, go and get a Vietnamese sub (banh mi) at any of the shops on Spadina, north of Dundas.

    Enjoy the city.

    1. There are tons of cheap ethnic eats to be found in Chinatown between College St and Queen St.

      A few of my faves for cheap eats in this area:
      dim sum at Rol San
      pho at Xe Lua or Pho Hung
      dumplings at Chinese Traditional Bun (on Dundas, W of Spadina)
      vietnamese subs (take your pick, there are a few stores side by side offering these)
      soup at King's Noodle

      Around the corner is Kensington Market, which centers around Augusta Ave between College and Dundas. Good stuff here:
      empanadas from Jumbo Empanada
      bistro food at La Palette (not cheap, but still affordable.. and they have horse if you want something you won't get back home)
      chinese vegetarian food at Buddha's (on Dundas near Bathurst.. get the hot & sour soup and the singapore noodles)

      For Ethiopian, there's a great place on Bloor near Ossington called Lalibela. It's not high-class, but it's delicious and cheap cheap cheap! The vegetarian platter is a favourite.

      1. I would have to recommend Lahore Tikka in Little India. It doesn't look like much (kind of like a construction zone) but the food is amazing.

        If you stay by the St. Lawrence go on Saturday (they are closed on Sunday and Monday) and either go to Mustachios for a veal &Eggplant (or heck just eggplant) sandwiches. Either that or go upstairs to Carosel. Many will suggest just the straight back bacon on a bun. My suggestion (if you are hungry) get a "Whole Hog". Egg, (processed) cheese and back bacon on a bun. It is not advertised unless you ask for it by name. Not everyone there knows about it but trust me, it exists.

        The suggestion for the vietnamese buns is a good one. My fav is Rose's the the Chinatown on Broadview just east of the core. Its only, I think, $2 for a really excellent sandwich.

        Enjoy the city!

        1. don't bother eating Mexican here, you will have way better at home.

          However, eating for under $10 is no problem in many places.
          - The Dumpling House on west side of Spadina, 1 block north of Dundas (my fav is the pork and chive boiled dumplings)
          - Yummy BBQ (korean) on w side of yonge, between College and Wellsley.
          - bun at Ginger II on Church & Wellsley, or the hot&sour tofu soup at Ginger on east side of Yonge between Charles & Bloor
          - cheap and cheerful chinese at NotJustNoodles at Yonge & Wellsley (I like the mapotofu, the shanghai noodles, the shrimp dumpling noodle soup)

          my fav place for Ethiopian is Ethiopian House on Irwin, just west of Yonge between Wells & Bloor. If you go for a weekday lunch, you can tried mixed platters for 1 (3 different meats, for example) for under $15.

          2 Replies
          1. re: orangewasabi

            Second Ethiopian House. I tried very hard but never found an appreciation for Ethiopian food before discovering this gem! Really a lovely place to grab a cheap bite.

            I'd also recommend Tokyo Grill on Yonge just north of Wellesley for some homestyle Japanese food. It's also incredibly cheap and I haven't tried anything there I didn't like. Virtually no sushi, but their curries and ramen are delicious.

            1. re: vorpal

              I had ramen at Tokyo Grill tonight, and it was quite tasty. Then I walked by Ethiopian House -- mmm, what wonderful smells! I would love to eat here, but I might skip this time, especially since we have a terrific Ethiopian restaurant back in Baltimore.

          2. from your list, i'd forego by the way, jk wine bar as well as asian legend for reasons of cost as well as general quality-of-food-to-cost ratio

            for korean, i recommend Buk Chang To Fu (orange bldge, green sign, on bloor east of christie) for tofu stew - they sometimes also have bulgogi/kalbi

            toronto has very good ethiopian, check out this previous thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/393693

            i'd also recommend trying a somali place, such as New Bilan or Liban

            for tunisian, try Djerba La Douce (they have a website, djerbaladouce.com), very inexpensive and good

            tokyo kitchen (the one on yonge, north of wellesley) has good food but no sushi really, they occasionally have a dessert that can't be found anywhere else - dont konw name but it's a bound of sweet rice topped with mochi filling (red bean paste) -- very good

            that's all for now -- happy eating through t.o.!

            oh ps. this week's star.com had a section on lebanese places in toronto with good eats

            1. Off the top of my head, keeping in mind "student budget", I would recommend:

              Japango on Elizabeth St. just north of the Toronto City Hall for Japanese. Yes, there are a number of cheaper places on Bloor, but it's a real price war there, and you get what you pay for so it can be a bit risky. I find Japango is a good "middle ground" because it's only slightly more expensive than the discount joints but the quality is vastly superior. For an even better deal, go at lunch time, as the lunch menu is very similar to the dinner menu but much cheaper. I think the lunch sushi combo platter is around $13; with another a-la-carte appetizer and the free green tea, you could get away with as little as $20 to $25 for a really good lunch.

              For Chinese try Bo De Duyen on Spadina south of Dundas in the heart of Chinatown. It's an "all veggie" place, but they make all the dishes resemble their meat equivalents. It's all surprisingly tasty and ridiculously cheap. Best to go with a bit of a group if you can, so you can try more dishes, as the portions are definitely sized for sharing. http://www.bodeduyen.com

              Ethiopian House a little bit south of the Yonge and Bloor intersection is good for cheap Ethiopian, especially if you have a few people with you and everyone goes in for one of those big bread platter things (I forget the name) that you can share communally. http://www.ethiopianhouse.com/

              For Indian I would recommend the restaurant called Little India on Queen St. West (confusingly it is not near the Little India neighbourhood). It's very good prices for the quality, whether or not they have the buffet on.

              And finally, definitely check out both the St. Lawrence Market and the Kensington Market neighbourhood for quick cheap eats. My favourites are the oft-mentioned Veal-Eggplant sandwiches at Moustachio's in the St. Lawrence, and the empanadas at Jumbo Empanada in Kensington, but both are places where you can just wander around and see what catches your eye.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Gary

                Helpful hint: The floppy pancake-like bread is called injera. This can be *very* filling, and is unavoidable, because it's your utensil for scooping up those delicious stews. Try to minimise the volume of injera in ratio to the maximum amount of stew.

              2. Here's a few cheap suggestions, all near the University of Toronto downtown campus, that fall under your category through this link:

                2 Replies
                1. re: missmu

                  Lots of great recommendations here for you.

                  I would also suggest that you pick up the book "Cheap Eats Toronto" from The Cookbook Store on Yonge, south of Bloor

                  My wife and I have found loads of good, inexpensive restaurants courtesy of this publication.

                2. While I rec’d By the Way Café in a different post for veggie friendly eating, I think in your case you’d be better off at other places since the prices are a bit higher than a student can usually afford, and if you’re not veggie you can do better elsewhere...

                  You've got lots of great choices here from the other hounds.

                  Here are my picks:

                  Ramen - Konnichiwa on Baldwin and Beverly/McCaul for miso ramen = $7.50; + 2 pc gyoza = $8.95

                  Pho (and other great Vietnamese dishes) - Golden Turtle on Ossington south of Dundas – around $5-7 depending on size

                  Sichuan Chinese food - PALS WT INTERNATIONAL 376 College at Borden for cheap, spicy Sichuan food - they have lunch specials for $5

                  Dim Sum - Forestview on Dundas east of Spadina, 2nd Floor

                  General student-friendly neighbourhoods

                  Chinatown - Spadina south of College – has a huge selection of all sorts of cheap asian food

                  Annex – Bloor, east of Bathurst to St. George – where lots of students live and hang out - has really cheap sushi, middle-eastern and pubs

                  Little Korea – Bloor, west of Bathurst to Christie – all sorts of mom and pop Korean eateries

                  1. There are some great suggestions here. I definitely agree that Ethiopian House, Chinese Traditional Buns and Mother's Dumplings are excellent.

                    I would add a few more to your list.
                    Little India - Indian lunch buffet for under $10 (www.littleindia.ca
                    )Kim Moon Bakery - Really cheap dim sum ($10 per person). Just go to the back of the place and grab a table and wait for a menu card to appear. (438 Dundas Street West)
                    Gandhi - East Indian style rotis that are delicious and HUGE. They can be around $15 at their most expensive, but they easily feed two.
                    Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar - JKWB has a brunch now, and it's $25 per person I think. A fair price, if you'd like to try this Toronto gem.

                    1. I don't know if it's this weekend you are coming, but if so there is a South Asian Festival going on in Little India. That is Gerrard street between Greenwood and Coxwell. The street will be closed to traffic but its very walkable. There should be lots of street food, so go and enjoy.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Leslieville

                        I would forego Sushi on Bloor and go to New Generation Sushi instead (1 block east of Sushi on Bloor) . Friendlier, not so mobbed, better food. Still very reasonable

                      2. At Ka-Chi, you can get an entree (i.e. pork bone soup) and five bottles of beer OR a bottle of soju for $20.
                        There's also a decent Korean restaurant in Chinatown. I forget the name, but it's on the N side of St. Andrew St, just W of Spadina (across from Bright Pearl). You get an entree and four sides for about $7-8. I'm a wimp with spicy things, so I usually get bulgogi or bibimbap. I can barely walk out at the end! But I'm a small person.

                        1. I second the vote for New Generation which is down the street from Sushi on Bloor but they are both good and you won't go wrong at either place. If you are into Thai food and would like something reasonable and very good try Salad King which is on Gould Street (about a block north of Dundas just east of Yonge St.) it is closed on Sundays though. There is lots of great, cheap food around Chinatown and Kensington and it's a great place to check out too. If you decide to do Greek - go to Messini...it's very cheap and very good authentic souvlakis and gyros and tzatziki to die for! Enjoy!

                          1. so many suggestions so far... don't know where to start.

                            i'm going to assume that if you're doing a last minute trip you might be in town this weekend and the south asia festival on gerrard street (sat and sun) is a great option (http://torontoist.com/2007/08/south_a...) with bites for $1-5 you can get a variety of awesome food and check out our little india.

                            DO NOT go to sushi on bloor. the sushi on bloor is completely irrepresentative of the quality fish that you can have in toronto. they are just a feed-fest for students. japango was once my favourite but now i lean towards omi at church/carlton. for lunch you can get a fantastic box set of food for about $13 (they only have set box sets for lunch) and it is an absolute joy for the palate. i've never loved sushi rice from a chirashi set as much as this place. dinner would be a greater expense but the variety and john lee's brown sugar cured salmon would be worth it.

                            asian legend is more hype than it's worth, from my personal opinion. however, soup dumplings aren't numerous in quantity and quality in toronto except for going north. if you're really hitting a craving, go for it.

                            jamie kennedy changes their menu fairly frequently, there are no guarantees that that chicken liver pate will be on offer the day you visit. consider calling if that's where your heart is set. otherwise, i really enjoy the food there but have encoutered an over salted dish here or there. it's clean beautiful homey canadiana.

                            i agree with the vietnamese sandwich recs thus far, except that i would name nguyen houng as my personal favourite. great crisp crust and soft interior with a good portion of filling. i always ask for extra peppers and cilantro! more and more! they have some prepackaged viet meals i like to take away (especially at about 7pm because they get cheaper by a dollar!). love the turnip cake (but not turnip) covered in scrambled egg and fried with dipping sauce!

                            dimsum - go on a weekday to forestview chinese restaurant on dundas. they have a happy hour where pricing is about $2 a dish. this is the best dimsum i've found in downtown toronto. it has carts (something i enjoy because i'm more impulsive during dimsum) and the twitter of a classic busy chinese restaurant.

                            mother's dumplings not for the dumplings but the da lu noodles. hand pulled noodles thick and chewy in a soup that's more like a soft stew as it's so packed with bits of pork, wood ear mushrooms and cabbage. it's comfort in a bowl... all for $7 and the cute chatter of the sweet women.

                            if you've never had viet breakfast food, check out the appetizer section of pho phuong at dundas/brock. the stylish digs might deter you but they're putting out some really good stuff. love the crispy pancake (which got better on another visit), 3 rice cake dish, etc. broken rice, noodle soups (exception of pho, something i haven't bothered to try yet because i'm so enticed by the other dishes) and bun are fantastic.

                            completely second the buk chang to fu suggestion. if you're looking for bi bim bap, don't go but the 6 (i only ever see like 6) dishes they list are just great. love the feel of the place too, bustling with people trying to get a seat. a good number of the korean restos in this area (bloor between bath/christie) are pretty darn good but value is the trick. if you've never had korean fried chicken, ajuker chicken may very well be your newest friend. it's reminds me of when my chinese grandmother tries to make anglicised food for me. still love the spices, especially when dipped in the salt/pepper mix they give you for extra.

                            bo de duyen for vegetarian chinese is an interesting suggestion. if you've never had this before it's very tasty and worth a try. i would easily give up meat if restaurants could make vegetarian food taste this good all the time. another place that does somethign similar is king's in kensington.... perhaps it's just me but taro made to be like squid is one of the most amazing things ever. it's not like squid, but the texture of gelatinous crunch is just so unusually great.

                            d&d trini style at gerrard and greenwood has the best doubles i've had in town. do not get the roti. if you're itching for both, drupati's is a far out distance but they're so good at doubles and roti. just so freaking good. love roti lady on dunn street by queen west and dufferin only for their goat rotis. the shell is a bit undercooked but the meat to bone ratio is great and the curry flavours... mmmmmmmmmm..... stay away from bacchus, or just don't order spinach in their rotis... wash it first please! i dont' like to eat sand.

                            now i'm out of breath and starved.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                              I believe (but I'll have to verify) that D&D Trinistyles is unfortunately closed for good. My partner went by there a couple weeks ago and told me that there was a sign in the window.

                              (FWIW, I really liked their roti! Definitely not the best in town by any stretch, but a nice, filling, tasty quick meal.)

                              1. re: vorpal

                                this is incredibly distressing news, i will have to make a trip out there to check tonight when i hit up the south asia festival.

                                oh, and i just found the rotis a bit dry and ok in flavour.. they just dont' compare to my roti lady!

                                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                  D&D is definitely closed, and has been for about 2 months. Thats the second roti place we've lost this year. We need something new!!!!!

                              2. re: pinstripeprincess

                                I've heard about Korean fried chicken! Is ajuker chicken also available at Buk Chang tofu?

                                I'm sitting at an internet cafe on Bloor right now, next to Korea town... I think I'll pop by and check it out!

                              3. You guys are amazing!! So many great suggestions... clearly, I'm going to have a great time! The limiting resource will be time and stomach space, and I'm going to have a hard time choosing where to go.

                                Here's a summary of the suggestions (apologies to any I've left off!):

                                Udupi Palace (vegetarian)
                                Indian street fair (Gerrard between Greenwood and Coxwell)
                                Lahore Tikka

                                Xe Lua or Pho Hung
                                Golden Turtle on Ossington south of Dundas

                                Vietnamese Sandwiches
                                Rose's (Broadview just east of the core)
                                Nguyen Huong

                                Dim Sum
                                Forestview on Dundas east of Spadina, 2nd Floor, weekday happy hour!
                                Kim Moon Bakery (438 Dundas Street West)
                                Rol San

                                Chinese Traditional Bun (Dundas W. of Spadina)
                                The Dumpling House (dumplings, or da lu mien)

                                NotJustNoodles (Yonge & Wellesley), mapotofu, shanghai noodles
                                Ginger (hot & sour soup), Ginger II (bun)

                                Yummy BBQ (Yonge between College and Wellesley)
                                Buk Chang To Fu (tofu stew) (ajuker chicken)
                                Ka-Chi (Pork bone soup)

                                Bistro Food at La Palette

                                Bloor near Ossington called Lalibela (vegetarian platter, cheap!)
                                Ethiopian House on Irwin (Yonge between Wells & Bloor), weekday lunch

                                St. Lawrence
                                Mustachios (veal & eggplant) sandwich
                                Carosel ("Whole Hog")

                                Kensington Market
                                Empanadas at Jumbo Empanada

                                Tokyo Grill (Yonge north of Wellesley) ramen, curries
                                Japango (Elizabeth St. north of City hall), lunch
                                Konnichiwa (Baldwin and Beverly/McCaul) - miso ramen
                                New Generation Sushi (1 block east of Sushi on Bloor)

                                Salad King on Gould Street (block N. of Dundas just east of Yonge St.)


                                Somali - New Bilan or Liban
                                Tunisian - Djerba La Douce (very inexpensive and good)
                                Jamaican - d&d trini style (gerrard and greenwood), drupati's, roti lady

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: daveinmd

                                  You missed Little India for Indian. It's a restaurant not just a neighbourhood and it's not actually in Little India so it gets confusing :)

                                  I'd like to bump roti up your list and point out that they're not Jamaican. If you've never had one, you've got to. They're addictive. There are different styles and we all have our favourites. I like Bacchus at Queen and Brock which is Ghiannese, I think (and spelled wrong I'm sure) and the Trinidadian place on Bathurst just south of Bloor - Carribean Roti Palace? But I really don't like Indian roti. You just have to try a few to find your preference!

                                  1. re: crawfish

                                    Thanks for the clarification. I guess I still don't really know what rotis are... this trip might be the time!

                                    1. re: daveinmd

                                      Roti is basically curry wrapped up in a "roti skin" which is a big flat bread, kind of like a stretchy pita. If you go to Island Food on King west of Dufferin you can watch the ladies make your roti, it's a wonderful sort of diapering process I just love.

                                  2. re: daveinmd

                                    dumpling house and mother's dumplings are two very differen't places. i haven't found the dumpling house to be all that great and much prefer mother's dumplings.

                                    new generation sushi really isn't all that much better than the other sushis on bloor.. mushy tuna ick.

                                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                      Ahh... oops, my bad. Mother's Dumplings looks really good, actually. And they're open on Sundays! So much to eat, so little stomach space!

                                      1. re: daveinmd

                                        oops, gave you the wrong link to djerba la douce in my earlier post - here is the correct link (to give u idea of menu/prices): http://www.djerba-la-douce.ca/

                                        btw, no fried chicken at buk chang - i also say pass on the new gen sushi - treat yourself with japango.... also roti/patties/trinnies, highly recommended in t.o. (difficult to find in u.s., in my experience)

                                    2. re: daveinmd

                                      Your list sounds awesome! - however, i would not waste stomach space on the two st lawrence market items. The veal is great if you live here but it is not special! It really lacks any bursts of flavour. The carousell Back Bacon is just OK - it also is not special in any way, in fact chances are good that your bacon will be over cooked and dry. I would pick Rol San for Dim Sum as it is always fresh made and great quality - however if you can make the happy hour at Forestview - your golden. For sushi, I agree that Japango is just a bit more cash than New Gen, but a whole lot better. That being said, we always love New Gen!
                                      For dumpling noodle soup I highly recommend Swatow on Spadina just north of Dundas.


                                      1. re: deelicious

                                        Good points, although the bacon sandwich has the "Canadiana factor" going for it.

                                        Not that the original poster needs to eat peameal bacon, but out of curiousity, is there another back bacon sandwich place you would recommend? I have come across some bacon sandwiches that are much worse than Carosel's, but I haven't managed to find anything that is much better. I am sure this is something we can make easily at home, but there is something very nice about having it handed to you.

                                    3. I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Lebanese places for felafel and shawarma! My favoutrite place in the downtown is Sarah's, at Bloor and Brunswick (right across from the BY The Way Cafe). They have the best beef shawarma I've tasted in Toronto.

                                      Teranga in Kensington market for Senegalese. (Perhaps a little more than you want to spend, but I thought I should mention it.)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                        I agree with hp that delving into Toroto's ethnic food necessitates etiher felafel or shawarma (preferrably both). Sarah's is a good downtown suggestion, but you might want to visit the Lawrence Ave. East strip in the Pharmacy/Warden area for lots of choices.
                                        A veal or chicken Italian sandwich from California Sandwiches or San Francesco would also be on my list.

                                      2. An interesting itinerary for you might be a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum at Avenue Road and Bloor, and then wander west along Bloor. You'll go past the University of Toronto campus, which might be a little bland until you reach Spadina (although you may meet some of those fellow travellers you mentioned), and then there are a host of restaurants that cater to the student crowd. Many are Asian, but the Country Style offers immense portions of middle European foods (perogies, schnitzels, cabbage rolls, etc.) at quite reasonable prices. The "By the Way" cafe offers vegan food.

                                        If you make it all the way to Bathurst, be sure to visit "Honest Ed's" department store - it's not a dining experience, but it is an experience! (Note: if the walking tires you out, you're right on the subway line for a quick trip back.)

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: KevinB

                                          Country Style (Hungarian) serves pierogies? Since when? I don't recall ever seeing pierogies on their menu, unless they go by a very different name in Hungarian. I do love their schnitzels, though.

                                        2. I went to a great place last week. It was a Seneglease place in the heart of kensington market called:

                                          Teranga Afrikan Bar

                                          159 Augusta Avenue
                                          (416) 849-9777

                                          It was neat as there are only 300 Seneglease in Toronto. So, I tried the "Thiebou Djeun" (sp) which was a rice/stuffed grouper dish and a bunch of plaintains.... really tasty. The bill was about 20$,

                                          Kinda good for a change of habit and not a wallet buster.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: UltraChow

                                            So, out of curiosity... did you genuinely like the place, or do you have financial reasons for plugging it?

                                            Y'know, seeing as your post above is a perfect cut-and-paste of the first post you made on another board just minutes ago... which incidentally is your only other post ever on CH.

                                            1. re: tartiflette

                                              Well, if it is out of self-interest, it's not as risibly transparent as the one for Buddha Dog about a month ago, which I reported to admin.

                                              In UC's defence, I have heard pretty good stuff about Teranga, and it's near the top of my list of new places to visit.