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Jan 3, 2009 12:40 PM

Best Toronto Diner?

My current favourite is the Donlands Restaurant on Donlands near O'Connor. Great diner classics, nice staff. I'm also a fan of the Coach House on Yonge near Wellesley for breakfast.

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  1. Is "Jim's Best Westerns" still going? My Dad used to take me there a long time ago, it's grungy and divey and lives up to it's name. It was near Queen and Carlaw, I think.

    Apollo 11 at Bathurst and Dupont hasn't changed since 1969, and the food is way better than the nearby Vesta. Just look out for the hordes of TTC workers and stroller moms.

    Speaking of the Vesta, what it does have going for it is 24hour meals, and the old guys at the corner of the counter arguing about who knows, whether it's 3pm or 3am. And it's been given approval by my friend, Mr. Breakfast (no, I'm not making that up).

    At St. Clair and Vaughan you can find The Retro Cafe, which is a diner in the truest sense. The service is gruff, the hours arbitrary, and the brekkies yummy.

    The biggest shout out has to go to Aunties and Uncles on Lippincott (near Bathurst and College). It's a thrown-together, slightly retro-mod formica ramshackle place, run by a chef who worked under some of TO's culinary luminaries. There's a reason the line-ups are so crazy. One word: Waffles!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Ginsugirl

      i second the apollo on bathurst, good food and nice staff. i use to go to the vesta a lot but not so much any more...watching the same person make change, put raw bacon on the grill and then butter my toast..well it has lost its luster...

      1. re: ribboy

        This nomination will be of little use to the hordes of hounds who, seemingly, live south of Bloor St., but should they find themselves up north in the rarefied air of Yonge and Steeles Ave., they might want to seek out Steeles Deli, in an otherwise nondescript plaza on the north side of Steeles, just west of Yonge and across the street from Canadian Tire. That's where I go when nothing will do but no-nonsense diner food. No stools at the counter, no entirely open kitchen (though it's open somewhat if you deign to stand up at your table), but most of the other classic diner elements are in place. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner - though I've only been for dinner. Pleasant, efficient, mostly long-serving staff. Specials every day that are indeed true specials, usually a buck or two off regular menu items. Good soups, substantial portions, reasonable prices. I'm partial to the liver and onions and, when I'm not too hungry, the main-course Cobb salad. They do a nice flunken (a lesser cut of beef, but tasty) on Thursday nights. Dr. Brown's soda pops. Patronized mainly by the neighboring Jewish community (which explains the flunken and a number of other offbeat menu items), but the menu is wide-ranging - with most of the diner classics -and, remarkably, they seem to do everything well, though I've never tried the coffee. Eminently satisfying. I regret to inform the rabid gribenes enthusiasts, who revealed themselves in another recent thread, that that particular death-defying item is not on the menu here. I guess management doesn't want to kill off their large contingent of elderly regulars.

        1. re: juno

          agreed... stumbled upon it one day with my mom and just love it... my dad is not a fan of non-chinese for the most part, but likes that place too...

      2. re: Ginsugirl

        Jim's is still there, though it changed hands a few years ago. It isn't as good as it used to be and they aren't open 24 hours anymore, but they do still have the westerns.

      3. Midway, Yonge north of Steeles. They will always have a special plate in my heart.

        1. For diner, I really can't find anything that can touch the Senator. I've been going there now for about 13 years of it's 80 years in existance. Lakeview Lunch is the only place that comes close in atmosphere, but the food was mediocre at best in comparison.

          4 Replies
          1. re: currycue

            Had dinner at the Senator before Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
            They nuked my chicken.
            The Senator should retire.

            1. re: erly

              Don't eat dinner there. Word on the street is that it's pretty bad. I'd stick with breakfast / lunch.

              1. re: currycue

                Really? You can't have dinner at a diner?

                1. re: Googs

                  Yeah, I don't know why their dinner isn't up to snuff, but they only started serving dinner recently. For 50+ years, they opened from early morning until 3pm.

          2. Gale's Snack Bar at Eastern & Carlaw. $1.25 cheeseburgers!

            3 Replies
            1. re: ChalkBoy

              I ate there a million years ago. Is the patronage still local winos?

              1. re: air621

                No, we're much more upscale in Leslieville now!!!!!!

                1. re: air621

                  Lol, winos. I haven't heard that one in years. Nice. The one time I went, my food took 45 minutes and the place was filled with some rather odourous seniors that looked like they hadn't bathed in weeks. Neat place to check out, but the food was standard diner food a la Vesta lunch. I'd rather pay extra elsewhere, personally.

              2. CBC-1 had a report that sent me to Collegiate, on Gerrard Street near Jones Av. for a good homeburger, in a diner unchanged from the 60's.
                I found the report to be accurate, although local Chowhounders in the area were not so effusive. I think they were put off by the old time diner appeal.

                I have only been there once, and the experience was total 60's diner, if a bit quiet (needs some teenagers, and a jukebox!).

                The proprietors are swell, prices are low, and I'll go back when I am in the area.

                Collegiate Lunch
                1024 Gerrard St E, Toronto, ON M4M1Z5, CA

                13 Replies
                1. re: jayt90

                  I can walk there, but after reading reviews by you and grandgourmand, among others, I haven't been motivated to do so. If I'm not cooking a burger at home, I still head to Allen's, even though a burger, fries, and a beer is $20. Am I missing something??

                  1. re: embee

                    Collegiate is definitely slumming, but the proprietors are well meaning, and I trust them.
                    Next time I'm in the area I'll go to Allen's, (never been, although I have read good reviews since they opened as an offshoot of a New York operation.)

                    1. re: jayt90

                      Allen's is an offshoot of a NY operation? They have nothing to do with Joe Allen's other than borrowing the name.

                      1. re: Edith S

                        When they opened in the 80's the proprietor came from New York, and from Joe Allen. That was the name used. I believe he bought the operation in Toronto many years later, and that there is a connection to an Irish restaurant .

                        1. re: jayt90

                          Wasn't the Toronto Joe Allen's on John just north of King? Closed in the early 80s.

                          1. re: ChalkBoy

                            Here is a brief history

                            143 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K1N2, CA

                          2. re: jayt90

                            A very close friend of mine actually worked for John Maxwell, the owner of Allen's, when he was managing the Joe Allen's in London in about 1980 so, yes, there is a connection.

                            There was, indeed, a Joe Allen's and an Orso on John St many years ago. I suspect Maxwell's parting with Joe Allen's may not have been altogether amicable.

                            1. re: embee

                              I'll nominate The Good Bite" on Yonge north of Eglinton but can't vouch for certain as it's been a couple of years...also where I have been (recently) and quite like but never get the name straight is The Victoria (?) onQueen Street ,across from St. Mike's Hospital...

                              1. re: pearlD

                                Agreed on the Good Bite. This place is still great and has been for years.

                                I’m not sure Toronto has diners in the classic, U.S. sense of the term (personally, I think I'd refer to our versions more as "greasy spoons"), but I definitely would put Good Bite at the top of the list of our closest qualifiers.

                                1. re: magic

                                  I totally agree 'magic'...What we as Canadians call Diners is not the same as what Americans call them...We seem to use 'greasy spoon' for Diner (or what I call Mom & Pop neighbourhood restaurants ..actually my Parents owned several throughout my growing up years (one at a time in different locations in Toronto) In the U.S.A...Diners really do, for the most part look the the 'movie version' of Diners...It's all relative ...I refer to The Denny's Chain in the U.S . as a 'Diner Food' destination same as I call The Good Bite here in Toronto a 'diner food location /and also call it a 'greasy spoon.

                                  1. re: pearlD

                                    Yes, the diners, especially in the northeastern states, looked like railroad dining cars (though most, if not all, were purpose built and trucked to a site). There was a real diner, the Normandy, in my Brooklyn neighbourhood, regally perched behind the Church Av subway station. Many still exist, though most, if not all, remaining diners in Manhattan went "upmarket retro" long ago.

                                    The places we call "diners" in Toronto were called "luncheonettes" in New York. Some diners and luncheonettes were greasy spoons, while others definitely weren't.

                                    1. re: embee

                                      Thanks 'embee'...not quite in the same vein but sort of...there used to be a great lunch place in the 'mall' under Holt's/Cumberland Terrace called "The Bay Streetcar"., it was a neat place to grab a bite after shopping in the Bloor - Yonge area....In Savannah where my daughter lives there are still some 'authentic' Diners which we frequent when visiting....

                                      1. re: pearlD

                                        Ah, yes, the Bay Streetcar. That was delicious food, supplied by the Windsor Arms kitchen. There's nothing like it in Toronto today.

                                        There was also a streetcar restaurant on the McCaul St side of Village by the Grange - in the middle of the streetcar loop.