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Best Gourmet Food Shops IN ONE AREA in Toronto?

This post comes out of a frustrating weekend where hubby and I were frantically driving around the city scratching off items on our 'gourmet food list' for a small dinner party we were having Saturday night. Now normally, when we have more time, this is a joyous, relaxing, and fun time for us. Unfortunately, Saturday wasn't one of those times since we had to be back to actually cook everything.

So, my question to you Chowhounders is: Where is the best all-around gourmet area in TORONTO to get all your gourmet food items. I don't mean just one store to get everything, but entire areas or streets, ie. Bayview, Mount Pleasant, etc. that you shop for more than 1 or 2 items. Also helpful would be if you listed the stores within those areas.

Many thanks!

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  1. It depends a bit on the specific items you're looking for but you should do quite nicely with the notorious Five Thieves and their neighbours at Yonge and Summerhill - Harvest Wagon for produce, olive oils and vinegars, Pisces for fish, Ollife for meat, All the Best for cheese, Petite Thuet/Patachou/All the Best for pastries, jams, etc. And of course, there is the big LCBO right next door. All are expensive, all are great quality.

    SLM would be another great option.

    On Bayview, you would do well with meat (Cumbrae), cheese (Alex Farm) and pastries (Rahier) - I think you're out of luck for fish. Mount Pleasant has a great string of pastry shops and Culinarium for some gourmet pantry items and produce but you wouldn't be able to fill a full list here.

    1. I'm just curious what your itinerary and shopping list were Raquel?
      Maybe we can point out some tips or suggest a different locale?

      1. I would go to a reliable big box place ( a club) to get most things out of the way. Beef, pork, lamb, chicken and salmon are first rate, with quality checks that supermarkets can't come up with, and they have evoo, cheese, dips, and some prepared foods such as pasta, baguettes, pesto. That will take about an hour. Then off to a street with specialties, such as Bayview, for the best of the rest. I usually park on the side streets at Bayview, a better option than parking at SLM or Yonge and Summerhill.

        1. I can't put any meaningful name on the area, but there is a surprising, and quite remarkable, range of not very publicly visible food emporia off Kipling Av south of the Six Points. Boncheff is one great place I can think of in this area. There are quite a few more.

          4 Replies
          1. re: embee

            Really? South of Six Points? Wow. I grew up in Etobicoke just a bit north of there (Thorncrest Village - Rathburn/Kipling). Anything south of Bloor was little more than an industrial wasteland, lots of manufacturing and not much else. The area must have changed a lot in the last 20 years. Never would have though of looking anywhere in that area for gourmet delights. I'd love to hear some of your other recommendations for the area.

            1. re: cynalan

              SHHH! Don't tell anyone! European Meats on Jutland with a range of meats and a decent hot counter to try before ya buy. Right beside it ,a German(?) store that sells smoked fish,mustards,cookies and lots more and down the street, Chef's Choice for fresh produce/specialty gourmet condiments etc.,Dimpflemeier on Advance for fresh rye bread and some pastries/cakes.I think there's a place across from it that carries pickles,sauerkraut etc. Boncheff Greenhouse on Olivewood for flowers with West End Meat Packers across the road with a fairly good range of meats,Greek products and helpful staff.Further down that street is Blue Danube Sausage House with...Surprise!...sausages and other mid European cheeses,smoked meats/cold cuts and various other grocery items.Have fun!

            2. re: embee

              Unfortunately, the Fine Food Boutique at Boncheff Nurseries closed up a few months ago.

              1. re: Tatai

                a very big shame! they had a wonderful selection.

                in the same area i tend to visit pasquale bros. they are a bit limiting though as i don't find their cheese selection to be unique and the grand majority of their products to be of only italian origin, but the price is usually right for what you get there!

            3. Geez, CoffeeAddict, that list was so long, can't even recall everything on it. It had everything from specific kinds of olive oil, cheeses, meat, fish, bread, specific jarred items, etc.
              So, went to Cumbrae's then made our way over to Alex Farms, but have to say, their quality, for me, has deminished for some reason, plus, we weren't stuck in stone with our olive oil choices, but found that all of their olive oil had quite a build up of dust on it, so we left. (Side note on Alex Farms: they tried to sell me fresh myzithra as feta a little while ago - it took me insisting that it wasn't feta twice, as well as one of the Greek guys on staff to get it right!).

              And, I don't know about everyone else, but I'm sure I used to pay Pusateri's rent a couple of years ago with the amount of purchases I used to make there, but I much more enjoy now going into more independent, smaller shops and purchasing specific items that they specialize in, even if I have to spend a little extra time doing it. But that's why I'd like to find the most populated streets or areas that encompass these smaller independent gourmet/specialty stores, so as to avoid the Pusateri's and other larger grocery stores. Of course I go to Longo's and Loblaws to shop for everyday items, we're talking specialty foods here.

              11 Replies
              1. re: Raquel

                I find that if I have a long list like that while prepping for a dinner party, it's rare that I can't get everything at St. Lawrence Market, depending on how specific the brands are you're looking for in oil, jarred goods, etc. Plus, if I need to go to a Loblaws or LCBO, they are close by on Queen's Quay. I will make a trip to Cumbrae's for specific meats, but the Church Street location isn't too hard to get to from the market.

                1. re: ms. clicquot

                  If you're going to go up to church street cumbrae's it might be worthwhile to go to the big carrot too. I've HEARD that they carry cumbrae meats significantly cheaper than at cumbraes? Can anyone confirm this? Specifically this would be for poultry but maybe for other meats as well

                  1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                    I haven't heard this but would be interested to hear if it's true. While I love Cumbrae's meats, it's definitely pretty expensive!

                    1. re: ms. clicquot

                      I don't know about the other meats, but Cumbrae's chickens at the Big Carrot are cheaper than at Cumbrae's proper - at least they were 6 months ago, the last time I was in that area.

                  2. re: ms. clicquot

                    I agree, I think I could find everything on your list at SLM. Parking is easy and everything's in one spot.

                    If I'm prepping for a Saturday dinner, I'll usually get just about everything I need at SLM on Friday morning when it's less crowded and hectic (yes I actually take Friday off work to prepare for a Saturday dinner party). This past Saturday all I had to do was make one quick trip up to Diana's for some black cod (way better price than SLM) and I had all day to prep. Dinner turned out fantastic by the way.

                  3. re: Raquel

                    Wow specific jarred items and specific olive oils!
                    Sounds like you were on Bayview though with cumbrae's and alex farms
                    Sounds like you're also near the pusateri's on avenue
                    From the sounds of it I think you'd be better off doing the five thieves are instead of bayview. That area also puts you within striking distance of whole foods which stocks tons of really really specific items (not necessarily gourmet but say gluten-free items for example).

                    I agree about Alex Farms being disappointing. I'm much much much happier shopping at Chris' Cheesemongers

                    1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                      I know, I know. I blame my numerous food magazine subscriptions that lure me into buying all the newest (and usually most expensive) food items.

                      I do know about the Five Thieves, just wish that we also had another five or even 4 thieves closer to home.

                      1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                        My understanding is that Chris' is owned by Alex Farms, they just put a stronger emphasis on Canadian product. The knowledge might be different there, but the product should be the same.

                        1. re: cheesymama

                          wow that's amazing
                          it's like visiting two completely different entities
                          I do have to defend the Alex Farms under Manulife Centre though. Always great service there

                          1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                            No, not always so. I have a friend who lives in the Manulife who has sworn off that location because of a bad experience. She now prefers Danforth but I've heard complaints about that location as well.

                            I've had good service and good products with Alex at SLM.

                            But I don't get what's going on with Alex Farms in general. I want to like them but I hear about mixed experiences with all of them. Okay so it's sort of the franchise concept, with differerent owners, but with the supposedly SAME STANDARDS. So what's with the different service/products at each location? Or is it all bad.

                            1. re: JamieK

                              I think it's the staff who are hired for each location. The Yonge one is closest to me, and is very good for patience, tastings, and knowledge. I have found that the SLM market one is very aggressive, upsells you on volume, but generally fits the profile for the building.

                              I still prefer it to Cheese Boutique, where the service is much more spotty and the prices tend to be somewhat higher. Alex is still the pioneer in many ways, with a much larger selection than anyone else, and the best prices. Yes, CB does some very good things with aging different cheeses, and About Cheese has more of a local focus, but Alex is still the gold standard.

                    2. My favourite spot is Whole Foods in Yorkville. They have everything, usually, and the quality is wonderful. An all-in-one gourmet grocery store.

                      My favourite area is Bloor West Village. There's Max's Market (for sauces and things in jars as well as cheeses and deli meats, pastries and breads), Snapper's Fish Market (although the prices and quality are a bit better at Whole Foods), Bloor Street Butcher and Fresh and Wild for excellent produce and a few other specialty items.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Sarah Cat

                        Excellent suggestion. I always forget about Bloor West Village. Must check it out again soon!

                        1. re: Raquel

                          Don't bother with Max's. They do not deserve the business for trying to charge money for the foul dishes they prepare. If you need cheese or any non-traiteur items go to the Cheese Boutique down the hill.

                          But really this post's question was a big non-starter from the get-go.

                          This town makes it very hard to enjoy food shopping unless you have a car (and enjoy driving all over hell's half-acre). Even SLR is closed Sunday (?!??!) *and* Monday. What a joke.

                          1. re: Sui_Mai

                            the dishes at max's are not great, it's true. the butter chicken is good, and so is the persian lentil stew, but that's it. the pastries, deli meats, cheeses and oils/sauces are good, though.

                            1. re: Sui_Mai

                              "But really this post's question was a big non-starter from the get-go.

                              This town makes it very hard to enjoy food shopping unless you have a car (and enjoy driving all over hell's half-acre). Even SLR is closed Sunday (?!??!) *and* Monday. What a joke."

                              Really? A non-starter?

                              Despite the fact that there are numerous posts describing an abundance of areas to shop in?

                              Also, it's a big city so obviously things will be spread out. Despite that geographical inevitability there are loads of great little diverse neighbourhoods that are fantastic for walking and shopping. It's actually one of the things that makes Toronto so great.

                              1. re: jamesm

                                Hear hear! You can travel to many of these neighbourhoods and happily spend hours eating, wandering, having a coffee and languidly planning what you're going to cook later. If you're just looking for convenience, you might have to stick to your local Loblaws....

                        2. Bloor West Village isn't bad, not the best but I feel, under rated, some of the best produce vendors in the city (must be the proximity to the food terminal, Bloor Meat Market, Snappers Fish Termanal, several Polish delis and bakeries and I quite like Vineyards Estates Wines. Such a pleasure to be served by members of the private sector when purchasing wine, if you know what I mean.

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: chef_vagabond

                            Ugh, i hate the wines at that Vineyards place!!! The service is good, yes, but.... ew. I can't stomach those wines! Luckily (for me) there's a LCBO at Runnymede.

                            Not too far away (in the South Kingsway) is the Cheese Boutique which is the BEST cheese shop in the city. Actually, it's got wonderful produce, meats, deli meats, pastries, produce and sauces and oils, as well, so as an alternative to a Whole Foods or a Pusateri's, it's pretty decent. WAY better than either on the cheese front!! And it has fantastic hours!

                            I also love the Thin Blu Line on Roncesvalles (which is also not too far from Bloor West). It's tiny but it has a wonderful selection. The cheese at Max's is good, but the selection is pretty straightforward.

                            1. re: Sarah Cat

                              Love the pasta "room" they have at the Cheese Boutique (so many shapes, colours, varieties!) but pass on the prepared foods- all look decent but I've yet to have something that was more than medicore...

                              1. re: Sarah Cat

                                I would put CB for cheese somewhat down the line. Below Alex, About Cheese, and Whole Foods. All three have CB beat on selection and price, as well as quality of service. CB does some great things with aging certain cheeses, but they just don't make it in terms of the quality of customer service, selection, or, more importantly, price point. For all of what they do, they appear to be more aggressive on pricing than the five thieves, without the same variety. Good on them for their innovations, but they should provide personal shoppers to justify their price points.

                                1. re: Snarf

                                  I'm not sure I agree on the selection part!
                                  Last year I tried to get a selection of cheeses containing the consecutive letters "ale" (for a themed dinner). I did, at least, do my research first and was specifically looking for Taleggio and Blue Wensleydale. After striking out at Alex and About Cheese (and 5 thieves) I reluctantly went to Cheese Boutique - reluctant because of price and distance (not quality) and they had BOTH. Incidentally the Taleggio has become one of my favourite cheeses now and I've still never seen it at Alex (Manulife) - which I check regularly.
                                  Please provide evidence of cheeses (not brand names) available at these other locations NOT available at Cheese Boutique! And didn't think of trying Whole Foods (again because of price), so don't know if they had them.

                                  1. re: estufarian

                                    "Please provide evidence"???? No offence, but kind of a strange request. CB is generally deficient in blue cheeses. I was looking to compare a number of Roqueforts, and was assured that St. Augur was a Roquefort. If you don't have it, you shouldn't try to pass off something else. Surprised at your experience, as I don't think I've ever not seen a blue Wensleydale in Alex (the one on Yonge is my local).

                                    1. re: Snarf

                                      At the St Lawrence Market Alex, I asked for Wensleydale (not on display) - they gave me a piece to try before buying - it was Caerphilly! Only when I identified it as such did they admit they were offering a substitute instead of what I had asked for. Hmm - "If you don't have it, you shouldn't try to pass off something else". Couldn't agree more!
                                      Hence I tend to (over?) react when Alex is praised as having a better selection than Cheese Boutique. And I was able to give a specific example of how CB did come through. I still see no evidence for your sweeping statement that Alex has a [better] selection than Cheese Boutique.But I haven't been to Yonge outlet - my experience has mainly been with SLM and Manulife and specifically Bayview on my Tallegio et al search.

                                      1. re: estufarian

                                        Chèvre Noir at Cheese Boutique tastes completely different (ie. way better) than it does from anywhere else. Believe me, I've eaten that cheese from at least five different places and on many many occasions. The aging standards at the Cheese Boutique are not just a side attraction — they create a completely superior experience and product. I have no confidence that any other cheese vendor in this city treats their product with the care that it would meet at the Cheese Boutique! I am glad to pay a little extra for such a marked increase in quality.

                                        I've never had issues with the service. It gets a bit busy, but the people behind the cheese counter are always more than happy to give me samples, make suggestions, and be generally helpful.

                                        1. re: estufarian

                                          My eyebrows went up a notch when I realized from the above exchange (snarf and estufarian) that both places, Alex and Cheese Boutique, would dare to bullshit the customer, and pass off something else as the real thing. Especially CB, with its higher mark-up. Suppose this happened at Vintages, or Cumbrae's. The reputation would dissolve and quickly, too.
                                          I hope these cheese people take note.

                                          1. re: estufarian

                                            Alex describes themselves, specifically the one in Humber Town Mall, as having over 400 cheeses, with access to another 600 on request. I presume the numbers would apply to most of the shops, certainly the additionals available on request. How many does CB carry?

                                        2. re: estufarian

                                          Mmmm, love taleggio. Great cooking cheese too. You can get some nice taleggio at Pascale's on Yonge north of Eg. Nice price too.

                                          Pascale Gourmet
                                          2393 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4P, CA

                                          1. re: estufarian

                                            I had been buying Taleggio since around 2001 at the Alex Farms on Danforth Ave. I have not looked for it recently, but would be surprised if they no longer carry it.

                                            1. re: foodyDudey

                                              I specifically asked at Alex (Bayview and SLM). "Out-of-stock" - and weren't able to tell me when it was expected.

                                    2. Here's a map to help you visualize the specialty fish/meat/cheese vendors in the city.


                                      1. Kensington-Queen West is a decent area as well. The Healthy Butcher for meat, cookstown greens, stocks, Thuet breads, etc...Next door is Per Se for condiments and spreads, crackers and things of that nature. The Spice Rack up the street has an excellent selection of spices and salts with a great selection of Olive Oils available downstairs. Then up to Spadina for a huge selection of Asian delicacies, some seafood and Kensington for Cheese, breads, sausages, Latin goods and produce. The newish fish place in the market even has a reasonable selection. Although fish is probably the weakest in terms of selection and quality for the neighbourhood. Otherwise everything else is pretty good.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: jamesm

                                          can't believe i neglected to mention kensington/chinatown!
                                          this area has ethnic food items you can't get anywhere else in town
                                          especially for asian and latin cooking

                                          for middle eastern cooking the lawrence east strip around warden (?) can't be beat

                                          1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                            I was just about to say, we should all deserve a round of applause for not mentioning St. Lawrence or Kensington, no disrespect to either, I've call Kensington Market my home for over 15 years but those places are a given. Lawrence East around Warden, sounds like a Spring afternoon, thanks.

                                            1. re: chef_vagabond

                                              My apologies for stating the obvious.

                                              1. re: chef_vagabond

                                                I second the vote for Lawrence Ave East between Pharmacy and Birchmount. Gourmet heaven especially if you need Middle Eastern ingredients. Love the Portuguese bakery there too.

                                                This area has been recommended many times in Toronto Life as well. I was surprised it took this far down the thread before someone mentioned it. I grew up in the area so that place is like home to me.

                                                1. re: TexSquared

                                                  i spent most of my life around mccowan/lawrence so i know what you mean :D

                                                  1. re: TexSquared

                                                    Do you go to P.A.T. as well? This is a fine Korean and Japanese store, with helpful advice from the proprietors.

                                                    1. re: jayt90

                                                      PAT is a great store on lawrence
                                                      i really hope it's still run by my high school friend's parents
                                                      I long lost touch with them and now live downtown but if it's still the same owners as way back when then it's probably the best korean grocery store in scarborough

                                                      1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                                        They are still there, getting on a bit, and priceless!

                                                  2. re: chef_vagabond

                                                    Another wierd sort of enclave that hasn't been mentioned in this specific thread is J-Town. You can get some very specific things here for all your japanese cooking needs. AFAIK the butcher there is the only one in town that does specific japanese style cuts of meat. Dunno if that's as specific a thing as French vs American beef cuts but there ya go.


                                                    And for another ethnic enclave; for korean goods you can go to either Galeria and the other assorted bakeries and mom and pop operations around yonge/steels all the way south to shepard or you can go to bloor/christie east to bathurst. The aforementioned lawrence east strip also has a korean supermarket that would have pacific rim ingredients in general as well.

                                              2. This is a great post, but, to me, it is impossible to be confined to one area, which is my great grocery shopping dilemma. My weekly stops are as follows:
                                                #1: Pusateri's-for almost everything edible, but most especially for the produce, which I find to be of exceptional quality. However, they do not have a very wide selection of locally grown foods or organic produce, which leads me to .....
                                                #2: Whole Foods Market in Yorkville-I am becoming increasingly fond of shopping here due to the beautiful meat and seafood counters, which, I might add, adhere to the Company's chemical and antibiotic free policy. The produce area, to me, lacks the vibrant eye appeal of Pusateri's, but I appreciate the information signs on the products as I am trying to become more politically correct in my eating habits. There is a very wide selection of cheeses, coffees and baked goods. Parking is great due to a free first 90 minute policy on the premises.

                                                #3- La Salumeria for deli meat, cheeses, italian breads etc.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Abbeshay

                                                  Having never stepped into a WFM; do they have a wider selection of organic produce than Pusateri's? I have found Pusateri's pretty good for organic fruits, but lacking for vegetables

                                                  1. re: Apprentice

                                                    Roncesvalles is actually developing into a nice little food neighbourhood beyond the Eastern European offerings. Thin Blu Line for cheese, olives, bread (Potato Chive loaf is awesome), spreads and whatnot. Rowe Farms for organic meats as well as the other delis/butchers for meat, KOS food market has an amazing selection of produce including some exotic fare, seasonal produce and organics. As well they have olive oils, flavoured oils (walnut, Almond, Avocado, etc...) and things like vanilla beans, saffron, and truffle oil. Mabels for breads and specialty items, Queen of Tarts and Yummy Stuff for the sweets and not to mention the farmers market on Sorauren in the summer. If someone could open a decent fish store we'd be pretty much set for day to day shopping.

                                                    1. re: Apprentice

                                                      You're right, and that was really what I was referring to. The organic vegetable section in Pusateri's is confined to a small area in the back. As for Whole Foods Market, I may be mistaken with respects to the organic section there, as well. Basically, their organic produce is displayed in the center of the aisles and consists of mainly root vegetables and fruits like bananas. I think WFM stresses the idea of locally grown food in their displays much more than Pusateri's, which is why I'm shopping there more.

                                                      1. re: Abbeshay

                                                        Fiesta Farms is getting better and better. I'm not loving their meat or seafood - for meat go to Gasparo's @ Bloor + Roxton. FF has lots of Organic produce, ethnic delicacies and some very surprising cheese. Swing down to Fromagerie on College near Ossington for Cheese and bread, and over to Pantry if you need something prepared. Further east on Bloor (from Christie) lots of Asian markets. Just not a lot of seafood options in this area.