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1st time visitor needs late dinner suggestions and other advice

My boyfriend and I are visiting Toronto from NYC for a long weekend and are planning our food itinerary. We arrive Fri., Feb. 6, at 8:30pm at Toronto's YYZ airport and are concerned that, by the time we get to Toronto and check in our hotel (downtown, Richmond St.), kitchens will be closing. Any suggestions on places that are open later in that area? Hopefully near a nice place to get drinks after? We leave the next Monday afternoon.

We eat everything but are looking for food that's better in Toronto than NYC. Barberians, Starfish Oyster Bed, and Dhaba have been recommended to us - thoughts? Always happy to splurge for great food, but it IS a recession, so maybe nothing TOO crazy. Food is the most important, and everything else is secondary... but if there are nice bars nearby to go to afterwards, that's a plus!

I'm Chinese and looking forward to Toronto's Chinatown - thoughts on dim sum/lunch/bakeries? From my Chow research, it seems Rol San, Dynasty, and Lai Wah Heen are the places to check out?

Not sure what else Toronto is known for food-wise (although from postings it seems like Portuguese/Alcatra?), but we're open to suggestions! And if there happens to be somewhere I can buy kaffir lime leaves to smuggle back (or any other ingredient/food I can take back that I can't get easily in NYC)....St. Lawrence/Kensington markets? (Thai/Indian food in NYC isn't so great, so I'm forced to try to make my own...)

Suggestions on sight-seeing/attractions geared towards people who live to eat are also welcome!

Thanks in advance for your help!

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  1. Not sure where along Richmond you will be, but JK Wine Bar (Church and Front) is open until 11, so you could probably make it there in time to grab a bite. Get a seat at the chef's bar if you can. For drinks afterward, the Foundation Room is just a few doors up the street if you're looking for a club/lounge atmosphere. If you're looking for a casual/pub atmosphere, C'est What? is just around the corner. I wouldn't eat there, but it's a good spot for a beer.

    Honestly, there isn't a lot that is better here than NYC. Having said that, I would highly recommend Lai Wah Heen for stellar dim sum that probably doesn't have an equal in NYC. For our best Cantonese food, you'd have to venture by car out to the 'burbs. But if you want to stay in our downtown Chinatown, cheap and cheerful would be the way to go. Spend an afternoon wandering Chinatown and Kensington Market (they are next to each other) and stop in Kim Moon Bakery for cheap dim sum and Chinese pastries or Mother's Dumplings for some cheap and tasty noodles or dumplings.

    Another strong rec that is unique to Toronto would be to go Chiado and eat in the wine bar area off of the bar menu. Absolutely wonderful Portuguese food and wine. The main restaurant menu is great, as well, but much pricier and I love the small plates that are on the wine bar menu. If they aren't too busy, ask them to make you some pasteis bacalhau (salt cod fritters). They may or may not be able to accommodate, but it's worth it if they do.

    The other fun area to explore is the Distillery District. Not a great spot for a destination meal, but good for lunch or grazing. Brick St. Bakery for tasty sandwiches and sausage rolls, Soma for wonderful chocolates and Mayan hot chocolate shots, Mill St. Brewery for beer tasting, the crepe place (can't think of the name) for a sweet or savoury crepe, Balzacs for a coffee or hot apple cider. Lots of nice little shops and galleries to explore in between noshes.

    Welcome to Toronto and please report back on your trip!

    1 Reply
    1. re: TorontoJo

      having had the low rent cantonese food in NYC in both Queens and in Manhattan I've gotta say ours is very very different. I was told by Chinese friends that this stems from the Chinese chefs being relatively new immigrants to Canada whereas Chinese chefs in NYC have been there a generation (at least in the Manhattan chinatown). I dunno if any of that is true or not but that's what I heard :)

      So yes if there's anything that's truly better in Toronto than in NYC it's gotta be Chinese food, specifically Cantonese food.

      For high-end cuisine I think you're getting better food and better value in NYC even with an exchange rate discount. I would stick to value places that do local cuisine really well. I won't list those because I haven't been to most (not eating out much) but I'm sure people will chime in with many many options.

      Pizza and bagels are something you might wanna try here too. A typical pepperoni slice is different here than in NYC. NYCs is better I think for any given random mom and pop shop. Bagels aren't bad at st lawrence market at st urbain and they're inferior to montreal bagels but they aren't NYC bagels so you'll wanna give them a try.

      EDIT: forgot to add that apparently our dity water dogs are superior to NYCs. I have to agree!

    2. For the late-night component, hitting Black Hoof for charcuterie would be the hot and trendy thing to do, and they are open until 2 am. From midnight onwards the room is usually packed with chefs and other restaurant folk...always a good sign.

      1. Nota Bene at Queen St and University Ave is an excellent, hip spot. The food is modern bistro with an emphasis on quality ingredients. The kitchen is open till 11. The service is very smooth and the room has a great downtown buzz to it.

        1. Hey there,

          If you are seeking authentic Thai in the core of the city, your best bet is Mengrai Thai which is on Richmond just east of Sherbourne (east of the main Yonge Street artery) http://www.nowtoronto.com/food/story..... Decent looking room in a converted old building, but the food is way better than the ketchupy pad thai served in too many of the spots in town.

          In terms of Indian, the two best I've had in the city are Amaya http://www.amayarestaurant.com/ and Debu's http://www.debusaha.com/ . Sadly, they are both in midtown Toronto which will mean a $15.00 - $25.00 cab from where you are staying.

          You'll have no problem finding kaffir lime leaves and other exotic things in chinatown and kensington.

          Second the suggestion to spend an afternoon or evening walking around the distillery district - really unique historic area. Grab a coffee at Balzacs, try the made-on-site bread at Brick Bakery, chocolate at soma, and have a drink in the beautiful Boiler House restaurant (their design of the room is killer). The area is full of art galleries that are worth popping into. http://www.thedistillerydistrict.com/

          Food there is generally overpriced, so make a reservation at Weezies (2 blocks away) which is a lovely little tucked-away-feeling bistro that is simple but very good and very reasonably priced. Make a reservation, however, as the small room fills up - http://www.nowtoronto.com/food/story....

          Late night suggestions of Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and Black Hoof are both great. JK uses local ingredients as much as possible, so there could be something interesting for you on the card.

          1. You can also get dinner pretty late at the Drake and the food is quite good.

            1. For Friday late night, if you're at the Cambridge Suites, Beer Bistro is only two blocks south at Yonge & King. Kitchen open til 2am.

              Beer Bistro
              18 King St. E, Toronto, ON M5C 1C4, CA

              1. On a trip to Toronto I would definitely consider a visit to the newly re-opened Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The gallery is beautfiul and has a great collection. It also has a new restaurant named "Frank" which was really good for brunch when we went on a Sunday . You can make reservations at Frank through Open Table. In the alternative, just around the corner from the AGO is Baldwin Street. Lots of cheap, good eats. Just do a search on this Board for Baldwin and you'll get lots of ideas. Enjoy the city!

                1. Starfish is a great stop for fish and oysters. Rol San is good for Toronto but I think Lai Wah Heen will impress much for an upscale dim sum experience.

                  For late night options, Blackhoof ( i belive they serve food until 1 or 2 a.m.!) is a good bet, as is Forte which is on Richmond at York and the kitchen is open until 11 p.m.

                  And as previously mention JK Winebar is always a good nosh in my opinion!

                  Happy eating!

                  1. I'm Chinese, too so I'm very critical of Chinese food. I have to say "avoid Rol San!" I don't know why members of this board like it but my dim sum experiences there have been less than satisfactory. If you want dim sum, Pearl (at Harbourfront) is a step up in price and quality. It's been a TO institution for years AND has a great view of Lake Ontario. Of course, north of Toronto in the suburbs of Richmond Hill and Markham is where you'll find a better selection of good Asian (specifically Chinese) restaurants.

                    In the Richmond St. area you'll mostly find clubs, and very few bars worth going to, IMHO. BUT there is Smokeless Joe's on John St. They have an extensive beer list and some good raw oysters and mussels if you like that sort of thing. I don't recommend anything else on the food menu, but go for a drink (or three). I can recommend other bars if you are more specific in terms of what you're looking for.

                    1. i had a great meal last night at Harbord Room, on the west/north side of the downtown core. really great ambiance (best music ever!), my SO's burger was easily in his top five, as was my salmon. the beet salad was even great! great ontario wine list and i know they are open late, but no matter what - have the fries! SKIN ON, KOSHER SALT, so good!


                      Harbord Room
                      89 Harbord St, Toronto, ON M5S1G4, CA

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: LemonLauren

                        If you're at a hotel on Richmond, I'm guessing you're at the Hilton at University or that one at Victoria, so you're right in the downtown core.

                        Harlem (at Richmond & Church) stays open late on Friday. It's a small-ish Caribbean soul food restaurant with a jazzy R & B nightclub upstairs. Did I just recommend a restaurant called Harlem to someone from NYC?

                        Since you're from NYC, I'd skip the seafood and focus on stuff you can't get at home. Yes, the Chinese food is better than the suburbs, but it's also in the suburbs. In strip malls that look like New Jersey. Downtown's Chinatown doesn't have as good food (with a few exceptions) but it sure is a lot more fun to walk around and investigate. And Kensington Market's and Baldwin Village/AGO are right there, too.

                        And you're close to Smoke's Poutinerie — you prolly won't get that in NYC!

                      2. Thanks for all the replies, everyone!!! I really can't wait - currently putting together an itinerary based on your suggestions, and then will also put together another list of everything else that sounds great in case we do manage to fit in 8 meals/day!

                        One more question - are Sunday hours different from normal hours? Is there anything I can't do on Sunday that I should make sure I do another day?

                        I'll report back on what we end up doing - thanks again for all the suggestions!

                        FYI we're at the Hilton, wherever that is!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: jen223

                          The St. Lawrence Market is closed on Sundays and Mondays. And many, many restaurants (especially the higher end ones) are closed on Sundays, so you should always check their web sites or call before finalizing your plans. Good luck!

                          1. re: TorontoJo

                            Nota Bene is also steps from where you are staying, so you'll likely be able to make the 11:00pm kitchen deadline if you drop your bags at the hotel and run...

                            Even if you get into the city too late to consider a full meal, The Hilton is only a couple of blocks from a very happening bar strip on Queen Street West where you can grab a drink in an assortment of venues depending on your mood.

                          2. re: jen223

                            One of the things you will like about Toronto compared to NYC is that most food here tends to be considerably cheaper and the restaurants both high and low end, tend to be a little less crowded as well. You can still get a decent bowl of Pho for under $7 and most mid-priced restaurants will come in at under $50 for two.

                            There's not a whole lot in the immediate area around the Hilton because it's at the north end of the financial district (all steel and glass buildings, dead on weekends) but if you go up and onto Queen St. there are lots of restaurants to choose from. Check restaurant reviews at www.nowtoronto.com/restaurants for starters.

                            Chinatown here is much bigger than the one in Manhattan, so you may like that as well.