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Feb 23, 2009 04:44 PM

Visiting Toronto - Must-Try Restaurants?

My friend and I are planning a 4-5 day visit to Toronto and wanted to know if anyone has suggestions on what the "must dine" restaurants are? My friend and I especially want to visit Koreatown, so any specific advice on that would be appreciated. We both love to cook and explore different cuisines, and my friend's favorite meal is breakfast, so she would probably want to hit the best diners, or breakfast places, during our vacation. Any other suggestions would be welcome! Thanks! :)

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  1. For breakfast I like the Senator.

    Where will you be staying? And visiting from?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Squeakycheese

      I am visiting from Washington, D.C., and I am not sure where I will be staying yet. (Any suggestions I would appreciate). This is a much needed vacation - I haven't been to Toronto in at least ten years, but when I was younger I used to visit almost every year.

    2. The Mexican restaurant El Asador in Koreatown (at Bloor and Clinton) is supposed to be fantastic. One of my favourite restaurants ever is Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar at Church and Front. Tapas, locally grown, beautiful food. Another wonderful spot is Foxley on Ossington, south of Dundas. It's also a tapas spot. Get the ceviche — it's soooo good. Just east of Koreatown in the Annex (on Bathurst south of Bloor) is Roti Palace — they make fantastic roti!!

      Have a great trip!

      1. Agree with Senator. I'm also fond of Aunties & Uncles ( for breakfast.

        For dinner, I think Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant is a novel experience.

        Thinking Koreatown, I don't know any of the restaurants, but there are a few bakeries selling hodo kwaja (walnut cake, shaped exactly like walnuts in the shell) that I love. My favourite place is on the north side of Bloor (i.e. further from the lake), between Bathurst and Christie Pits (the park west of Bathurst). The sign just says "hodo kwaja". I suspect any of the bakeries there are worth a try.

        Same neighbourhood but very different cuisine is Tacos El Asador. It's a tiny place, but friendly and the food is very fresh and good. North side again, very close to Christie Pits.

        And another unique experience is Back Alley Woodfire Barbecue & Grill in Kensington market ( Call before going, as they have eccentric hours, and have the scallion pancakes if nothing else. I also really like their grilled calamari.

        Have fun on your trip!

        2 Replies
        1. re: aveivy

          Thank you! I hope I will! :) I love to eat! Well, I should not say it that way, as it sounds gluttonous, but I should say that if I had it my way, I'd travel all over the world and experience different cuisines and ideally learn how to cook them as well. I will look at the links and somehow sort this out w/ my friend, who has agreed to come as she shares my love of cooking.

          1. re: aveivy

            I second the Hodo Kwaja place on Bloor, one of the best and cheap Korean snacks in ever!

          2. Why the specific interest in Koreatown? If you're Korean I would point you to North York for okay Korean food. The downtown Koreatown might be okay for pure comfort food or for an intro to Korean food. As a Korean though I don't think Korean food is done well here. Manhattan's Koreatown is about par with Bloor St W Koreatown from what I hear.

            31 Replies
            1. re: CoffeeAddict416

              North York k-town is far superior to the downtown version. It's the same w/ most ethnic cuisines, they're all setting shop in the burbs.

              New mmigrants do not live near downtown, newer restaurants catering to these residents will therefore be very removed from downtown.

              If you have to narrow it down to one Korean experience, I would suggest Sariwon. It is a bit more refined than the typical K joint in this city. Better ventilation too, if that matters to you. Most Korean restaurants in the city are of the homey variety.

              The bettter question is what city are you from? What can't you get in your city that can be had in Toronto? Chinese is the strongest cuisine in Toronto imo, again not downtown.

              1. re: aser

                Sariwon - is this in Koreatown? Cross streets?

                Re: city I am from - I am coming from D.C.; but I have grown up (for the most part) in Boston, went to school there, etc. I was born on Austrailia, and have lived in Chicago for a bit as well. So, a few cities, I suppose.

                As for D.C., their Chinatown, at least in my opinion, is atrocious, and aside from the obligatory 'gates' into Chinatown, nothing else is remotely worth a visit in the street that is Chinatown. Someone had told me that D.C. had built one b/c it had decided that it needed a Chinatown, as other cities (e.g. Boston and NY) have, so it wasn't really immigrant driven, per se. I miss Boston's Chinatown, that's for certain.

                1. re: Lucky Basil

                  I second the Sariwon recommendation. I ate ribs there recently. Grill them yourself at the table. Atmosphere is better than most other Korean restaurants in Toronto. It's located around Yonge & Finch/Steeles. Don't remember exactly where. However, it's quite close to Galleria (Korean grocery store), so you could hit both in one trip.

                  1. re: Lucky Basil

                    Yes, when I lived in DC, the Chinatown was so depressing! I remember hunting high and low for a grocery store with Asian ingredients, and when I finally found one, with excited glee I headed towards the fridge cases in the back, wringing my hands in anticipation... only to find them full of sandals, mats, and other things! I had to travel to the suburbs in Virginia to get anything.

                    Otherwise, I thought the food in DC was great. Lots of excellent restaurants. Bizarrely, I was able to acquire most of the ingredients I needed to cook Indian food at my local Safeway, so I ended up doing a lot of that.

                    I'm glad, though, to be back in Ottawa, simply for the fact that there are plenty of Asian grocers with a great selection of ingredients!

                    1. re: vorpal

                      If you have any recommendations on asian (thai primarily, indian second) grocery stores in Ottawa - that would be great (for my sister).

                      1. re: cacruden

                        Absolutely, cacruden! The best grocery store in Chinatown for Thai ingredients is Manphong, which is at the NE corner of Bronson and Somerset. AMAZING selection of Thai and Malaysian ingredients, and things that I was never able to locate anywhere in the GTA, for example kaffir limes, coconut sugar, and candlenuts. I'm thrilled with this store. It's a little far from my house, though, so unless the special stuff is needed, I tend to stop at a grocer whose name I'm not sure at Ogilvie and St. Laurent next to the Mandarin Ogilvie Chinese restaurant. A nice mix of ingredients from many different Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, and China.

                        As for Indian, I haven't cooked it in awhile, so I can't really make much in the way of recommendations in that regard. Ottawa has such great, reasonably priced Indian restaurants that I don't bother much anymore.

                        1. re: vorpal

                          Thanks vorpal, I will pass the information along. I am guessing the coconut sugar is also rock hard - I would love it if they would actually sell it in paste form :p

                          1. re: cacruden

                            It's not rock hard, but neither is it a paste. It comes in bricks that are easily cut with a knife, in my experience.

                          2. re: vorpal

                            hey vorpal, i remember your posts from your toronto days. i tried unsuccessfully to search on here, but figured you might be able to help is it relatively easy to find golden mountain soy sauce in toronto? what about holy basil? do you recall any stores i might be able to find these items? thanks.

                            1. re: auberginegal

                              Hi auberginegal!

                              Golden Mountain: it *looks* familiar, but I can't say that I've bought it before. I feel almost certain that I've seen it in stores, though, although it's possible that might just be my imagination. The brand I use is Healthy Boy soy sauce, of which I'm terribly fond. I used to use Pearl River Bridge, and the difference with regards to Thai food is amazing: there's no way I could ever go back.

                              Holy basil: I've only ever seen it in Chinatown East (the eastern-most grocery store of the two, whose name I can't remember). It would be in the small room just outside of the store on the east that has lots of veggies. Now, note that it is not regularly sold. Out of the 50 or so times I shopped there, I guess that I was able to buy it maybe four or five of those times. Even then, I was amazed to see it there, because my inquiries all over Spadina Chinatown led me to believe that it was not obtainable commercially in Toronto.

                              Best of luck! I wish I could be more help.

                              1. re: vorpal

                                thanks vorpal, i'll look out for Healthy Boy soy sauce. don't get out to chinatown east, but will probably make more trips, really want that basil. maybe i'll get lucky :)

                                1. re: auberginegal

                                  Hey aubergine...when I was at Sunny Mart (Leslie & Finch), I saw an entire row of Thai herbs, with printed labels such as Thai basil, holy basil, lime leaf, red mint, water mint, fish mint, cilantro, etc. Check it out and see if it's what you're looking for.

                                  1. re: Chester Eleganté

                                    thanks for the tip, i'll keep sunny mart in mind!

                                2. re: vorpal

                                  the holy basil tip is great, I've never seen it in Toronto, or seen any restaurants here using it.

                          3. re: vorpal

                            Chinatown in DC was at one time at Federal Triangle it was moved to make way for the federal building. It was a one time a big thing in DC but the MLK riots changed all of that. But also I would recommend Lee's at King and Bathurst Fusion Asian

                      2. re: CoffeeAddict416

                        Well, I am Korean, and I love Korean food, and it is hard to find, at least in my experience. How far away is North York? Would I have to drive there if I am visiting Toronto by plane? I suppose my friend and I could drive to Toronto...? I really like (I think it's called) kim bap - the pseudo-sushi like rolls, that have beef and spinach and carrots, eggs, etc. There is a korean grocery store where I went to school (MIT) and I miss it dearly since typically they'd have this ready-made at the counter. That is also hard to find, even in korean restaurants.

                        1. re: Lucky Basil

                          you'll do fine in the downtown koreatown. I think you'll be able to find lots of comfort food there. I haven't been through that strip in a long time but from what I understand it's the same as it has always been. Specific places will be better than others for specific dishes.

                          The kim bap rolls i've never seen in a restaurant in my life! but you will find them at the PAT grocery store on bloor.

                          I would love to recommend sariwon in north york but i don't think it's worth the hassle going up there. It's pretty much destination dining for you at that point even if it is subway accessible and not worth the journey.

                          What you won't find though is the korean food will not taste like your mom's home cooking or your grandma's. It will taste different. I'm not sure what it is most restaurants are doing but they're cutting corners somewhere and it doesn't taste quite right.

                          It's like SOUL food... something is there to make it taste right whether it's love or care of ingredients etc etc. That's what I find missing in Toronto korean food.

                          The only place I've had SOUL in my korean food recently is Ka Chi in kensington market around spadina/dundas spadina/college area.

                          1. re: Lucky Basil

                            one other thing
                            I find a LOT of people LOOOOOVE Pork Bone Soup (gam ja tang) but I personally don't think it's all that special. It's pretty greasy and a bit of a mess any time I've seen it.

                            Ka Chi
                            8 St Andrews St, Toronto, ON M5T, CA

                            1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                              Thank you, I will have to certainly go to this "PAT" grocery store, absolutely or the kim bap. I will probably also have to fast before I come to Toronto, though perhaps I will walk most of it off. I would imagine Toronto's a walking city? It's been years since I have been there, but it appeared to be the case.

                              1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                um, I am sorry, but I am going to have to partially disagree with you on that one. The only greasy and "messy" kind of gamjatang you are referring to are the ones that are found virtually in all of the cheap and forgettable mom-and-pops Korean joints in town... pretty inevitable with all those useless artificial flavorings and cheapass fatty bones they use. If made properly with fresh ingredients, it's actually a very hearty and healthy dish. If you have a big and wide stone pot at home, try making GJT at home and it'll make a great base for some kickass scorchy (think nurungji) fried rice after you're done eating GJT!

                                1. re: satoorisme

                                  i might have to make one at home then!

                                  1. re: satoorisme

                                    i think you'll find a certain generation of koreans who wouldn't touch the stuff with a mile long pole (myself included) - gamjatang was at one time considered less than poorman's food with its bottom of the barrel ingredients ie. namely the neck bones that were throwaways. sorry, but tried making it at home for the sake of the young ones and still couldn't figure out the attraction - the kiddies thought my ingredients were too high quality and incapable of exuding the grunge flavour to the comfort grunge food (i had to agree)... the thought of making fried rice with the leftovers just doesnt do it for me at all either... to each her own....

                                    lucky basil - if you do head up north to yonge/finch area, you will find Kim Bap Na Ra where they will make kim bap rolls for you to order; the ones at the grocery stores are usually made daily and they'll do fine if you're looking to grab & run; if you are on the bloor strip, Royal Mandu is another good takeout place for massive steamed buns made on the spot (think Jjimppang with mandu filling and red bean paste). on the bloor strip, the best full menu restos are Il Bun Ji and Han Kook Kwan - don't know the english name but here's a map/photo:

                                    bukchangdong soon tofu is ok, not great, but probably the best place on bloor to get soon tofu, next to the two restos mentioned previously....better soon tofu can be had at Wonjo Soon Tofu on Yonge, south of Steeles

                                    personal fave korean resto for quality would be Shilla Dynasty on Weston Rd/Lawrence, a neighbourhood that may be tricky for a non-torontonian to navigate

                                    Galleria can be fun especially with its expanded food-court-style offerings but it may also disappoint as the quality is not there. some of their offerings: made-on-site o-deng/tempura, jook, deokbokki, shik hae, boongeopang (goldfish shaped buns), jajangmyun, hotteok, fried mandu, ddeok, etc... again, not highest quality but if you've been deprived of korean food for a while, this may be the mini-fantasyland for your tastebuds...

                                    hitting the korean spots may satisfy but i think you'd be impressed by the chinese offerings in Toronto - not that i'm an expert but many of the Chinese food experts on this board themselves have commented that the offerings in Toronto are some of the best you'll find in North America. if you are driving, a trip up north of the city is a must (Hwy 7/Leslie area) where fine chinese restos are bountiful (don't hit the korean restos there


                                    btw, coming from washington, i suspect you have a pretty good choice of ethiopian restaurants but do you have any somali? if not, I'd highly recommend a visit to a Somali place: New Bilan (Dundas/Jarvis)...

                                    have fun chowing in t.o.

                                    1. re: berbere

                                      i can't really describe why but i love pork bone soup for it's grunge factor as well. it's just comfort.... my favourite congee of all time is my grandmothers pork bone version that uses the exact same kind of meat but i tend to find hers has much silkier meat texture. the only good pork bone soup i've had recently was in mississauga at some wow foods restaurant by dundas and... somewhere? i don't get out to mississauga much and so can't be more specific.

                                      in lieu of galleria though... i find hmart quite fascinating as well though i don't recall the gigantic freezer size kimchi makers!

                                2. re: Lucky Basil

                                  North York is very close to downtown Toronto. Around a 20-30 minute drive depending on traffic and weather. You could even take the subway up to North York. For Korean food I would get off at Finch station (the last stop). There are several restaurants in that area though I can't comment on them since i dont' go often.
                                  For Krn grocery stores, I like going to the one at Yonge and Steeles about a city block north of Yonge and Finch. Forgot the name.. maybe H Mart but there are many samples and they've got a bakery, food court, little beauty store, etc there.
                                  Maybe you can consider getting a day pass for the TTC (good for subway, bus, streetcard).. it's around 10 bucks and you can go both to K-town downtown and uptown. Probably be a 30 minute ride between the two on the subway.
                                  As for the kim bap, I think you can find them pretty much at any grocery store in ktown.

                                  1. re: hippotatomus

                                    The huge Korean grocery store complex north of Yonge and Steeles (wayyy past the subway - not walkable) is called Galleria. It's one of the only places in the GTA that you can find "street food" (outdoor stalls with open grills for bungeoppang, fish skewers, pancakes, etc.)

                                    Personally, I take everyone to Sejong on Bloor. They have weeknight specials on the tabletop cooking, and like most places, have menu items written in Korean language only that involve great prices for a package deal (food and 5 beers or soju).

                                    1. re: hippotatomus

                                      Thank you for the suggestion about getting a day pass...I should do that I think. Or perhaps week passes, if they have such, in the event my friend and I are staying for that long. And familiarize myself with a map before I go,or my friend will - she is better at directions. (Well, almost anyone is better at directions than I)

                                      I am so excited! I just have to intersperse all this eating with some form of sightseeing, or people watching, or entertainment, etc. and it will be perfect!

                                      1. re: Lucky Basil

                                        Sejong's tabletop bbq uses a combo of gas and charcoal, the only place downtown doing that. Their banchan is not that good though....

                                        The best overall restaurant on the bloor k-town strip to me is Il Bun Ji (668 Bloor St W), they make an excellent chap chae. For something a little different, there is a Korean Chinese restaurant on that strip called The Taste of Magic (642 Bloor st W).

                                        If you're willing to trek uptown, getting off at either Finch or North York Centre stations will leave you in walking distance of many restaurants. One of my faves is Oh Geul Boh Geul (5320 Yonge St). Total ajumma action here, they have trouble communicating in english, food is great. A very varied banchan selection, including pajeon.

                                        For the Galleria Supermarket, you have to take a bus at Finch station (free transfer) to Steeles & Yonge (5 min bus ride). Get off and walk north for less than 10 mins to get there. It's just one traffic light up from Yonge & Steeles.

                                        1. re: aser

                                          Thank you for the suggestions, addresses and help! Wow, I can't believe its been years since I have had chap chae. Well, acutally, my first year of law school there was a Korean place that had that on its menu, but it ended up closing the same year to be replaced by a Chinese restaurant. I should go to sleep before I have some late night snack, only wishing it was chap chae, or something similar. :)

                                    2. re: Lucky Basil

                                      The new Korean extends from about Sheppard Avenue north on Yonge into Thornhill. The subway gets you to Yonge/Finch quite easily (alternately, you could get off at Sheppard, and walk north, seeing what strikes your fancy). If you want to get up to Thornhill, again on Yonge, either take the Yonge 99 bus north from Finch station, or take the quicker VIVA Blue, and get off at Clark.

                                      Driving doesn't take long, but it's the hassle of finding a place to park that deters me.

                                      If you are driving, go a bit farther north to Highway 7, and head west for some great Chinese restaurants (O-Mei, Ambassador, Dynasty, plus many little spots in Times Square and the various strip malls).

                                      Most suburban "japanese" spots are actually run by Koreans, and they offer a number of Korean dishes on their menu. "All you can eat" sushi is often offered, and is almost always pedestrian dishes with way too much rice and not enough seafood.

                                      Toronto has great Greek food on the Danforth, from cheap and cheerful souvlaki spots like Astoria or the Friendly Greek, to more upscale spots like Christina's, Mezes, or Ouzeri. Again, easily accessible by subway and difficult to park.

                                      If you plan on splurging for a night, the one place I would recommend is Scaramouche - a lovely room with a great view, and slated to be closing soon, so you should experience it if you can.

                                    3. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                      Which korean restaurants at Yonge/Finch are the best? I've been to a couple (Joon's and the one next to it) and prefer going to the ones on Bloor. Can't really put my finger on it but I just prefer the Bloor ones.

                                    4. Alright, I know it's really far in the West end, but if your friend's favourite meal of the day is breakfast you should consider trying Mitzi's on Sorauren. Lovely breakfast/brunch food on a cute, quiet street...and you could go for a walk in High Park or shop a bit along Roncesvalles afterwards if you're so inclined. However, it is a bit of a trek from the city centre - depending on where you're staying this might not be worth it.

                                      (I know Mitzi's sister on Queen West serves up similar food, but I just can't recommend it - the atmosphere isn't nearly as charming)

                                      As far as Koreatown goes, I second the walnut cake shop. I can't remember the name of the one I go to, but I have a feeling it's the same one as aveivy goes to. You'll see the walnut-making machines through the front window. A drop in at PAT supermarket (right in Koreatown) is fun, too, for (another) quick snack to eat while wandering around.

                                      Have a great trip!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: thora

                                        Thank you! I will discuss this with my friend - she positively *loves* breakfast (though I am not a morning person). Do you think we could get to this place easier if we had a car? Perhaps we could drive to Toronto, rather than fly. We just want to have fun, (or I just want to have fun) since I consider this my last vacation until I (jokingly) give up all possibilities of free time as an attorney. Well, maybe not that jokingly, but you get the idea. :)