Montrealer in Toronto
Hi guys, I'm coming down to Toronto for 2 days next week. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions on "essential" places to go. In Montreal, we've got places like Schwartz, that we basically tell anyone from out of town to go to. Any places like that in Toronto?
I'm staying downtown. Is downtown drivable? Otherwise I'll park it and take cab/public transportation. Also, sushi - we don't have good sushi in Montreal. Anything downtown that's notable (but not ridiculously expensive). How about other stuff? What is Toronto known for? Something that I can't get in Montreal. Thanks!
Downtown is driveable, the only areas where you'll have trouble finding parking for reasonable prices are the financial district and ACC.
Sushi wise, best is Kaji, but he's out in Etobicoke, plus he does an entire omakase including cooked courses. There is no a la carte, although I'm sure if you liked a particular nigiri you can ask for extra pieces. If all you want is nigiri/sashimi, then I would suggest Zen. Hiro, Japango/Yuzu and Solo Sushi-Ya are your downtown options, some will suggest Omi but I find it too fusiony. Finally, unfortunately, good quality sushi will be expensive.
Toronto is known for ethnic cuisine, from Carribean to Chinese to Korean, etc.....You'll find some of the best Cantonese food outside of HK here. The catch again is that they're mostly in the suburbs. You have a car so what's another 30 minute drive if you've already driven 5.5 hrs already.
The "IT" restaurant of the city right now is The Black Hoof, go if you're into charcuterie.
Toronto's smoked meat equivalent would be a peameal sandwich at Carousel Bakery in St Lawrence Market. I'm not a fan of it but it is "the" dish most indigenous to Toronto, try and see for yourself.
These are all recent threads for tourist inquiries.
Second the sushi recommendations. Kaji is expensive, Zen less so. If you're looking for the best Japanese that Toronto (or Montreal) has to offer, visit Kaji. If you're just looking for sushi at a lesser price, go to Zen. Hashimoto in Mississauga is also great, kaiseki-style Japanese, but will also put a hole in your wallet (I don't think Montreal has anything kaiseki-related). Taro's Fish (again, not downtown) has good sashimi without the restaurant experience; it might be a good stop as well!
I think your best bet might be to drive out to Zen rather than go to somewhere like Hiro, which can also be fairly expensive and not as good. If you like weird rolls, Yuzu is okay. I'd say to avoid Omi's sushi, but go for some of his Korean dishes. They're actually quite good! Avoid the AYCE Korean BBQ places, but if you search the board you might be able to pull up some recommendations for decent Korean.
As for Japanese, there are a couple restaurants that might also be of interest: Ematei for izakaya-style fare, a lot of homey dishes, excellent grilled fish; Okonomi House for pseudo-okonomiyaki; places like Tokyo Kitchen, Manpuku and the cafe at J-Town for homestyle Japanese food like curry katsu, etc. I'm not sure how much of this kind of thing you have in Montreal, since I never eat Japanese food while I'm there. If these aren't things you have, you might as well give them a try!
I'm not even close to being knowledgeable about Chinese, but if you search the board for recommendations from resident gurus like Charles_Yu, skylineR33 and aser, you can get some incredible tips. It is definitely worth the drive North of downtown, especially if you have money to burn on the really expensive items like shark fin, abalone, etc. Lai Wah Heen downtown serves great dim sum, but again, is fairly expensive.
The peameal sandwich is Toronto's "signature" item, I suppose, but you might also want to try the smoked meat sandwich at Caplansky's. It isn't Schwartz's, and doesn't pretend to be. I enjoy his sandwiches, even being a huge fan of Schwartz's.
Japango is decent sushi, it's at Dundas and Elizabeth, by the Eaton Centre. It's tiny, if it's lunch you usually have to go before noon or 1pm (i.e. a few minutes before the hour) to snag a table. Downtown is actually very walkable, I used to live by the Rogers Centre and walked everywhere.
What's your price point for 'not ridiculously expensive'? That covers a lot of ground. As Aser points out, I think the diversity of food and communities is what makes Toronto unique. Rather than just heading to individual restaurants, you might want to pick a neighbourhood like Kensington Market and sample a variety of foods.
If you're looking for things that are typically Toronto, or rather not likely to be found in Montreal, a few suggestions:
Kensington Market. There's a fair bit of South American there, from street food at El Gordo Empanadas to the small stores with kitchenettes at the back. Higher end would be Torito for tapas with a South American influence.
Portuguese: Senhor Antonio's on College for small dishes that are interesting and well-executed.
St. Lawrence Market: Don't. Maybe for the peameal bacon sandwich, but apart from that, if you've spent any time at Jean Talon or Atwater, you'll giggle.
Rebel House Pub: Nice selection of local microbrews, if that's what you're into.
Bagels: Bring them. Dispute freely. You'll be thanked.
(here i go again) if you aren't big drinkers, $80 for two will do you well at Harbord Room, for "the city's best burger" (debate is open and raging), great chicken and fish preparation, a great vibe and music selection, wonderful service and a great night overall. nothing unique about it except that it's a uniquely casual and special dining experience at once. Definately walkable from yonge/dundas.
A unique spot can be found in Matahari on Baldwin. to my recollection there is not much malaysian in Montreal, and this resto combines a zen-like atmosphere with yummy and varied food (lots of veg selection) of Malay/Thai influence.
again, neither of these are destinations per se like the peameal, but they are restos i haven't managed to match in Mtl.
You're right, I can't think of any authentic Malaysian food to be had in Montreal. I'm thinking of "Ematei" for one of our dinners. That "Lai Wah Heen" place looks really special for dim sum... at least special prices! The place seems to serve dim sum that's quite progressive, quite a bit different from the traditional stuff that we get in Montreal (I'm not saying it's good). Would any of you guys say that "it's an experience"? Or rather, just a nice meal?
If I go to these two places, I've got one lunch and one dinner to fill. Decisions, decisions...
Ematei is good, but stay away from the sushi. Also, try to avoid stuff like ramen -- go for the more Japanese fare like grilled fish and stuff. You can easily get out for around $10pp. at lunch.
I think LWH is special for dim sum. I've had good dim sum there, though I'm far from an expert. I'm sure it's the best of downtown though. I like Yang's as well, but that's in the suburbs. Charles_Yu and skylineR33 are the ones on top of this sort of thing!
Besides Chinese, where we have it all over Montreal, one thing I think is much better in T.O. is Greek food. A short subway ride from the Delta is the "Danforth" - get off on Broadview and walk east. There are restos of every description (including Joe Allen's which gets mentioned often in the "Toronto's Best Burger" threads), but as you get farther east, there are dozens of Greek spots to choose from. High end is places like Ouzeri and Mezes; low end is souvlaki spots like Astoria or the Friendly Greek. It's a great walk.
Hint: on the weekend, you can get a TTC day pass, which gives two adults unlimited rides on bus, streetcars, and subway. For $9, it's cheaper than a round trip for two, and from your hotel, you're just minutes away from the newly renovated Art Gallery of Ontario, or the Royal Ontario Museum. Although Toronto is a good city for walking (not as many hills as Montreal), you can still get tired. With this pass, you always have the option of hopping on - or off, if you see something that interests you - a bus or street car or subway to get where you want to go.
If you go to the AGO, wandering a bit farther west will take you to Toronto's "old" Chinatown (we have about 6 at current count..) Drop in the Kim Moon bakery (Dundas at Huron) and get some of their fabulous pork or curry beef or chicken buns, plus some pastries - a great nosh for the ride home. (I'm an ex-Montrealer with a family cottage on Lake Champlain, so I know that ride veeeerrrry well!)
I second the motion to try Caplansky's - it's not Schwartz's, but it's not trying to be. A fresser from Caplansky's, a veal from San Francesca next door, maybe a slice from Bitondo across the street, and a short walk down to Trinity-Bellwoods park could be a very great picnic if the weather co-operates!