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SF Hound Visiting TO for first time - hole-in-wall ethnic, big breakfast, good drinks, great coffee


I'll be in Toronto for a week starting tomorrow, and looking for great places that embody Toronto eating. In particular, I'm looking for great hole-in-the-wall ethnic cuisine, good places for big breakfasts, inviting bars/pubs, and great coffeehouses. Oh, and delectable ice cream.

As I'm from the SF Bay Area, I also have an appreciation for locavorishness and seasonal eating. I want to know what Toronto has to offer!

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Nazareth on Bloor. Ethiopean, and delicious. Owned by one woman who serves everyone. Only seats about 18-22 people.

    Give me a sec...I will think of more


    5 Replies
    1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

      Nazareth is still closed for renovations.

      1. re: fickle

        Then Dukem for Ethiopian, and its on the Danforth.


        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

          Second Dukem. I still miss their kifta (raw) and their veg platter. The smells and tastes were truly a sensory overload of deliciousness.

        2. re: fickle

          Do you know when Nazareth will / has reopened? I've been told to try it out.

          1. re: Paulustrious

            Went by yesterday and Nazareth is open again. They took over the space beside it (Pam's kitchen) so it's twice as big now!

        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

          Second Il Gelatiere for gelato- but I'd recommend sticking to the chocolate or creamy flavours rather than the fruit flavours. The texture of the fruit flavours isn't quite right, and they tend to be too sweet.

          Soma Chocolatemaker in the Distillery- interesting chocolates (I like the Cherry Bomb and the Mayan Dome), and good gelatos. If you're in the Distillery District, and you have a sweet tooth, I'd recommend the Eccles Cake at the Brick Street Bakery- better than any Eccles Cakes I've had in England;)

          Another sweet I like to introduce visitors to are pasteis de nata- Portuguese custard tarts- we have lots of Portuguese bakeries around town baking these fresh each day.

          For local ingredients/Torontonian menus, I like Globe Bistro and JKWB- both serve brunch on Sundays.

          Coffee will probably be somewhat disappointing- I know my Bay area visitors in July weren't too impressed with any coffee we ordered in TO. That being said, I like the atmosphere at Balzac's in the Distillery, the espresso freddo at Il Gatto Nero. Leslieville (Queen E) has a high concentration of coffeehouses- I like Dark Horse in Leslieville. Manic has a Clover, but I'm rarely in the neighbourhood.

          In July, I brought my Bay area visitors to Chopin on Roncesvalles, since they had never eaten perogies before, so we shared a plate of perogies, pork stew and a wooden plate. Chopin is nicer than a hole-in-a-wall. I'd consider it cheap and cheerful. Cafe Polonez up the street is somewhat more upscale than Chopin.

          I also tend to bring my visitors to the Danforth, to share an order of loukamades, and sometimes some bougatsa or galatoboureko, at Athens Pastries.

          1. re: phoenikia

            Once again, Phoenikia is right on the money!

            1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

              I have to disagree (slightly) on Il Gelatiere - although not Phoenikia's other suggestions.
              Last year Il Gelatiere was definitely the go-to place - but something's not quite right this year. Even the creamy selections have an underlying 'dryness' (more of a mouth feel) that just isn't the same. As an alternative I suggest the Toasted Marshmallow from Greg's (but only that flavour - the rest of the line is average). Also, for FLAVOUR, my favourite right now is DT Bistro (on Harbord) - it's also a take-out as well as dine-in. Their technique isn't the best (sometimes lumpy and textures vary) but amazing flavours. For Chocolate, I now recommend Xococava (again some texture issues but great flavours - and their pints are a bargain).

              1. re: estufarian

                Good to know estu-I was there last earlier in the summer and didn't notice any difference with the chili chocolate...gotta head back now and see for myself.

                1. re: estufarian

                  Thanks for mentioning that something is off with Il Gelatiere this season.

                  I was there last week, and liked the texture of the Marscarpone- didn't notice a dryness, but I'm guessing the Marscarpone would be a higher fat gelato so it might not run into the same dryness/ mouth feel problems their standard flavours are having.

                  Was not a fan of the Chocolate Soia (soy) gelato- don't know what I was thinking when I ordered that one! I do like the Tartufo gelato at Il Gelatiere when they have it- it has a somewhat gritty texture (due to ground nuts) compared to most of their flavours, the flavour is much like a rum ball.

              2. re: phoenikia

                In my opinion, I think the newer Dark Horse on Spadina makes a better product compared to their Leslieville location.

                1. re: phoenikia

                  Dark Horse is my fav location for expresso drinks and they now have a second location on Spadina just north of Queen!

              3. Walk around Kensington market-you will find many threads on it if you do a search. Sounds like it would be up your alley. And its avoided ( for the most part=hopefully forever) the encroaching mass market companies.

                Ok. There are tonnes of other TO hounds that will help with the rest...


                1. I'm going to cover the pub angle for you, since I consider myself a bit of a pubisoeur. My local is The Auld Spot on the Danforth near Chester station. They have a good draft list, decent wine selection, oysters, and the daily food specials are often surprisingly good. Victory cafe at Markham and Bloor for great rotating local draft list and honest grub. The Rhino on Queen St W. has an epic beer selection in an unpretentious, slightly grubby atmosphere. Queen and Beaver on Elm St is an upscale 'gastropub' with a great 2nd floor patio, cask ales, and comfy couches. The Local on Roncesvales for local draft, live music, and a pretty good burger. The Rivoli at Queen and Spadina for people watching on the street side patio and a very decent menu, with pool tables upstairs. Avoid any pubs with 'Firkin' in their names!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: haggisdragon

                    I second the Local, as I would Roncesvalles Ave in general. They have a good IPA on tap, which any Bay Area-ian would appreciate. The Rhino basically has a beer menu, and grubby Parkdale is lively at night

                  2. Great big breakfast at the Senator Diner: www.thesenator.com

                    I found it to be similarly good to Mama's in SF, but without the crazy lineups.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: currycue

                      Hasn't the Senator recently changed hands?

                      1. re: estufarian

                        Not as far as I know. All I know is that some years back, Rob Sniderman sold the Jazz club and kept the diner.

                        1. re: currycue

                          Just don't get the crab cakes, they're made with fake crab.

                    2. Where are you staying? Here is my west end list, I'll let an east ender reply with that side of things.

                      breakfast: Mitzis Cafe & Gallery, Grace (if it's raining), Aunties and Uncles, School Bakery (least of hole in the wall of the list, but probably the best tasting).

                      bar: if it's sunny ronnie's in kensigton, embassy if it rains. Cafe Volo although in not so cool part of town, has a really good beer list.

                      Cool Bar/Food: Black Hoof. Known for their charcuterie, but I woulnd't order that as it is not on par with imported stuff. Stick to their sandwiches, their tongue sandwich is awesome. Good wine and beer list too. Banu is a persian vodka bar, interesting but not exactly a hole in the wall.

                      Ethnic: Pomegranate, really nice Persian food from the North of Iran. If you have a car and drive up north to HW 7 you can get really good Chinese food.

                      Late night (after 12): Swatow (dumpling soup one of the best and shanghai noodles are also very good).

                      Coffee: Sublime cafe in Kensigton does one of the best espressos in town, but for cappucino and lattes better off going to dark horese on spadina or clover on college.

                      Don't forget to hit St Lawrence market, on a saturday and grab a pemeal bacon egg sandwich.

                      3 Replies
                        1. re: Dimbulb

                          I meant Manic...they serve clover coffee.

                          1. re: gastronom

                            Specifically, they use a Clover machine to make their coffee, (Intelligentsia and another brand I forget now)

                      1. Union on Ossington bases menu on local seasonal food, and is now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

                        Beaver Cafe on Qeen West is one of my favourite places in my neighbourhood - tasty fare (salads, sandwiches and a few hot options) on an extremely limited kitchen equipment. a good option for that in-between lunch and dinner time when many kitchens are closed.

                        A few blocks east, Swan has big breakfast although not necessarily traditional egg dishes (you could get things like oyster poboy).

                        For cofee, why not try Arabesque on Dundas West and Brock? Good Arabic coffee, good Middle Eastern sandwiches and snacks, lovely owner. across the street, a few doors west is a tiny coffee house whose name escapes me (help, anyone?). i buy my beans there, and they are amazing (i get super rich crema), i am just assuming they know how to make a decent espresso.

                        if you want to get a sense of local toronto (or at least one kind of local - immigrant and working class with a few artsy or academic types thrown in), you must go to cafe brasiliano. they don't make the best coffee, but pretty decent. i always get a macchiato there. they also have a hot food table, with a daily plate special, which explains the constant presence of cab drivers. it's a great neighbourhood place, family-run. it's also in a great location - from here you can walk along dundas (west to ossington and beyong, east to kensington market and chinatown), south to queen west, and north to college street.

                        for a well known hole in a wall, i'd suggest traditional chinese buns on dundas west. easy to miss, because it's at a basement level. don't know the exact address, but it's about 2 blocks west of spadina, on north side of dundas.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Kasia

                          A little easier to find and better set up for immediate dining (as they have picnic tables out in front) is Yung Sing Pastry Shop on Baldwin.

                        2. Wow! Thanks for all these great tips!

                          1. If you venture into the East End (Leslieville), I'd recommend Dark Horse or Mercury for coffee (both quite good by TO standards, but a Bay Area-an might be disappointed). Huge and delectable breakfast/brunches are served at Lady Marmalade on Queen E. Try the poached egg BLT, cheese & spinach waffles or brie, avocado and bacon bennie. Further along Queen E is Cream, The Urban Dairy recently voted the best ice cream shop in the city by NOW Magazine readers. The owner Danielle loves to experiment with flavours and dairy varieties (sheep and goat milk) so you'll always find something interesting to try, plus there's a great honeysuckle garden in the back and they're open late (11pm). Enjoy!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jayzie1

                              jayzie is bang on the money with recommendations. Second the suggestions for Cream and Lady Marmalade. Just went to Cream today for the first time and was VERY pleased. Homemade chocolate chip ice cream sandwich, can't wait to go back again!

                            2. We have some excellent Indian places here. For Southern/Sri Lankan try Rashnaa (on Wellesley). For more familiar Indian my choice is Trimurti on Queen West - it's quite upscale but still under $50 for two. But avoid all-you-can-eat buffets in general. More 'hole-in-the-wall' is Ghandi (further west on Queen St) - but I actually prefer their 'sister' restaurant called New York Subway (has nothing to do with New York or subs) which has a great burrito selection, cooked after you order and amazingly cheap (and is as spicy as most Indian places). Also on Queen West.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: estufarian

                                yes Ghandi is a must do hole in the wall, just don't eat their, you'll stink all the way back to SF.

                              2. For coffee I enjoy Bulldog Cafe Granby and Church St near Maple Leaf Garden. Also Rocket Fuel on Parliament just north of Carlton.
                                Terroni on Queen is one of my favourite TO restaurants, great atmosphere, lots of locals and great Barinese cuisine. Smaller portions, but I've never left unsatisfied.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: clevercanuck

                                  ...that would be Jet Fuel, in case anyone's googling. :)

                                2. Hey I miss living in SF as there were so many options there. Anyway I recommend Pizza Pide on Gerrard and Pape. Its a Turkish Pizza Place (Pide) I recommend their Combo Pide and the light bread called lah mah jun. Highly Recommended.

                                  1. This is probably late but according to your post, you still got a day. so if you are checking here are my suggestions:

                                    coffee - chances are you'll be accustomed to Ritual or Blue Bottle coffee which in my mind is probably right up there with the Stumptowns and Intelligentsia's. So if that coffee is your vibe, i'd suggest Dark Horse (queen st. w. and spadina), Mercury (queen st. e and carlaw), or even Hank's cafe (Front and Jarvis). Unfortunately, no local roasters here are quite on par with the quality of the aforementioned beans, but said shops are still decent.

                                    Union is definitely a must given your mandate. The chef's family owns a farm just outside of Toronto and they get pretty much everything from there. They are also aging their own beef and to be honest, the beef rib cote is killer. Also, the sommelier there is wonderful. He'll pair some pretty stellar wines for you.

                                    Ethnic - go try any handful of Caribbean restaurants. There's definitely a dearth of them in SF and unless you frequent the islands or of west indian background, this is the city to try it in. Randy's, Rap's, Alberts, Caribbean Queen, Ali's are all places that serve either Jamaican or Guyanese food. And they are bar none, the best outside of West Indies.

                                    As for bars? depends on what your vibe is. Hipster fixtures include Sweaty's, Commies Daughter, Sneaky Dees (Kings Crown Nachos there are the perfect cure for a night of drunken debauchery), Beaconsfield. If you are a scotch/whisky man, make your way over to Allens (on the danforth). And if you are a tequila dog, then check out Reposado. Or any spot on Ossington for that matter.

                                    1. You should give Swatow on Spadina/Dundas a try. A hole in the wall Chinese ( Cantonese ) noodle place, you can have a bowl of their braised beef brisket and tendon noodles or Wonton-octopus ball noodles and a side dish of crunchy deep fried cod fish skin! Compare them with SF's China town equivalent and see which is better?!