HOME > Chowhound > Ontario (inc. Toronto) >

2 days in Toronto - Restaurants with charm, character?

z
Zuckerbaby May 2, 2010 06:59 PM

My gal pal and I have only 2 days in TO.
Seek recommendations for lunch and dinner.

Must be:

Within walking distance of downtown.
Have any of these: character / chicness / funkiness / cosiness / heritage / "authentic hipness"
From cheap eats to splurge-worthy

Must not be:

Trendy / Uber-modern / Uber-hip
Chain
TVs on every wall / sporty
Loud annoying music
__________________

And while I have you here, I have another 2 days with my folks.
We need a good lunch/dinner spot near Harbourfront, and/or Distillery District.
My dad requires a QUIET place with good fish and chips, cosy brew pub type atmosphere.
(I found Mill St. online, but I see some bad comments about it?)

Thanks so much for your time!

-----
Distillery District
55 Mill St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. c
    clairelizabeth RE: Zuckerbaby May 2, 2010 08:38 PM

    Kind of a random, off the top of my head list...
    Queen and Beaver Pub on Elm St- downstairs dining room or patios (upstairs has tvs...) : cozy/funky
    Ematei Isayaka on St Patrick : authentic
    Le Select on Wellington : chic/character
    The Black Hoof/Hoof Cafe: just freaking awesome
    The Roof Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel - for an afternoon/pre dinner cocktail

    Depending on how authentic you want your lunch, a swing through St Lawrence Market (and apologies for not remembering all the market vendors...) could yield a peameal bacon sandwich, fish and chips (at the south end, past the fish area), veal and eggplant sandwich (downstairs at Mustachio's).

    Enjoy your time in Toronto!

    -----
    Ematei
    30 Saint Patrick St, Toronto, ON M5T3A3, CA

    Le Select
    432 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V1E3, CA

    Park Hyatt
    Toronto, ON, Toronto, ON , CA

    5 Replies
    1. re: clairelizabeth
      z
      Zuckerbaby RE: clairelizabeth May 2, 2010 09:33 PM

      Really helpful. I was curious about Black Hoof. And Le Select looks perfect! Queen and Beaver looks dad-friendly. :) Thanks Claire.

      -----
      Le Select
      432 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V1E3, CA

      The Black Hoof
      928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

      1. re: Zuckerbaby
        j
        jgloverwork RE: Zuckerbaby May 3, 2010 09:04 AM

        For the Dad portion of the trip - If you are already planning to spend time in the distillery (a very good choice, IMHO), the Mill Street is actually a pretty good option. I've been there many times for drinks before or after an event in the area and the house brewed beers are excellent, and the pub food is certainly above average. I think it's a better food and drink choice than the best pub at Harbourfront - http://www.watermarkirishpub.ca/ - although their patio overlooking the water is nice.

        For the "you" section of the trip, Black Hoof is excellent, but be prepared to wait for a table. It's certainly worth the wait - just don't arrive starving...

        A seat for two at the bar/chef's prep area at Origin would also be a lot of fun. The room is stunning/heritage/modern http://www.origintoronto.com/

        -----
        The Black Hoof
        928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

        1. re: jgloverwork
          r
          raebmv RE: jgloverwork May 3, 2010 11:14 AM

          I thought Origin was a lot of fun (and food was good). But the music got progressively louder through the night. By about 9:30/10 PM, it was way too loud for conversion across the table - if that's an important 'must not be' on your list, OP.

        2. re: Zuckerbaby
          c
          clairelizabeth RE: Zuckerbaby May 4, 2010 10:14 AM

          Q&B is def. dad-friendly, and the fish and chips are divine!

          Black Hoof doesn't take resos, so get there early, or be chill about waiting (if there is a wait, they'll send you across the street for a drink at the sister location, the Hoof Cafe - which is pretty awesome in its own right).

          -----
          The Black Hoof
          928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

          1. re: clairelizabeth
            b
            bytepusher RE: clairelizabeth May 5, 2010 11:01 AM

            Fair warning, the Hoof Cafe fails the "no loud music" test in my experience, to the point where on one visit multiple patrons asked them to turn it down, each request was greeted with 1-2 minutes of compliance before the music was cranked up again.

      2. t
        tjunmin RE: Zuckerbaby May 2, 2010 09:37 PM

        I suggest Mengrai Thai, for its authenticity.

        -----
        Mengrai Gourmet Thai Restaurant & Cooking Schools
        412 Richmond St E, Toronto, ON M5A1P8, CA

        7 Replies
        1. re: tjunmin
          Flexitarian RE: tjunmin May 3, 2010 11:50 AM

          If you like Middle Eastern food, I think that Jersualem on the south side of Eglinton, 2 blocks east of Bathurst, is the best you'll find in the world (I've checked!). I am not sure it has quite the charm you might want but it sure has character.

          1. re: Flexitarian
            z
            Zuckerbaby RE: Flexitarian May 3, 2010 12:26 PM

            All helpful suggestions - thanks everyone. Good to know about Mill St., and Watermark too. My dad gets a bit crazy when his blood sugar gets low, and a resto is not to his liking (or doesn't have fish and chips). Any experience with Pier 4?

            Hadn't heard of Origin either - looks fun/promising.

            -----
            Pier 4
            245 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J2K9, CA

            1. re: Zuckerbaby
              Dimbulb RE: Zuckerbaby May 4, 2010 10:18 AM

              Pier 4: expensive seafood restaurant aimed exclusively at tourists next to a polluted lake.

              -----
              Pier 4
              245 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J2K9, CA

              1. re: Dimbulb
                z
                Zuckerbaby RE: Dimbulb May 10, 2010 06:20 PM

                Good to know. Will avoid.

                1. re: Zuckerbaby
                  JamieK RE: Zuckerbaby May 11, 2010 04:57 PM

                  Pier 4 is definitely a tourist trap to avoid. But I would rate Mill Street Brewery above that. Even though it doesn't meet many hounds' standards, as far your father goes, it may fit the bill. I have been able to have conversations there at a normal decibel level (as opposed to, say, BeerBistro, where we had to yell at the top of lungs to hear each other in our group and then gave up and only yelled directly at the person next to oneself). They have pretty decent fish and chips. I have also enjoyed the crab cakes there. The service has been good for me.

                  1. re: JamieK
                    JamieK RE: JamieK May 11, 2010 05:02 PM

                    I meant to add -- the restaurant itself may not have charm and character (although it's kind of neat to see the brewery equipment) but there's plenty of charm and character to enjoy if you walk around the Distillery District before or after your meal.
                    http://www.thedistillerydistrict.com/

                    -----
                    Distillery District
                    55 Mill St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                    1. re: JamieK
                      z
                      Zuckerbaby RE: JamieK May 11, 2010 09:49 PM

                      Thanks Jamie. My folks definitely want to see that area. And my dad likes to see brewery equipment!

        2. c
          currycue RE: Zuckerbaby May 3, 2010 12:20 PM

          www.theprague.ca - authentic mitteleuropean fare

          I also quite like the authentic buckwheat crepes at Creperie La Brehandaise:

          http://www.facebook.com/pages/Toronto...

          1. Full tummy RE: Zuckerbaby May 3, 2010 06:35 PM

            Two places I would highly recommend for great food and superb atmosphere. They satisfy your requirements for character and heritage, plus they're in walking distance of downtown (or in downtown)...

            Osgoode Hall restaurant - in Convocation Hall of the Law Society of Upper Canada
            Gallery Grill - in University of Toronto space

            Both only open for lunch (Gallery Grill also open for Sunday brunch), and not all year. Definitely make reservations.

            http://www.torontolife.com/features/o...
            http://www.torontolife.com/guide/rest...

            -----
            Gallery Grill
            7 Hart House Cir, Toronto, ON M5S, CA

            Osgoode Hall
            130 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5H 2N6, CA

            4 Replies
            1. re: Full tummy
              z
              Zuckerbaby RE: Full tummy May 3, 2010 07:01 PM

              Thanks, currycue - my mom loves crepes and we might ditch my dad for a bit (while he looks at nautical things at harbourfront). Prague looks nice too.

              fulltummy, I'm intrigued by your suggestions. Osgoode hall looks interesting. Love the architecture.

              1. re: Zuckerbaby
                Full tummy RE: Zuckerbaby May 3, 2010 07:08 PM

                They are both architecturally outstanding locations. Let us know where you end up eating and how it went!

              2. re: Full tummy
                sloweater RE: Full tummy May 3, 2010 07:50 PM

                Second the Gallery Grill... Great food, intelligent wine list with a focus on Ontario wine, beautiful room, efficient service. It fits the bill on most accounts: heritage building with original art, character, and splurge-worthy. You won't regret it.

                -----
                Gallery Grill
                7 Hart House Cir, Toronto, ON M5S, CA

                1. re: sloweater
                  TorontoJo RE: sloweater May 4, 2010 04:42 AM

                  I third the Gallery Grill -- fantastic all around and one of the most beautiful settings you could imagine for a tucked away restaurant.

                  -----
                  Gallery Grill
                  7 Hart House Cir, Toronto, ON M5S, CA

              3. f
                FrankD RE: Zuckerbaby May 4, 2010 12:02 AM

                Don't know what "walking distance" is to you, since I don't know you or where you're staying, but Caplansky's on College just west of Spadina serves his unique take on smoked meat. I've heard varying reviews of other dishes; sometimes the fries are supernal, sometimes meh, some people love his smoked meat poutine, others not so much, etc.. But he does offer up traditional Jewish deli in an area that was once known for it, and now is mostly Asian. I love his borscht, and while I initially found his coleslaw bland, I found adding a splash or two of malt vinegar really picks it up. A couple of lengthy threads on this board cover off his opening, which was up and down; I've heard things have settled down since then. Definitely something unique to Toronto.

                -----
                Caplansky's
                356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                3 Replies
                1. re: FrankD
                  c
                  clairelizabeth RE: FrankD May 4, 2010 10:21 AM

                  Second Caplansky's. This place is legit! Started as a small operation in a slightly divey bar, and then moved to its own location on College St, got swarmed by ppl in the first month (hence the mixed reviews) but it's settled into a smooth routine, and the knish is to die for.

                  Also in that neighbourhood is Auntie's and Uncles - great for breakfast, but often with a line 'round the block of hung-over students/hipsters on weekends... :)

                  -----
                  Caplansky's
                  356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                  1. re: clairelizabeth
                    h
                    hungriest RE: clairelizabeth May 6, 2010 07:45 AM

                    I am in the avoid Caplansky's camp. i've had more than a few of the sandwiches there and they are incredibly inconsistent. Last one I had was tough, bland and chewy. Worst part of my last visit was not the terrible meat but the treatment of the staff by Mr. Caplansky himself. His yelling and berating of the servers actually made us feel uncomfortable to be there. Too bad as I live in the hood, but I refuse to support a business with that sort of management. The empty room could mean I'm not the only one who has had enough of the inconsistency of this place.

                    -----
                    Caplansky's
                    356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                    1. re: hungriest
                      j
                      jamesm RE: hungriest May 6, 2010 10:10 AM

                      Empty? What time did you go? I don't think it's ever been empty. I've also been many times and I think the inconsitency complaints are overstated. I've had good to great sandwiches there, loved the poutine and never seen anything even close to resembling poor treatment of staff. I'm in the go try Caplansky's for yourself and form your own opinion camp.

                      -----
                      Caplansky's
                      356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                2. b
                  blinknoodle RE: Zuckerbaby May 5, 2010 08:08 AM

                  I highly recommend Guu. It has a funky cozy atmosphere and filled to the brim with patrons. They unfortunately don't take reservations, so try to get there before 5pm if possible. They don't do lunch.

                  A few others to mull over: Pomegranate (Middle Eastern), Caplansky's for smoked meat (personally I prefer the BBQ brisket and the cheesecake), El Trompo for Mexican.
                  I also really like Fressen.

                  For around the Distillery District, my fave resto is Weezie's. It is a small place, so reservations are recommended.

                  -----
                  Weezie's
                  354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA

                  Distillery District
                  55 Mill St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                  Fressen
                  478 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V2B2, CA

                  El Trompo
                  277 Augusta Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2M1, CA

                  Caplansky's
                  356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                  Guu
                  398 Church Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2A2, CA

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: blinknoodle
                    Marimba RE: blinknoodle May 5, 2010 10:53 AM

                    Sorry, but the OP specified "Must not be: Trendy / Uber-modern / Uber-hip, Chain, TVs on every wall / sporty, Loud annoying music"...Guu hits three out of four...Marimba!

                    -----
                    Guu
                    398 Church Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2A2, CA

                  2. c
                    Cat123 RE: Zuckerbaby May 5, 2010 01:21 PM

                    Lots of great suggestions here - when I saw this post I immediately thought of the Niagara Street Cafe.

                    http://www.niagarastreetcafe.com/

                    It has character / chicness / funkiness / cosiness / "authentic hipness" at least, not sure about heritage, at least in the sense you probably meant...

                    ...and really excellent food. Reservations usually required as it has a following and is not very big.

                    -----
                    Niagara Street Cafe
                    169 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V1C9, CA

                    1. Splendid Wine Snob RE: Zuckerbaby May 5, 2010 01:35 PM

                      I echo the recommendations for the Gallery Grill, Caplansky's, and Niagara Street Cafe. All decidedly Toronto in feel and excellent food. In my opinion, Nick Liu from Niagara Street Cafe is Toronto's most exciting young chef right now.

                      SWS

                      -----
                      Niagara Street Cafe
                      169 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V1C9, CA

                      Gallery Grill
                      7 Hart House Cir, Toronto, ON M5S, CA

                      Caplansky's
                      356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
                        z
                        Zuckerbaby RE: Splendid Wine Snob May 5, 2010 02:48 PM

                        Weezie's looks inviting.

                        Glad Niagara Street was mentioned. I'm debating between there and Colborne Lane for the fancy option.

                        As for walking distance, we are way down at the Westin at Harbourfront. But are very hearty walkers. Public transit might come into play also.

                        -----
                        Weezie's
                        354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA

                        Niagara Street Cafe
                        169 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V1C9, CA

                        Colborne Lane
                        45 Colborne Street, Toronto, ON M5E 1P8, CA

                        1. re: Zuckerbaby
                          Splendid Wine Snob RE: Zuckerbaby May 5, 2010 02:55 PM

                          Niagara Street Cafe and Colborne Lane are very different restaurants.

                          If you are interested in MG techniques and a "see and be seen" atmosphere then go to CL. If you want a cosy, romantic atmosphere with French/Korean inspired cuisine, go to NSC. If you are also a wine drinker, Niagara Street would probably be a better option.

                          I've tasted quite a few dishes at Niagara Street recently and the best ones have been the specials, which highlight chef Liu's style. I recently had a trout dish there that rivaled a similar dish at Le Bernardin in NYC.

                          -----
                          Niagara Street Cafe
                          169 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V1C9, CA

                          Colborne Lane
                          45 Colborne Street, Toronto, ON M5E 1P8, CA

                          1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
                            z
                            Zuckerbaby RE: Splendid Wine Snob May 5, 2010 07:36 PM

                            Niagara Street it is then. I love the aesthetic too from what I can make out on the website.

                            -----
                            Niagara Street Cafe
                            169 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V1C9, CA

                            1. re: Zuckerbaby
                              Splendid Wine Snob RE: Zuckerbaby May 5, 2010 08:36 PM

                              I had a fabulous crispy snail salad the last time I was there. I had been craving snails forever. Nobody does them justice anymore. Well, the combo of those crispy snails with that killer dressing and lovely greens was amazing. Who the hell is doing that in Toronto? Nobody. Except Nick Liu.

                              And the trout I had, my god. That skin, that broth. Thinking about it gives me shivers.

                              We also had a pork hock amuse gueule that was killer.

                              The sommelier, Anton Potvin, is extremely talented and well respected in the Toronto community.

                              Please report back if you go.

                              1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
                                c
                                clairelizabeth RE: Splendid Wine Snob May 6, 2010 05:04 AM

                                I feel a bit like a cheerleader... "yes! Caplansky's...Rah rah.. Niagara Street Cafe!..." but Niagara is well, well worth it. Also, they do an excellent Sunday brunch (bacon jam!).

                                -----
                                Niagara Street Cafe
                                169 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V1C9, CA

                                1. re: clairelizabeth
                                  Herb RE: clairelizabeth May 7, 2010 04:05 PM

                                  I wouldn't want to sit on the patio on a week day. It can get a bit "ripe" with the slaughterhouse around the corner.

                      2. b
                        bonniec RE: Zuckerbaby May 5, 2010 02:59 PM

                        I'm not sure if you're into chinese food. But if you are...! Dumpling House in DT has the best dumplings ever :) It's a modest little restaurant that is famous for its fried dumplings as well as its noodles. Definitely a cheap eat, but the food is just too good. Give it a try , maybe ;)

                        -----
                        Dumpling House Restaurant
                        328 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E7, CA

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bonniec
                          c
                          chillihigh RE: bonniec May 6, 2010 05:45 AM

                          i would also recommend pomegranate on college near bathurst.

                          1. re: chillihigh
                            z
                            Zuckerbaby RE: chillihigh May 7, 2010 01:54 PM

                            Thanks everyone. Super helpful. I'll report back when I can.

                        2. z
                          Zuckerbaby RE: Zuckerbaby Jun 1, 2010 06:30 PM

                          Final Report:

                          We ended up going to the Niagara Street Café, Weezie's, and Le Select.

                          Photos here:

                          Weezie's meal: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          Weezie's exterior: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          Niagara meal: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          Niagara interior: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          Le Select meals (I went back with my parents): http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          Le Select interior: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miahanse...

                          Weezie's was my fave for food - simple and wonderful. The atmosphere: quiet, minimalist.
                          Le Select: good prices, chic, and rich melt in your mouth dishes.
                          Niagara: my meal was a bit too complicated for my liking. But it was excellent. The wild Ontario greens were interesting. The vibe as it got later/dark was nice (less staid than Weezies, chef visiting tables etc.).

                          Out of desperation I took my folks to Watermark - the fish of the fish and chips was good, the chips were terrible. The ambience was bad - waitresses in jail-bait mini kilts, TVs on every wall, frat boys/girls everywhere. But it was close to our hotel!

                          House on Parliament served a good veggie burger.

                          Le Petit Dejeuner for breakfast was cute and nice.

                          We walked past Black Hoof but were not ready for dinner at the time.

                          On a side note, my friend and I were so tired the last night that we went up to the Toula restaurant at the Westin Harbourfront where we were staying, thinking we could grab an appetizer and a drink. It was hilarious - the decor and music was circa 1980, the food was extremely expensive and mediocre, the staff was bizarre. I wish I had taken a photo of the gold spray painted ceiling and the crown shaped strawberries and champagne salad...

                          Your suggestions made all the difference to a successful trip. I'm really grateful - thank you for your help!

                          -----
                          Weezie's
                          354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA

                          Niagara Street Cafe
                          169 Niagara St, Toronto, ON M5V1C9, CA

                          Le Select
                          432 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V1E3, CA

                          Le Petit Dejeuner
                          191 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1J5, CA

                          Toula
                          1 Harbour Square, Toronto, ON M5J 1A6, CA

                          The Black Hoof
                          928 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Zuckerbaby
                            Splendid Wine Snob RE: Zuckerbaby Jun 1, 2010 10:29 PM

                            Thanks for reporting back! Glad you enjoyed your meals.

                            1. re: Zuckerbaby
                              c
                              currycue RE: Zuckerbaby Jun 2, 2010 11:49 AM

                              Glad you enjoyed your trip! I went up to that restaurant last year. I remember it used to revolve when I was a kid. Not much has changed there for sure. Not the most convenient area either. Come back soon!

                              1. re: currycue
                                z
                                Zuckerbaby RE: currycue Jun 2, 2010 12:44 PM

                                We stayed at the Westin due to getting a special low rate. It wasn't too bad for getting around, but there's nowhere to eat around there. I couldn't believe the restaurant didn't revolve considering what we paid to eat there! Had a decent panini in the Quay and thank god there was a Tim's there for my dad... Right across from the Westin is a surprisingly good grocery store where we got coffee and snacks.

                            Show Hidden Posts