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Bringing the SO to Toronto for the first time, looking for advice...

Hi all,

I am a former Torontonian who left about 10 years ago to move to Montreal, and am bringing my SO to my hometown for the first time. He's never been, so I'd like to give him the most memorable experience possible. I've been gone for so long that most of the places I once went to are probably closed or unrecognizable.

We're staying at the Drake Hotel, in the West Queen West neighbourhood, but I would also like to give him tours of all of my old stomping grounds, primarily in the west end. We'll be there Jan 28-31, and will have a budget of about 120-150$/day for the two of us.

So far, we have some Winterlicious ideas, especially for a couple of places around Ossington. I'm also going to bring him to some of the sausage vendors, since that is an experience that is sadly lacking in Montreal.

So, hounds, got any suggestions for us?

If it helps at all, we're in our late-20s and mid-30s.

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The Drake Hotel
1150 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

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  1. i don't think winterlicious is the best way to introduce someone to the city. the food is assembly line and the service often quite rushed, understaffed and sometimes inexperienced. there are some places that can do a good job but i think it's a very poor representation of what TO can offer and you're likely to have more misses than hits.

    you should look up the black hoof/hoof cafe (i think their brunches offer more bang for buck), portuguese bakeries, west indies food such as roti doubles etc, also love the caribbean queen of patties and i hear she's back on her game again, st lawrence market (i love jean talon, but this is a different experience), kensington market, and there's a lot of chinese food and the debate will rage on about how you should make the trek north but limitatoins are limitations and a couple places downtown are doing good enough food that it's perfectly fine.

    it would help to know what is more likely to interest you vs not, your transportation limitations, and the types of places you typically enjoy.

    3 Replies
    1. re: pinstripeprincess

      Thanks for the advice! Winterlicious isn't the reason we're coming to Toronto, it just happens to be running at the same time so I figure we could check it out.

      He's more of a foodie than I am, into anything spicy and filling. While perusing NOW's restaurant listings, I came across The Harlem Underground, which is just a short streetcar ride away from the Drake and definitely looks promising. Since we're going to be so close to Parkdale, I'm going to try and take him to the roti place I used to go to before I moved (if it's still there, that is). St Lawrence Mkt is on the list as well, if only for the 3$ back bacon sandwiches and its proximity to Union Station, and Kensington Mkt as well as Chinatown and the U of T campus are very high priorities.

      Regarding transportation, we'll be fully dependent on the TTC, so we'll be staying downtown. Neither of us are so adventurous that we'd be willing to, say, head further north than Eglinton for a good meal. We only have four days, after all, so there's also a time constraint...

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      Harlem Underground
      745 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

      1. re: snicmhuilean

        oh i wasn't thinking winterlicious was the reason why you were here, but since this is SO's first trip here... i earnestly think that the atmosphere of the restaurants is really not worthwhile. i haven't been to the special events they have but the regular dinners are really not a relaxed affair.

        just to add onto what jlunar has posted, i tend to go to hoof cafe not on sat/sun. this guarantees me a seat once i get there and a leisurely meal.

        if he's into spicy and you're interested in checking out a little japanese (which i don't believe is very strong in mtl) then i'd go to kenzo and get a ramen (likely king of king's) and an order of takoyaki.

        the brunch at drake is fine, but i thought the scones and the chicken and waffles were big winners. another brunch i really enjoy is stockyards up on st clair. their sunday version of eggs benny is really wonderful. then you can get a taste of the southern smoked meat wave that touched toronto for a while.

        1. re: snicmhuilean

          The Hoof Cafe is open for brunch on Mondays. Never a lineup if you go before noon unlike Sat & Sun.

      2. I agree with PSP's recs!

        The Black Hoof is nearby and a great meal, but no reservations and cash/debit only. If you go at opening, you should be able to get a seat without issue. Going after 9pm (except on Fri/Sat) should be fine too, if you're a deuce. I recommend the Pig's Head Tacos, Cabbage soup, and the duck egg papardelle (if they're still on the menu). They were awesome last night. Hopefully on the menu when you go. Going here really depends on how much you want to gamble on waiting.

        Brunch at The Hoof Cafe is the same deal. There's usually a wait unless you hit it up first-thing. Cash/Debit only.

        There's a new sandwich shop, Porchetta & Co (825 Dundas W) which is very good, fast, and not too expensive. Open to 9pm most days. I dig it. Just blogged about it too. However, it's not a sit-down place.

        Kensington is always fun to meander.

        I would suggest Buca on King (not super close, but a busy area) for some wine (half-glasses and full glasses around 8-15 and higher) and apps. It's expensive for dinner, but the pig's ears and other nibbles are quite nice. Loud room though.

        Guu is not in the West-end, but unlike most anything you'll experience. Unless you've gone in Vancouver, in which case, pass. Also no reservations, so go early if you care. Before they open, even. It's still really busy. Get some nibbles there, though just keep tabs on what you order - it can add up.

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        http://www.foodpr0n.com -- food. is. love.

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        The Hoof Cafe
        923 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M6J 1W2, CA

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

        Buca
        604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

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

        6 Replies
        1. re: jlunar

          The Parkdale Roti spots are indeed still there, including a new addition of Mother India which is the same folks who own Ghandi's at Queen and Bathurst. If your SO likes spicy then he'll likely enjoy a roti. Their 'medium' even is quite hot and I love spice. Also new in Parkdale is Local Kitchen and Wine Bar for well-prepared small plate Italian dishes. It's down in antique alley just before Roncesvalles. As well the same people have opened Bar Salumi a few doors away for Italian appetizers, drinks and charcuterie. There's also Parts and Labor right at Queen and Sorauren which is as much a bar as a restaurant although the food isn't terrible. The crowd is younger and the music will range from Bad Brains to the Smiths to the Pixies to the Stooges to Sic Alps, just to give you an idea of what to expect.

          The biggest change in on Queen West in the last 10 years is definitely Ossington and Dundas West. Too many changes to list now but lots of tiny bars with good jukeboxes, lots of restaurants. A search for Ossington will turn up loads of info. You could even check out Eye or Now or Toronto Life online for reccos.

          I'll third the Black Hoof and/or Hoof Cafe suggestion. Very well-prepared interesting food and great cocktails. If you can't get in right away they will take your cell number and you can go grab a drink at one of the many bars and wait for them to call when a table opens up.

          Enjoy!

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          Mother India
          1456 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6K1M2, CA

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

          Bar Salumi
          1704 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6R 1B2, CA

          1. re: jlunar

            Pretty much perfect recs, this is what you'd expect to see from any thread of "visiting Toronto, where should I go". These are usually on the top of most lists.

            Cheaper to mid range
            I really enjoyed Harlem Underground but it's not a must-do meal.
            Stockyards Smokehouse and Larder on St. Clair W for city's best barbeque
            Guu for a great time doing Japanese pub food and pitchers of Sapporo (Church/Wellesley area)
            Hoof Cafe brunches are always amazing. Get the bone marrow beignets.
            Pizzeria Libretto for lunch for real Neapolitan pizza. Also because Montreal pizza sucks. :)

            More expensive dinners
            Buca or Scarpetta for overly priced but tasty "rustic" Italian. (King W area)
            I like Origin for its atmosphere, cod croquettes, black cod (King/Church)

            Ossington is great but no real massive standouts for me. Maybe bar hop on a Saturday night - painted lady, levack block, communist's daughter.

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            Pizzeria Libretto
            221 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

            Harlem Underground
            745 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

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

            Buca
            604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

            1. re: miketoronto

              I'd say Buca over Scarpetta, especially at that price-point. Though Scarpetta has a fancier atmosphere. Pasta/food in general is better at Buca. But Buca is loud.

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              Buca
              604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

              1. re: jlunar

                Buca over Scarpette for sure!

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                Buca
                604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

                1. re: JennaBean

                  Buca over Scarpetta HANDS DOWN!

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                  Buca
                  604 King St. West, Toronto, ON M5V 1M6, CA

            2. re: jlunar

              You could also check out some newer spots that are getting a lot of buzz.

              Frank's Kitchen on College - bringing back good food to College.
              Enoteca Sociale - Dundas W
              Campognolo - Dundas W
              Woodlot - Palmerston

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              Enoteca Sociale
              1288 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

              Frank's Kitchen
              588 College St, Toronto, ON M6G 1B2, CA

            3. There's good Vietnamese on Ossington. Pho Tien Thanh or Rua Vang Golden Turtle

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              Pho Tien Thanh
              57 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J2Y9, CA

              7 Replies
              1. re: hal2010

                I'll add that I like Pho Linh's broth a lot more. Ask for the noodles to be cooked less if you can.

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                Pho Linh Restaurant
                1156 College St, Toronto, ON M6H1B6, CA

                1. re: jlunar

                  Pho LInh uses thicker/wider noodles than most, they tend to be overcooked, which I'm not into. I also find their broth a bit lacking, especially compared to the measuring stick that is Tien Thanh. I can walk to Pho Linh in 5 mins but I still rather go to Tien Thanh.

                  Other recs include Sukhothai and Brockton General if you're into the whole "ossington" vibe.

                  Lai Wah Heen or Crown Princess for dim sum since you're not willing to commute up north. Chinese food is the strongest cuisine in Toronto.

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                  Lai Wah Heen
                  108 Chestnut St, Toronto, ON M5G 1R3, CA

                  Pho Linh Restaurant
                  1156 College St, Toronto, ON M6H1B6, CA

                  Sukhothai
                  274 Parliament St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                  Crown Princess
                  1033 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3A5, CA

                  Brockton General
                  1321 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1Y1, CA

                  1. re: aser

                    We aren't willing to go north, but we will most likely be going east to Scarborough, as my mother is there. Any recs for Scarberia?

                    1. re: snicmhuilean

                      Hunan food? I liked Konner a lot. Spicy! Well, maybe not as spicy as it used to be. Sadly. I recommend #94 Yulou sauteed preserved pork with bamboo shoots, #89 Griddle cooked cabbage, and #202 Deep fried pepper with preserved egg (cold dish).

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                      Konner Chinese Restaurant
                      3250 Midland Ave #126, Toronto, ON M1V 0C7, CA

                      1. re: snicmhuilean

                        Anjappar Chettinad is one of the best Indian restaurants in Ontario, and is well over the border into Skarberia. Eglinton near Markham Road. Skip the buffet and order off the menu.

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                        Anjappar Chettinad
                        3090 Eglinton Ave E, Toronto, ON M1J2H1, CA

                        1. re: snicmhuilean

                          casa imperial (dim sum) @ steeles & warden
                          graceful vegetarian (veg dim sum) @ steeles & kennedy
                          gourmet garden (malaysian) @ sheppard & brimley
                          ba shu ren jia (szechuan - super spicy) @ steeles & midland
                          maple yip (wok hay) @ sheppard & midland
                          zen (nigiri sushi) @ eglinton & brimley

                        2. re: aser

                          Yeah, it's why I ask for not-as-cooked noodles. I like their broth though!

                    2. Good suggestions. Dundas West and Ossington are now like the Plateau. The Black Hoof or the Hoof Cafe are amazing! Delux on Ossington is one of my favourites or Foxley for small plates. Delux is open for Cuban lunch. Guu is further away, but it is so much fun and the food is crazy yummy.

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                      Foxley
                      207 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J2Z8, CA

                      Delux
                      92 Ossington Ave, Toronto, ON M6J2Z4, CA

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

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

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Cup cake

                        My most memorable meal in T.O was at Colborne Lane. But only if exotic ingredients/molecular gastronomy is his thing. Love the Stockyards recommendation, love their fried chicken. Harlem (sister restaurant to Harlem Underground) is really yummy too. And Starfish is a great oyster bar, as is Rodneys by Bay.

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

                        Harlem Underground
                        745 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                        1. re: sway

                          What about Porchetta & Co.? I've heard a bit of buzz about that place as well, mostly for lunch.

                          -----
                          Porchetta & Co.
                          825 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON , CA

                          1. re: snicmhuilean

                            It's mostly takeout. Tho there's five or six seats at a lunch counter. When its busy, most are taken by folks waiting for their order. Worth a trip but not sit-down service if that matters.

                      2. OK, so this is what I`ve got planned so far:

                        Friday: arrive around noon, lunch at St. Lawrence Market (peameal bacon on a bun!). Check in at hotel. Light dinner at The Drake Hotel or other area cafe. Drinks TBD, probably in the Parkdale or Downtown West areas.

                        Saturday: breakfast at the Drake or an area joint (Hoof Cafe). Walking/streetcar tour of some of the neighbourhoods. Lunch off the back of a truck or from a sausage vendor, or in Chinatown if we end up there. Dinner at a nice place, maybe Harlem Underground.

                        Sunday: breakfast with friends. Walking/streetcar tours of more neighbourhoods, most likely including a tour of the Steam Whistle Brewery. Lunch TBD. Dinner likely with my mom in Scarborough. Drinks? TBD.

                        Monday: breakfast TBD, likely in the area. Lunch at some memorable place, maybe Hoof Cafe or Porchetta & Co. or somewhere more central.

                        So, chowhounds, I'd like some final suggestions for us: a nice, but good value resto for Saturday night, which would respect the budget of a poor student; and, a cheap, sleazy drinking hole for Sunday night (we're visiting my mom, after all).

                        Thanks to all of you for all of the suggestions so far! :-)

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                        St. Lawrence Market
                        92 Front St E, Toronto, ON M5E, CA

                        Drake Hotel
                        1150 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M6J 1J3, CA

                        Harlem Underground
                        745 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA

                        The Hoof Cafe
                        923 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M6J 1W2, CA

                        Porchetta & Co.
                        825 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON , CA

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: snicmhuilean

                          some thoughts:

                          - i'm not a fan of the peameal sandwich, at most i'll get it via a "breakfast on a bun" combination... so when i do get this often overcooked sandwich, i do not get any condiments on it and head straight over to the kozlik's booth where they have let me get a swipe of their mustard on it instead. a great toronto product... dare you to not fall for their stuff.

                          - hoof cafe doesn't have waits on weekdays and the menu is very breakfast/brunchy... so i'd strongly suggest going monday morning. i don't recall many breakfast places besides the hotels in that area any way.

                          - the king streetcar line is one of my favourites for a tour around the city. if you go subway station to subway station you pass through the polish area, trendy hipster west west, trend banker king west, financial/entertainment district, near the market, near distillery/corktown design shop, the edge of leslieville, old school china town east, and then stop off near greek town.

                          woodlot is the most recently open high value restaurant in town. i do not find the food particularly interesting though... just comforting and tasty. i'm not sure if delux would fit within your price range or buca (but i only eat from certain sections of the menu there)... on a different spectrum, guu would be a lot of fun, different and affordable as long as you're willing to wait.

                          1. re: snicmhuilean

                            Think about Niagara Street Cafe for Saturday night.

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