HOME > Chowhound > Ontario (inc. Toronto) >
Are you making a specialty food? Share your adventure

What's not to miss in toronto?

Lgalen Jun 23, 2011 07:30 PM

We're visiting Toronto for the first time, from Boston. We'll be coming through NOTL, and plan to chow down there. But don't know much about the food scene in Toronto. We're staying at the Metropolitan and were psyched to see that there's a great dim sum place right in the hotel. But then we looked at the prices--Sheeesh! I think we'll try Rol San, which looks more our speed, price wise.
But what should a foodie from Boston be sure to try? We're omnivores, and love hearty, peasant food, but given that it's summer time, we'll probably want to stay away from anything really heavy. Anything in Toronto that we don't see much in New England? We're not looking for "fancy shmancy"--we can do that at home. But what's special in your town? And what's the best place to try it?
Did I read that there's a great market in town? What to look for in those parts? Thanks in advance!

Rol San
323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

  1. s
    Snarf Jun 23, 2011 07:52 PM

    You've phrased your request in a very eloquent way to give some guidance, cool. Here are a few suggestions:

    If you want to stay within walking distance, you're near Spadina, and slightly further, Kensington Market. I'm not an expert in Asian, and there are many others here who are, so you might try a search of that word.

    Kensington Market is a group of streets that run north from Dundas to College, west of Spadina. Culturally, there are a lot of south American, central American and other provisioners there, with many small shops that are not sit-down, but sell food that you can walk aroud with. There are decent Portuguese (Amadeu's), Tapas (Torito), Mexican (El Trompo), Vietnamese (Pho Hung) in the area. If you want to try someplace very cool, there is a place called El Gordo with a bunch of counters selling mixed south American fresh foods, with a patio out the back to eat at but no liquir licence. Most of these places for take out are not open for dinner.

    El Gordo
    214 Augusta Ave, Toronto, ON , CA

    1. Jacquilynne Jun 23, 2011 08:25 PM

      While you're at Rol San, order the Crispy Beef with Spicy Honey Ginger Sauce. If I had to pick one dish that to eat before I left town, that would be it.

      There are better, fancier, more elegant dishes to be had in Toronto, but none that I feel as compelled to return to over and over.

      Rol San
      323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

      1. hal2010 Jun 23, 2011 08:40 PM

        Does Boston have a large Ethiopian population?
        There are lots of Ethiopian restaurants on the Danforth west of Donlands. If anything is "hearty peasant food" it's Ethiopian. Dukem is recommended.

        950 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4J 1L9, CA

        1. justsayn Jun 23, 2011 08:53 PM

          Porchetta and Co.

          1. aser Jun 23, 2011 09:32 PM

            xam yu - seafood! razor clams, bc spotted prawns, yes they're a more expensive ingredients but you should experience them. It's still relatively cheap compared to western fine dining prices.

            swatow - wok hay dishes, water spinach with shrimp paste or fermented bean curd, salted fish and chicken fried rice, beef brisket with radish. Also their wonton mein is my fav for downtown.

            tien thanh - great pho, really really great pho, my fav in the city. I eat this weekly, I sound like a broken record.

            pam's carribean kitchen - their curry goat rot. I suddenly got a serious case of munchies thinking about it.

            nazareth - I think it's ok, but, this restaurant fits your description to a t.

            2 Replies
            1. re: aser
              petek Jun 24, 2011 07:28 AM

              +1 on Swatow.

              309 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E6, CA

              1. re: aser
                sbp Jun 24, 2011 09:39 AM

                I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that is "curry goat roti." Didn't want anyone scared off, but it's a GREAT typo.

              2. TorontoJo Jun 24, 2011 03:45 AM

                The other market you may be thinking of, other than Kensington Market (mentioned above), is the St. Lawrence Market. Whereas Kensington Market is a very cool, vibrant neighbourhood and definitely worth and afternoon of wandering and noshing, the St. Lawrence Market is an actual marketplace. It has two buildings -- South and North. The South building is open from Tuesday - Saturday and has permanent vendors of all stripes: fishmongers, butchers, cheesemongers, bakeries, greengrocers, plus specialty vendors like mustard, salsa, honey and a wide variety of hot food vendors. The North building is a farmers market on Saturdays only. The SLM is a lovely spot to wander and sample (I'm a big fan of Kozlik's mustards). Many will say to try a peameal bacon sandwich, which seems to be a uniquely Canadian experience. They are good, but don't blow me away, but you can't get them in Boston, so might be worth a try (I'd probably share one between you).

                Here are a couple of recent threads on the St. Lawrence Market that can help guide you:


                Another item that you won't find in Boston easily is roti. Roti are curries wrapped in a thin, chewy flatbread. West Indian style has ground split peas between the thin layers of the wrap and can be found at multiple places around the city. Gandhi offers an East Indian interpretation that is awesome, as well (no ground peas in the wrap, and a more East Indian style of curry). If you're interested in trying roti, let us know and we can name some locations that may be convenient for you.

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

                3 Replies
                1. re: TorontoJo
                  Matt H Jun 24, 2011 07:14 AM

                  Great post to point out St. Lawrence market, Kensington and Peameal Bacon sandwich. Only glaring error is the point about Roti.

                  Boston has some great Roti options and if the OP has spent any time in Dorchester, Roxbury or Mattapan especially it is a relatively easy food item to find.

                  The post about Ethiopian is a great option, as places like Dukem blow away anything we have here in Boston. Whenever I am back in Toronto as well I eat alot of Cantonese as Boston more excels in Taiwanese and Sichuan cooking and Toronto is about as good as it gets for Cantonese.

                  1. re: Matt H
                    TorontoJo Jun 24, 2011 07:19 AM

                    Ah, thanks for the heads up on roti in Boston. It's rare to find a U.S. city where it's common. All my U.S. friends (from cities other than Boston!) have never heard of roti and always love it when they try it.

                    1. re: TorontoJo
                      Matt H Jun 24, 2011 07:48 AM

                      No problem. Not that Roti wouldn't be worth tying out in TO anyways, as there are some great places.

                      I do agree though, there are a select few cities where its common place (NYC/NJ metro, Boston, Hartford, DMV, South and Central Florida) The rest of the country seems to have missed the boat!

                2. Splendid Wine Snob Jun 24, 2011 07:37 AM

                  Agree with Aser's and MattH's recs. Definitely hit up some Cantonese and Ethiopian. Stroll through Kensington Market (much more interesting than St. Lawrence IMO). I would avoid seafood here though-it can be good, but it doesn't compete with Boston standards.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
                    Lgalen Jun 24, 2011 09:27 AM

                    Many thanks to all, so far (keep em coming!). I've looked for other posts on your recs, and here's what we've got so far:
                    Roti: Coconut Grove (around corner from the hotel, Guyanese style--my husband spent a month in Guyana (pre Jim Jones) and always looks for goat roti.
                    Dim Sum: Rol San
                    Pho Tien Thanh
                    Ethiopian: Dukem
                    Lunch: Porchetta & Co.

                    We're going to have to pace ourselves, make some choices, and save some for next time! Any suggestions for a hearty breakfast that could carry us through to a late lunch, or a bakery/cafe for a light breakfast to get us started in the AM, prior to a "noonish" lunch? Someplace near the Metropolitan?

                    We'll also check out either Kensington or St. Lawrence, and save the other for next time.

                    I knew my fellow CH wouldn't let me down! I'll be glad to reciprocate for Boston/New England!

                    950 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4J 1L9, CA

                    Rol San
                    323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

                    Coconut Grove
                    183 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5G1C7, CA

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

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

                    1. re: Lgalen
                      peppermint pate Jun 24, 2011 10:07 AM

                      If you're here over a Saturday morning, I'd highly recommend The Brickworks market - recently voted one of the best places in all of Canada. At its core, it's a weekly farmer's market run out of an old brickworks factory - but it's so much more - an urban eco hub set in a ravine with a plant nursery, funky new shop, soon to open cafe, crafts for kids, walking trails and ponds, etc. It is a very special place - with loads of great snack food - and unquestionably one of my favourite places to meander in Toronto.

                      Other recs are good. I'm not sure if Boston excels in Thai but Khao San Road is a fun, casual, cool spot serving excellent food and close to your hotel. Time permiting, it might also be fun to pack up a picnic lunch (St. Lawrence Market would be good) and hop on the ferry to Centre Island for a picnic. And if you're in or near The Distillery, Soma is a great stop for artisan chocolate and gelato.

                      Also, the city is easy to get around - on foot, by public transit or taxis so if you have a bit of time, I wouldn't be too worried about keeping such a tight radius from your hotel.

                      Khao San Road
                      326 Adelaide St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1P7, CA

                      1. re: peppermint pate
                        pinstripeprincess Jun 24, 2011 01:06 PM

                        just wanted to note that soma opened up a second location west of spadina on king. so in case distillery doesn't make it on your list (i think it's one of the best strolling lollygagging about areas in the city), then you can hit it up after a khao san road visit.

                        and i wanted to note, that as much as i like porchetta and co... if i was coming from another city after eating it i'd be like, that was a pretty good sandwich... but i strongly doubt it would provide me memories for life. i guess i'd make it a snack where you split a sandwich then grab something else to fill out the meal.

                  2. estufarian Jun 24, 2011 10:48 AM

                    I'm not knocking Rol San - but Lai Wah Heen (in your hotel) is definitely a cut above the rest for Dim Sum. For lunch, in particular (not the same in the evening), the extra $10 per person (or $20 if you go really exotic) you will get an 'experience' which can't be matched at Rol San (also good food).

                    And I have to add the 'Hoof' as an experience here. The Black Hoof (no reservations) is a meat (and organ) lovers dream. Menu changes according to what animals/parts have been available. Best to arrive just before opening time (6:00).

                    NOTL is a patchwork. For a visitor I'd suggest a 20 minute drive to Treadwell's Farm to Table cuisine (lunch and dinner) for a premium experience at fair prices.

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

                    61 Lakeport Road, St. Catharines, ON L2N 4P6, CA

                    Rol San
                    323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

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

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: estufarian
                      aser Jun 24, 2011 11:03 AM

                      I agree strongly with you. Rol San's dim sum is generic, can be had in Boston I imagine. However, the OP specifically stated LWH was too rich for their tastes. Alas........

                      I still think LWH's dim sum is great, I haven't noticed much of a drop off as the same dim sum chef is there. The staff changes in the kitchen involve dinner, I assume TL is lowering their score due to that. I'm not a baller though, have never been to LWH for dinner.

                      Then again, why would I trust Toronto Life for ethnic food?

                      There's been an internal shake up at the Hoof of late, due to BHCO falling through. A few cooks have left, that always affects quality in the short term. I'm sure they'll bounce back.

                      Rol San
                      323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

                      1. re: estufarian
                        Matt H Jun 24, 2011 11:27 AM

                        I would have to add a second (3rd??) endorsement for spending a little extra for Lai Wah Heen. It is an experience you cannot replicate in Boston. Standard Dim Sum places can be had in Chinatown or Quincy in Boston....but there is no equal to LWH.

                        1. re: Matt H
                          justsayn Jun 24, 2011 11:54 AM

                          Money is money and sometimes there isn't enough to go around! Rol San is super fresh and great tasting and won't disappoint! Fear not if the dollars aren't there!

                          I suggest Kensington over St Lawrence if you are only doing one market. Kensington is an outdoor market (area) open 7 days. SL is indoor and closed Sun/Mon. SL is perhaps your better choice if it is raining. I would not waste a meal on the peameal sandwich personally, it is not GREAT on any scale. It is what it is, and that isn't "do not miss". Porchetta is do not miss!

                          Toronto has a HUGE weekend brunch scene - are you looking for weekday or weekend breakfast? Makes a big diff!

                          Rol San
                          323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

                      2. q
                        Querencia Jun 24, 2011 11:52 AM

                        Each one to his taste, but in Toronto the two places I would not miss (and never do miss any time I am in Toronto) would be: 1) The Mandarin. Ontario makes an art form of the Chinese buffet---nothing like in the States. A small chain of nice places like you'd take your grandma for her birthday---white tablecloths, flowers. A hot Chinese buffet (I once counted 48 entrees). Also a Canadian buffet with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Also a grill with chicken, steaks,salmon. Also a huge salad bar with shrimp. Also a dessert bar with French pastry. Also other stuff. All for one price. See The Mandarin's gorgeous website. My husband once asked me where I wanted to go to dinner for my birthday and I chose The Mandarin so we went there, and we live in Chicago. 2) Le Commensal, the single branch of a Montreal vegetarian restaurant chain that has a cold buffet and a hot buffet then they weigh your plate and charge you accordingly. Am not a vegetarian (75% of their customers are not) but find Le Commensal's cold buffet to be the most wonderful, gargantuan, and comprehensive salad bar I have ever seen. See their website.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Querencia
                          TorontoJo Jun 24, 2011 12:08 PM

                          I'm sorry, I don't mean to knock your personal preferences, but I have to strongly recommend against both The Mandarin and Le Commensal for the OP. The Mandarin is barely passable "Canadian-Chinese" food, and I can't imagine sending a visitor to a mediocre buffet, regardless of how big it is. And I used to work near Le Commensal and despite trying it multiple times, I never had a good meal. Plus it's incredibly expensive, unless you only pick "light" food.

                          1. re: TorontoJo
                            justsayn Jun 24, 2011 12:38 PM

                            Agree with TJ. Le Commensal is for vegetarians only in my opinion as they may be looking for more diversity. But for anyone who can eat anywhere, I couldn't imagine choosing that place, and especially not with the price they charge. I have many expat friends who MUST hit Mandarin when they return for a visit. My cousins from Detroit must hit Mandarin when they visit. That begin said, I wouldn't put it on my list of 100 do not miss places for Toronto.

                            1. re: TorontoJo
                              Lgalen Jun 24, 2011 02:52 PM

                              Yeah--I think we'll skip the buffets--I always overeat, and would rather have one or two special plates (I often prefer the appetizer side of the menu) than a bunch of ordinary food that all melts together in my tummy. We'll continue to consider LWH and check out their dim sum menu. We live on the immediate outskirts of Boston, and don't get intown for dim sum often enough. Does LWH have carts? To me that's part of the experience that I love.
                              As for brunch, we'll be in TO on Thurs & Fri, leaving for Boston on Saturday. It's a long drive, so we'll be looking for an early am breakfast/brunch. Again, any suggestions are welcome!
                              Oh, and thanks for the tip about SL and Kensington, regarding one being indoors--that might help us to decide!
                              Although you can't tell from all of these posts, we do plan to check out other things in Toronto: The CD tower and the Music Garden if the weather is good, and the Bata shoe museum if not. Anything else we shouldn't miss? Casa Loma looks fun, but it's not talking to me for this trip.

                              1. re: Lgalen
                                petek Jun 24, 2011 03:26 PM

                                How about The Stockyards? Real good fried chicken,BBQ and burgers.

                                It's called the CN tower not CD :D

                                1. re: petek
                                  Lgalen Jun 24, 2011 03:28 PM


                          2. j
                            junkie Jun 25, 2011 01:52 AM

                            Agree with aser on Pho Tien Thanh, and just check out the ossington strip while your at it.. some coffee joints and goed eten.

                            You’re only in Toronto for less than 3 days so make the best out of it so that you don’t have to plan a future foodie trip to Toronto again! (and save that money and time to go foodie another city)

                            Recommendations around the hotel:

                            Go to lai wah heen $$$, check out their “innovative” dim sum menu. If anything stands out, order it. Eliminate the curiosity of lwh regardless of how many dishes you order or not. I do this with every place, just so I never have to think in my head “I should’ve tried this place.. I wonder… etc.”

                            Elizabeth st. and dundas, there is a really small Japanese restaurant called Japango $$. lunch specials before 3. One of the few decent Japanese in the area. Want more of the innovative modern stuff, hit up Guu. $$

                            Walk on dundas st. towards the AGO. You will see village by the grange, go inside and check out their food court that isn’t your typical mall court.

                            Continue walking outside to dundas/mccaul. Look south and you’ll see the half of the cn tower, look to the right of that you’ll see the OCAD building, look south west and that’s the Art Gallery of Ontario, continue west to go to Chinatown. North on mccaul to see Baldwin street. Anyways, I am going off topic.

                            Rol San $ – cheap fresh basic dim sum. No carts. No décor. Stick to the dim sum menu, try the milk tarts if you like them. Crispy ginger beef with honey is a good dish if made well, but make it a skip unless you have a large group.

                            Walk to Kensington market. Now the places to try are really up to your preferences/interests.
                            Some Recommendations (mostly things that are more difficult to make at home):
                            Hibiscus café – my personal fav vegan restaurant. awesome prices. get the soup and salad and dairy free ice cream. $
                            Global Cheese – cheese sampling?
                            Moonstone – for coffee/tea, skip treats $
                            Wanda’s pie’s in the sky – sour cherry is their specialty. No stand outs really. $$
                            Fresco’s fish and chips – ms vickies breading fish and chips $$
                            Jumbo empanadas – like the name $
                            Big fat burrito – like the name $
                            Urban herbivore – shit service, skip food, try muffin $

                            Will you be driving? Anything in particular you are looking for or very interested in?

                            122 Elizabeth St, Toronto, ON M5G1P5, CA

                            Rol San
                            323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

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

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

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: junkie
                              Snarf Jun 25, 2011 08:40 AM

                              Do you mean Moonbeam's on St. Andrew's?

                              1. re: Snarf
                                junkie Jun 25, 2011 04:12 PM

                                actually i meant Moonbean coffee oops.

                            2. a
                              anach Jun 25, 2011 10:17 AM

                              Definitely go to Black Camel. Best sandwich in Toronto, a great place for a lunch. It's got barbecue style sandwiches but is unique and have yet to hear of any other place like it. Toronto has so many great food places to offer and many of the recommendations already made on this thread are great, you will be happy with any of them. Personally, I wouldnt miss Black Camel if I had the chance to go.

                              Black Camel
                              4 Crescent Rd, Toronto, ON M4W1S9, CA

                              1. Lgalen Jul 2, 2011 08:07 PM

                                Here's our trip report! Thank you Toronto CHers. We had dinner the first night at Swatow. Definitely a different flavor profile than the Szechuan and Taiwanese Chinese food we usually get in Boston, and a whole 'nother world from the Cantonese I remember from my childhood. Next am we had dim sum at Rol San, and I didn't miss the carts a bit. Their ordering system (similar to what we usually have for sushi) was unfamiliar to us, and we enjoyed ordering from the check-off menu, which described in English what the dishes were--with carts, we usually look and guess. We'd planned lunch first at Coconut Grove, but it was closed for Canada, as was our second try, Porchetta. We ended up at Kensington Market (starving!) and saw El Trompo as soon as we parked. Very yummy, although we have very good Mexican near our home. Dinner was late at Dukem, which was the only meal that disappointed. I don't think it was the restaurant's fault (very nice staff and atmosphere), maybe just that our expectations were very high, and we found it about the same (maybe even a bit less to our taste) than the few Ethiopian places we have here in Boston.
                                Last night, we posted a last-minute request for breakfast suggestions, and CH came through again. We had a great meal at the Prague Deli, bringing home some pastries for the ride home. Toronto's a great foodie city, and a wonderful place to visit. After this initial foray, we have a long list of attractions and restos we still want to try, and lots of neighborhoods we want to explore. Thanks again! Don't hesitate to ask for places around Boston, if you're making a trip! We'll be glad to reciprocate!

                                950 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4J 1L9, CA

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

                                Rol San
                                323 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E9, CA

                                Coconut Grove
                                183 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5G1C7, CA

                                309 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2E6, CA

                                Show Hidden Posts