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Mar 7, 2012 09:48 PM

3 days in Toronto

Hi, Toronto has one of the most active Chowhound boards I've seen!

My wife and I are visiting Toronto for 3 days and we're looking for some great food while we're there. We're looking for quintessentially Toronto experiences, and we're willing to travel for food. Really, our primary objective on this trip is to hang out in the neighborhoods and eat some great ethnic food, so we're very willing to hop on public transportation or take a cab to get out of downtown.

For one of our meals I'd like to visit a modern Canadian restaurant. Black Hoof seems to be mentioned a lot, but I've read some mixed reviews. Any thoughts on a spot for great chef-driven cuisine? I'd prefer something casual and energetic rather than upscale or fancy.

We will definitely be getting dim sum at least once. The best dim sum I've ever had was in Mississauga (don't remember the name of the restaurant), so I'm very excited to try some more. Lai Wah Heen is frequently mentioned as the cream of the crop. Is that still the best choice, or is there somewhere else I should consider?

Besides those two meals, we're pretty open minded. We love ethnic food and I know Toronto is famous for its tremendous diversity (I'm Turkish and my wife is Taiwanese, so we'll fit right in). Our preference is for ethnic dives that are super-authentic and primarily catering to immigrants, but I'm open to all suggestions. Portuguese, Caribbean, Filipino, really anything as long as it's the real deal. What does Toronto do best? That's what we're looking for.

Lastly, I'd like to visit some cocktail bars. I've read that the craft cocktail bar trend has reached Toronto. Any recommendations on where to get great cocktails?

Thanks in advance.

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  1. For your modern Canadian restaurant, my personal pick would be Keriwa Cafe. Black Hoof, Acadia, Enoteca Sociale and Woodlot are also good choices.

    Lai Wah Heen is good and conveniently downtown, but expensive. If you don't mind going out to the burbs, there are lots of great dim sum options (if you do a quick search on "best dim sum" you'll see lots and lots of discussion about dim sum in the burbs). I also love Northern Dumpling Kitchen for a wonderful meal of luscious dumplings. But downtown, you have Mother's Dumplings, which is also delicious.

    I would spend one of your days wandering the Chinatown and Kensington Market areas. Dumplings at Mother's Dumplings or Chinese Traditional Buns, Vietnamese subs at Bahn Mi Boys, Mexican at Agave e Aguadente, pupusas at the back of Emporio Latino, empanadas at Jumbo Empanadas, Chinese pastries at Kim Moon, cheap and cheerful dim sum at Rol San, and on and on.

    You should also have roti (curry stuffed in a thin, chewy flat bread) while you're here. I love Gandhi for East Indian style roti. Ask for hot if you love heat, medium for a good burn without being painful.

    St. Lawrence Market is also a fun food outing for grazing and food porn. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.

    For cocktails, you could look at Goodnight, Bar Chef or the cocktail bar next to Black Hoof. Acadia and Keriwa Cafe do excellent cocktails as well.

    7 Replies
    1. re: TorontoJo

      Thanks for all the recommendations. How far in advance would you recommend getting a reservation at one of those modern Canadian restaurants?

      We're staying near Chinatown (strategically) so as long as Lai Wah Heen is still delivering great food, the price is fine by me. Is it a bad idea to get dim sum at Lai Wah Heen on a Monday?

      Food crawling is our favorite travel activity, so I'm thrilled to hear Chinatown and Kensington is a great spot for that. Is the scene equally good on Saturday and Sunday?

      Stuffed roti is precisely that type of thing we'd love to try. We're visiting from Chicago where the Indian food is pretty good, but I'm surprised I've never seen stuffed roti on a menu before. Is that something of a Toronto specialty?

      1. re: turkob

        Chinatown and Kensington are right beside each other.

        When in Kensington I love the three chorizo chili at Segovia. They also have some great (Chilean) empanadas.
        Big Fat Burrito will give you an idea of what a Toronto style burrito is like. Not steamed like a Mission burrito but griddled. I love 'em. Most around here complain that they're not "Authentic" or whatever.

        Patty King has good patties but only if they're fresh. For some reason theirs seem to deteriorate much more rapidly than others. I really like the shrimp patty. If you end up at Randy's or CQoP like I suggested in my other reply then you can skip PK but for the shrimp patty.


        1. re: turkob

          I've always known roti to be more from the Caribbean (Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica). I would imagine that that the curried items in most roti either represent Caribbean takes on curries, or else are a fusion of Indian, by way of the Caribbean. I think Gandhi's brings Indian standards, such as saag paneer, channa masala and butter chicken to the roti concept. It's the kind of stick-to-your ribs food that will stuff you silly for the entire day, so either share one between the two of you or don't plan on eating a whole lot that day.

          1. re: turkob

            Like 1 sweetpea says above, roti is really a West Indies food. Gandhi just happens to do more of an East Indian take on it. Both styles are delicious and worth sampling.

            The restaurants I listed are all quite small, so you'd be smart to book a table well in advance (a month wouldn't be a bad thing). I don't think Black Hoof takes reservations. But if you go, you can wait in their sister cocktail bar and get in some of those craft cocktails you're interested in.

            1. re: TorontoJo

              Cool, yeah we went to Barb's Roti in Mississauga last time we were in the area and loved it. Thanks for the tip.

            2. re: turkob

              Black Hoof doesn't take reservations. For Keriwa (which I would recommend above all the others on that list frankly) it's probably a good idea to call 3 weeks in advance. Same with Enoteca Sociale (they hold walk in seats but usually they are at the bar and there are only 9)

              1. re: bytepusher

                keriwa has plenty of openings on opentable. Enoteca has very limited weekend availability but lots during the week. in both cases the availability is at 5:30 or 6 when they open or after 9....not much in prime time.

          2. What Toronto does best is ethnic food. So you're in the right spot.

            Unfortunately what Toronto also does best is beat itself up. All we seem to do is lament what isn't and not enjoy what is. If you catch my drift.

            Anyway, my new favourite place for Portuguese is Estrala on Keele. Cantanhede o Bairradino is another favourite of mine. They have rabbit stew once in a while and it's fantastic.

            The debate rages about Caribbean. I'll direct you to Caribbean Queen on Boor St. W. or Randy's on Eglinton Ave. W.

            Perhaps foodyDudey can weigh in on this but a group of us met at a Tunisian restaurant that was exellent. It's changed owners and names but it's on Danforth. I think it's now called Taste of Tunisia. Perhaps that may be an option.

            I'm in contact with a hound from NYC (an ex-pat) and she's in town on the 17th. A small group of us are taking her to St. Lawrence Market. A large, permanent farmers market. Well worth spending half a day. If it's the 17th perhaps you could join us. Kensington Market is another great place to spend a half day.

            The Latin food court in the N/W corner of the city is a real trip. Almost literally as there is no English signage in the place and very little spoken.

            Anyway, enjoy your trip. When will you be here??


            4 Replies
            1. re: Davwud

              Yeah we visited a couple years ago and had some killer dim sum and Caribbean roti, so we've been excited to return ever since. We're from Chicago which has excellent ethnic food, so we'll be at home wandering the streets of Toronto.

              We're visiting over Memorial Day Weekend (last weekend in May). I know it's far off, but since we plan our activities around food, I prefer to get an idea of where we're going to eat before booking any tickets or reservations.

              That Latin food court sounds pretty legit. What's the best time to visit? (I think I found your blog post about it on yelp)

              We're staying near Chinatown precisely to maximize the grazing potential of the area.

              Thanks for all the tips

              1. re: turkob

                I've only been to the Latin food court around lunch time. It can get rather busy but don't worry. There's plenty of seating and plenty of different vendors.

                Some highlights would be Lomo Saltado from the Peruvian place. Empanadas, dulce churros and sandwiches from the Chilean place. Ceveche from the Equadorian place.


                1. re: turkob

                  Hmm, isn't May live spot-prawn season? Consider making a visit to one of the Cantonese restaurants that specializes in live seafood and good wok-hai (very high heat wok cooking). Only O Mei springs to mind at the moment (Highway 7), but there are a handful that get mentioned on these boards. A search for spot prawns or even lobster 4-ways, should turn up a bunch of threads extolling the virtues of a bunch of bustling Chinese restaurants north of the city, in suburbia.

                  I'd also recommend heading north to Richmond Hill or Markham for dim-sum, although I enjoy the very high end and frou-frou dim-sum at Lai Wah Heen. The nice thing there is that many items are ordered by the piece, which means that two of you don't have to double up on dumplings and sacrifice variety because you're stuffed. The downside is that one piece often costs as much or more than 3 or 4 pieces would at another place! I do, however, give them points for artistry and innovation with ingredients. I think on a Monday you'll find a pretty quiet, elegant and sedate room, not unlike a weekday high tea outing.

                  I love Ethiopian food in Toronto. There are a number of options, but I'm fond of Dukem and Rendez-vous on Danforth, west of Coxwell. They're super casual, not known for speedy service, but just a pleasant meal to share when you're not in a rush. Save the cocktails for before or after, elsewhere.

                  If you're looking for a nice evening out, consider Chiado for upscale Portuguese. I probably wouldn't send you for Mexican or other Latin American cuisine, because I suspect you have great options in Chicago.

                  I think what Toronto offers is cultural immersion. I love stepping into a Korean restaurant and feeling like I've entered another country. I love that I can find a Hunan restaurant or one specializing in Shandong or Western Chinese (Muslim) cuisine. Very cool. Lots of places serve pan-Indian or pan-Asian food, but we have places that focus on the foods of one region of India, one region of China, Tibetan, Tanzanian, Eritrean food, Persian, Tunisian food, Afghani, Armenian, Ukrainian, etc. When my husband and I return to Toronto from a smaller city a few hours away, where we currently live, we ask each other whose food we want to eat, meaning: from which culture/country, not what restaurant we want.

                  1. re: 1sweetpea

                    Western Chinese? Where, where? Have mouth, will travel. ;-)

              2. Since you'll be here at the end of May I'd suggest checking out the Toronto a la Carte cart at King/Bay (only during lunchtime, only on business days, show up early). Really great roti and curries, and the lady who runs the cart is incredibly friendly and outgoing. Toronto has next to no street food due to some draconianly tough bylaws, but this lady is outstanding.

                Otherwise definitely agree that you need to make time in your schedule to wander around the St Lawrence (try the peameal bacon on a bun from Carousel) and Kensington market.

                3 Replies
                1. re: baderin

                  Since you're staying near Chinatown,I'd throw in Swatow for a cheap and cheerful lunch and sample some excellent "wok hay" dishes and some delicious noodle soups.....

                  1. re: baderin

                    The cart is Carib Fusion! So good. Pumpkin and shirmp roti!!

                    In good weather at King and Bay, you can find Bridgette Pinder serving up delicious roti from her Carib Fusion cart, a survivor of the ill-fated Toronto A La Cart program. I’ve managed to get though the entire menu listed on the side of the cart – but there are some specials I’ve yet to try.

                    Their primary offering – jerk chicken – is colourful, sweet, and spicy. While you can get this on a pita, don’t. The roti wrap consists of thin, just-chewy, layers and is delicious. With sweetness coming from the mango salad stuffed alongside the jerk chicken, fire comes from the option of hot sauce. I had ordered this last year and asked for it HOT. Now, my tolerance for spice is pretty high, but this was mouth-melting. Subsequent orders haven’t matched that level of nuclear heat since, and I’m torn. I sort of want to see if I could manage that tasty burn again.

                    But it’s their shrimp and pumpkin roti: a hot and curried mixture studded with chunks of snappy shrimp, creamy pumpkin, and just a hint of sweetness. Every time I unwrap this roti, a delicious and savoury smell wafts up and whets my appetite – right before I tear into the fat pocket of goodness. Really tasty and filling.


                    1. re: jlunar

                      your post just made me think (and mouth water) of my mom's pumpkin + shrimp...which she'll make for special occasions with aloo roti (spiced mashed potatoe filled roti)...gonna put that on my list of 'must learn recipe'....the thing about caribbean style roti- you would be shocked at how simple the curries really are.

                  2. OK I was finally able to read through all the informative posts.

                    I'm having trouble narrowing it down.

                    We pretty much have 6 meals in Toronto. Two dinners, 1 early dinner before our flight, and 3 lunch/brunches.

                    Here's what I'm thinking.

                    Grazing brunch at Kensington/Chinatown/St Lawrence
                    Dinner at Keriwa Cafe


                    Dim Sum at Lai Wah Heen
                    Dinner in Chinatown

                    So how would you spend Sunday? We'd really like to get out of downtown that day and see the neighborhoods. The Portuguese spot, Estrela sounds great, but it closes at 6pm on Sunday. So it would really only be a lunch option that day. Is the neighborhood there a good place to walk around and hang out? I'd appreciate any thoughts or insights.

                    Monday for dinner I'm leaning towards a western/muslim Chinese restaurant. Any recommendations? The thought of a wok hay restaurant is also very appealing, but I'd really like to try some non-Chinese options on this trip too. Seems like 3 days isn't even close to enough time in Toronto.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: turkob

                      "Is the neighborhood there a good place to walk around and hang out?" Nope. Do go next door to the bakery. Seara. They have some nice stuff. You can try a Nata (custard tart) but it's not as good as the Portuguese place in SLM.

                      If you decide to go there, you could head one (major) street east and hit Columbus Bakery on Dufferin. Nice Colombian treats.


                      1. re: turkob

                        You've set yourself a lot of ground to cover that first day. St Lawrence market is east of Yonge St., Kensington is near your hotel and Keriwa is in the west end. How about this?

                        - early morning St. Lawrence market to catch the Saturday only farmers market
                        - walk up to Queen St. and take street car west to Trinity Bellwoods or further depending on how much you like to walk
                        - wander across Queen Street west through Parkdale stopping for roti (Bacchus roti, Ali's roti), oysters (Oyster Boy), pho (Golden Turtle), cocktails (Drake Hotel, ummmm...need some help here CHers)
                        Dinner at Keriwa Cafe (it's at the far end of Queen St. W.)

                        OR you could graze down Roncesvalles to Keriwa


                        Dim Sum at Lai Wah Heen
                        Grazing dinner in Kensington/Chinatown

                      2. Having just spent a remarkably fun morning in great company at SLM, I have to say you absolutely must go. It's great in March, and I can only dream of what it's like in summer.