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Jul 25, 2012 02:04 PM

What food do you think of when you hear "Toronto"?

I'm visiting Toronto for the first time in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, it will be a short visit, with a lot of work, so I won't be able to sample as much of your city's cuisine as I'd like. I've been reading this board for a while and found lots of great ideas for wonderful food. I have reservations for The Feasting Room during pig week. I have a Google map with options for restaurants in whatever part of the city I find myself. I think I have my bases covered as far as not going hungry and finding awesome places to eat. But what I don't have a sense of is "What food is Toronto known for?"

You have an amazingly diverse city and I love that you have entire threads devoted to specific international styles. "Best Caribbean" "Best Ethiopian" "Best Peruvian". What's the best Torontonian? Looking into other sources for "cuisine of Toronto", I find similar results. Praise for the incredible variety and authentic food in the different ethnic neighborhoods, but no specific food that is done best in Toronto.

I was looking forward to trying poutine for the first time, but the poutine threads all say that it is better in Montreal. I'm still planning to try it, of course (I have dozens of locations on my map, including many food truck options). What else? Butter tart? Chinese Pie? The peameal bacon sandwich is described in Wikipedia as "[p]erhaps one of the most iconic and distinct Toronto offerings."

So, without going into the rich variety of international options (which is definitely an amazing thing for denizens of your city), what is done better there than anywhere else in the world? Or, if not better, at least symbolically represents Toronto.

What food do you think of when you hear "Toronto"?

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  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. Honestly, having lived in Toronto for a few years, I have to say that it really is the diversity that one thinks of. Where else can you get excellent Ethiopian, Thai, Korean, and Portuguese within three blocks of each other? (I imagine someone will say NY, but that's a much bigger city with a totally different vibe.) [My sweetheart just chimed in, "10,000 different varieties of ethnic cuisine, all done with the same wilted vegetables." He didn't like living there much.]

      5 Replies
      1. re: Kitchen Imp

        I like the idea that the "cuisine" of Toronto is simply "diversity itself".

        1. re: 2roadsdiverge

          That's a much more elegant way of putting it. And so true! Thanks, 2roads.

        2. re: Kitchen Imp

          I'm curious, which 3 blocks are you talking about? There aren't any excellent Ethopian, Korean or Portuguese restaurants within 3 blocks of any of my favourite Thai restaurants, and there are no Portuguese restaurants near my favourite Ethiopian restaurants. I think College St might have each of these cuisines represented over a 10-15 block stretch, but I don't think I'd recommend the Thai or Korean food in Little Italy to a visitor. I'd say my favourite Ethiopian, Korean, Portuguese and Thai restaurants are within a 25-30 minute taxi of one another. Which Korean and Portuguese restaurants are you talking about?

          1. re: prima

            I meant Vietnamese, not Thai - my bad. Three blocks was actually a bit of poetic license, but on/around Bloor West between Ossington and Dufferin you can find quite a bit, and if you pop down to College from there, you're in Little Portugal. Head toward Bathurst, and you're in the midst of the best Korean food I've had anywhere, including NY... And I'm not even Canadian, nor Torontonian, so I'm not speaking out of bias here.

            1. re: Kitchen Imp

              Interesting. While I like some Korean restos on Bloor near Christie and on Yonge near Finch (I like Mot Na Son), I've been quite impressed by the Korean options in NYC, esp the veg Korean place. Seemed like there were more types of Korean restos in Manhattan's Little Korea, inc the upscale vegetarian place. Of course,. YMMV.

              Re: distances- yep, those neighbourhoods are certainly further than 3 blocks apart ;-) but I get your point. I can think of few neighbourhoods that have 4 excellent restaurants of any type with 3 blocks of one another.

        3. I agree generally with the 'ethnic' emphasis. However, you specifically requested what is done 'best' here, so if you go ethnic check out the Top 10 thread from January - but my comments will avoid ethnic as its almost never better than at the source.

          However,as if you want 'Toronto' perhaps you might want some 'game' meats (although all are farm-reared).

          Look at Keriwa Cafe (it's not a cafe, but a 'regular restaurant'). I find it expensive for what you get, but a visitor should find it worth a visit. More reasonable is Bannock - but although the portions are large, the quality is just average (for me).
          If you want to splurge on Game, Canoe is a possibility (VERY expensive, but fantastic view) - but closed weekends. For me the best 'Game' is at Blacktree in Burlington - but that's a 30-60 minute drive (depending on traffic).

          Peameal Bacon Sandwich is a favourite of mine - St. Lawrence market is the place to go (opinions vary on best sandwich there). Please add honey mustard!

          There's a separate thread on Butter Tarts - too sweet for me so can't recommend.

          Feasting Room is great fun (and IMO has the friendliest service in Toronto - the servers REALLY care about the food). But go early (to finish by 10 as the place becomes a club later - except Monday). Black Hoof is also worth considering - but no reservations - and if you're already going to Feasting Room, then probably too similar.

          Poutine is a 'classic' - but it's filling, rather than gourmet. Best to try after a hard night's drinking - which you're unlikely to do if working hard!

          Hope others can add to this.

          13 Replies
          1. re: estufarian

            I lived in Vancouver for a few years in my early 20s and when I returned to Toronto, I craved the items I missed while on the west coast. Those items were specific to my youth, but were, in my opinion, Toronto foods. I don't necessarily prefer them today, but here they are: fresh, still warm bagels from Gryfe's on Bathurst Street, cream cheese from Daiter's (also on Bathurst Street), Kristapson's lox (lean, sweet and very tender), which can be purchased from Kristapson's or at finer stores, such as Pusateri's. I wanted those Tiny Tom's doughnuts from the CNE, Toby's fries with that cheese sauce that would probably disgust me today, a grilled cheese sandwich on challah, like my mom made me as a kid, Tiger Tail ice cream from Lick's, and the corn muffins I occasionally got as a treat from Fran's. These foods are pretty mundane, but were faves in my youth.

            Today, I'm all about the GTA's ethnic offerings. I'm more interested in Kaji's omakase or Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Tibetan, Hunan or Sichuan, Polish, Peruvian, Tunisian, etc. I now prefer Montreal style bagels to those from Gryfe's. I haven't eaten at Toby's, Fran's or Lick's in 20+ years. I'd take gelato over ice cream any day and a banh mi over a grilled cheese sandwich in a heartbeat. That said, I still consider a Gryfe's bagel to be uniquely Torontonian.

            1. re: 1sweetpea

              Totally endorse the Gryfe's Bagel suggestion.
              Unlike any other (and my favourite).
              However not sure who is now offering it 'dressed' (with anything) - anybody know where available in 'sandwich' form as opposed to buying all ingredients separately and making it oneself? Although I've NEVER been able to get home with a complete batch - always eat some in the car (especially cinnamon raisin - which of course don't need a filling).

              1. re: estufarian

                I think you can get one dressed at Caplansky's? Not 100% sure though...

                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                  Yup, Caplansky's makes their lox and cream cheese bagel with a Gryfe's.

              2. re: 1sweetpea

                Thanks for the bagel suggestion. I had heard about Montreal bagels, but it is interesting to see that Toronto has a version. Maybe a bagel with Nova Scotia lox for breakfast on Monday.

              3. re: estufarian

                I agree the Peameal Bacon Sandwich is a very Torontonian sandwich.

                I like the Italian veal, chicken or eggplant sandwiches found at California Sandwiches, Mustachio's, Ciccio Sandwiches and their competitors. Quite similar to veal, chicken or eggplant parm sandwiches in NYC, but the TO version is usually on a round crusty bun, hot peppers optional.

                Keriwa is a great suggestion.

                I'd also recommend Enoteca Sociale and Campagnolo as good examples of Torontonian Italian.

                Over the last couple years, I've brought visitors to Chopin or Cafe Polonez on Roncesvalles for Polish food (recommend the combo plate if you're not sure what to order), pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) at Doce Minho, dim sum at Yang's (worth the 20 minute drive north of Toronto), Caplansky's for Toronto-style smoked meat sandwiches, Rodney's by Bay for seafood, Starfish for seafood, Khao San Road for Thai and Mezes on the Danforth for mezes, followed by loukamades (honey balls) at Athens Pastries.

                Easy Restaurant is another place I consider to be distinctly Torontonian. It's somewhat bohemian, a little rough around the edges, and the location isn't convenient. I really like their huevos divorciados.

                1. re: prima

                  I saw this on Recent Posts and had to have a peek, having lived in TO many moons ago. Imagine my surprise that Easy is still there and making their tasty huevos divorciados. I still crave them, a decade on from my last visit. Also wondering if Mezes was once upon a time Mezes of Rhodes, still the best Greek snacks I've had the pleasure to eat. Thanks for the memories, prima!

                  1. re: grayelf

                    Yep, Mezes used to be known as Mezes of Rhodes. It's still one of the best full-service Greek restaurants for mezes on the Danforth.

                    Easy is still going strong. I need to revisit Easy sometime soon, hopefully this summer.

                    1. re: prima

                      Good to know -- I don't get back much anymore but friends from TO are here this week who I used to go to Easy with and they still frequent it. Love the four top in the front window!

                2. re: estufarian

                  Thanks for the feedback. My Feasting Room reservations are on a Sunday @ 8:00 PM. That's as early as I could get, reserving as soon as they opened reservations online for that day.

                  I was devastated to learn that I wouldn't be able to visit the St. Lawrence Market when it was open. Sadly my only free day is a Monday. Saturday I'll be in a seminar from 7:00 to 5:00. I'll have to get a peameal bacon sandwich elsewhere.

                  As far as poutine, I'll be there with a bunch of very hard drinking, hard playing people (it is a conference for sports referees and officials). I have no doubt that we will be going out on Saturday night, and I see poutine in my future.

                  1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                    Just checked on Feasting Room - they have Sunday at 7:00 open in Pig Week!

                    Will give some thought to alternatives for Monday!

                    And St Lawrence market opens at 5:00am on Saturday (but don't know when they start serving sandwiches) - so you may have a breakfast choice - depending on location of conference!

                    1. re: estufarian

                      Thanks, but I don't do 5:00am, unless I am still up from the night before (and especially not when I am on East Coast time and my body thinks it is 4:00am.

                  2. re: estufarian

                    Every big city has lots of ethnic restaurants these days. There's nothing particularly Toronto about it. Pea meal bacon outside of St Lawarence is one of the few Toronto experiences available.

                  3. The original comment has been removed
                    1. them delicious hot dog carts!!!
                      symbolizes our city hall quite well

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: atomeyes

                        Is "chip cart" or "chip truck" a generic term, or does it mean they focus on chips/fries/poutine to the exclusion of hot dogs?

                        1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                          its generic and i would be ashamed to call what we have chip carts/trucks, especially after going to Belgium and Amsterdam

                          1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                            Chip trucks or chip wagons tend to serve generous servings of old school Cdn-style, thicker cut, fresh-cut fries. Some now serve gravy as an option, poutine and/or hot dogs, but the traditional ones serve only fries and cans of pop. Usually just one type of fry is available, sometimes with a little potato peel left on, with ketchup, white vinegar, malt vinegar, salt, pepper and/or sometimes seasoning salt on the counter, to be added by the customer. Common in cottage country, as well as the trucks on Front St and near City Hall on Queen West.

                            I don't compare old school Cdn chips to Belgian or Dutch frites. Completely different type of fry.