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Things to do, places to eat downtown Toronto in April

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Hey there everyone.

My wife and I are heading to downtown Toronto for a weekend (April 11 to 13) to see a concert at Massey Hall. We are coming from New Brunswick so even though we are used to the cold crappy weather, we are looking for things to do that does not involve us walking outside downtown the entire weekend. Here are some things to note:

- we are likely going to stay at the Toronto Hilton due to its location to Massey, Queen St., Momofuku and Chinatown. That said, even though I try to stay at a Hilton to get points, I am open to staying somewhere else in the same location at around $200 a night rate if it has a nice lounge, better amenities, etc.

- as you may have guessed, we love food and plan on eating lunch or dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar at least once and having Dim Sum at least once in Chinatown so recommendations for where would be good. Also other foodie options within walking or cab distance would be good.

- we will not be renting a car and basically want to stick to by foot/cab/subway.

- we enjoy shopping (vinyl records, clothing) seeing movies, especially classics and retrospectives if there are any and, oh, did I mention food? Also we love live music (and the odd cocktail or two).

Thanks in advance!

Jamie

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  1. Definitely get at least a snack at Banh Mi Boys - good food without Toronto hipster attitude/prices. Not sure if the Yonge St location is open later at night for after your concert but the Queen w would work for a lunch. Last time I went to Massey (an old school venue I love) we ended up at Sabai sabai on Church for Thai drinks and snacks, maybe actually a better choice for after a show. Since you are interested in film you should look into what's playing at the Bell Lightbox (year round TIFF building) when you are here.
    Close to the Hilton and
    Momofuku.

    6 Replies
    1. re: julesrules

      Thanks for the suggestions, specifically regarding confirming location and recommending the Lightbox (just what I was looking for) and the suggestion for drinks and snacks after the concert. Since it will be too early before and after the concert for a huge meal, a nice spot for drinks and snacks / small plates is perfect (and we both love Thai). Cheers!

      1. re: Thebunk

        You will be close to two great Thai restaurants: Khao San Road and Mangrai. Even closer for Thai is Sabai Sabai which I have not been to yet but it is also supposed to be very good.

        Other places to consider that aren't too far:
        Patria, Playa Cabana, Queen Margherita Pizza (Queen St. location), Richmond Station (very close), and Buca.

        1. re: TeacherFoodie

          Not sure what happened to the inoffensive post by KSR but sounded like they were hinting Thai businesses might not be open due to Thai new year. To the OP, KSR is close to the Hilton and was started by the same people as Sabai sabai - different concepts, but menus overlap somewhat and I wouldn't personally do both in one weekend. Both good choices, but check that they will be open and how late. You've also got Ravisoups and Burrito Boys for snacks/lunches along that stretch. I think most places on that part of Adelaide are closed Sunday, quiet Saturday at lunch, very busy for weekday lunch.

          1. re: julesrules

            If I was from New Brunswick and never in Toronto, I'd also consider and research Nota Bene, Gabardine, Queen & Beaver, Vertical, Volos, and Patria. Volos can be hit or miss but it's the best Greek in the core. Or take a cab and try BarChef as there's nothing else like it.

            As for dim sum, maybe research Rol San and Lai Wah Heen. Totally different experiences but at least you'll be warm at LWH in the hotel setting.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              Yes my suggestions are definitely meant as casual snacks... Not special dinners out (cause
              I never actually get out for dinner but I do work in the area and know the better lunch spots).

            2. re: julesrules

              Some Thai businesses are "business as usual" as their New Year celebrations are off-site. Best to call ahead and check.

      2. Ok wanted to give this a bump as we fly in to Toronto early afternoon tomorrow. We finally landed on the Hotel which is the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown. Yeah, it is not fancy but we will not be in our room often. We changed our minds from wanting to be close to Massy Hall vs. being close to the core / Queen Street West.

        Also here is the tentative meal plan:

        Wed: no plans
        Thurs: Bar Isabel at 8:00
        Fri: Noodlebar for an early dinner (say 5pm). Out concert is at 8pm so depending how we are feeling, likely grab some Chinese food that is open late night (dim sum or meals).

        So based on that we still need a little bit of help:

        - Wednesday Dinner: Ok we have 24 hours before this time tomorrow so we will need something good where we still have a hope of getting in. Open to anything but Sushi as my wife is not a fan or steak or seafood resataurants (lots home). Budget for both of us with tax and tip is $150 max. Would love Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, Tapas, whatever. Prefer more casual and fun vs. white cloth and stuffy.

        - Lunches: Right now we have no plans for lunches and I am panicking a bit.

        - Neighbourhood bar: looking for a place lets say 1 mile radius within the hotel where we can go and just hangout mid day or even before dinner, not looking for a pub but some place that does not take itself too serious either. Just a cool place with great music, friendly people and good drinks (beer mostly but a few good cocktails are cool as well). Good people watching is a plus as well.

        Thanks in advance folks!

        9 Replies
        1. re: Thebunk

          The Noodle Bar doesn't serve my favourite ramen in the downtown. Santouka and Sansotei are each within walking distance of Massey Hall and offer a better bowl overall. The pork jowel at Santouka is a must.

          For lunch, I would definitely second the recommendation of Banh Mi Boys. Pretty much anything on the menu is fun and flavourful. The nearest one to your hotel is about 2 blocks away at Queen and Spadina.

          For a casual lunch or dinner, I would suggest you check out Bannock. The pickerel bun is the highlight, but the duck poutine pizza is fun excess.

          For Italian, La Bettola di Terroni and Osteria Ciceri E Tria are both downtown, not too expensive, and have great pastas and other dishes.

          While the better Indian spots are well out of the downtown, there are some decent Indian places near your hotel including Babur (good butter chicken), Trimurti, and Little India (good fish dishes).

          1. re: Thebunk

            You're off to see The National?

            There's a ton of vinyl in the city if you're looking. Take a long walk down Queen W. towards Trinity Bellwoods and you can stop in at a few shops (Kops, Rotate, Cosmos). For live music, well, it depends on what you're looking for. There's plenty of places just on Queen to see shows.

            As for bars, I'd really suggest you walk down to Bar Hop even though it's in the dreaded "Entertainment District." Their selection of local/craft is excellent (though not the best in the city). It's easily the best option you have for beer.

            The ramen at Noodle Bar is pretty mediocre, even for Toronto. Shoto is excellent, but the prices may be too high and you can forget an early dinner. The ginger scallion and dan dan mein are okay. Seconding recommendations for Santouka and Sansotei if you want ramen. You could also get their fried chicken (which is pretty wicked) to go and eat it in your hotel room in your underwear. You'll probably explode but be very, very happy.

            As you're close, you may want to head off to Kensington. Seven Lives has pretty good fish tacos (some of the options are awful, others, like the blackened mahi mahi, or, good god please hope, the scallop and chorizo special, are pretty amazing). You can grab coffee at Pamenar and churros and tacos and maybe Hooked is shucking oysters in store and stop by Via Mercanti for good pizza (the gnocchi are excellent, if they're on special, especially with the veal cheek ragu) and, well, I guess that can also duo with Queen W. W. for your vintage clothing needs.

            1. re: yakionigiri

              I second the recommendation for Kesington Market.

              I would also recommend Bar Buca for a drink/bite during the day. I am not sure if they do cocktails during the weekdays too but I know on the weekend they had a cocktail menu during the day. Worth looking into to. Also, for casual lunches I recommend Sud Forno, Forno Cultura, Banh Mi Boys for sure.

              For the cultural aspect, keep an eye out for screenings at The Bloor cinema. It is focused on documentaries and if indeed you are coming to see The Nationals they are showing a documentary on the band (and I think the band will be in attendance one night). TIFF Kids is starting this week and I wouldn't rule out seeing a Kids film, some are really good (I managed to see a preview of Felix in this years festival and really liked it). They sell tickets to the school screenings to the public as well so films available during the day.

              1. re: yakionigiri

                I am :). Friday night is our show.

              2. re: Thebunk

                The Wide Open is at Spadina just south of Richmond. Good place for afternoon drinks. Not a pub and not stuffy.

                Also, a few doors further up the street at 147 Spadina is Trevor Tavern which is co-owned by the owner of the Wide Open. It's recently opened so I haven't been yet, but it looks like a great spot for drinks and nibbles.

                Also, a few doors further west from Banh Mi Boys on Queen W is Rose City Kitchen for some very tasty pitas and falafels.

                1. re: midtowngirl

                  Thanks for the rec on the Wide Open. Will check it out tomorrow or Friday. Today we had some drinks in the lobby of the Beverly which were quite good.

                2. re: Thebunk

                  There's really no need to panic for lunch (unless you are looking for a fancy reservation?). You will pretty much be in the heart of it... lots of options on Queen West, entertainment district, Spadina, Baldwin... Although it is possible to go wrong, if you avoid the chain pubs and bad sushi places, keep some ideas from this thread in your head, and have a smart phone to check out reviews of places that strike your fancy, you will be fine.

                  1. re: julesrules

                    Totally agree with JulesRules - the panic will be trying to narrow it down you've got so much to choose from!

                    For dinner tonight I'd suggest Torito (Spanish tapas) in Kensington Market. I just checked opentable and there's lots of availability. About a 15 minute walk from your hotel which takes you through a bit of Queen West/Chinatown and Kensington.

                    1. re: midtowngirl

                      Thanks for the reassurance folks. We got to our hotel by 2:45pm today and went straight to Seven Lives which was quite good and value though they could easily serve 1/3 to 1/4 less filling and I would still be happy at their prices. I had the Carnitas and Mushroom/Cactus (Carnitas as the winner). We walked around a bit then ended up at The Beverlyfor drinks.

                3. I work in the area and my out-of-town relatives stay at the Hilton when they visit. I would highly recommend Sabai Sabai for Thai food - excellent. I would also recommend the Senator, at Yonge/Victoria for any meal of the day, a true, old school diner that was recently written up in the NYT. Apparently the oldest restaurant in Toronto and great coffee! Very close to Massey Hall as well. Libretto on Danforth is closer than Queen Margerita, and close to there is the new Mother's Dumplings. Have fun!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: roostermom

                    hilton garden is at peter and adelaide.

                    libretto on ossington is closer, as is terronis

                    as for coffee options near by: dark horse on john, crema at spadina, little nickys on peter.

                    cocktails midday may be a bit tougher. you can try hotel lobbies like: soho met, trump, shangrila, ritz, the beverly, thompson. all within 15 min walk.

                    beer: barhop is excellent and very close. also town crier. also near by: the rex (live music), cameron house (live music), black bull, horseshoe (live music).

                    dim sum: rol san.

                    - khao san road

                    1. re: KhaoSanRoad

                      oops my bad. Brief moment of confusion, thanks for clarifying!

                      1. re: KhaoSanRoad

                        +1 for coffee and a half dozen fresh made mini-donuts at Little Nickys!

                        1. re: KhaoSanRoad

                          Also for coffee/crepes I have heard good things about Le Neuf Cafe, it is in a neat setting right across from a park not too far from your hotel.

                          http://leneufcafe.com/

                      2. Thanks for the recommendations folks. Still looking for some midday cocktail / bar spots near out hotel or Queen Street West as we will be likely walking along there quite a bit.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Thebunk

                          The Queen and Beaver is an English gastro pub that has nibbles and drinks all day - food is good. Upstairs is loungy with couches and books. I know you said no pubs but this is a step up from your average pub.

                          Q&B is located on Elm st, about a 20-25 min walk from your hotel. You can meander through the Eaton Center shopping mall (if weather is crappy) starting from Queen st and walk through to the other end to Dundas and Elm st is just north of there.

                          Lucullus Bakery is also on Elm - Pick up some great Chinese buns/pastries to take with you as snacks. (BBQ pork, Curry Beef, chicken puff pies, pineapple bun etc.)

                          http://queenandbeaverpub.ca/
                          http://www.lucullusbakery.com/

                          1. re: Degustation

                            Degustation: is there a seating area in Lucullus Bakery? I can't believe I've walked down Elm Street so many times and have never noticed it... I am always looking for breakfast/lunch spots in the area. I wouldn't mind picking up a bun and eating al fresco but if the weather isn't good somewhere indoors to sit would be great...

                            1. re: ottawaoperadiva

                              There are few tables downstairs, maybe for a dozen people? Apparently additional seating upstairs but haven't been up there. Last time I was there, the person beside me was enjoying a bowl of noodles that looked good. There is also free WIFI.

                              1. re: Degustation

                                Thanks. I'll be dining solo and will be happy to squeeze in anywhere. I will definitely have to keep my eyes peeled for this place.

                        2. Ok, I do not want to be one of those posters who ask for help and then never reply back with what they did, here is our Day 1 recap in case people are interested.

                          - As soon as we got checked in (approx. 2:30pm?) we headed up to the Kensington Market area which as a nice walk. Once we got there we went directly to Seven Lives for tacos. I ordered a Carnita and the Mushroom/Cactus tacs, and my wife ordered the Carnita and a Grilled Mahi taco. We both liked the Carnitas the best. I would say overall they were quite good, and very good value but if anything, I think they had way too much filling. I think they could easily serve 1/3 to 1/4 less filling and it would be better overall and still good value.

                          - When we were done, we walked around the rest of the KM area and searched a place to have a drink (I love all forms of alcoholic drinks, my wife is not a big drink and only enjoys the odd cocktail). Given the time of day there was nothing open yet in the area (Cold Tea was not open yet) so we headed to Queen Street West where we landed at The Beverly. We landed during the middle of a shift change so it was a bit of chaos but we waited it out. We both had some good cocktails and the place was nice to chill out for a bit.

                          - For dinner we got into Enoteca Sociale for 9pm. Diner was very good. We had Arancini and the Cheese board to start. From there I had the Cacio e Pepe (Noodle s were great but the cheese sauce was a bit underwhelming) and my wife had the Linguine e Gamberi which she liked quite a bit. I would definitely go back again though I think I would search for something more in walking distance next time as it was a bit of a cab ride to get there.

                          I will try to report back tomorrow. The plan is to explore Queen Street West today and likely do some DimSum, Banh Mi Boys or Burger Priest for lunch, we will see. Bar Isobel tonight which I am pumped for.

                          Thanks again for all of the suggestions folks. Any suggestions for midday drinks near the hotel or along Queen Street West (West of Spadina) would also be appreciated.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Thebunk

                            Go for a long walk along Queen West to the Drake, and maybe hit Ossington on the way back. Tons of stuff there.

                            1. re: Thebunk

                              midday cocktails are a tough order along that stretch. i live at trinity bellwoods and work near your hotel.

                              best bets are:
                              trevor tavern
                              thompson hotel (anyone know if anything is open there? what about the rooftop?)
                              bar hop
                              patria
                              come and get it
                              county general (solid cocktails)
                              dog&bear (english style pub)

                              not sure if any of these are open in the aft but worth a call:
                              beast
                              bellwoods brewery
                              sweaty bettys

                              - khao san road

                              1. re: Thebunk

                                Thanks for writing about which places you ended up choosing. Always nice to hear out of towners' opinions on places locals recommend! Sounds like you had a good time!

                                1. re: bluefirefly

                                  No problem and like I said in an earlier post, a lot good folks you are kind enough to take the time to reply so I think it is only write to reply back with what we did.

                                  Day 3 / Final day post coming soon ....

                              2. Day 2 Report:

                                - Croissant and Capachino at Little Nicky's. The cap was average at best. Have not been able to find a great cap in Toronto yet which is odd. The place was kind of dirty as well.

                                - Grabbed a Porkbelly Bao at Banh Mi Boys. WOW. We both were knocked out by the value and favors. At that point the best bite of the trip (still is for my wife). Now I know why it was recommended so much and why there was a line out the door by 12pm. Wish this place was open late at night so we could visit after the concert. Oh well.

                                - We walked down Queen and hit up all of the record stores along the way and grabbed some great records. We then landed at the Drake where we chilled for 2 hours which was nice. Cocktails were great.

                                - We walked up to College and then to Spadina and back to the hotel. A good long walk for the day. Along the way we saw the guy that plays "Adam" from the TV show "Suits" and saw chef Matty Matheson in his beat up Ford drive by. Neither of us as starfuckers but it was cool nonetheless.

                                - Went to Bar Isabel for dinner and all I have to say is that this place was worth the hype and more. Service was great and I like how they act like a team vs. one server attending to you. First they gave us a small plate of nibbles as our table was not ready which was nice (olives, almonds, chorizo and a sheeps milk cheese).

                                When we got seated, we ordered more cured chorizo (it was a highlight), as well as the chickpeas and the crispy squid (best I have ever had). We then split the 1/2 octopus which was delicious but more food then we wanted but we killed it and it was great. We then split the basque cake which was very good. Also had a number of cocktails which were all good. Anyway, I cannot give this place more credit it was that good.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Thebunk

                                  ha! "adam" is my neighbour.

                                  maybe give darkhorse a try for your next cap. there is one on john just 2 mins from your hotel.

                                  - khao san road

                                  1. re: KhaoSanRoad

                                    Ha actually I guess is name is Mike on the show (as my wife corrected me as she read my post a few hours after I posted it.

                                    Actually it was funny, we were in The Drake looking out the window when he walked by and he had sunglasses on. My wife exclaimed that it looked just like him. For shits and giggles, I went on IMDB to see if he was Canadian and sure enough, it said he was born in Toronto.

                                  2. re: Thebunk

                                    Try Fahrenheit for a cappuccino. Best I have had ever. Yes, ever.

                                  3. Day 3 / Final Day:

                                    - Day started with us probably doing the most touristy thing on our trip; going to the St. Lawrence Market and getting a Pea-meal Bacon Sandwich from Carousel Bakery (me) and a crepe with strawberries (my wife). The sandwich was very good but not really that special and would never make the trip again. Also the market was VERYsimilar to our City Market in Saint John though bigger and admittedly better in terms of produce, meats and prepared foods.

                                    - Since we did the walk to the market early, we went back to the hotel and chilled a bit. Around 1pm we went to Crema for a Capachino (it was good) then we went to BarHop for a few beer and some olives. Great place with friendly staff and a huge beer list. Would definitely come back.

                                    - We went back to the hotel to change then went back to the Beverly for drinks. I have to say I really like this place for midday drinks ast is not busy, they play pretty good music and the server was especially nice on Friday.

                                    - After a couple of cocktails (maybe 4?), we went to Momofuku Noodle Bar and we both ordered the Ramen. This is my 3rd time here at this location and we have both been to their flagship in NYC twice. It was fine but the experience and service are so underwhelming I would probably not visit here again for sometime.

                                    - Went to Massy for the concert. The show itself was great but the experience was a bit impacted by this one girl who decided to stand the entire time in the front row of the first balcony and my wife was right behind her. Luckily after a few songs we moved to two empty seats there were in the first row of the balcony (center) and we stayed there the entire time so it all world out.

                                    - We never did anything for bites afterwards as we were both tired after the show and had to get up at 5:30am to prepare for our morning flight. All in all it was a very great trip. Here are the places we would go to again for sure:

                                    Bar Isabel (my highlight).
                                    Banh Mi Boys (totally shocked at how good it was and their Baos destroy Momofuku's hands down in my opinion.
                                    The Beverly and BarHop for midday drinks.

                                    Those are the biggies for me (the four B's, ha!). I would likely stop by the Drake again if i was in the area though not worth the trip in my opinion on its own. Thanks again for everyone's help!