Six Must-Try Culinary Adventures in Toronto
Located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto is a city of striking architecture, scenic trails, shimmering waterfront neighborhoods, and stunning art. It is a melting pot of cultures and exemplifies what Canadian society is best known for: harmonious diversity. The heart of downtown is a kaleidoscope of imposing buildings, upscale boutiques, museums, parks, bistros, and chic cafés. The city pulsates with life in the summer and brims with tourists, students, and families from around the world. Downtown Toronto, the Distillery District, Toronto Island, and the Beaches are some the most popular areas to visit. The city is also home to some of North America’s most well-known markets like Kensington Market, St. Lawrence Market, and several unique ethnic neighborhoods that include Cabbagetown, Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy, Portugal Village, and Little India. Their individual characteristics are celebrated during a multitude of summer festivals.
One of the most fascinating features of downtown Toronto is the PATH, a pedestrian walkway that connects 17 miles of stores, businesses, and eateries—all located underground and buzzing with activity all year long, especially in the winter. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the PATH is the largest underground shopping complex in the world.
Another alluring aspect of Toronto is its gastronomical appeal, there are an unlimited array of restaurants to pick from. Here are some exciting culinary adventures that should not be missed on your next trip:
Originating from Quebec, poutine is a mouthwatering dish of french fries served with luscious brown gravy and cheese curds. The golden fries are crisp on the outside and juicy in the center and the gravy is light, savory, and flavorful. Rich yet tangy cheese curds—the solids of soured milk—are the key ingredient of the dish. The curds should “squeak” in your mouth to indicate freshness. The gravy is usually turkey, veal, or chicken based. However, Smoke’s Poutinerie also offers a mushroom gravy for vegetarians. For variety, try one of the many combinations that are available with different meats, vegetables, and jalapenos. However, if you are a first timer, I recommend starting with the traditional version.
2. Brar’s Indian Buffet
A huge Indian population thrives in Toronto, concentrated mostly in the suburbs of Brampton and Mississauga. These suburbs are peppered with Indian stores and restaurants that stock products, produce, and delicious snack foods. Brar’s buffet boasts a vast selection of Indian cuisine and is one of my most favorite restaurants. It has a variety of dishes from both the northern and southern parts of India. Indo-Chinese dishes – Chinese dishes cooked with Indian spices—are also part of the buffet. I begin my meal with signature street food fare like chaat, pani puri, and pakoras, then finish with a sumptuous dessert. Some of my favorite desserts are the bright orange carrots cooked with milk, sugar, cardamom, and clarified butter called gajar halwa, or deep fried balls of dough soaked in sweet syrup called gulab jamuns. Brar’s has three locations, I recommend visiting the one in Brampton.
3. Greektown on the Danforth
Greektown on the Danforth is a street teeming with traditional bakeries, boutique-style fresh markets, and fantastic Greek restaurants. In the summertime, the street is filled with families and foodies selecting fresh fruit, vegetables, and other authentic ingredients from the abundant produce sections of the many family-owned stores. Bakery windows beckon guests to admire the bread and cheese-making techniques that fill the shelves with fresh feta, crumbly pastries, and warm loaves of bread.
Messini Authentic Gyros is one of the most popular restaurants in Greektown and is always crammed with locals, tourists, and the local police. Although the food is well worth it, prepare to wait on the sidewalk since the restaurant is small. The Greek salad is one of my favorite dishes, it is a refreshing composition of juicy cucumbers, crunchy peppers, onions, and Kalamata olives, drizzled with fragrant olive oil and generously topped with tangy, homemade feta cheese. Warm pita sandwiches stuffed with fries, freshly made tzatziki, fruity wines, and live belly dancing performances makes this is one of the most memorable meals in Toronto.
Chinatown is a chaotic mélange of street vendors, curio stores, ethnic grocery stores and a plethora of eateries. Street vendors offer garments, housewares, jade jewelry, and medicinal herbs and spices and bargaining is not only acceptable, it is expected! Chinese grocery stores are like mysteries waiting to be unraveled. I like to sample the unusual fruit with labels that are not always in English—this is always an adventure. When shopping, keep in mind that Chinese vendors do not always like patrons to handle and smell the produce in their stores.
Chinatown also has several tea shops, many of which offer a variety of green, white, oolong, and bubble teas. Bubble tea is a brewed iced tea mixed with either milk or fruit juice and served with chewy tapioca balls, also known as boba. The Toronto Chinatown Festival—featuring a parade, food, and traditional attire— attracts thousands of visitors each year. There are also numerous restaurants that serve authentic Chinese cuisine. Select busy restaurants to sample a variety of delicious dumplings, savory soups, and specialty noodles.
5. Bloor Street West
Bloor Street West is a village of art and music punctuated by exclusive eateries and international cuisine. It is frequented by a large number of students from nearby Ryerson University and the University of Toronto. Follow the students to find the most charming and affordable sushi restaurants. The first time I ever ate sushi was on Bloor Street with a bunch of raucous friends who could not wait to introduce me to the umami flavors found in the subtle marriage of seafood, sticky rice, seaweed, salty soy sauce, and palette-cleansing wasabi.
Alternately, sample Middle Eastern food that was voted the best in Toronto for two consecutive years. Ghazale, a Toronto culinary gem, is a family-owned restaurant that usually has a long line of customers—a testament to its immense popularity. The falafel and shawarma sandwiches are scrumptious, but it is the variety of sides that make Ghazale a unique experience. I usually make a meal of the spinach and cheese pies combined with sides like beans cooked in rich sauces, lentils and rice, fried potatoes, and tabouleh or fatoush salads. The baklava, made of flaky pastry, gooey honey, and crunchy pistachios and walnuts, is the perfect finish to this flavorful meal.
6. St. Lawrence Market
St. Lawrence Market is an iconic market located in the heart of downtown Toronto and was named the “World’s Best Food Market” by the National Geographic Magazine. It is a fascinating place that comes alive with stalls full of freshly picked flowers, exotic cheeses, meats, seafood, specialty condiments, artisanal breads, and homemade pastries. Products featured at the market are developed and created by family-owned businesses that are wholesome and sustainable. Vendors are charming and sociable, eager to share information and generous with samples. Canada’s multiculturalism is visible in the variety of fresh foods at the market. Build your own sandwich with cheese, veggies, meats, and Canadian maple mustard or try one of the many pre-made offerings. Just remember to bring a reusable bag and your appetite when you visit.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in Toronto? Share your recommendations or stories in the comment section below.
SEE MORE OF TORONTO
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gia Coelho was born in India and holds a BBA in Accounting and an MBA in Marketing. She lived in Toronto and has traveled extensively in India and Europe. She now lives outside Washington DC and pursues passions that include wildlife conservation, writing, culinary adventures, painting, and creating colorful Zentangle art that she sells on her Etsy site at www.etsy.com/shop/giacoelho.