What I really love about Toronto is its diversity. A place where everyone is from everywhere, boosted with a splash of flavors, cuisines, tastes, spices, beverages and food experiences accessible nowhere else. From Italian breakfast to dim sum lunch followed by 5 o’clock cocktails, irresistible Spanish tapas and locally produced ice-cream, all unforgettable and within a walking distance from each other. The picture is completed with Canadian service, the friendliest and, let’s be honest, most apologetic in the world. Getting hungry? I’m about to share with you a list of places very dear to my heart and my tummy. Places I love to go back to, again and again.
Hiding in a basement beneath the notorious eating and drinking place Wurst, Forno Coutura on King West is loved for deeply fragrant coffees, crispy bread and mouthwatering pastry. The open kitchen creates an illusion of home cooking and there is something exceptionally magical in sipping a rather sharp macchiato while watching a focaccia rolled out right in front of you.
Try: cannoli made of light dough and filled with deliciously smooth ricotta cream.
609 King Street West, closed on Mondays, more at Forno Cultura
With 30 plus sausages to choose from and a fantastic selection of beers and artisanal cider (say what!), Wurst is a true wonder on King West. At a first peek, it resembles the great beer halls of Munich, but once you are in, you know it’s Toronto. Beside multilingual local vibe, this place features tile walls that evoke memories of subway commutes and rush hour. Recommended only for lunch, Wurst gets so crowded after 6pm that people line up on the staircase intimidated by a giant bouncer in a black suit. Well, I was!
Try: carefully crafted beer samples.
609 King Street West, more at Wurst
They call it “A real Italian Wine Bar”, but for me it stands for the best Italian food ever (I’ve been to Italy). While the menu is only a page long, the selection of dishes based on seasonal ingredients represent what all Italians swear by: mozzarella di bufula, tiniest tortellini, aromatic formaggi e salumi, dreamy gnocchi and other bits and pieces to die for. Reserving a table is easy, but only if you are super lucky. I usually call a few days in advance.
Try: Sparkling red wine
1288 Dundas Street West, more at Enoteca Sociale
Located at the corner of Shangri-La hotel on University Avenue, a few minutes away from City Hall, Momofuko’s famous entrance has a giant sparking statue and was featured in “Miss Sloan”. But it’s not the statue that made this place so attractive. Spread between three glass levels are two restaurants, a noodle bar, a milk bar and a cocktail lounge. Momofuko’s food experience upgrades with each floor. The higher you go the more expensive it gets, however a bowl of an exceptionally tasty ramen served on the ground floor doesn’t cost a fortune (14-16 Canadian dollars).
Try: A jar of kimchi, pork belly buns and obviously, the ramen
190 University Avenue, more at Momofuko
As romantic as it sounds, the rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt offers an incredible view of downtown and the skyline. Toronto’s food and gossip experience is incomplete without a fancy cocktail sipped away on a sunny summer day, with a view from the top paired with fresh shucked oysters (served after 4p). Just magical!
4 Avenue Road, walk-in only, no reservations, more at Roof Lounge at Park Hyatt
Surrounded by brick industrial buildings, Drake’s Commissary embraces the spirit of the local community: urban but warm, dynamic and inviting. It’s a place where one doesn’t need to dress up, can arrive in pajamas and be seated with only one question asked: inside or outside. Provided it’s not raining I would always opt to seat outside in the shade close to the wall. Drake’s menu changes depending on the day (week or weekend), time and season. It’s important to try their both lunch and brunch menu as everything I had was worth re-ordering immediately.
Try: flavored lattes, local craft beers and scones (!!!).
128 Sterling Road, closed on Mondays, more at Drake’s commissary
Oh, Carmen! Carmen’s tapas and paellas are just WOW. Infused with spices, flavors and love, they deliver a dining experience that triggers the mind and senses. Carmen is tasty, visual and truly delightful in every bite, sip, look and noise. The restaurant starts with a long bar right at the entrance, leading to a spacious indoor area and a very cozy terrace open during warmer months. My first encounter with the barmen resulted in a hilarious exchange, where I was called “international” for my desperate attempts to book a table from my Dubai number.
Try: Cauliflower, white fish ceviche and paella of the day (big enough to feed 4-6 people if paired with tapas).
922, Queen Street West, more at Carmen
Another fascinating food experience on King West (I wonder why they call that street a tourist trap). Rodney’s design with dimmed lights, edgy posters and a cave like indoor space resembles a trip to dodgy London dungeons, but that illusion fades once you step onto their terrace. In fairness, the terrace, unlike many in Toronto, is hidden away from the busy street, traffic and curious pedestrians. To light up the magic, start with a dozen of oysters and just indulge in pairing them with their wide selection of sauces and freshly grated horseradish. You’ll be surprised to find pure vodka served in one of the jars as a sauce, but I opted for a dash of spicy chilly.
Try: Smoked fish charcuterie board
469 King Street West, closed on Sundays, more at Rodney’s oysters
Apart from its fantastic name and edgy ads, Bang Bang actually makes an incredible, kicking delicious ice-cream with true Canadian spirit – there is a flavor for everyone. Even a nutty foodie like me finds a scoop that screams hazelnuts. Before placing your order, think carefully how you would like it to be served. At Bang Bang you are not just choosing a flavor, but rather styling it with freshly baked carbs: a cookie, half a cookie, cone, sugar cone or if you’re lucky, a waffle. In the summer the wait may reach a half an hour, but consider it well spent. More about top ice-creams in Toronto, go here.
93A Ossington Avenue, closed on Mondays, more at Bang Bang
This little bakery is a hidden gem adored by a local community lining up for an almond croissant as early at 6:45am (well, it only opens at 7am). Their pastry tastes like heaven baked in the best traditions of French patisserie. Always fresh, always crisp and always so perfect that their daily specials sometimes are sold out by 9am. They are able to go an extra mile and create a delightful treat according to special dietary requirements, an egg-free birthday cake for example.
401 Jane Street, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, more at Patisserie 27