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Toronto is not a cheap city, but it is blessed with a huge variety of reasonably priced food. Budget travellers should have no problem finding a filling lunch for $10-15 and a delicious dinner for under $20 – it’s just a matter of knowing where to go. For Egyptian food, you’ll need to head to the east end of Leslieville. For perfectly spiced roti, venture out of the Downtown core to the suburbs of Scarborough. But even if you stay within the Bloor Street borders of Downtown Toronto, there’s still a long list of cheap restaurants that serve really delicious food. Here’s where to find them.
The Queen Street location of this Canadian restaurant chain is best visited in summer, when the outdoor patio is in full swing and queues are spilling out the doors. The indoor space feels like a dive bar set in a cozy cabin, fleshed out with exposed brick, Edison light bulbs and antler fixtures. Guests are served first-come-first-served. The menu is a checklist of crowd-pleasers with a twist, and every item is priced the same at $5.95. Try the fried avocado taco, braised beef dip au jus or crispy mac ‘n’ cheese. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the fried apple pie. With a different guest DJ gracing the booth every night, it’s worth sticking around for drinks after dinner.
Omni Palace is a popular Chinese restaurant chain that specialises in stretched noodles. This North York location is its first branch outside of the mainland and according to its owner, Jun M, the flavour profiles have been tweaked to suit local palates. All the noodles are made in-house by Chef Ao Ma, who pulls, punches and stretches mounds of dough until silky elastic strands are formed. The signature dish, both in Canada and across the pond, is the Lanzhou beef shank noodles. Other items worth trying are the stir-fried pulled noodles, cuts of lamb and barbecue skewers.
This historical heavyweight has served diners 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 1932. Elements of the original decor have been preserved, but the menu has been elevated a touch. Diners will sit at vintage, green vinyl banquettes and enjoy playful twists on tried and tested classics, such as the cornflake-crusted fried chicken and waffles. For dessert, try the deep-fried Mars Bar or the apple pie in a milkshake, creations courtesy of Chef Randy Hamilton.
Frankie’s has been around for over 40 years and has been a neighborhood institution for just as long. On weekends, a live band swoons and croons while the owners, Frank and Billy Marinis, catch up with the regulars. The modern interiors feature a white tiled and marble bar, a midnight-blue ceiling and photographs of Old Toronto. Although the prices are cheerfully cheap, the dishes are thoughtfully prepared, visually pleasing and downright delicious. The pulled-pork benedict is a must, as are the burgers that the diner has founded its reputation on.
Located in Kensington Market, this casually eclectic space can be spotted by the street art and graffiti sprayed onto the walls outside. Inside, the interiors are painted red and dotted with small metal tables and open-counter seats. This no-frills space doesn’t need to impress with its decor; here, it’s all about the Big Fat Burritos. The most popular is the yam burrito, which is delicious paired with any of their proteins, be it AA steak, chicken breast or pulled pork. Celiacs can opt for their wrapless burrito in a bowl.
Wilbur Mexicana is named after Wilbur Scoville, who founded the scale that measures the spice levels of chili peppers. Choose from a range of seven salsas and 50 different kinds of hot sauce, made to suit every kind of spice tolerance. Tacos are all under $5 and choices include carne asada, al pastor, bulgogi and grilled avocado. Order the Mexican street corn topped with chipotle cream, Cotija cheese and chili powder to share and some Dos XX to complete the party.
Toronto’s first Syrian restaurant is a family operation called Soufi’s. It’s owned by Husam and Shahnaz Al-Soufi and run by their three children. The cozy 16-seat café serves traditional Syrian street food and dishes typically cooked in the home. The most popular items are the manakeesh (a house-developed recipe that’s an oven-baked flatbread topped with cheese, meat or vegetable spreads) and knafeh (a sweet phyllo dessert with a cheese filling).
San Remo Bakery has served the Etobicoke neighborhood since 1969. It’s now run by the second generation of the Bozzo family, and has remained just as good as it’s always been. All their bread and pastries are made from scratch and by hand. The veal sandwich and calabrese bread are particularly delicious, but by far the most popular thing on the menu is the apple fritters. Head there in the morning to avoid the lunchtime rush and to avoid disappointment.
Located in a quiet neighborhood of Leslieville, Gale’s Snack Bar may be a cramped shoebox with decor that harkens back to the 1960s, but that’s part of the appeal. Like the interiors, the prices have also been preserved. The hot-turkey sandwich costs $3.75 and is made from tender slices of freshly roasted poultry. Cuts of meat are piled high on starchy white bread and slathered with gravy. Complete the scene with a slice of homemade pie and ice cream for just $1.50.