An array of food experiences await in Toronto. Embark on a world tour for your taste buds through these 15 restaurants.
Toronto’s restaurant scene is so much more than cheese curds and gravy. The city’s diverse population has brought with it a huge variety of cuisines. Immigrants from South America, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe have been bringing their culinary cultures to Toronto for over 200 years, and will help transport your stomach to all four corners of the world. Here’s how to add a few more stamps on your food passport without ever leaving Downtown Toronto.
Rasta Pasta for a collision of Italian and Jamaican flavors
Restaurant, Caribbean, Jamaican, Fast Food
Rasta Pasta is what happens when Italians and Jamaicans share a kitchen. The Jamaican Mi Crazy Chicken will leave you wondering why there aren’t more Jamaican-Italian fusion dishes. Prices are very reasonable, and the food is the perfect accompaniment to a stroll around Kensington Market. Expect to take your food on the go rather than having a sit-down dinner.
Lake Inez for Asian fusion food paired with craft beer
Restaurant, Asian, $$$
Lake Inez has over a dozen Ontario-brewed beers and ciders on tap | Courtesy of Lake Inez
Asian fusion and craft beer don’t often go together, but they work perfectly here. Lake Inez’s menu ranges from miso-molasses pork skewers to braised shiitake bourguignon, which can be washed down with one of the 14 Ontario-brewed beers and ciders on tap. It isn’t only the food that’s fusion at this cozy, little spot: the decor is a mixture of intricate mosaic tiles, classy chandeliers and a hodgepodge of odd antiques.
Pow Wow Café is another Kensington Market classic. The owner brings the joy of indigenous food to everyone who comes, and he’s more than happy to talk about the history and culture of Canada’s First Peoples with all those who wish to know. It’s a small space with a friendly vibe and is as unpretentious as they come. Dinner is fantastic, but very few places in the city can live up to Pow Wow’s brunch, both in quality and price – be prepared to wait. The all-day taco menu is a crowd-pleaser, with the conventional taco shell making way for Ojibwe-style fry bread.
R&D is a modern Chinese restaurant located on Spadina Avenue, Toronto’s main Chinatown thoroughfare. The kitchen is run by Eric Chong, the winner of the first series of MasterChef Canada, and Alvin Leung, a judge on the show. The stylishly designed space features bare brick walls, exposed wood and indoor street art. The menu is traditional with a twist: well-loved classics are treated with extra reverence, while fun fusion plates employ expert use of unconventional ingredients. The peking roast duck is a must-order – each bird is brined, blanched and then dry-aged for two weeks, which tenderizes the meat and concentrates the umami flavor.
For lovers of burritos and tacos, there is nowhere better than Tacos El Asador. A cheap and charming family-run spot, the restaurant is operated by René Gonzalez, a man who arrived with his family from El Salvador in the late 1980s as they looked to escape the country’s civil war. The service is fast and friendly, and you get punchy Salvadorian flavors in large portions. The restaurant only takes cash, so bring some with you or pay a little extra to use the machine inside.
Hanmoto does well for itself without any online advertising; they don’t have a website, and they do a pretty terrible job of promoting themselves on social media. But that’s because they don’t need marketing – the quality of food here speaks for itself. The plates that come sizzling out of the kitchen are the sort that go best with generous glugs of shōchū or Asahi. Sushi plates are presented in a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, and the katsu bun will make a repeat visitor out of anyone.
Enoteca Sociale to wine and dine your date with authentic Italian
Restaurant, Italian, $$$
The most romantic spot on the list goes to this upmarket Italian restaurant in the West End. Candlelit and charmingly decorated, Enoteca Sociale prides itself on bringing an authentic Roman experience to Toronto. It is the perfect date spot, and the three-course menu is a delicious accompaniment to an evening of romance.
Saffron Spice Kitchen for delicious Sri Lankan curries without venturing to the suburbs
Restaurant, Sri Lankan
Some of the better Sri Lankan establishments are usually situated in Toronto’s suburbs, but the first-class Saffron Spice Kitchen is an exception to the rule. This centrally located Queen Street restaurant serves up a mostly vegetarian menu of curries, kothu roti and hoppers, a type of crispy pancake made from ground fermented rice. The menu is on constant rotation, but remains consistently flavorful.
Bar, Restaurant, Canadian, Vegetarian, Gluten-free, $$$
Antler showcases the best of wild Canadian products | Courtesy of Antler Kitchen and Bar
A celebration of authentic Canadian cuisine and locally sourced ingredients, Antler is Ontario through and through. With a seasonal menu featuring bison, venison, duck and wild-caught halibut, it’s a more expensive dining option. The restaurant has become a cult favorite among meat lovers after the head chef butchered a deer in front of a group of vegan protesters – a risky way to answer your critics.
Canoe creates dishes that aim to reflect the country’s diverse landscape, history and culture. Located on the 54th floor of the TD Centre, this restaurant enjoys unrivaled views of the city and Lake Ontario. Canoe is not ideal if you’re traveling on a shoestring, but if you’re throwing your budget to the wind, try the red stag with juniper foie gras sausage.
With four locations in Toronto and three others outside of the city, La Carnita is a Toronto food scene success story. It started out as a pop-up at one of the city’s underground food markets and has grown massively in a short space of time. Each location is designed by local street artists, giving them an edgy, bustling feel. Always busy, thriving and loud, it is as if you’ve dived head first into Toronto’s dynamic art scene. There’s no better place to fill up on tacos, churros and fresh cocktails.
Designed to replicate the look and feel of an open market in Greece, Mamakas is a little more expensive than most restaurants on this list, but it’s a great option for a last-night-in-town dinner. The room itself is bright white, with large windows brightening up the place even more. The restaurant seats 85 – surprising given the size of the space. Expect to rub elbows with your neighbors – a stranger is just a friend you haven’t made yet, right?
Pub grub done classy – it’s not Union’s official tagline, but it probably should be. The Union Burger is a signature dish for a reason, and the polenta is exceptional – if you can get to it under the mountain of cheese layered on top. It’s a little pricier than usual pub cuisine, and rightfully so – with the right seats you can see the talented kitchen staff working their magic at a ferocious pace.
Poutine is the one dish that should be on everyone’s Canadian culinary bucket list. There are a ton of options and debates that will rage on forever. Should the cheese squeak or melt? Should it have chips or fries? What is the perfect chips-to-cheese ratio? These questions may never find a definitive answer, but for a no-frills, bona fide classic, RUDY is the one. Check out either of its locations, and fill up on those curds and that gravy.
Côte de Bœuf is a 19th-century French butcher’s shop-turned-restaurant that has somehow found its way onto one of the youngest and most vibrant streets in the city. Whether you want to start the day with a breakfast sandwich, snack on exceptional pâté or spend your evening with a tender steak, there is a meal for everyone (except vegetarians). It’s the perfect little spot for time travel – and even better on Sundays, if you like half-price wine.