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With its cultural diversity and unique neighborhoods, Toronto can be a wellspring of inspiration, particularly for those who love to buy nice things and eat extravagant meals. Here’s a weekend guide on how to eat, drink and shop in Toronto, as told by local creative Allison Asis.
Toronto is not so much a city of neighborhoods as it is a collection of communities. Cultural enclaves of different countries sit side by side; Chinatown dovetails into Greektown, which joins up with Little India, making for a great city to eat your way through.
For Allison Asis, a local jewelry designer, the city helps feed her stomach as well as her artistic verve. She handmakes one-of-a-kind pieces for Cadette Jewelry and finds inspiration through the beautiful bohemian boutiques that are dotted throughout the city. Here’s her guide to eating and shopping around Toronto in a gluttonous weekend full of food and shiny new things.
Located smack bang in the middle of the Queen West area, The Beverly Hotel is a great launch pad from which to discover all the amazing restaurants and stores in Toronto’s downtown area, whether you want to go to large national stores like Artizia, or pop into small boutiques like Durumi or Coal Miner’s Daughter. The boutique size of the hotel imparts a degree of intimacy, helping you feel part of the community from the get-go.
After you’ve dropped your bags at the hotel, hop on the Queen streetcar heading west. Get off at Gladstone and make your way north towards Dundas West. You can take a breather at the nearby R&G Coffee to refuel with an Americano or relax over a matcha. The assortment of cacti paired with low-fi hip-hop set the scene for you to read, write or doodle until dinner. But if you’ve got some life in you, there are plenty of boutiques to browse within a few streets of the café.
The Wanderly, just a bit further west from R&G, is a relaxed store where bohemian vibes complement the clothing. Then it’s just two blocks east to Easy Tiger Goods where you can browse some gifts or souvenirs from their selection of unique ceramics. Right across Dundas Street West you’ll find sister store Ease, which focuses on modern apparel and accessories. If you’re on the lookout for well-kept designer vintage pieces, look no further than VSP Consignment. “The striking boutique with floor-to-ceiling windows, large monstera plants and bright colors” will stick in your memory, according to Asis.
So the big question now is where to get dinner. And the answer to that should most definitely be Hanmoto, a small space that manages to maintain the feel of a Japanese izakaya tucked down a small yokocho (alleyway) in Tokyo. “They have sharing dishes that remind me of time spent in Japan,” notes Asis. The food is presented in an appetizing kaleidoscope of colors and is most definitely worth the wait time.
Located two minutes away from the hotel is Ricarda’s. Every Saturday, this legendary brunch spot transforms its menu with a new range of Mediterranean-inspired dishes. The plush leather booths, high ceilings and spaciousness all set the scene for a relaxing afternoon.
After breakfast, head down John Street to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Dundas. “No matter how many times you go, there’s always something new,” Asis says. Perhaps the most spectacular addition is the Infinity Mirrored Room, created by Yayoi Kusama, now open to the public as a permanent exhibition.
Cut across town on the 504 heading east from King Street and take a detour to Neo, a minimalist café co-founded by a former competitive barista and pastry chef. All the tea and coffee is sourced from Japan, including the matcha used to make the delicious pastries. Weekends here are a screen-free zone.
Via Front Street, head to the second floor of St Lawrence Market, where you’ll find one of Toronto’s freshest spots for seafood, Buster’s Sea Cove. “It’s always bustling with traffic; it is one of the longest lines in the St Lawrence market,” Asis says. “The grilled calamari salad is a must.” Then browse the stalls for maple syrup, natural cosmetics and other souvenirs.
From King Street, stroll eastwards through Corktown until you reach Tabule, a Middle Eastern spot in the laid-back Riverdale area. “I love the way Toronto makes you feel like you’re in other places,” Asis says. Start with the labneh and soft pita bread, and then feast on the warm fried falafel served with fresh tahini. This restaurant is an experience best shared; the more hungry bellies you bring, the more dishes you can try.
After stashing your bags in the luggage room at The Beverly Hotel, you can walk to Kensington Market. “It’s stuck to its roots and maintained its original bohemian identity,” Asis explains.
Within this community for creatives is a collection of independent cafés, international food markets and cutting-edge restaurants – one of which is Ital Vital, a tiny, low-key eat-in or take-out joint. The diner offers filling portions of Caribbean-influenced veggies and freshly juiced smoothies. The vegetarian barbecued soy is a must-try.
Kensington Market has some of the best vintage clothing and accessory shops in the city. “One of my favourite dresses is from Sub Rosa Vintage,” Asis says. “It’s a cream-colored, knee-length piece with a unique square neck that has a vintage touch – it’s well kept and contemporary enough for my style.” Flashback has a classic vintage-store vibe, and you can find some amazing wool sweaters and summer dresses here. Courage My Love focuses on beautiful clothes, but one of the best parts is a make your own jewelry station, giving you the chance to create something beautiful of your own to wear or bring back for a friend.
This is an updated version of an article originally created by Emily Paskevics.