Thursday, March 11, 2010

Indie Guide to Toronto: Restaurants

Updated July 29, 2011

"What will Canada look like in 2031?"
71% or 14.4 million will be visible minorities in major cities like Toronto.
- Today's front page of our major national newspaper

 That's right, we're multicultural. Now eat it.

A Guide to Cool, Cheap Eats in Toronto
Introduction

For me, the best part of Toronto is its food selection. I have visited the home countries of a lot of the types of food I love (Thai, Chinese, Greek, Italian, JAPANESE), yet the Toronto version of it offers something different and lovable and most importantly, affordable. We have FASTFOOD Greek restaurants here (that aren't just Gyros stands), and $5.99 sushi lunch specials that are awe-some (in France the "lunch special" is 9.99 EUROS, and that's supposed to get you excited). As I said in my last post about Toronto, it is like having a Food court of the World at your fingertips. As I also said, there are a million restaurants offering the same ethnic food with similar price ranges, that it makes choosing a good restaurant hardcore overwhelming. Sure, you can just waltz into any old sushi place  and get mediocre service and 'meh' food for a cheap price, or you can check out the selections below, that have been tried, tested and true. They are where I've brought a wide array of hungry hip, students throughout our years at university and they have never been let down. If there is one thing my bouche is good for it's identifying stellar food.

 (Brian Donnelly, fav' Toronto Artist)
Contents:
1. Coffee Places/Brunch
2. Thai Food
3. Sushi
4. Chinese
5. Fun Illegal Fact
6. Vietnamese
7. Pizza/Italian
8. Korean BBQ
9. Greek
10. Grown Up Stuff
11. Some Canadian Music



1. Coffee Places/Brunch


Tequila Bookworm, (Queen Street West): Think of Shakespeare and Co in Paris if it was turned into a coffee house. This cozy café has books lined against the wall, funky paintings everywhere and the best part: comfortable couches and chairs.
The free wifi makes this a place where you can spend hours just browsing interesting blogs (like this one for instance) or getting lost in the economics of crack cocaine (Freakonomics) while listening to Hot Chip and Interpol in the background. If you're one of those ‘appreciating the small things in life’ people, this is definitely a place that will fill your heart with warm feelings.  And if you are here for extended periods it may easily become your fav place to chillizzle. Also puts on parties and events in the evening.


Aunties and Uncle's Breakfast (College and Lippencott): This hidden gem This place now blogged about on Blog TO is a pretty good all-day breakfast(9am-3pm) joint in the area. Small, quaint and most definitely hip, it is apparently where Broken Social Scene used to get their eggs scrambled.  Meals are not the cheapest, with a breakfast taco and potato salad going for almost 9 bucks, but the quality and service are good, and the ambiance is that of eating in your own kitchen..filled with cool strangers.


Futures Bakery (Annex) : After an insane night of party, this is where you go for the morning-after-debrief slash hangover brunch with friends before starting off your day in the city. It is more a student life feeling than Tequila Bookworm.  The epitome of university hangout, the place is filled with excited and hung over students reminiscing heartily about the night before with large groups of friends. The eats are cheap and large and the bakery part is amazing. This place is filled at night on the patio as people go there for drinks in the summer. Sweet ambiance, good prices, and yummy deserts makes this a staple in U of T student and Annex life.

Tea Time (Annex): Come here for a more trendy and sophisticated ambiance. Free wifi, lots of food to nibble and a wide variety of tea selections, make it perfect for studying or having intimate conversations. Feels like somewhere the girls in Sex and the City would hang but since its in the Annex, shave 10 years off the women and that's the feeling you get while there. 


Moonbeam Cafe (Kensington): Just off Kensington Street where all the vintage shops are. It's always full rain or shine, summer or winter. They have awesome vegan delights and shelves of different flavored coffee beans that you can get grounded and packed or served in a french press and enjoy it while taking in the music picks of the day. The backroom is usually filled with busy students or the casual reader because the music only plays in the front room. The back patio is great for reading or occasionally breaking out a board game with your friends. (Thanks to our reader below for the contribution. I've been and agree completely!)



Supermarket (Kensington):  This is a hip little restaurant with asian inspired meals and every sunday they have Free Fall Sundays where musicians can sign up for open mic and share their songs. You don't even need to play an instrument or bring one because the house band can back you up if requested or you can even appeal to waiting performers sitting in the audience. Regardless of the music you bring, the crowd is always supportive. (Thanks again reader!)

2. Thai
My beloved sketchy Thai restaurant in Kensington that closed down..gone but not forgotten.
 

HELP! Looking for new Thai places for 2nd Edition of this guide!



The Pad Thai that will Make you Crai

Bangkok Paradise (Queen Street West and Dennison): Everything about this place on the outside seems mediocre (let's be honest though. What sketchy ethnic restaurant doesn't?). The difference with this place though is that it actually is mediocre. No hidden gem here. Once you try the food you'll wish you could pay your bill in vomit.The Pad Thai, the most basic and difficult to screw up, not only tasted dull but also unbearable to finish between two people. The service was not even passable. The server seemed to think that he was doing us a favour by taking our food orders and answering questions about the menu. After working as a waitress throughout uni to finance school (and travels), there is one thing I cannot stand and it's bad service. In short, bad food + bad service = unforgivable.

New!
Khao San Road Toronto: This is a fairly new Thai place that is getting a lot of hype. It was opened by the same folks who own Sukhothai, a restaurant that has some serious street cred, but when I went to Khao San road it was at best disappointing. The food was a giant 'meh', the ambiance the same. Read the full review here


3. Sushi
The best advice I can tell you is: Go to the Annex which is Bloorstreet West, for Sushi between 11am-4:30. The  Annex is the hip student area of Toronto. You'll find comic book shops, used book stores, Dancecave, all sorts of ethnic food and best of all shop after shop of Japanese restaurants. If you find yourself further south around College and Spadina (Chinatown), there are rolls of heaven aka maki there too, but just with much less chill ambiance. Unlike France where the lunch hour special ends at 3 pm, most places are good until 5pm. I think this is a North American big city point of view, but once you've grown accustomed to eating $6 sushi, it will take you a LONG TIME to ever buy sushi while living in Europe, and when you do it will be begrudgingly. One last thing, try out the crazy maki rolls that North American Sushi chefs have to offer!




JTime Sushi (Annex): This is my #1 favourite place. I've tried Big Sushi next door and even Sushi on Bloor which is across the street, but nothing compares. The cook has invented a number of crazy rolls with Toronto themed names, like CN Tower rolls. Lunch special is from 11am-4:30. Not only is the food amazing the service is fast and friendly. They greet you lovingly at the door in Japanese, even though they are mandarin and they will never let your complimentary green tea run low. The ambiance is actually pretty nice with semi-dim lighting and comfortable, tall booths you can sit in. It's not at all a sketchy, noisy sort of place. It's the sort of place you would go to with close friends to catch up on life after being buried in the dungeon of Robarts (the U of T library), or even on a date (after you've been seeing them for a while). There is much to appreciate there in terms of quality but it's not a baby-making atmosphere. Metro: Spadina or Bathurst. It's in the middle of the two.
Closed down :(

Simon Sushi (Chinatown): This is my second favourite place. Everything is amazing about it, but the Dynamite rolls at J-Time just give it the extra edge in my love. What I must say about this place is that it has incredible service. The chef, Simon, has consistently delivered great food and great service, that I've seen his business grow steadily throughout the years since I first stumbled upon it in my first year. While waiting for your food, Simon will offer you tea and yummy string beans to munch on. Most impressive and surprising thing about this affordable place is that he'll often he'll offer you complimentary rolls to taste (amuse bouche) which you only see at fancier restaurants. At the end of your meal you'll get an orange that is expertly diced up to help your digestion. You're mouth is never left bored and you are happy from the moment you walk in to the moment you leave (that's what he said?). Metro: Spadina Subway Stop, streetcar and stop one stop south of College.


Lunch special: $5.99 Tax included
Soup+ Salad+ 6 california rolls + 6 cool rolls
Bento Box
* LFRW pick: California Rolls + Spicy Salmon Skin Roll (especially good how Simon makes them)

New!
Supreme Sushi (Yonge and Wellesly): This is serving as my replacement J-time. The lunch special is 5.99 and if you want to substitute stuff it's a bit more expensive. I went on recommendation of my lil' bro who worked across the street and even claims it's better than J-Time. Yea right, but I must admit it's pretty good and cheap. Win. I recommend the skydome rolls!!


Sushi Island (College and Bathurst): All-you-can-eat Sushi for a cheap price is always a gamble, but here at Sushi Island you're in good hands. There is a just maki option which is about 14 dollars and a maki, sushi, terryiaki and dessert option for about $19. It's definitely not as good or tasty as a normal sushi restaurant but for an all-you-can-eat place you will definitely get your money's worth. There are insane and creative rolls, great variety, and decent service. For the price you will not find anything comparable! Be careful though, if you don't finish your maki you will have to pay for each unfinished piece.

Some ghetto tactics I've seen over the years to avoid paying more:
a) hide it in your soup under the noodles;
b) put it in a napkin;
c) bring Tupperware and take some roadies;
d) go to the bathroom with your pockets full and flush it;
e)hide it in the green tea pot.. hahaha I swear I've never seen that, but it sounds hilarious;
f) find some plants.
g) make a bet with a friend and the loser is forced to eat everyone's leftovers.

I've never done any of these of course, just trying to help out!

New!
Guu Izayaka (Church and Gerrard): Not specifically sushi, this place has all my friends going insane about it. It's cool because it's set up as a Japanese Izayaka and has amazing food to go along with it. It's not the cheapest, but more than one trusted friend has said that it's well worth the experience.  Excited to try it out myself!
398 Church St

4. Chinese















The Real Deal. Yangshuo China where you eat crabs with their shells still on, shishkebab styles.  Rough.



Lobster King, (Chinatown): Formerly called Happy 7, rumour has it that it is run by the Toronto Triad. I have no idea if that is true, but what I do know is that its chicken balls and fried rice are to die for (like $8). Opened at all hours of the night, you can come here and order “cold tea*.”  This resto, probably best appreciated when inebriated (as with most late night Chinese food,)will give you great service and good prices, and will definitely beat out Kum Jug across the street!

Kum Jug (Chinatown) :To be fair, Kum Jug does have a sweet deal with duck and white rice  or pork with rice for for under 5 dollars and has worked its way into U of T'ers hearts, even if not my own.


5. *Fun Illegal Fact: If you want to continue drinking after official alcohol selling hours have stopped, which in Toronto is super lame- 2 am, go to Chinatown and order Cold Tea.  Cold Tea is code for beer that they disguise in cute, innocent tea pots to evade detection! For this reason I love China town and Toronto.


Suspicious, sparkling blond tea?
Cold Tea: The secret joys of China Town, Toronto.



6. Vietnamese 

Pho Hung (Annex/Chinatown): Look for the bright yellow sign with a cheerful bovine as the mascot. I'm not usually down for chain restaurants, but this place has successfully brought Vietnamese food to pop culture here in Toronto. When you go you have to get Pho, which is Vietnamese soup filled with different sorts of noodles and accompanied by a meat of your choice and crazy spices. This soup will bring a Ho Chi Minh party to your mouth. Although soup does not sound filling, you can choose to get a small or large portion and it will undoubtedly satisfy you. Trust me, Pho is not normal soup and it crucial that if you're in town you try it here for its cheap and good quality. Metro: Get out at Bay Station and walk west on Bloor. It is upstairs, over some Chinese food and burrito place.


7. Pizza/ Italian
Cora's (Spadina ): Let’s face it, pizza after partying is a must and Cora's is the best place to get it. Almost a historical icon at U of T, there is a debate as old as time between Cora’s and its neighbour/rival pizza joint Papa Ceo. Despite what any unstable U of T student says, don’t let them trick you into Papa Ceo. The Cha Cha Cha slice at coras for $4 (HUGE proportions), will keep you coming back for more, whether inebriated or not. Note: It is open ALL NIGHT. Metro: Spadina station, take streetcar south to Harbord.


Vecchio Frak (Little Italy, College Street): This is a very nice place for a romantic date while remaining in a hip and young ambiance. The food is delicious, the decor and dimly lit room and decently priced menu is perfect for a couple on a budget, as my boyfriend at the time were on in first year. We had come before a Trinity charity ball and were not out of place. Little Italy is filled with affordable restaurants, but finding a classy and cheap one is not the easiest. Meals go for around $12-20.  Metro: College Subway Station, take College streetcar westbound to Little Italy.


Veni Vidi Vici (Little Italy, College Street): Also very cute, classy and affordable. Same idea as Vecchio Frak.

Where NOT to Go:
 The only thing that made Serra bearable was my cute date.

Serra (Annex): This place is enticing by its central location, nice decor and friendly prices and has gotten great reviews but do not be fooled. I had imported my date last year all the way from France  for the same Trinity Ball (Conversat), and were dressed to kill, only to be welcomed by Rihanna and Jay-Z playing on the radio of the restaurant. I felt like I was in the waiting room of a laundry mat, rather than on a romantic date with my handsome, French lover. The food was nothing to phone home about, and the service was not even worth the money we paid (10 bucks a plate of pasta).


8. Korean BBQ


HELP!!!!!! (Annex): I need you. I ate somewhere on Bloor, All-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for under $10 about four years ago. It almost seems like a dream in retrospect and would drive our friend, Chogi, insane.  It was that good. It was amazing, fun, tasty and everything I loved about Toronto represented in a sizzling bbq beef strip, but for the life of me I cannot remember the name..if anything comes to mind, please let me know!






9. Greek 
  Greece is amazing, but the Toronto version of its food offers something different!

Greek Town on the Danforth: I can’t point out a specific restaurant in this area (your suggestions would be great!) but I cannot stress how important it is for a foreigner (even one who is familiar with real Greek food) to dine here. Having visited my lovely friend Josephine on Patmos (Greek Island) I had the opportunity to try to real deal. Although it was amazing, rich food, it didn't quite have the same pazzazz as the food in Greek Town of Toronto.

*LFRW pick (I know it's pretty standard, but I swear I could not find the same combination in Greece!): Chicken Souvlaki Dinner - shish kebab chicken + Greek salad + lemon potatoes+ rice + Tzatziki (awesome yogurt garlic sauce).  All this for under $15!!!


10. Grown Up Stuff

New!
Union (Ossington): This list is small and humble as I grow up slowly but nonetheless here goes! Union is super trendy, fresh food with a French bistro ambiance. Not the cheapest ($20 a plate), but worth it for a date or stylish dinner with friends. The art is nice, service good, and the owner, Teo, brings all the good things he picked up from working in Paris to the hot emerging adult zone of Toronto.

Delux (Ossington): Same ambiance as Union and just a block away. The decor is a bit more modern and funky and the food is damn good too. Went there for an end-of-school ladies dinner and dressed up a bit for the occasion. Highly recommended by these cool adult types and it does not disappoint!


*Suggestions: As usual, what is listed is how I, an el-cheapo student with a flare for romance and trendiness, have rocked the city. I am missing many key places like in Kensington, and am dying to hear your picks for friends who are visiting Toronto, especially more on grown-up like stuff!!


11. Canadian Music



It's Canadian Music Week in Toronto. Get excited kids and check out some awesomeness, Canadiana styles.


Woodhands (album cover above)
After going through a lull in awesome electro music since checking out 80 Kidz, I have come across Woodhands. It's no surprise that T Dizzle pumps out good electro artists (MSTRCRFT, Crystal Castles), but holy Mohammed do I feel lucky to have this melodic, glam rock electro group that spins a hard catchy beat come from my city. I had a hard time picking just one song so I recommend buying the newest album, Remorsescapades- it's all good. Hopefully will be seeing them this weekend for CMW, maybe LFRW will get an interview. Wish us luck!

Be Back Soon-Woodhands.mp3

Pockets-Woodhands.mp3



Cymbals Eat Guitars
Not Canadian, but equally as awesome. Feels like the Pixies and Modest Mouse, this young band from New York will no doubt explode (probably while playing in Toronto at El Mocambo next month April 6th!!).

And the Hazy Sea- Cymbals Eat Guitars.mp3



Handsome Furs
Montrealaise Band. Check em out at El Mocambo March 12th for CMW!

Radio Kaliningrad-Handsome Furs.mp3

Want to know where to get drinks and party in Toronto? See Also..
 Electro and Indie Clubs

Bars and Music Venues

Canadian Identity and Why Toronto is the Yummiest Place in the World.

9 comments:

  1. Tequila Bookworm is pretty awesome especially in the summer when the patio on the second floor is open. Places in Kensington not mentioned: El Trompo: Small Mexican restaurant on Augusta Avenue. You can get 5 soft tacos for under $10 and a plate of nachos (soo good) for just under $5. And what goes better with Mexican than Corona? Yea, thought so.
    Moonbeam Cafe: Just off Kensington Street where all the vintage shops are. It's always full rain or shine, summer or winter. They have awesome vegan delights and shelves of different flavored coffee beans that you can get grounded and packed or served in a french press and enjoy it while taking in the music picks of the day. The backroom is usually filled with busy students or the casual reader because the music only plays in the front room. The back patio is great for reading or occasionally breaking out a board game with your friends.
    Don't forget the Blue Banana Market (kind of like 20 different smaller stores in one location) and Supermarket on Augusta Avenue. Supermarket is a hip little restaurant with asian inspired meals and every sunday they have Free Fall Sundays where musicians can sign up for open mic and share their songs. You don't even need to play an instrument or bring one because the house band can back you up if requested or you can even appeal to waiting performers sitting in the audience. Regardless of the music you bring, the crowd is always supportive.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous, you have warmed my heart. I def know and approve of half the things you've mentioned (moonbeam rocks!), so I trust the other half are legit. I mean who doesn't enjoy finding cheap mexican food (that isn't taco bell). I'll def add these into the posting slash try them all. My amour is visiting Toronto in a week, so it gives us a perfect chance to experiment.

    Also: if anyone knows of hip, TRENDY and a bit upscale places to eat (somewhere for say..a romantic date), I would love to hear it. (I'm thinking like Mama Shelter in Paris, or the Condom Place in Bangkok if that helps..)

    ReplyDelete
  3. ps. Anonymous, if you want to give your name, i could credit you! I hate taking people's recommendations without saying where I got it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. i have to disagree on el trompo. i'm pretty sure their nachos are just tostitos and salsa, with some barely melted cheddar on top. i've yet to find a good mexican place in toronto, if anyone knows of any i'd love some suggestions.

    ReplyDelete
  5. For Mexican in Kensington... you need to go to Salsas, 249 Augusta Ave. They have great Tacos, Taquitos and Tortas (Mexican sandwiches) with great fillings like awesome carnitas (slow cooked pork), steak cooked fresh to order and guisados( . Way better than El Trompo.
    Or try Salvadorian at Emporio Latino... Pupusas!

    ReplyDelete
  6. mattahari on baldwin is the best restaurant in the city...pricey but totally worth it

    ReplyDelete
  7. why do you call it ethnic, look into the term first you wannabe hipster bitch

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete