Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Vegan Survival Guide to Toronto

Vegan Restaurant Guide from the Perspective of an Angry Meat Eater




Strawberries and Champagne Breakfast in Spain or As Vegan as I Get


Update (April 30,2013) : 
I'm a vegan now. So..yea. The food in Toronto that I tried and wrote about was actually what convinced me to cross the floor. My life only sucked a bit (no chocolate), I lost a bunch of weight, and I feel more energized than ever. Weird. Maybe show this to your hater friends. Miracles happen. 
Follow my instagram for an excess of vegan achievements. 


Introduction
Disclaimer: I'm a sassy vegan hater who has somehow published a vegan quide to Toronto. This makes no sense. 

Okay, when you're limited by shitty diets like being vegan or vegetarian, it is important to have an oasis of eating in every hood in order to avoid starvation. Therefore, I've enlisted the help of the venerable Vegan John, who is also a disco dj, to point you rabbits in the direction of the best of your vegan restaurant world in Toronto.  For you travellers, this guide is particularly useful because although your spontaneity may be limited by having such a strict diet, at least you can look up the raddest of the faceless food options in an efficient manner! When Vegan John was in Paris he had a rough time with surviving (he obvi didn't know about my Paris Food Guide and the veg places I listed), so I figured this may come in handy, especially when on a budget or as a poor ass student/intern/media kid.  I've somehow had the experience of trying out the vegan way of life because of Johnny boi, but despite the chances of it sucking,  he actually made it not vomit worthy.  Heed his wisdom!


But before we begin, meet John. 





He's been a vegan for four years and has been living in Toronto most of his mundane veg life. This guy has tried it all, from rotten bland veggie mush to the tastiest of stews, and what's listed below are what brings him the most culinary pleasure possible even without having a bloody steak in his mouth. *signal drool..



For those student budget types, one of the big strategies I've picked up from Vegan John and Friends is getting your food from non-speciality spots. It can be more delicious, and it's ONE BILLION TIMES cheaper. I know, I know, finding those hot vegan dishes in the frickin' plethora of delicious fleshtaurants in the city is tricky, but hey guys! I've listed those key dishes too, so you don't have to waste your time and dollah billz on mediocrity. Moreover, while cheap + vegan may be a rare combination, unlike unicorns, it does exist! Stand on the shoulders of your plant loving brothers, my friends! Thanks to Vegan John and Friends, I've listed the most affordable/delicious of veg hotspots too. Enjoi and share the love!




He said that. 

How to read this guide: I haven't listed every area or spot of the city that exists ever. The guides are roughly categorized by neighbourhood. I realize when you're travelling you don't always know the names of hoods, so I've listed all the major intersections around them too. The Annex and Kensington are probably the most important because many youth hostels are located around there. Secondly, the order of restaurants are categorized from extreme awesome to least. 

Contents: 
1. Annex (U of T, Bloor, Spadina, Bathurst, Dupont Areas)
2. Kensington Market (China Town, Spadina and College/Dundas/Queen)
3. Queen West (OCAD area, Much Music and west past Bathurst/Ossington/Dufferin) 
4. Queen East
5. Yorkville (North of Bloor between Bay and Avenue) 
6. Bloor West (past Bathurst to Dufferin area)
7. Danforth (East in Greek Town)
8. Useful Links and Resources
1. Annex


One Love: Vegan Jamaican food. The corn soup is legendary because a) you get a chunk of corn in it and b) it's spiced just right. Cheap as well. 3 bucks for a small soup and 5 is large. Stir fry is 10 bucks (spices are different from Asian stylez, made with plantains and other exotic stuff).  Rotis are good as well, but stir fry and soup are the best. Home made ginger beer too. Airey mon!
854 Bathurst Street  416.535.5683

Butler's Pantry (Markham Street): Great ambiance and always serve a solid vegan soup (tried it myself, yum approval) and are full of other good vegetarian and vegan options. Service is on point. This is more of a cute sit-down spot for a date or break-up or whatever..
591 Markham Street (416) 535-9868

Vegan John's Recommendation: Mixed Vegetable Bhaji. It's really good vegan slash white people version of an Indian dish, but totally worth it. Massive portion too for 8.99.

Burrito Banditos: Get a small bean and cheese burrito (drop the cheese obvi if you're a lacto-hater) for a bit over 6 bucks. Ghetto tip: If you ask for a small they'll usually mess up and give you a large! Make sure they charge you for a small though.

362 Bloor Street West (corner of Walmer) (416) 944-9061


Pizzaolos: Normal fast food pizza joint with bomb ass vegetarian pizza, recommended by a Vegan Friend Lara /schoolmate of mine!
454 Bloor Street West (416) 532-7222

Pita Q: You can get falafels here for 4 bucks. They aren't that special, but worth the price. Being so close to the University of Toronto (my hood!), it's def a clutch for you poor veg types. Also, a great late night choice for you party owls. Open till 4 am on weekends.
750 Spadina Avenue  (416) 515-7820

Fresh: True, this place is overpriced and has a shitty atmosphere but it's a good way to bring normal people into the veg lifestyle because it's salty and fatty, win! When visiting the city, this is a cool Toronto spot with a neat ol' story. The lady who started it, Ruth Tal, dropped out of uni and started a mobile juice bar with some student loans. Big balls / courage in hand, she's made it into a pretty decent establishment. Now there are three locations across the city. Budget tip: From 2:30-5:30 Mon-Fri you can get a juice and dessert for $6.50 !
326 Bloor Street West (416) 599-4442

Hot Yam @U of T : Best deal in the city hands down. For 4 bucks every Thursday during the school year (12 - 2 P.M.) you get a main course, soup, and dessert. Tip: If you bring your own Tupperware you can skip the line like a baus. Located at the International Student Centre (33 St. George). Also a great place to meet young souls with giant cafeteria tables and in the summer you can picnic outside. Update: they're in the midst of bringing a permanent vegan/sustainable cafe to campus, so check the site for what's up!

Live Organic Food Bar: This is the first vegan restaurant to open in Toronto but amongst Vegan John and Friends there are mixed reviews. It's apparently delicious and non-vegan friends tend to love it as well so that's huge. On the other hand, it's "a bit pricey and the menu is hit or miss," says V John. Can't comment myself though on its relative shittiness, so if you know better, let us know!
264 Dupont Street  (416) 515-2002

Grocery Stores:
Herbs and Nutrition: This is one of the cheapest health food stores in Toronto. If you're in a hostel and looking for cheap snacks and diy whatevers, this is a great find. Right across from Honest Eds at Bloor and Bathurst.
572 Bloor St. W 647.348.8064

Panacea: This is the only all vegan grocery store in the city. It carries some cray cray products like vegan cheese, ice creams, and other junkie delights that you can't find anywhere else. It's a bit overpriced but hey that's the price of such a shitty diet, I guess.
588 Bloor St W  (647) 350-3269



Still obsessed with Toronto Artist Brian Donnelly's nudie manimal art

2. Kensington
Warning: Most places close around 7pm.

Salsas: As a vegan, go with the potato burrito. Just ask for 'No Lactose,' they know what you be talking about, even if no one else gives a shiz. I can personally attest for this place being my fav' burrito spot (with meat obvi) in the city.
249 Augusta Avenue  (416) 977-8226

Urban Herbivore: This is a great sandwich spot and loved by Friends. Can't go wrong. A bit pricey at 9 bucks but the portions are big so you can divide it as two meals. Soups are alright, but to quote Vegan John, "I wouldn't go out of my way to get one." 

64 Oxford Street  (416) 927-1231


Vegan John's Recommendations: 
Banana bread with choco chips. "Best vegan one I've had in the city."
Muffins are cray in the morning- freshly baked. Get before 11.
All desserts are bomb.
Tofu sandwich add avocado.

Hibiscus: Delicious soup and salad for 10 bucks. All day and everyday. I, Felicia, have just eaten there last week. Leaves you feeling hella healthy, like you've wrapped yourself in Jillian Michaels power hugs while bathed in baby carrots. The people are amazing and super nice. The ice cream was actually voted best gelato in the city, even though they have no milk in it. Whoah sauce!

238 Augusta Avenue (416) 364-6183

Fel's Recommendation: Almond Butter Fudge thing. Holy god, I will go back forever. It was crunchy and fudgey at the same time.

Moonbeam: Awesome vegan drinks, hot and cold. Everything is dynamite and at reasonable prices. Get the smoothies or some vegan latte bullshit. Tofu samosas are a solid snackeroo for 1.50. Banana breads not that great cuz they be too dry.
30 St Andrew St  (416) 595-0327

Vegetarian Haven : Come here for "the best tofu drumsticks" according to Vegan Friend Erika, and pretty good soup too! Reasonably priced.
17 Baldwin St  (416) 621-3636

Grocery Store:
Essence of Life: This is the rival of Herbs and Nutrition for cheapest slash best health food store in the city.
50 Kensington Avenue (416) 506-0345

Where NOT to Go:
Wanda's Pie in the Sky: This place is overpriced and limited in their vegan delights. You're better off going to Urban Herbivore.
287 Augusta Avenue  (416) 236-7585

Hot Beans: Overpriced at like 12 bucks (insane for Mexican), food is meh and the dudes are the stereotypical 'too cool for school' veg dickhead types that make the rest of us want to vomit tofu.  It entices people because it is an all vegan Mexican joint but really just go to Salsas instead- half the price and twice as authentic.
160 Baldwin St (647) 352-7581 





3. Queen West / OCAD hood

Fressen: Looking for a hot Vegan Date night? Come here! It's dark, candlelit, beautiful tables, seats and decor. The food can be disappointing but if you ask the servers' their opinions, they are wise. I've tried it out and I was pleasantly surprised! I boldly went with the Tofu Kebabs made in some great bbq kind of sauce with vegetables. As a personal rule, tofu things can suck a big one, but this was tasty as hell and healthy I guess. I would probably go back. It is a bit pricey (16 bucks a plate) and 27 for a cheap half litre of wine, but all in all it was worth the sexy atmosphere of my ethical superiority. 

478 Queen Street West  (416) 504-5127


Vegan John's Recommendation: Go for breakfast or brunch!

Karine'sGet all day cheap vegan/vegetarian breakfast for 5 bucks here, which includes two eggs, salad, garlic fries, fresh fruit, unlimited coffee or tea, whoah! Also, the owner, Maggie, is supposed to be nice enough to light up any rotten OCAD school day, calling customers 'Baaaaby' and 'Sweetheart' and the like. Also serves smoothies, soups, sandwiches and other brekky goods. Some (ahem* Vegan John) consider the food rather bland, the service a bit fake and where one may go if they're just a baby vegan, but hell if Maggie serves an overflowing plate at a student price, Karine's sounds like a mighty fine establishment to me, minus the vegetarian part. Thanks designer Vegan Friend, Katie! Check out her bomb blog cuz she's cool like that. 
109 McCaul Street (416) 591-0863

Fresh: On Crawford is the best Fresh location. People are way nicer, there is more room and a nice patio in the summer.
894 Queen Street West (416) 599-4442

MB Yummy Ethiopian: There's a veggie platter that can be split between two people for 10 bucks. The service is great, everything is Vegan. This spot is the only Ethiopian vegan resto in the city. You can add cheese but you have to request it. You'll leave feeling full but not like a flesh turd.
1263 Queen Street West (416) 516-2798


Gandhi Cuisine: Get massive rotis for 10 dollars. Can feed you for two meals or good for sharing. Hot take-out spot but get ready for stomach blitzkrieg as with all authentic Indian.

Vegan John's Recommendation: Chana Masala Roti or something like that.
554 Queen Street West  (416) 504-8155

Czehoski : Best Veggie Burger tasted in Vegan John's lacklustre life. It has a home-made taste, made with quinoa and cuts out the crappy frozen patty taste. The bun is also super delish. Fresh handcut fries but comes with cheese.  Ask for their home-made ketchup too. Beware: this place fills up with douchebags late at night.
678 Queen Street West  (416) 366-6787


This guy looks vegan. Also, can he be my husband? I'm not normally into tats or 2D men but jeez.. (Credit: Jen Mann. Cool ass Toronto artist who graduated from OCAD)




4. Queen East
Real Jerk : You can get 6.50 gargantuan rotis with chick peas and lentils, plus they all come with a potato base so they're super hearty. You can also get vegetable rotis. The fried plantains are 2.50, which serves as a perfect desert or starter. Great ambiance. The wickedest thing is on Thursday nights they have Irie-oke (like Karoeke with a Jamaican accent, get it?) with a bomb ass DJ Carl Lyte. He plays the most unreal disco rap.  A wicked place to sing Jamaican / shitty R&B tunes! For Jamaican food, this is the bomb.
709 Queen Street East  (416) 463-6055


Queen Pita: According to Vegan John, this is the best falafel in the city. It's a perfect hole in the wall joint with deliciousness oozing out of it. The sauce makes it especially amazing. The guy who works there, Ali, is da coolest. He's like a buddy and will remember your order if you come on the reg.

1276 Queen Street East  (416) 778-9643


Vegan John's Recommendation: Lentil Rice and Baklava

Lady Marmalade: This place gets non-vegan friends upset because it makes breakfast an expensive meal. If John ever brings me here I'll cut him.
898 Queen Street East  (647) 351-7645


Sadie's: This is the only place Vegan John goes for a Vegan breakfast when in the mood for hungover, greasy breakky. Well not really, but still stellar. 
504 Adelaide Street West  (416) 777-2343

Vegan John's Recommendation
Vegan Pancakes with Choco Chips or Blueberries. 10 bucks aboutish.
Breakfast Burritos, switch out hashbrowns for their unreal fries if you don't mind gettin' greasy. 9 bucks.  





5.Yorkville


Camros Organic Eatery: Gem!! You can get a full meal of 4 dishes for 12 dollars. Everything is tasty and healthy, similar to Hibiscus, leaving you satisfied but not rotting in your own fat feelings. It's a super hidden gem with Persian inspired cuisine and a good reprieve from the popular and touristy Yonge Street. A nice retreat to a more homey feeling.  The menu changes everyday, but at least you can sample anything if you're not sure.  Tip: Mix both the dressings for your salad.
25 Hayden Street  (416) 960-0723

Rawalicious: For raw foodist, barf. Perhaps not a poor student place on its own but veg parents seem to love it! More info to come (thanks Friend Jennah).
20 Cumberland St (416) 646-0705


6. College

Utopia: A great joint to bring carnivores to because it has great burgers with tons of meat options. For vegans they have gourmet burritos. You can also get vegan gyros and quessidillas. Even though it's fake meat, the gyros are great. The service is quick and friendly, despite being full all the time. Good place to go with friends, but hold up on the romantic date. It also has a neat lil' heated patio in da back for your winter blues. 

Vegan John's Recommendations: Sweet potato burrito. 
586 College Street  (416) 534-7751

Sheba : This is not all vegetarian, they have lots of meat. But the veg options are good and reasonably priced. 
418 College Street  (416) 963-5527

Urban Herbivore: Same as in Kensington. See above.


967 College Street  (416) 645-0349

College Street Falafels: Fresh bread all the time, veg samosas are unreal! but the falafel is a bit pricey itself for 6 bucks. It's not the most amazing but if you're in a pinch, "I'd go there."..Thanks Vegan John for your ever riveting insight.  
450 Ossington Ave.


7. Bloor West
Piston: Not the most Vegan place in the world but once a week Vegan John transforms into Disco DJ John and eats here before his big musical night of dancing. The soups are always vegan, the home fries are to die for and well, that's about it. Go here to dance your meat-free soul away to funk, disco and soul! Shibby!
937 Bloor St W  (416) 532-3989

Starving Artist: This is a waffle house but they can make any waffle vegan for 2 bucks more. They're all pretty bomb though with sandwich waffels and breakfast ones. They use bananas instead of eggs for the waffles. It's a bit on the pricey side but again, what do you expect when you cut out delicious faced, resource depleting foods. 
584 Lansdowne Avenue  (647) 342-5058






The Beet Organic Cafe : Good veggie burgers. Ambiance is pretty cool because it's in an old bank. Seating on a cozy upper level. It's a low key spot for a date if you're in that hood. It's also cheaper than one would expect given that the owner lady is a serious chef and takes her cuisine to the next level. Moreover, they make you feel way welcome. They treat people right because it's not a tourist spot, they rely on regulars. The hood is cool so it's totally worth it to head out to Bloor West Village anyway.
2945 Dundas St W  (416) 916-2368

Hogtown Vegan: Southern comfort food that pretty much beats the point of those Skinny Bitch vegan types but even vegans deserve a break from being uptight and boring and this seems to be the junky ethical retreat. It's fatty, greasy and thus delicious.  Some (ie. John) say it's overpriced, but other friends love it. 
834 Bloor St West



8. Danforth

TeaTree Cafe : If you're not feeling the usual Greek veg choice of potatoes and hummus, come here. It's just outside Greek Town. The atmosphere is blah, but when you're on the Danforth, Vegan stuff is limited, so this is a find. Average price is around 8 bucks and you'll be full. They have desserts but not all are vegan.

Vegan John's Recommendation: Lentils Shepard's Pie, Hummus and cucumber sandwiches on home-made rye.
867 Danforth Avenue  (416) 901-9089

Veg Grocery Store
Big Carrot: This is one of the biggest health food stores in Toronto. It's expensive as hell but worth checkin' out because it's HUGE, when health stores are normally quite small. You can eat there too for 6 bucks getting a soup and salad.

348 Danforth Avenue (416) 466-2129

Where NOT to Go
Magic Oven : Been seriously recommended against this place due to its crappo service,
 food and stupid prices. Holy trinity of food fail. But hey, I've never gone myself. Let me know if 
you disagree. 
798 Danforth Ave (416) 462-0333


9. Useful Links and Resources

Happy Cow : Unbiased rating systems of veg restaurants in Toronto

Toronto Vegetarian Association : Pretty good resto listings but some postings are sponsored.

Lil'Fel Indie Guide to Toronto Restaurants: Cheap and Cools Eats : General awesome spots to eat on the cheap for students and the like, with best sushi, thai etc. 


Conclusion
As with these indie guides, this vegan restaurant guide isn't meant to be an unbiased, balanced, hold hands and skip along in the park resource. If you want that check out the billions of other generic travel sites. This has been my perspective and in this case aided by trusted Vegan John and amplified by the power of word of mouth recommendations from other trusted vegan/vegetarian former school mates and friends who live in this city. And while I love meat, obviously take what I say with a grain o' salt. If you didn't, then that leftover faux-turkey is way too far up your butt to  like this blog anyway. 

Am I really such a Vegeturd?
And while on the subject, I'll give you my straight up thoughts on the matter. I'm into part-time vegetarianism, inspired last year by the TED Talk by Graham Hill, the creator of the site Tree Hugger. Wow. Cat's out of the bag that I'm not a moron! I'm not gonna go on about environmental ethical implications from eating meat because you probably know how resource heavy it is to produce meat products rather than plant ones, and if not, watch this frickin' interesting Ted Talk for a succinct overview. But essentially, scratch McStubborn Retardo as prevailing personality traits in this ol' bird. I've tentatively started to venture down some sort of vegetarianism, cutting my overall consumption of animal products.




With the ex amour in Paris, we took the miniest step of all towards cutting down our meat consumption by having Meat-Free Mardi (Meat-Free Tuesday). As avid carnivores we weren't ready to take the full plunge, and as Graham Hill aptly points out, do you really need to (if for eco footprint reasons)? So many meat-eaters are daunted by never having a steak or burger again and rather deterred by the limitations of the current binary options of either being a meat-eater or vegetarian that they that they don't even consider limiting their diet.  This is stupid but understandable if you've never thought you had a plausible third alternative. 

This year I'm going even further, and thanks to Vegan John I've discovered that even being a full on vegan isn't as impossible/barf worthy as it sounds. I've made my authentic as hell French crepes with vanilla soy milk and fake eggs, and guess what? I swear to you that somehow it turned out better! I dunno if it was a fluke or what, but whateva mate, it's cool to know that veganism can be legit. Lastly, cutting down on meat stuff is giving me a great excuse to mix vegetables more into my beer/wine/instant noodle diet. ugh. New Years Resolutions 2012 obvi needs some tweaking. But hey, I'm excited, especially with this hella awesome  guide to try out!

If you Give a Shiz, Give your opinion
Okay, enough blah-ing. This list is biased as all eff. If you disagree or have anything to add, please share and I'll incorporate it into the guide. These guides are written for you/by you! Will be working on the Vegan Survival Guide for other cities too. If you have some tips, sling them over to the Facebook page.  Thanks and peace and love on earth. One Love. 


For travel tips even more mind blowing than organic, fair-trade, shade-grown coffee beans, or vegan strip clubs in Portland follow the blog on Facebook and Twitter! Woo dawgz!