Toronto is a melting pot of many cultures and traditions, all of which are expressed most vividly by the unique restaurants that have denizens lining the streets hoping to snag a table – and some unbelievable, mouthwatering dishes. Below are 10 recommended food places you need to try while visiting T.O.!
1. La Palma, Neighbourhood: Trinity Bellwoods
A friend of mine described La Palma’s ambience as “Retro California,” and I could not agree more. Its neon sign in cursive handwriting outside the restaurant gives a taste – no pun intended! – of its interior. You enter through a lavish green tapestry into a glossy oasis of pastel hues and plushy diner-style tables and booths lining the place. The restaurant also gives the illusion of the building as a repurposed old car garage, with a track on the ceiling helping to retract the large glass window reminiscent of garage doors. Drop by with your gal pals after hitting up Mejuri, a favourite jewelry company a few blocks west, or dress up with your S.O. for an inspired night out. The employees will welcome you as if you were old friends, a sunny disposition no doubt as warm as the California sunshine. Be sure to snap a photo for the ‘gram before leaving!
2. The Wren, Neighbourhood: The Danforth
If you find yourself craving an exceptional burger with a side of fries and Ontario craft beer, The Wren has you covered. Even better, the pub updates their menus often with nightly specials, and a new burger every Monday (#burgermondays on Insta), all of which look heavenly to the burger enthusiast. The atmosphere is warm and lively with communal wooden tables for seating, making every night feel like one large feast. The Wren fosters a community of food-lovers and has no shortage of guests walking through their doors. For that reason, it does not take reservations, so come early to secure you spot!
3. 7 West Café, Location: Yonge & Bloor
For early birds and night owls alike, this comfort food haven is open 24/7 providing a cozy atmosphere and hearty dishes at any time of day. The restaurant-café is tucked away inside a charming Victorian building, deciphered simply by a lamppost out front highlighting the number 7. It is a favourite nook for university students, not only for its convenient location but also for its endless hours open, making the overworked student feel welcome with a home-cooked meal. My go-to is the ‘Mac n’ Cheese’; made with a Dijon mustard to give just the right amount of tang, this dish is heaven on earth. Drop by when you are craving some serious comfort food. I promise, you will not be disappointed.
4. Little Sister, Neighbourhood: Midtown Toronto
An Indonesian food bar with mouth-watering shareables and fun cocktails, Little Sister is a funky spot perfect for meeting your girlfriends or going out on a first date. Order several plates with whomever you are dining to get the best bang for your buck and to experience the many flavours bursting out of each dish. The ‘Satay Ayam’ skewer is particularly tasty with its rich peanut sauce, as is the ‘Fried Cauliflower Salad’. This cozy little restaurant nestled midway between the suburbs and downtown Toronto is a real treat for your taste buds – and for your eyes. A place of bold existence, the inside of Little Sister is refined yet funky, an eclectic aesthetic experience featuring boldly patterned wallpaper and sleek fixtures simultaneously.
5. Maison Close 1888, Neighbourhood: Kensington Market
In one of the most vibrant pockets of Toronto you can find Maison Close 1888, a gastropub nestled inside a narrow Victorian house. Upon entering, you feel as if you have just come home after a long workday. One of the charms of this place is its unpredictable menu because dishes are consciously made with sustainable and locally grown ingredients. The drinks are also on rotation, allowing you to try something new each time you come back. Dining at Maison is the equivalent to being at a hip house party, but with even better food. The place is decorated with elaborately framed artwork on both walls and a collection of records alongside an old-school turntable. Maison Club 1888 puts you in a kind of trance that you only wake up from after you’ve stepped outside, a trance that you never really want broken. But, rest assured, this cozy pub will always welcome you back with open arms whenever you need.
6. Johnnys Hamburgers, Neighbourhood: North York
A tried and true staple of North York, Johnnys Hamburgers is the neighbourhood burger place that has been around since the late 60s, and, keeping close to tradition, has pretty much stayed the same ever since. This beloved restaurant is takeout only, most people opting to eat in their parked cars or sitting on the curb on a nice day. Their burgers are no joke, topped with all the old-school fixings you could ever want, and their shakes are the stuff dreams are made of. If you are at all like me, you love the combination of sweet and salty by dipping your french fries in your strawberry smoothie. If you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favour and stop by this family-run favourite.
7. Ed’s Real Scoop, Neighbourhood: The Beach
Guaranteed to have a line well out the door on a sweltering July evening, Ed’s Real Scoop is a ‘must experience’ ice cream shop with flavours as elaborate as the mind could imagine. Conveniently located down in the Beaches, what is now dubbed, “the Beach,” with three other locations around Toronto, Ed’s offers some of the tastiest ice cream in the city in a simple waffle cone. Ed’s does not offer the fanciful presentations other ice cream shops in the city do, but that is predominantly why I like it the best. Above all, Ed’s makes their ice cream in-house, making it not only real in all the senses of the word but real good, too. Below is a photo of a Burnt Marshmallow and Bacio Gelato cone. You can pick your jaw up off the floor anytime now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
8. La Carnita, Neighbourhood: Midtown Toronto
In the mood for street style food? Look no further than La Carnita, an eclectic restaurant that features dishes as artistic as its interior. Most dishes are tapas-style, so that you have the option of sharing with your dining buddies. I highly recommend trying the ‘In Cod We Trust’ tacos if you’re a taco fan, but my dish of choice is and will forever be La Carnita’s Mexican Street Corn. An explosion of flavour right at your fingertips, quite literally since you have to use your hands to eat the corn off the cob, the Mexican Street Corn tastes so good you’ll feel like it’s not only added a little extra zest to your dinner, but also your life. In fact, I can promise you that La Carnita itself will add a little something to your life.
9. Insomnia, Neighbourhood: Annex
Woke up too late for breakfast because of those late nights partying — ahem, I mean studying? Or need a midnight snack after a long day at the library? Insomnia has you covered at both ends of the spectrum. Whether you love your brunch or are craving a little something well into the night, Insomnia welcomes all to its cozy yet bustling atmosphere west of the Annex. Its interior is decorated with dark paint and leaves on the ceilings, making it look, quite appropriately, like a day that always feels like night. Many of my friends specifically go to Insomnia for brunch — and even more specifically for their Eggs Benedict. The Florentine and Isabelle bennies are both exquisite gastro masterpieces. The restaurant also has an extensive sweets menu if you aren’t much of a savoury breakfast person. Who wouldn’t want to start their weekend off with a plate of ‘Heaven on Earth’? That’s challah french toast, topped with icing sugar, berries, and honey, fyi. 😉
10. Snakes & Lattes, Neighbourhood: Multiple locations
Another gem located in the heart of the Annex (with three more locations around Toronto!), Snakes and Lattes is a café where you can play boardgames to your heart’s content for a flat rate of $8. It is a great first or second date place since you get the opportunity to talk to your date in a less stressful circumstance than if you were just having dinner. You also get a glimpse into your date’s behaviour — are they competetive? Are they humble losers or modest winners, etc.? Do they let you win? It’s amazing the things you can learn about a person from a simple game of Life or Scrabble. From drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) to snacks to dessert, Snakes & Lattes is bound to be a fun and tasty time for all.