Torontonians are obsessed with food. From street food to Michelin-caliber tasting menus, this town has something to sate any craving and every budget. The city's rich multicultural makeup ensures a kaleidoscopic banquet. Immigrants have flooded the food scene with authentic eats from around the globe, while second-generation chefs have doubled down on the Toronto melting pot by rehabilitating the f-word. Here, fusion isn’t a gimmick; it’s a culinary expression of the Toronto experience.
The late culinary icon Anthony Bourdain himself wasn’t immediately enamored with Hogtown upon touchdown. On his show The Layover, he quipped that Toronto’s “not a good-looking city.” But after 30-some hours eating and drinking his way through our less-than-handsome streets, he was romanced by what Toronto had to offer. He drank potent cocktails at secret bars, hidden in the back of strip malls. He ate dim sum that rivals the har gow in Guangzhou. Tasted some of the most decadent, artery-clogging poutine in Canada (sorry, Quebec). And met boundary-pushing chefs making creative, unpretentious food from Ontario-sourced ingredients. These chefs aren’t afraid to fuse multiple culinary heritages on a single plate.
Successive waves of immigrants have left their imprints all around Toronto. Toronto has six Chinatowns, two Koreatowns, two Italian neighborhoods (Little Italy and Corso Italia), two Portuguese areas (one on Dundas West and one up by Dupont), a Greek strip (along Danforth), an Indian Bazaar, a Caribbean concentration (along Eglington West), and even a Polish avenue (Roncesvalles) that abuts the Tibetan section of West Queen West. All are fun to explore—they often have great markets (where you’ll find specialty ingredients), as well as ethnic bakeries, cafes, and hot tables.
But gentrification is having its effects on the city's multicultured dining scene. Climbing rents have pushed unpretentious authentic eats into the suburbs. Mom-and-pop shops serving their home country’s cooking are growing rarer in the core. Adventurous foodies would do well to explore some of the strip malls in North Toronto. Hit the suburbs and you’ll find Balkan nodes, Persian clusters, Jewish neighborhoods, a Japanese mall, and more.
Older, more established ethnic enclaves like Little Italy have been undergoing a second round of gentrification. While some of the old guard remains, Sicilian pastry shops are now shoulder to shoulder with vegan cafes, upscale taco joints, fried chicken counters, and tapas restaurants. The new generation of chefs isn't necessarily opening Italian restaurants in Italian neighborhoods—chef-owners opening creative new spots are driven by rent, not tradition.
You’ll find great Greek in Little Portugal (Mamakas), while over in Greektown lies some of the city’s best Neapolitan pizza (Pizzeria Libretto). Of course pastel de nata is still found in Little Portugal and gyros on the Danforth—but just know there is fabulous food from everyplace all over Toronto, and nothing here is fettered to any particular neighborhood. All this to say, if Toronto was a culinary paint-by-numbers, the restaurants here refuse to color within the lines.
A Note on Smoking—A provincial law came into effect in 2006 that banned smoking at restaurants in Ontario: There is no smoking indoors, and patios that have any sort of covering are also smoke-free. This has made for a great deal of confusion because tableside umbrellas that are close-set apparently count as covering, according to the law. You can smoke on uncovered patios.
Downtown West—This is where you will find Toronto's highest concentration of great restaurants. Little Italy, which runs along College Street, has a mix of old-school trattorias, buzzy new restaurants, and snack bars; the streets of Chinatown, which radiate from Spadina Avenue, are lined with brightly lit, busy eateries; and West Queen West, Dundas West, and Ossington Avenue are littered with interesting chef-owned gems.
Midtown— Georgian mansions and sprawling lawns are pretty, but monied neighborhoods like Davisville and Summerhill, despite their denizens’ deep pockets, don’t have the density to support a robust restaurant row (though a few upscale gems are scattered around). Exciting food things are also happening farther west: St. Clair West has become the hottest dining destination in town, thanks to still-cheap rent and a revamped, speedy streetcar link.
The East End—The general theme along the Danforth has long been Greek, although today you'll find more variety: Good pubs, bars, restaurants, and lounges line the busy thoroughfare. You can still come for good and middling (but cheap) Greek, too. Farther south on Gerrard Street, just west of the Indian Bazaar, a crop of cool snack bars have opened.
Uptown—This area is too large to be considered a neighborhood, stretching as it does from north of Eglinton Avenue to Steeles Avenue. While it doesn’t have the concentration of restaurants that the downtown area enjoys, a number of stellar options make the trip north worth your while.
Out of Town—Toronto is a sprawling city, and as it has expanded, restaurants have cropped up in formerly out-of-the-way regions. If you have a car, you might want to head out of town for some great dining just an hour or two beyond the city limits.
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