Toronto delivers an enticing array of good places to eat, whatever pleases your palette. There's authentic Thai and Ethiopian, French bistros, an emerging Canadiana cuisine with a flare for wild foods, excellent Indian, Portuguese grills, Halal and Kosher, frenetic and fantastic Japanese, oodles of good Italian, and more. It's hard to find a taste that Toronto can't satisfy, from greasy diners to organic vegan "bars," molecular gastronomy to good pub grub.
Many of the city's best restaurants offer second locales, such as mini empires from celebrity chefs Mark McEwan and Jamie Kennedy and the ever-expanding Oliver & Bonacini chain of a dozen destinations like Canoe, Auberge du Pommier, and the Bell Lightbox's Luma and Canteen. A love of the local, seasonal movement only gains in popularity each year, naturally inviting more wine lists that focus on Ontario VQA vintages from Niagara and Prince Edward County. And it's supplying some new discoveries, like the rustic Woodlot, the friendly neighborhood Ici, even Sicilian pizzerias like Libretto.
Good news: In comparison to other big cities, it all adds up to a fairly affordable feast. The bad news is that high taxes on food and alcohol—add a good 30%—put a dent in the budget, even if menu prices are generally fair. Oh, and Toronto has earned a reputation for a habit of snooty service; it's still true, but on the decline as the city's culinary scene matures.
Whenever you can, book ahead if you're planning to dine at one of Toronto's top restaurants. That said, many of the hottest spots do not accept reservations for dinner. It's common for diners to arrive early, leave their name and cell-phone number at the door and skip out for a stroll or a drink until the table is ready.
Restaurant hours vary. Lunch is typically served from noon to 2pm; dinner begins around 6pm—the busiest window is 7pm to after 9pm, especially on weekends when two seatings are standard at the best restaurants. Reservations are recommended when accepted.
The standard tip in Toronto calculates as 15 percent, although 20 percent is pretty common if service has been above average. Groups of six or more can anticipate an automatic added service charge of 18 to 20 percent—and diners are not expected to leave an additional amount. Keep in mind that your bill will also include a 13 percent HST tax (which stands for a “harmonized sales tax”). It all adds up to a good 30 percent hike to the menu prices. Also, wine and other alcoholic beverages tend to be pricey in part because the provincial government levies high taxes and also because restaurateurs often charge as high as a 50 percent markup. Some establishments let you bring your own and add a corkage fee.
While traveling, it can be a challenge to keep your belly full without emptying your wallet. With some smart planning, you can eat like royalty without leaving town like a pauper. Here are five savvy ways to cut down on dining costs while visiting Toronto.
- Dine during Toronto's restaurant weeks: Every February and July, Toronto hosts 2-week-long food events: Winterlicious and Summerlicious. More than 200 restaurants participate, offering discounted three-course lunch and dinner prix-fixe menus for $23 to $53. The most coveted reso? A chance to dine at Canoe on a dime. Check www.toronto.ca for details.
- Nosh on market foods: At the St. Lawrence Market, for example, dozens of vendors sell delicious prepared foods (Carousel Bakery’s $6.45 peameal bacon sandwiches are legendary), as well as stuff that’s easy to assemble into a picnic table feast. The market has seating on the lower level and outside in the warmer months. Kensington Market is jam-packed with small vendors peddling some of the best cheap eats in the core. Embark on a Kensington snack parade and feast on delights under $5 from Mexico, the Caribbean, Portugal, Hungary, and Hawaii.
- Book a stay with self-catering facilities: Having your own kitchen can help keep costs down, so choose accommodations that have self-catering facilities—be it an Airbnb or a suite outfitted with a kitchenette. Stock up on grocery fixings at No Frills and FreshCo, which offer great value and are some of the cheapest grocery chains in town. Loblaws and Metro are a bit fancier, with more prepared foods and higher prices.
- Look for lodgings where breakfast is included. Breakfast included in your room rate can fortify you for a day of sightseeing. A growing number of long-stay properties have full breakfast buffets, and bed-and-breakfasts are known for delicious home-cooked options.
- Dine amid the college kids. Although you won't find many early-bird specials in Toronto, you can score some amazing lunch deals in neighborhoods near the colleges and universities. Around U of T, at Bloor and Spadina, for instance, a half-dozen Japanese joints offer sushi combo lunches for less than $8.
- Check out the latest lists of cheap eats. Local publications such as BlogTO and Toronto Life update their best-of-cheap-eats lists regularly, giving you a cheat sheet of sorts on where to score the best-value nosh in town.
- Check out the deals on Groupon. Select Toronto, and then scroll through the savings under the Food & Drink tab. Keep in mind that not all the restaurants offering discounts are winners, so be sure to cross-check the reviews on both Google and Yelp. Don’t forget to read the fine print. A reservation specifying that you have a Groupon voucher is usually required; blackout dates are also common.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.