A Tour Guys’ guide to eating and drinking downtown Toronto
I’ve put together a list of my favourite downtown Toronto pubs and restaurants. Everyone has their favourites, and these are the ones I personally like the most. Therefore in my mind, they are the best and are the pubs and restaurants I patronize with my friends and where I take people who are visiting from out of town. They are listed in no particular order by neighbourhood (some with a major attraction nearby) and all are considered “downtown”.
Old Toronto (St Lawrence Market, Hockey Hall of Fame area)
Old Spaghetti Factory – It’s kitschy, it’s busy, but the pasta is always fresh, delicious and the portions are great value. Popular with tourists and people celebrating birthdays (when your meal is free)! Great for kids!
C’est What? – This cosy basement pub is renowned for its craft beer selection and its menu reflects Canada’s cultural (and culinary) diversity. I really like their coffee and chocolate hazelnut beers. The antijitos are really good too. Lack of a patio is not good for summer business, but the comfy couches around the fireplace are the best seats during the colder months.
Betty’s on King – Originally opened as “BettyFord’s” after the clinic founded by the former American First Lady, it has since been renamed, and is a favourite watering hole for students from nearby George Brown College and reporters and media types from the nearby newspaper offices. Inexpensive food and a large selection of drafts keep bringing me back.
Queen St. West (MuchMusic, Entertainment District)
The Rivoli – Nice atmosphere, interesting (and delicious) menu, and live music or comedy in the back room. Try the “Wookie balls”, pad thai, burger or roti.
Trimurti – My favourite Indian restaurant in Toronto. It is the bar by which I measure all other butter chicken and channa masala dishes. The owners and staff are wonderful and their lunch buffet… out of this world.
Chez Cora – The smiling sun on the logo is to me the image of contentment, and its how I feel after breakfast here. The franchise started in Quebec and I squealed like a 12-year-old girl surprised with a new pet pony when I saw one open in Toronto.
Baldwin Village (Art Gallery of Ontario)
Sin and Redemption – opened just a couple of years ago across from a Catholic church, this Belgian style pub has a great selection of beers, nice ambiance, and great service. Try Fruli strawberry beer or Delirium beer.
Village Idiot – Across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario, right next door to Sin and Redemption (mentioned above), this place is a cozy British style pub with a fine selection of beer from the Isles, including one of my Scottish favourites: Tennants.
Kuni Sushi-ya – Shortly after this spot opened on Baldwin Street, actor Samuel L. Jackson ate there, loved it, and has been back again. I like this place for its Japanese curry chicken katsu among other things. The food here is great value and you don’t pay tax on take-out orders over $20!
Margharitas – I once brought some Mexican teenagers here and they were impressed. They thought they were going to be having “Taco Bell” type food (the only Mexican food they thought we had) and were really impressed. My favourite dish here is the chicken burrito in the mole (cocoa) sauce washed down with their refreshing sangria… followed by a siesta.
Chinatown and Kensington Market
Dark Horse Espresso Bar – I’ve found the new location at 215 Spadina Ave (Chinatown) to be perfect for casual meetings and chitchat. The coffee is prepared perfectly and the baked good are great.
Pho Hung – I have to admit I have not sampled the pho (soup) here, but the “19A” is one of my all-time favourite lunches. Greens topped with vermicelli noodles, chopped chicken and a spring roll with all the hot sauce and dark sweet hoisin sauce you can squirt on top of it all. Finish with a strong Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (hot or iced) and you’ve got a power lunch for less than $10.
Rol San – When it’s 3am and I crave late-night Chinese, this is where I go. HUGE portions served up with speed and efficiency until 4am make this Chinatown place popular. Try the sweet and sour pork, garlic baby bok-choy, and the Singapore style noodles. They also serve dim sum!
Grilled Cheese – Two guys closed up their restaurant in New York City and brought it to Kensington Market. Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches served with potato chips. They open late (lunch) and are open late (after the bars close).
The Blue Banana Market – It’s not a bar or restaurant, but this amazing gift store has a little coffee bar inside that serves up organic baked goods and Balzac’s coffee, which is awesome.
Yonge and Dundas Square (Eaton Centre)
Eggspectations – I was first introduced to this franchise in Ottawa, and was thrilled to see one open on Yonge St in the Eaton Centre. I do prefer the French name Cirque des Ouefs – “The Egg Circus”. How fun does that sound?
The Mansion Keg – If you like steak and are prepared to spend a nice sum of money one one you will remember for a very long time, then check out this restaurant in a swanky historical (and haunted) Victorian Mansion. At my most recent meal here at one point I felt the steak I was eating was too good for me. But I kept quiet and pretended otherwise.
Spuntini – This is where a lot of celebrities dine when they are in T.O. so if you want to treat yourself (or someone special) to a memorable Italian fine-dining experience, look no further than this Yorkville hotspot. It’s kind of fun to overhear snippets of conversation about riding cubs and indoor pool troubles at home. Best value is the penne in vodka cream sauce for $13. Bravo! Go early ( before 6pm) or make a reservation.
Hemingway’s – It’s a slice of New Zealand in Toronto. Although it’s in the trendy Yorkville ‘hood, it’s not expensive. This place has an amazing patio that gets packed after work, especially on Fridays. Try the butter chicken!
Eat A Pita – It’s a little lunch hole in the wall near Yonge and Bloor St and sets itself apart from others in the falafel department by frying them right there in front of you. Talk about fresh! The shawarma is excellently seasoned, made with care, and the sandwich/pop special is $5. Win! When I worked in the area, I used to eat there at least once a week.
Mill Street Brew Pub – In the Distillery District, when the shooting wrapped for the movie “Chicago” a few years back, the bar set was closed, Mill Street moved in. They make two of my all-time favourite beers – Mill Street Organic and Mill Street Coffee Porter (brewed with Balzac’s coffee). The food here is also exceptional – traditional pub fare with a gastro-twist.
Amato Pizza – My first delivery pizza from Amato was so incredible it almost prompted a thank-you call. The guy who made my pizza wrote “Thanks! Eat more Amato!” on the plain white pizza box and signed his name. Not the cheapest delivery pizza, but well worth the few extra bucks. They serve pizza by the slice, as well as delivery, and have several locations around Toronto.
Sneaky Dee’s – My friends and I lovingly called it “Sneaky Disease” when it was one of our regular haunts back in university. It’s sketchy looking as hell, covered in graffiti, plastered with old posters and junk on the walls and speakers pump out what amounts to my CD collection circa 1994 (grunge rock and brit-pop). It also serves up some of the best tex-mex food and beer at a bargain. Brunch is excellent, and I love their Hawaiian nacho platter with ham and pineapple. Upstairs is a great bar for live music!
Insomnia – This internet cafe turned internet cafe/restaurant/bar turned restaurant/bar has been a long-time favourite, ever since I lived nearby as a student. Fun martinis, killer banana chocolate pancakes for brunch, and really nice servers are just a few of the many things this pace has going for it. And it’s open until 2am!
Sarah’s Shawarma and Falafel – For a very long time my favourite shawarma in the city, and still a place I just can’t seem to pass by without entering. Try the chicken shawarma in a pita with a bit of the hot sauce and wash it down with a mango nectar.
Boulevard Café – Many people list this as their favourite Latin American restaurant in the city, and you can count me among them. The delicious, aromatic Peruvian cuisine is unique, leans slightly towards seafood, and is served by outstanding staff. I can’t say enough about this place.