I lived in Toronto for two years where I had my first job as a reporter. Toronto is where I lived through some of the best and scariest moments of my life; among them hip replacement surgery.
For the first months, I lived by Warden and Danforth and then downtown near Regent Park on the corner of Queen and River. If you know the neighbourhood, you can imagine how Toronto was very exhilarating for a young adult straight out of Quebec City.
I volunteered a lot during my time in Ontario’s capital, especially for music and food fests. I spent my free time as an interpret for the Toronto Film Festival, doing media relations for the Distillery Jazz fest and manned booths for many food-related events. I lived Toronto by way of its flavours and festivals.
When I landed at the Billy Bishop airport last month, I felt as though I was somehow coming home, but with a different hunger. I was so excited to revisit some of my favourite restaurants and neighbourhoods; this time with much more skilled taste buds. I wanted to relive my first experiences with genuine Chinese, Italian and Korean food; authentic flavours that I cannot find in Quebec City. Five days to reset my mouth and relive some of my favourite culinary moments.
Here is my latest foodiecation in Toronto.
I decided to fly with Porter Airlines, because I believe it is the fastest and cheapest time-to-cost method to get to Toronto. The flight lasted only 1h45 minutes from YQB to YTZ. During any flight with Porter Airlines, you can enjoy a complimentary can of the Toronto brewed Steam Whistle IN A GLASS!
I selected my sleeping arrangements through booking.com, just like I do for every trip I plan whether in-country or abroad. Booking.com makes it easy for anyone, anywhere in the world, on any budget. All you have to do is narrow your sleeping accommodations using the criteria of your choice. Their website is very user-friendly.
Marie-Eve tagged along for the ride and we decided to stay at the Germain hotel on Mercer Street. Its central downtown location and easy access to street cars and metro is what motivated our choice. Comfort is a mandatory criteria. When I spend a few days away from home, especially where I know I am going to do a lot of walking, I enjoy a little extra comfort. That way, I know I will have a good night sleep. Germain has always given me that guarantee. And when the shower has more pressure than your own, bingo!
Appart from attending SIAL Canada in Toronto -that I combined to a little foodiecation- I was also in Toronto to test the Booking Now app. The app allows you to find last-minute deals based on your physical location. Wherever you are in the world, you can use the Booking Now app to find the best hotel deals near based on the number of people you are, and the type of room you’re looking for. Then you refine your results using six criteria: wi-fi, breakfast included, non-smoking, parking, restaurant and 24hr reception. With the Booking Now app, I found a last-minute deal near Toronto’s Harbourfront where I managed to saved a few bucks on my sleeping arrangements. More dumplings for me!
But, I ended up having to call Booking.com’s customer service because of a mishap in my order through the app. I selected wi-fi, non-smoking and free breakfast in my search criteria. I chose my sleeping arrangements according to the results from my search. Turns out I was billed for breakfast! I called Booking.com’s customer service and they efficiently corrected the mishap. Booking Now is a very effective way to find last-minute deals, but my experience tells you be vigilant with the billing.
Foodie Musts in Toronto
The greatest way to begin a foodie journey in Toronto is by eating dumplings. Start your journey to dumplings by walking along Spadina Avenue so to soak in the scents and aromas of Asia. Toronto’s Chinese community is vibrant and there is a plethora of unknown fruits and vegetables available for your eyes to taste. Dare to ask; one friendly passer-by introduced me to Momordica Charantia that looks like a cucumber. It’s bitter and primarily used to make tea.
I put together a list of places I believe make Toronto a great foodie destination. I tried to get a feel for Toronto’s gastronomy without falling into tourist traps. I wanted authentic cuisine with personality. When I arrived, I had a list of 32 places I wanted to try! Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time -nor enough humanly possible hunger- to try them all. Guess I’ll have to come back…
421 Spadina Avenue
The most delicious dumplings I have eaten in my life this far. Try to get a table next to the kitchen so you can see how the dumpling makers do. You absolutely must begin your journey in Toronto with dumplings, especially if you live in a city were dumplings are not available, or simply lack in authenticity. I highly recommend the juicy pork buns. A mouthful of authentic slow-simmered flavours that will literally burst out of your mouth; keep a few napkins handy.
Momofuku noodle bar, Chef David Chang
190 University Avenue
I watched season one of In the Mind of a Chef during the Christmas holidays. There was no possible way I was going to visit Toronto without tasting Chef David Chang’s ramen. I have salivated so much over his journey across Japan that I made a reservation at Momofuku Noodle Bar in Toronto even before I left Quebec City. At least a month ahead of time! Honestly, I went a little crazy; it’s not required you do so for the noodle bar. There is plenty of room for walk-ins, but you can understand how animated I was. I wasn’t disappointed by the food, but I think I had to much expectation with regards to complex flavours profiles. Don’t misinterpret my “I overestimated-my-ramen” for disillusionment; I highly recommend Momofuku’s Noodle bar. All but vivid flavours in a bowl. In the Mind of a Chef resulted in bringing my expectations in Chef David Chang’s ramen way too high.
Carbon Bar, Chef Hidde Zomer
99 Queen Street East
Tourism Toronto invited me for dinner one evening at Carbon Bar. At first glance, the place looked like a pretentious hangout where I expected the food as unattractive as the neighbourhood it sits in. Oh but what a surprise! I did not expect such high quality of food.
The industrial design gave absolutely no sign of the care given to the food served in my plate. Every piece of vegetable, meat or accompaniment I put in my mouth was delectable: from the Korean cauliflower all the way to the mescal key lime pie. I could go back to Carbon just for the key lime pie! And please don’t leave without trying the cheddar ice cream. Oh-my-wow! A perfect example of their creative and though-through menu. Perfect for group celebrations.
Pilot Coffee Roasters
50 Wagstaff Drive
One of my two favourite coffee shops in Quebec City is Dose Coffee Bar. At Dose, Dan Hill serves only Pilot Coffee. That’s why I decided to visit Pilot’s roasting plant on Wagstaff Drive in Leslieville. The barista’s technique is precise and is meant to enhance the coffee drinking experience. Pilot is all about respect and dedication to flavour. Watch Brett Johnston, head of innovation at Pilot Coffee Roasters make a cup of coffee HERE.
1208 Younge Street
I met some friends from Toronto for a drink after spending the day in the Beaches. A few steps away from the Metro station, Boxcar Social’s bar-meets-coffee house has a friendly ambience with a discreet backyard terrace. They feature a comprehensive list of private imports where we found a delicate lemon butter style Australian Riesling. And they have Quebec beer! Among them Shawinigan’s Trou du Diable’s Saison de tracteur. Boxcar Social is also where my tastebuds discovered George Howell’s refined Kenyan coffee. When in Quebec City, you can find Howell’s coffee at Nektar.
Emma’s Country Kitchen, Chef Rachel Pellett
1108 Ste-Clair Avenue West
I jotted this one down from an episode of You Gotta Eat Here. And you so gotta! I met there with a grade school friend who lives nearby for Brunch. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 15 years, and thanks to our mothers swimming together at the Loretteville pool back home, there we were eating what felt like a home cooked meal from scratch.
Emma’s feels like you’re in the country side where generous portions of feel good sugar-filled donuts and house-cured bacon is the perfect fuel to any conversation. We started with the donuts filled with gooey caramel. Marie-Eve and Gail had Emma’s bene: warm and fluffy buttermilk biscuit topped with house cured peameal bacon, poached eggs and smothered in mousselline sauce with a side of griddled red skin potatoes. I had the french toast with home style white bread dipped in a creamy vanilla bean custard and griddled until golden brown, then topped with fresh whipped Chantilly cream, maple syrup and blueberry sauce. The perfect meal that I felt like stemmed right out of my family’s roots (I was born in Ontario!). A meal that also included a mandatory long walk all the way to the AGO.
Grand Electric, Chef Colin Tooke
1330 queen Street West
Lunch in Parkdale is a must. Our friends at La Folle Fourchette in Quebec City suggested we try the tacos at Grand Electric. Our papilla thanked them so much, especially for the quality-to-price-to-portion ratio. A small, very quaint neighbourhood taco joint filled with post-hispter yuccies; both customers and waiters. The menu is creative and the list of Bourbons is impressive. The perfect eatery to enjoy with a group of friends. I recommend you make a reservation, or expect a long wait in the evening. The food is definitely worth it. As for the service, try not to pay too much attention to it.
Woodlot, Chef David Haman
293 Palmerston Avenue
Woodlot came as a suggestion from Julian, the owner of Stasis Local Preserves. Marie-Eve and I were looking for an unpretentious local fave with handmade dishes featuring lots of local ingredients. Woodlot was primarily recommended for the wood-oven cooked sourdough bread. I ate an impressive handmade ravioli : Shiitake and smoked potato ravioli with balsam fir butter, mushroom cider glaze and dandelion. We ate an early dinner, and sat upstairs while the staff was preparing for a sold-out evening. Ariane served us; she is from Quebec City! Apparently most of the staff from Woodlot are from Quebec City’s restaurant scene.
Richmond Station, Chef Car Heinrich
1 Richmond Street West
Hands down the best burger I have had in my life! The meat is “tartare-like” and served between two milk buns with aged cheddar with a side of rosemary fries. The Chef uses “ground “trim” including belly, eye of round and sirloin tip for the burger, stuffing it with braised neck, ribs and shank”. Loved the service, the price and especially the high quality of food in my plate. Everything is transformed in house; nose to tail is the Chef’s philosophy. Richmond’s wine list is exhaustive and very eclectic. A definite downtown must!
The Toronto Popcorn Company
Kensington Market, 147 Baldwin Street
The Toronto Popcorn Company is in the Kensington Market. The market itself is a must for foodie destinations in Toronto, but within the market are a whole bunch of hidden gems; Toronto Popcorn Company is the perfect exmaple. It’s literally the popcorn lovers’ heaven! There are over 30 different options from savoury to sweet to “go crazy and mix ‘em all up” flavours. And you get to taste every single piece of popcorn before you buy. Go wild! Snack free!
Stasis Local Preserves
Stasis is a pantry filled with local and sustainable food. It features some of the best artisan cheese from all over Ontario. Thanks to Julian who took the time to explain where most of their cheese comes from, I discovered Gunn’s Hill Five brothers from Woodstock Ontario; a certain resemblance to something in between Gouda and Swiss with beautiful cow milk flavours.
Stasis Preserves makes its own line of preserves (!) and features a variety of Canadian preserved goods; I even found products from Montreal’s Société Orignal! This is the kind of place where I can spend hours searching for inspiration for my next foodie trip. Hint: I’m going east!