What is the flavour of Toronto? It’s a mind boggling question for even the most zealous foodies in the city because it’s hard, nearly impossible to imagine Toronto as a single flavour. The truth is we don’t have a signature dish or cuisine, but perhaps that’s our strength.
As one of the most diverse cities in the world, we are keen on mergers of multiples. It’s the combination of different cultures and the fusion of present past and future that shape not just the city and its people, but also our food. Great people—with even better food—is what Toronto is really about. No matter where you are from, you can always find something reminiscent of flavours you grew up with.
This #SpoonApproved compilation—of what restaurants I think represent the flavours of Toronto—is for university students with with an insatiable appetite for discovering the best eats on a budget, foodies searching for their next foodgasm, and anyone who was, is, or will be in this amazing city.
Now, go crave the six.
1. Cacao 70
This brunch joint specializes in sandwiches, crepes, fondue, and (obviously) chocolate. You can grab grilled meat sandwiches, omelets and salads, but really the obvious choice here is to get your daily helping of rich, delicious chocolate. But don’t let the chocolate sweep you off your feet, because the strawberry cheesecake crêpe is a must order.
2. Spring Sushi
This is a dine-in and all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant overseeing Yonge-Dundas Square that offers iPad-ordering (really, how great is the future?) for its large menu selection. Not only do they serve Japanese cuisine, they also dabble in Thai nowadays, so you can grab a pad thai easily from the menu. But the best part is that they offer 10% discounts to students. Seriously, where else can you do ACYE without breaking the bank?
Hear me out: maid cafés we a concept introduced to Toronto from Japan, and they are the type of café where servers don black and white frilly maid outfits, and greet you with an enthusiastic “irrashaimase,” a greeting meaning welcome. Three days a week, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays, the servers also double up as performers, singing and dancing to Japanese pop songs.
The café offers in-house drinks and desserts, including the Angel Hat cheesecakes that the original storefront nearby sells too, as well as items like matcha lattes and puddings. If you are a die hard Tetsu fan like me, be sure to visit their cheesecake store next to the Eaton centre for the famed 2-hour-line original cheesecake. It’s best eaten cold.
Matcha has been a huge obsession across North America’s food scene, and Tsujiri is a speciality café borne from this trend. The company has a history of over 150 years in Japan, and its now success has found its way overseas in the heart of downtown Toronto.
The café has cold and hot drinks, ice cream, and baked goods, all with the same common denominator: matcha goodness.
The magic of these noodles is that they are hand-pulled. There is even a small amount of customization for your dish in the form of choosing your noodle thickness. Apart from noodles, they also carry small appetizer snacks, like savoury pancakes, potato pastries, meat skewers, and Asian-inspired burgers.
6. Little Fin
As its name alludes to, this place offers mostly seafood in its burgers and sandwiches, one of which is the delicious lobster. Forget the McDonald’s Lobster Roll, because this place knows how to properly honour seafood.
Don’t let the slightly dingy looking storefront scare you away. It may not look like an artsy café—like ones tucked away in every corner in downtown Toronto—but this place has been coined the Milk Tea King, so it’s more than worth a second glance.
Authentic Italian cuisine can be difficult to come by, which is why this bistro—which has been operating since 1978—is a gem. It’s a wine and dine location, as they have an extensive wine list to match their lengthy menu with everything from homemade pastas to pizzas to steaks.
David Chang’s Momofuku is behind a lot of joints across North America, including Milk Bar. You’d think a place behind a drinks and desserts spot would be the last team to run a ramen bar, but you’d be wrong to think that.
Noodle Bar house specializes in noodles and buns, offering amazing ramen combinations and various bun fillings to satiate your curious tastebuds.
10. Booyah Inc.
Food fusions have been hitting us Torontonians left and right, and one of the recent hits is the introduction of the ice cream taco. At Booyah Inc., they offer you massive ice cream tacos (and sandwiches), which almost always result in insta-shot perfection.
11. Sweet Jesus
Continuing along a similar theme, Sweet Jesus brings ice cream to a whole new level. They carry extravagant toppings and flavours, giving you the opportunity to basically eat a rainbow’s worth of colours in a few bites. Surely, you’ll be saying “sweet jesus“ with these ice cream cones.
When your crêpe craving get too real, head on over to Pastel Crêperie and Dessert House for delicious crêpes with ice cream on the side, as well as classics like waffles, cake, and cookies. Remember to also ask for your customized design on your latte.
13. Cha Me Cha
This little eatery takes its influences from Taiwan, and so offers authentic Taiwanese bubble tea as well as a lot of Taiwanese foods for those who know and love them. Really, there’s no going wrong with the flavourful combinations this joint has to offer, both food and drink-wise.
14. Annvita Tea Room
This brightly painted tea house, located in North York, is the sole North American venture from this Shanghai chain of Victorian-style tea. They provide formal afternoon tea service, offering quality tea and treats.
The name doesn’t roll off the tongue to non-Korean folks, but trust the food to be delicious nonetheless. Soon Tofu translates to soft tofu and comes sizzling in a hot stone crock that carries a spicy broth, with meat or seafood or a combination of the two inside. This location serves purple rice.
This place is seriously fancy. Like any respectable coffee shop, it offers coffee, tea, and iced drinks on top of a decent selection of sandwiches and baked goodies. The real appeal of Dineen, though, is the atmosphere. It’s worth it to bunker down for a bit and enjoy the aesthetic.
17. Hot Star Chicken
Hot Star Chicken offers massive Taiwanese chicken cutlets, a wildly popular street food back in Taiwan, and for good reason too. Move aside KFC, Hot Star Chicken (maybe HSC? Yes?) is moving in.
18. Pho Hung
A family owned restaurant started back in the 1980s has reached top levels of success with their authentic Vietnamese cuisine. The main shop, located in downtown’s Chinatown, is always packed. If you’re looking for more than pho though, then you best try elsewhere because this shop entirely specializes in pho.
19. Arte Gelato
Gelato is the creamier, lower fat cousin to ice cream, and it comes in flavours that will rock your world. At Arte, they’ve got 45 flavours up their sleeves, including personal favourites like espresso, pistachio, and hazelnut.
20. Aziza Café
This cozy brunch place offers generous portions of their breakfast and lunch menu items—that’s right, breakfast, and it’s all day breakfast too. That means, yes, you can roll out of bed at 2 pm and still be able to chow down on some breakfast favourites.
Originating from the Big Apple, Bareburger offers organic burgers stacked as tall as a skyscraper in its only Toronto-based location. The focus on organic goes further than just their burgers though, as all their menu items have organic, free-range, free-trade, and GMO-free ingredients.
Although the primary showstoppers are burgers, Bareburger also offers salads and sandwiches as well as a few classic sides like onion rings and chicken tenders.
22. Panchos Bakery
Pancho’s is the go-to place for delicious churros. Nowadays, they’ve been putting their churros to some innovative use, as pictured above, with the introduction of the summer favourite, churro ice cream cones.
Fear not vegans of Toronto, this location on the list is 100% vegan. Grasshopper’s vegan-friendly, delicious substitutes for classic animal products are far from disappointing. Better yet, several items are also gluten-free.
24. Little Sheep
Little Sheep offers Mongolian hot pot. For those unfamiliar with the dish, it’s essentially a pot over a burner into which you drop raw ingredients to cook in a flavourful broth (a brother which serves as the base for over 30 other soups, needless to say its delicious).
From there, you can choose from 30+ types of meat and 30+ types of vegetables—not to mention dipping sauces.
25. Almond Butterfly
For those who are unable to stomach gluten, indulging in baked treats can be difficult. That’s why Almond Butterfly has answered your calling and offers gluten-free baked goods. Apart from baked goodies, they also offer hot breakfasts and lunch sandwiches, on top of handcrafted espresso
26. Lady Marmalade
Lady Marmalade deserves an A+ for its effort in using local, organic produce when possible. There are also a lot of options for vegetarians—you get the best of both worlds.
This cheap and affordable pizza is a dream for every broke ass college student in search of good eats. I recommend the huge calzone stuffed with cheese and sauce for only $9—it’s a steal.
With over 100 vendors, the St. Lawrence Market offers the best quality foods in all of Toronto. There’s just so much here, so start with some of my personal faves: veal sandwiches at Uno Mustachio, Buster’s Sea Cove for the lobster roll lineup, and the iconic Bacon Sandwiches at the Carousel Bakery.
This Jewish Deli eatery offers up succulent smoked meat approved by Queen B herself.
Arguably the best place in Toronto to satisfy your Thai cravings, this spot has plenty of devoted patrons to back it up. Voted as one of the top 10 places to eat in Toronto on Trip Advisor, make sure to get your reservations weeks in advance because seats do run out fast.
31. King’s Noodle
King’s Noodle first caught my attention when it was featured on Bizarre Foods Toronto with Andrew Zimmern as a must-visit at the heart of Chinatown. Decades of serving up steaming bowls of fresh noodles and Chinese BBQ duck have honed their culinary skills to master-level techniques.
Chowing down a fried lobster mountain? Check.
33. Karine’s Fresh
Vegans and gluten-free people rejoice! Karin’s Fresh offers 100% vegan and gluten free breakfast ALL DAY starting at $5. Finally, a vegan place that doesn’t break the bank.
34. Love Me Sweet
This bakery serves as an identical version of the Uncle Tetsu’s cheesecake and TBH, we don’t even know which is which. But aside from mastering the OG of Japanese cheesecake, Love Me Sweet also offers a variety of different flavours such as chocolate, coffee, and matcha.
The most famous bubble tea chain store in Toronto, period.
36. What A Bagel
Rainbow bagels? Yes, please.
37. Congee Queen
Don’t be fooled by its Asian name. Yes, congee is a big speciality here (but don’t let that stop you!), there’s always something for anyone at Congee Queen. This is one of my go-to restaurants for quality service and food. Queen whips up different versions of congee, chow mein, stir fry, and thai/vietnamese dishes.
38. The Stockyards
Prepare yourself for the long lines that await you at one of city’s best chicken & waffles and ribs—pretty impressive for under $20.
Bang Bang Ice Cream has being killin’ their Instagram game. Their amazing ice cream flavours—cinnamon toast and burnt toffee among them—are a must-eat for any foodie.
A local favourite for straight up no BS food at a great steal—$5 or $6 for a pita—and the portions are insane. Oh and they stuff their pitas with french fries.
41. Jumbo Empanadas
This humble Chilean joint tucked comfortably in Kensington Market serves up one of the cheapest and best empanada spots in Toronto. Cheese empanadas start at $2 a piece; beef, chicken and other meat options are only $4.50. I can guarantee they are better than your sad frozen pizza pops.
The breathtaking view of all of Toronto is more than enough of a reason to give this place a visit. Although it is on the pricier side, it’s a great splurge option to celebrate special occasions such as a graduations or anniversaries. Access to the LookOut and Glass Flour is also free with your meal.
43. Teara Lab
Teara Lab is a Japanese inspired sandwich shop in Toronto that has blown up the social sphere. Their Yuzu teriyaki fish burger with black sesame buns have made waves in Toronto and definitely a hype worth checking out.
You new one-stop-stop for all things Korean. Korean style fried chicken, bulgogi, gimbap, bibimbap, and other beloved dishes are all made how moms makes them: just right.
Poutine made with handmade cheese? Sign me up.
46. Petite Potato
A picture is worth a thousand words. Enough said.
Yes, the Nutella addiction here in Toronto is real, very real. We are blessed to live in a city that houses the both of the Nutella Cafés currently in Canada (at least so far. I reckon there are more to come).
48. Arctic Bites
This Thai inspired ice cream is cranking up the cool in Toronto this summer. Arctic Bites serves made-to-order Polarolls, which are rolled ice cream that are “cold fried” and customized with assorted toppings.
Everyone could use a cup of rainbow latte in the morning.
50. Bake Code
This newly opened bakery combines the best of European and Asian flavours. Their most intriguing creations include kimchi and cream cheese stuffed french bread called Gangnam Star, salted duck egg croissant, and Goji berry rolls. Most of the ingredients are sourced locally and everything is prepared right behind the counter for customers to see.
Compiling this list was grueling but filled me with satisfaction. From endless hours salivating in front of my computer screen, to hearing the empty growls of my stomach, to silently marking down my next food adventures in order of craving this has been a hell of a ride.
Of course there are other places that deserve a shout out and if you have a place in mind that I missed, I’m all ears.