Sit down at Balzac’s (several locations) and enjoy a cup of fair-trade organic coffee. The Distillery District location is a great option with its historical building and sunny terrace. Dark Horse is another solid mini-chain of espresso bars with good paninis. Newcomer Neo Coffee Bar has some of the most intense espresso you’ve ever tasted. Students from nearby George Brown College congregate at tiny tables in the loft-like space. Try one of the airy roll cakes made on site.
Street food and markets
Blame the cold weather or strict regulations, but street food hasn’t really taken off in Toronto. Trucks selling hot dogs, fries, and soft ice cream park in front of Nathan Philip Square. Better food trucks exist but they tend to move around. If you like your food stationary, hit the St-Lawrence Market where you can eat either indoors or outdoors at the picnic tables. Crepe It Up, St. Lawrence Pizza & Pasta, and Buster’s Sea Cove are all good choices. Or go to Paddington’s Pump for the popular peameal bacon sandwich. For an upscale marketplace-style experience, try Marché Restaurant in the atrium of Brookfield Place where dozens of inviting food stations serve everything from seafood to cakes.
Bonjour Brioche in Leslieville is known for true French-style croissants — some of the best in the city. The cozy space makes you feel like you’re in Europe, if you can find a seat. For a Southern/Caribbean-inspired brunch try Harlem in Old Town, where unusual choices include Southern-fried chicken and waffles and the Harlem Benny with sweet potato pancake and collard greens. For more traditional brunch fare with big portions and bottomless jugs of coffee, Over Easy (two locations downtown) should fit the bill.
On the ground floor of a large apartment building in Old Town, Miyaki Sushi is a locals’ favourite that serves fresh sushi and a large variety of rolls. Have one of the cheap lunch specials, or share a Mixed Tray “A” if you’re really hungry. For a more eclectic selection head to nearby Hot House Restaurant. Sit indoors or on the large patio and take your pick between salads, pizzas, pasta, burgers, steaks, stir-fries, and more. The cakes are yummy and good for sharing. Vegetarians and vegans will be in heaven at Fresh (several locations) where everything is made from scratch without additives, from the smoothies to the salads and “bowls,” including many gluten-free options.
When in the Entertainment District, head to Pai for delicious Northern Thai cuisine in a pub atmosphere. Arrive by 6pm to avoid lining up. In Greektown, Ouzeri serves large portions of authentic Greek food in a low-light setting. The grilled calamari is as tender as it gets. Don’t order the three-course menu unless you’re seriously hungry. Beer drinkers should head for the Beer Bistro just east of the Financial District. They offer gourmet salads, pizzas, meat, fish, and a selection of mussel dishes, each with a suggested beer pairing such as a spicy Québec beer or malty German ale.
Trendy overpriced restaurants come and go in Toronto. For a special occasion, the following two have stood the test of time. Enjoy regional Canadian cuisine (think venison, pheasant, salmon) with a view at Canoe, on the 54th floor of the TD Bank Tower, considered one of the top fine-dining restaurants in Canada. Hidden in a Midtown condo, Scaramouche has delighted guests for more than three decades with quality French/continental food such as grilled filet mignon or Pacific white sturgeon, top-notch service, and city skyline views. TripAdvisor rates it #1 in Toronto.
Join the locals at C’est What for a craft beer or homemade brew. The knowledgeable staff, upscale pub food (try the dijon chicken), fireplace, pool tables, and live music make it one of the most popular bars in Old Town. Lou Dawg’s, a Southern BBQ house on King West, smokes its own meat. Get cozy in the slightly grungy room with pulled pork poutine and their signature cocktail, the smoked lemon southern tea. Live music on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday night. For amazing views and an elegant decor, sip a fancy cocktail at The One Eighty on the 51st floor of the Manulife Centre.