Best places to eat in Toronto
Why Toronto is Canada's best food city
Words— Clay Sandhu
Toronto is the best city in Canada to eat in. As a Montrealler, it pains me to a certain degree to say this, we take such pride in defining the greatness of our city by our culinary superiority, but we have been dethroned. Before anyone jumps down my throat, Joe Beef's David Macmillan already declared “Toronto is now the great Canadian food city”, earlier this year, so take it up with him. In a way it's great to have another powerhouse culinary town in such proximity, Montreallers used to have to travel to New York to get a taste of another serious food city, and New York is expensive, it's enormous and it's far. Toronto on the other hand is a pleasant 4-5 hour train ride away, in fact I'm on the train back to Montreal from Toronto presently, after spending a little more than 24 hours eating and drinking my way through town. This isn't necessarily a guide to Toronto or an essentials list, although feel free to use it as such, this is just an example of how truly easy it is to eat and drink well in Toronto.
I arrived in Toronto at Union station and get in a cab headed north west to a rapidly gentrifying area known the junction. I'm visiting a friend who works as a cook at who's going to show me around. I arrive at his apartment and he pours me a cloudy and fragrant Bellwoods beer, one called Monogamy a double hopped I.P.A. That looks like orange juice and tastes like a pine forest and a pineapple all at once. He suggests we grab a bite.
We walk down the street to Mattachioni a bodega/pizza joint that oozes authenticity and makes you feel like a regular the moment you walk in, and you want to be a regular. We sit at the bar and we decide to forgo the Pizza for which Mattachioni is known and get an even simpler pleasure. “I get this at least 3 times a week” my friend says as he orders us both mortadella sandwiches. These sandwiches are perfect. Homemade focaccia is brushed with olive oil from a giant keg (a refill station for take-away bottles) it's scattered with torn-up hunks of good mozzarella and topped with a cascading mountain of sliced mortadella, what my friend calls “The people's cold-cut”. Our waitress brings me a Brio and a side of giardiniera, a perfect lunch.
After lunch we head over to get beers at Blood Brothers one of the many great craft beer spots in the city. It's a small affair with a handful of wobbly picnic tables sticky with spilled beer, in a confusing industrial area that houses a luxury lighting studio, fish-packing warehouse, fresh pasta wholesaler and cross-fit gym. It's got a sort of spooky, occult, True Detective aesthetic going on, and the place is packed. I order a Paradise Lost Guava, a cloudy sour ale with Guava nectar that is tart and fruit forward and tastes like biting into a honest to god fresh guava, delicious.
Next up I have the White Lies another cloudy sour ale made with Riesling juice and El Dorado hops, and it tastes exactly like the sum of it's parts, like a crisp, linear and acidic Riesling but also like a hoppy bitter sour ale, it's bizarre but again, delicious. The beer is really well-made but a special bit of credit has to be given for how truthfully the flavours of their beers are expressed. This is an amazing brewery and if there's a must go brewery in Toronto, for me, it's got to be Blood Brothers.
Before heading for dinner we make a stop at Burdock Brewery, a beautiful white bricked and Portuguese-porcelain tiled building that looks more like an upscale Mediterranean restaurant than a brewpub. Food-wise, the restaurant features a menu of small plates ranging from the eclectic cheeseburger empanadas, to a more classic (and more substantial) skirt steak with chimmichurri. Although we didn't eat, nor did we stay, instead we stopped by the bottle shop to pick up an assortment of beers with tasteful and elegant labels that look less like beer labels and more like artisan chocolate labels. I pick up a few cans of Tuesday, a millennial-pink labelled saison that is light and easy-drinking and faintly tastes of honey and cloves. We bring our beer to a friend's patio to enjoy in the waning sunlight.
We make reservations at Superpoint, a deceptively stylish pizza joint that looks like a takeout window with a cozy and warm 25-seat restaurant tucked away in the back. The food is simple rustic Italian and brings the whole day full circle from Mattachioni. Superpoint is obviously all about pizza, but it also features a great natural wine list, we order blistered shishito peppers and a peperoncini and tomato salad to begin with a pepperoni pizza and a sopressatta pizza with honey and chilli to follow. I spot a reasonably priced Magnum of Chateau Cambon 2016 from Marie Lapierre, we order that as well. Our waiter let's us in on a pro-tip and suggests we keep the peperoncini oil and tomato water left over from our salad to use as a dip for our crusts, if you go, I suggest you do the same. The pizza themselves are enormous, delicately crispy, thin crust pies. It's Brooklyn pizza, not Neapolitan, it's heaven on earth and it's exactly the type of pizza you don't get in Montreal.
A few doors down from Superpoint is Bellwoods, arguably Toronto's most celebrated craft brewery. We sit down and the bartender and my friend discuss what we should drink, I leave it to him. A round of Runes come our way, it's a double dry-hopped I.P.A. and as soon as it hits my lips a wave of clean and crisp cedar washes the pizza and wine off my palate and leaves me completely refreshed. We talk about living in Montreal and wax nostalgic of days gone by.
Before heading home, we stop for a nightcap and a quick game of Double-Dragon at Get Well, a beer bar featuring craft brews from out of town breweries and local ones alike. The bar features an eclectic mix of mismatched vintage furniture that gives the bar a cozy living-room feel. A round of Shapeshifters from local brewery Halo shows up while we button-mash our way into the top scores on one of nearly 10 vintage arcade games (all free to play).
If you're taking an evening train, chances are you're not going to have time to eat dinner. For this reason I suggest eating lunch twice. I started off day 2 in Toronto by walking from Union station to Queen and Spadina and snagging a seat at the newly opened and stunningly designed Aloette, the more casual sister restaurant of Alo, Canada's number 1 restaurant as of 2017. No reservations are taken so arrive early to ensure a seat (plus this is just lunch one so the earlier the better). The menu features a classic burger and fries, along side more nuanced dishes of sea urchin on toast and torched scallops with green peas and wasabi. I start my lunch with roasted asparagus served under s blanket of roasted garlic mousse and crispy Parmesan chips. The asparagus accompany an equally delicious beef carpaccio, classically dressed with arugula and less classically with fried maitake mushrooms and almonds. Both are fantastic.
I opt for a 30-minute digestion-walk and head toward the distillery district, a pedestrian shopping plaza situated in what was formerly the Gooderham & Worts whisky distillery of the 1850's. The district itself is charming enough with its cobblestone streets and industrial revolution era brick warehouses. The working-class London vibe of the whole area is betrayed however by a shoe outlet, and a Beer Store, among countless other strip-mall staples. I don't care about any the theatrics or aesthetics of the district however, because I'm not here to shop or sightsee, I'm here to drink Sake. Izumi, also known as the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company occupies a tiny little corner shop along the main drag of the distillery district. Izumi is the only Sake producer in Ontario and 1 of 3 in Canada (the other two are in B.C.). Their sake is brewed from Muskoka water and sushi rice imported from California. Taste 3 Sake's for 10$. I recommend tasting the Nigori which is an unfiltered “creamy” sake, slightly sour with a full and textured body and subtle notes of unfermented Koji.
I grab the subway back uptown to Yorkville, Toronto's formerly bohemian, now ultra swanky shopping and dining district. I'm not a fan of Yorkville, it reminds of the reasons not to love Toronto. It's big and precocious, and it flaunts its money in your face, which is why I'm happy that I have to take fewer than five steps out of the subway station before I'm happily seated at the bar of my favourite Toronto restaurant: Brothers.
The restaurant shares a wall with the Bay subway station and you can feel the restaurant vibrate with the rumble of the passing trains beneath it. The restaurant itself is narrow and long with most of the seats along the wooden bar. There is a small section of rose-coloured banquettes and tables in the back, opposite the modest kitchen. The menu is short and features elegant but simple composed dishes, and despite being called Brothers, the decor and menu have a decidedly thoughtful and feminine quality. Having already eaten lunch once today I decide to eat lightly. I start with a few pieces of thick sliced sourdough with a smear of butter liberally sprinkled with Maldon salt. To follow is a beet and radicchio salad with a tart and garlicky yogurt dressing and roughly torn pieces of fried bread, swiftly followed by a clever and herbaceous salad of boston lettuce, creme fraiche, cucumber and pickled green almonds. I wash my vegetables down with a salmon-hued glass of Radice Lambrusco from Paltrinieri, which tastes of young strawberries, and grapefruit skins, embracing a slight bitterness and bright and cleansing acidity. I'm full and happy.
I make sure to arrive earlier than necessary at the train station to give myself some time to poke around the newly opened stores under Union Station's grand hall known as the Front Street Promenade. I head directly to Biscotteria Forno Cultura, the newest location of the third generation Italian bakery. In a display setting more akin to an Aesop store than pastry shop are the biscotti, and they are in glorious abundance. This branch also exclusively serves pour-over coffee which like in all their locations is brewed from Rufino coffee. A take-away coffee is 4$ and takes approximately 5 minutes to brew properly, no milk or sugar are offered, but why ruin a perfectly brewed coffee with that junk anyway. I should however mention for those of us who prefer a milk-based coffee that Pilot Coffee Roasters is located right next door and offers their full range of coffee and a few baked goods and sandwiches as well. I pick-up a couple of pistachio biscotti and a pour-over coffee from Forno Cultra and head into the grand hall to wait for my train home.
As I mentioned before this is just an small illustration of one way to enjoy eating and drinking in Toronto. I haven't even begun to talk about the superiority of Caribbean food in Toronto, or the Chinese food Mecca that is Markham.
Nor did I talk about a few of my other favourite restaurants, namely Bar Buca and Bar Raval which normally I make a point to visit when I'm in the city. On another trip I could have spent time in Toronto without eating or drinking at any one of these places and still been absolutely spoiled with choice. Toronto is the new king of food and beer in Canada and I for one have chosen to embrace it.
As for Montreal, I take pride in knowing—for now at least—that we still drink better wine.