All About Toronto:
A few of my favourite things...
Say what you will about Toronto – the weather sucks, the Leafs suck even more, and we don’t even have a Victoria’s Secret – but if there’s one thing that Toronto is good at, it’s food. With hundreds of restaurants at our disposal, Toronto is a Mecca of multicultural culinary delights, with a new taste just waiting around the corner. Even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of all that Toronto has to offer, here are a few treats I can’t live without. ¤ C.Ho.
Best Brunch Spot: Sunset Grill
♦ Various locations
As a person who can eat breakfast at any time of the day, it’s important to find a place where I can have a deliciously consistent not-breakfast day after day. Sunset Grill, known for its huge breakfast selection, is such a place. If you’re in the mood for something hearty, try the eggs, omelette, or a sandwich selection. Light morning eaters might be drawn to the cereal, fresh fruit, and salad offerings. If you’re looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth, there’s French toast, waffles, and pancakes, all in generous portions and fair prices. At Sunset Grill, the only thing you’ll need to bring is your appetite.
Close Runner Up: Hot House Café, 35 Church Street, Toronto (www.hothousecafe.com)
Best Buffet: Starwalk
♦ 648 Silver Star Boulevard, Scarborough (www.starwalkbuffet.com)
Walking into Starwalk is like walking into another world – a world filled with nothing but things I love to eat. I’ve been to a few buffets in my day, but Starwalk is the only one that offers enough variety to please even the most finicky eater. From sushi to roast beef to dim sum to a decked out dessert section, this grand eatery has perfected the meaning of buffet. Just don’t fill up on the bread; the Peking duck, ample seafood spread, and grilled beef skewers aren’t going to eat themselves.
Close Runner-Up: The Old Mill, 21 Old Mill Road, Toronto (www.oldmilltoronto.com)
Best Chicken: Swiss Chalet
♦ Various locations (www.swisschalet.com)
Picking Swiss Chalet as the best chicken joint in town may seem pedestrian, but they do know their chicken. Prepared in a slow-roasting oven, each chicken has just the right amount of tenderness, juiciness, and flavour. It’s what every chicken should strive to be. And when paired with the addictive Chalet Dipping Sauce, it’s a combination that’s hard to ignore. Swiss Chalet also does soup well, infusing every spoonful with tender chunks of real chicken, and surprisingly serves a mean coconut cream pie and yummy French fries. But amidst all this gluttony, Swiss Chalet also offers a Health Check menu that adheres to Canada’s Food Guide for Eating Healthy and, thankfully, this still means that you won’t have to miss out on the rotisserie chicken and Chalet Sauce.
Best Chinese: Goldstone Noodle Restaurant
♦ 266 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
If you’ve ever been to Toronto’s Chinatown, you’ll know that there are oodles of restaurants vying for your hard-earned money. With this much selection, price and satisfaction are imperative. That’s why Goldstone is one of my favourite fallback restaurants – I know that I’ll always walk away with a full stomach and enough cash left over to peruse the liquor store down the street. Goldstone does not have the best décor by any standards (if you’re squeamish of the typical Chinatown storefront, you may want to skip this one), it has passable service (although on some days, you could make a Scientology video before you could actually get the bill), and its washroom makes me weep, but the food is fast, cheap, and reliable. Goldstone has an impressive menu that’s worth trying out, but my favourite remains the flavourful noodle soup, which comes with a variety of accoutrements like tender chicken, succulent wontons, and plump fish balls.
Best Curry: Shala-Mar Indian Restaurant
♦ 391 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto (www.shala-mar.com)
I’m a sucker for anything stewed, but it takes a certain type of skill to bring a dish to life. At Shala-Mar, the key ingredient seems to be the restaurant’s curry sauce: it’s savory, fragrant, and has just the right amount of spices to keep you intrigued but not overwhelmed. The beef curry, served with fine basmati rice and a side order naan bread is a must-have, but the naan tandoori chicken sandwich is also a hit with locals. The lunch menu offers these items, plus more, for under ten bucks – which leaves you with enough cash to come back for more.
Best Dim Sum: Cha Liu Dim Sum Shop
♦ 2352 Yonge Street, Second Floor, Toronto (www.chaliu.com)
It’s surprising that this delightful dim sum restaurant hasn’t been name-dropped on Happygrrls before, because Michelle and I simply adore it. It’s not just the great food that we crave; the inviting, snug atmosphere is a great place to detox after a harrowing week at work, or when we need to unwind following an exhausting month of putting up with exasperating co-workers (who, it might be noted, could very well be doing the same thing). Cha Liu offers the best of dim sum without the early afternoon times, and also serves liquor to boot. Of note is the steamed dim sum menu (seriously, try them all), as well as the fried shrimp and mango rolls and stuffed chicken wings, which are little drops of crispy ecstasy. Every other Chinese restaurant in Chinatown serves dim sum, but Cha Liu is the only place where you’ll feel like you’re in heaven. Close Runner Up: Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant, 346-348 Spadina Avenue (www.brightpearlseafood.com)
Best French Fries: Café Diplomatico
♦ 594 College Street, Toronto (www.diplomatico.ca)
I know that picking a restaurant solely based on the quality of their French fries is a little nutty, but French fries are probably my most favourite things in the world next to weekend naps (but please, don’t make me choose between the two). Café Diplomatico offers the best French fries this side of little Italy – and at $2.25 per heaping side order, they’re simply too good (and economical) to pass up. Of course, this Italian eatery also serves other foods besides fries, like a considerable selection of grilled paninis, vegetarian pastas, and pizzas made to order (but frankly, I would stay away from their seafood selections, unless you like dry salmon served with frozen vegetables). The patio is a great place to lull away a lazy summer afternoon, but be prepared for a long wait on weekends.
Best Hot Wings: Duff’s Famous Wings
♦ Various locations (www.duffsfamouswings.ca)
I’m not much of a spicy food fan, but I know how the power of a good, zesty wing can bring even the toughest man to his knees. That’s why Duff’s is the place to go when you have an annoying friend who claims that he’s immune to spicy foods, because a bite of the Armageddon wing will separate the talkers from the doers. There’s a reason why the menu warns that “medium” is “hot,” and that “hot” is “very, very hot,” and why there’s a level before Armageddon called “death” – Duff doesn’t play around with its wings, and if you’re in the mood for some spicy action (or some honey garlic action, which is what I order because I can’t hang in the kitchen), take a trip to your local Duff’s.
Best Oxtail: Albert’s Real Jamaican Food
♦ Various locations (www.albertsrealjamaicanfood.com)
It was years ago that I fell in love with Albert and all the delicious oxtail he could offer, and it still remains my go-to place when I crave oxtail. With succulent, aromatic meat that falls off the bone, accompanied with mounds of rice and peas and creamy coleslaw, a meal at Albert’s is a meal to die for. Sure, for the price of a meal plus drink you could be catching the latest Will Smith blockbuster, but the oxtail is worth every penny. Also addictive are the crispy dumplings, which are great for a snack. And for one dollar a pop, you won’t be going broke satisfying your hunger.
Best Moroccan: The Sultan’s Tent
♦ 49 Front Street East (www.thesultanstent.com)
The Sultan’s Tent holds many distinctions. First, it’s one of the few authentic Moroccan restaurants in Toronto; and second, it’s the only one that offers live belly dancing with your meal. Watching the show is a treat in of itself, but the food is pretty good, too. With a prix fixe menu, novices like me can have a little taste of everything, although finishing the four-course meal can get a little overwhelming at times. The chicken and glazed salmon will always hold beautiful memories for me, but it’s the braised lamb that has my heart, as well as the aromatic mint tea served with dessert. Café Moroc, which sits at the front room of The Sultan’s Tent, offers menu items à la carte, and holds much more variety for the adventurous.
Best Steak: The Keg
♦ Various locations (www.kegsteakhouse.com)
I’ve had many conversations with many different people about steak (in fact, it’s one of my pick-up lines), and opinions about The Keg vary from the enthused (“love it!”) to the blasé (“it’s all right, if you like that sort of thing”). I find that I have more in common with the former than the latter, because I love The Keg. As far as steak joints go, you could go to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or Harbour Sixty if you’ve just been promoted and feel like spending half your salary in one night, or you could go to The Keg, have a satisfying, relaxed meal with friends, and go home with nary a dent in your wallet. The Keg, like Swiss Chalet, knows its stuff, and with affordable prices, quality steaks, a varied menu, and desserts to lust after, this is the place to be. Top of the list includes the always perfect and juicy prime rib, but if you like your steak to slap you around a little and make you call it your daddy, the New York or rib eye steaks are also great selections.
Best Wine Bar: Carens Wine and Cheese Bar
♦ 158 Cumberland Street, Toronto, (www.carenswineandcheese.com)
With its quaint storefront patio, understated European décor, and friendly staff, Carens is a small lounge nestled in Yorkville that belies its ostentatious neighbourhood. The menu is slim pickings and will leave you starving after the main, but that’s not what Carens is about. Rather, with its great selection of wine and cheese spreads, this is a cozy date spot that will be sure to impress. On wintry summer nights, Carens offers warm fleece blankets on the patio, and romantic candlelit tables to keep the conversations going well into the night. Sure, you could hang out at Sassafraz or Remy’s instead and be “seen,” but at Carens, you’ll always be the star of the night.
Close Runner Up: Crush Wine Bar, 455 King Street West, Toronto (www.crushwinebar.com)