We’ve all heard the line before: Toronto is like a smaller, cleaner New York City. Sure, both cities have skyscrapers, subways and dirty water dogs on every corner. But the comparison falls short on so many levels. You see, Toronto doesn’t have to be like New York, or any other city for that matter. The capital of Ontario is a stand-alone city full of culture, natural beauty and lots of awesome food. The Niagara Peninsula is renowned for its agriculture — local farmers grow some of the best fruit in North America along the shores of Lake Ontario, shipping it to Toronto’s vibrant farmers markets, notably St. Lawrence Market. The large immigrant population also makes it a center for ethnic cuisine — Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with 49% of its population born abroad.
During a guest appearance on 30 Rock, a character played by Steve Martin says to Liz Lemon: “You can move to Canada with me. Toronto is like New York, but without all the stuff.” We beg to differ. While we could go on and on about the great city to America’s north, we had to cap this list of places to eat and drink at five. It’s a good starting place, that’s for sure.
1. Bar Isabel
Just last March Bar Isabel opened its doors on an unpretentious stretch of College Street in Little Italy. Since then, the restaurant has received rave reviews and the high-profile project from restaurateur Grant van Gameren (also of The Black Hoof) has become a city favorite. The Spanish-rooted menu serves classics from different regions of Spain. Popular items include the boquerones with jalapeños and piquillo peppers, the jamón ibérico and the whole grilled octopus. 797 College St. Toronto, ON. 416-532-2222
2. The Fish Store & YuNes’ Sandwiches
The Fish Shop is the kind of spot we look for in every city we visit. The restaurant is more of a tiny fish market that sells fresh fish right in the middle of the city. You can also point at any fish in the case and the husband and wife team will grill or fry it on the spot. Dishes include the daily market fish with a side of brown rice and simple avocado salad, a fish sandwich and grilled fish tacos. On a recent visit we opted for the shrimp burger, which would have easily cost four times what we paid for it ($5) at any other restaurant. Talk about bang for your buck. 657 College St. Toronto, ON. 416-533-2822
3. Bar Buca
Bar Buca is a spin-off of one of Toronto’s best Italian restaurants, Buca. The little sister is a more casual, all-day European-style cafeteria. It’s the type of place you go to for a breakfast cappuccino, a lunch sandwich or to grab dinner on the way home (or just to sit and eat at the bar, which closes at 2 a.m.), and still not get sick of the place or the food. The menu is divided into six sections: cicchetti (small plates), piatti freddi (cold plates), spuntini (hot plates), fritti (fried), schiacciata (stuffed focaccia) and spiedini (skewers). Naming a favorite is difficult, as everything we sampled was really good. Go here. 75 Portland St. Toronto, ON. 416-599-2822
4. Momofuku Noodle Bar
A list of where to eat in Toronto would not be complete without Momofuku. David Chang has six spots set up in the same building at the Shangri-La Hotel. The first floor is home to the Noodle Bar. Then there’s the Nikai, a bar and lounge located on the second floor; Daisho, which offers an à la carte menu; and Shoto, where diners can enjoy a multi-course tasting menu. There’s also a Milk Bar location on the second floor. Chang has been quoted as saying that opening three restaurants at the same time was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” It may have been one of the hardest, but it was also one of the greatest things that could have happened to Toronto’s dining scene. 160 University Ave. Toronto, ON. 647-253-8000
Korean-American restaurant Oddseoul is located on bustling Ossington St., and is the brainchild of Korean brothers Leemo (chef) and Leeto Han (bar manager). The brothers grew up grating daikon for their mother’s kimchi in their hometown of Philadelphia. When the two decided to set up shop, the result was a cross-pollination of Korean from their family’s original home in the southern province of Jeollanam-do and the Philly cheesesteaks they grew up eating. Standouts include the Korean army stew called budae jjigae, a dish that emerged from leftover U.S. army food following the Korean war, which includes traditional rice cakes, sausage and SPAM. 90 Ossington Ave. Toronto, ON
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