Updated: Jan 24
WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU? Enjoying a little taste of a different country every month with 12 Toronto strolls around yummy destinations.
Toronto is the most diverse city in the world. More than half of its residents were not born in Canada, which means the city is a crossroads of cultures. And where there's culture, there's cuisine.
Here are twelve yummy experiences for your taste buds. They will help you discover unique flavours and textures, accessible in the big city. There are many more but I’ve selected these because they make me feel like a tourist in my own town, and their location allow for a cool stroll before or after your decadent treat.
If you are looking for a monthly reason to explore Toronto, here are suggestions to pair each month with a country. Have fun!
JANUARY in China
Mother's Dumplings in Chinatown (421 Spadina Avenue). This affordable restaurant is bigger than you think! You can watch people in the kitchen making the dumplings right in front of you. They offer a wide variety. Then, we get to stroll in the Chinatown, on Spadina south of College Street, and Dundas Street West to the AGO.
The district is always effervescent with its multiple small businesses. It is very popular with the Asian population, which gives it all the credibility it needs. The next Chinese New Year will take place on January 22, 2023, which should add to the ambiance.
FEBRUARY in Aboriginal Canada
The bison burger in a bannock bun at Tea N Bannock in Leslieville (1294 Gerrard Street East). You can’t miss the place, marked by a 3D sign of a cute teepee. There are many subtle details to observe in this small, unpretentious restaurant, such as their small grocery table, where you can get cedar tea. The menu is simple but unique, and it revolves a lot around bannock, a bread used in different forms depending on the need: in single slices as a side dish to the Three Sisters' soup (corn, beans and squash), in "buns" for their excellent bison burger, or fried for their sweet "bear paws”.
In February up to mid-March, you can skate on the ice trail in Greenwood Park, two minutes from the restaurant on Greenwood Avenue. Otherwise, you can explore the colourful Little Indian neighbourhood, which stretches eastbound along Gerrard Street, up to Coxwell.
MARCH in Spain
A paella from La Paella in Leslieville (1146 Queen Street East). This lovely neighbourhood restaurant didn't slow down during the pandemic, thanks to one of the most inviting sheltered and heated patios in town. It's not cheap, but really authentic and pretty. Note that the price of their paellas is for two people (they have several, including one vegetarian). You can see people working in the open kitchen. Be warned, it's best to call the restaurant to see if they accept reservations and to make sure they'll be able to prepare one of their paellas during your visit.
It's fun to wander around Leslieville, one of Toronto's most beloved neighbourhoods, but as a bonus in March, you can check out the outdoor installations of the Winter Stations exhibition, which runs from February 21 to March 31 in 2022 on Woodbine Beach, a 30-minute walk from the restaurant. These intriguing structures are erected around beach attendant stations.
APRIL in the Middle East
The delectable fries at Fet Zun's Za'atar on the edge of The Annex (252 Dupont Street, not far from the Dupont Metro station). Fet Zun means "fat son" in Yiddish. This cozy restaurant with its many nooks and crannies and large back patio offers a luxurious bohemian atmosphere that lends itself perfectly to fragrant dishes and shareable mezzes. The za'atar, a mixture of aromatic spices, gives an exquisite taste to their oven-baked fries.
You can then walk up Spadina Street north of Dupont to the Baldwin Steps in five minutes for a little cardio. From the top of these historic steps, which bring you closer to Casa Loma, there is a great view of Spadina as it descends into the center of town. You can explore for free the gardens of the historic Spadina House/Museum (285 Spadina Street), which are lovely in early spring.
MAY in Korea
Hodo Kwaja's walnut-shaped cupcakes in Koreatown (656 Bloor West St., not far from the Christie subway station). Hodo Kwaja means "walnut cake" in Korean. In this small and informal restaurant, we can watch them molding the filled cupcakes in front of our eyes. They are so cute. The place also serves Hotteok, a filled Korean pancake with a unique texture!
Koreatown is a mini neighbourhood that stretches from Christie to Bathurst on Bloor Street. The many signs with Korean, Chinese and other characters give the street a very exotic look. From the little bakery, it's only 10 minutes to the Butterfly Mural Alley (go west on Bloor, then down Grace Street to Harbord Street, where you take the alley down to the small Art Eggleton Park).
JUNE in Portugal
Caldense Bakery's "pastel de nata" in Little Portugal (1209 Dundas West). It's impossible to eat just one of the delectable Portuguese-style pastel tarts. Slightly springy on the outside, then melt-in-your-mouth... I like taking some to go, to be enjoyed in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, a 5-minute walk to the east.
Caldense has several bakeries in the city but this one is at the heart of Little Portugal, marked by roosters on the lamp posts. Around June 10, there is usually the popular Portugal Day Parade on Dundas in this neighbourhood. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it will take place in 2022.
JULY in Ethiopia
An "injera", giant salted pancake from Hirut in the eclectic East Danforth neighborhood (2050 Danforth Ave). This Ethiopian restaurant has done well during the pandemic thanks to its live shows and its small inviting terrace on the street. They serve portions of various dishes directly on a giant pancake, which is cut by hand and dipped in the food. A fun experience!
Hirut is just 200 meters from W Lynn Avenue, which runs down the side of lovely East Lynn Park. If you continue down this avenue, you'll reach a hidden ravine (Merrill Bridge Road Park) in less than 10 minutes, including a boardwalk that descends to Small's Creek. Metrolynx has sacrificed many trees in this ravine since my last visit. I’ve not gone yet to mourn the loss.
AUGUST in Pakistan
The "tandoori naans" at Lahore Tikka House in Little India (1365 Gerrard Street East). Everyone agrees that their naans, straight from their naan oven, are divine. These large flatbreads are the perfect companion to all the dishes (kebabs, tandoori chicken, rice, curry, etc.) offered in this large and intriguing looking restaurant. (This is apparently a restaurant that didn't get the permits to complete the construction of its second floor and got around the problem by installing a sort of souk-like terrace.)
At night, several nearby shop windows are full of multicoloured and gold embroidered saris. Many South Asian visitors enjoy the neighbourhood but they don't live there. Little India was born out of commercial circumstance in the 1970s, when an entrepreneur created the first Bollywood movie theatre in North America (now defunct) on Gerrard Street. The Indian and Pakistani population converged. Restaurants and businesses followed.
SEPTEMBER in Greece
Honey balls from Athens Pastries in Greektown (509 Danforth Avenue). The "loukoumathes" are a must when walking around Toronto's Greek neighbourhood. Biting into these little honey-soaked pastries is really addictive! They also sell excellent spanakopitas (spinach pies) and galaktobourekos (custard pie).
It's a simple restaurant where you can sit down but it's nicer to take the balls to go and enjoy them in Withrow Park, one of Toronto's beautiful parks (3 minutes away down Logan Avenue).
OCTOBER in Vietnam
Vietnamese coffee with eggs at Coffee Dak Lak in Kensington Market (283 College Street). This small, narrow restaurant with pretty dark decor serves a unique coffee. Blended with sweetened condensed milk and egg yolk for nearly 10 minutes, it gets so smooth, it’s a bit like drinking a cloud!
Dak Lak is on the northern edge of Toronto's most eclectic neighbourhood. Take a walk around the world in this enclave nestled between Spadina and Bathurst, south of College (especially eclectic around Baldwin Street). Kensington Avenue, which comes down from Baldwin, is a mecca for hand-picked vintage and second-hand clothing.
NOVEMBER in Italy
Eataly's huge indoor Italian market in Yorkville (55 Bloor Street West). Sure we could talk about the lively Little Italy neighbourhood, but on a cold November day, you'll greatly appreciate the warmth of Eataly. This concept first took shape in New York. Bloor Street provided the perfect space for the all-glass market that spans the block between Bay and Balmuto on the second floor of the Manulife Centre.
Eataly consists of numerous specialty counters: seafood, pizza, bakery, deli, chocolate, juxtaposed with restaurant sections. A large part of the floor is dedicated to their delicatessen market, full of mouth-watering Italian products.
You can then explore the ultra chic boutiques of Bloor Street as you head to the heart of Yorkville, with the beautiful park on Cumberland Street, just north of Bloor. This is one of Toronto's most upscale neighbourhoods. It is served by the Bay subway station.
DECEMBER in France
A croque-madame from in the historic Distillery District (35 Tank House Lane). French music usually spills from the outdoor speakers of this large restaurant, remarquable for its magnificent ceiling. Excellent French croissants and pastries are available in the adjoining bakery. When the restaurant offers its full table service menu, their croque-madame with julienne fries is a sure bet!
The advantage of visiting this neighbourhood in December is that it is immersed in the holiday spirit with its Christmas market, involving strolling choirs and temporary wooden huts. Add to that the pleasure of bamboozling around in the stores of the pedestrian district to do your Christmas shopping.
This post is a complement to local author Nathalie Prézeau's latest walking guide: Toronto BEST Urban Strolls available in Toronto’s major bookstores, on torontourbangems.com/shop and amazon.ca or indigo.ca. We also deliver or contact the author directly at email@example.com to arrange for a pick up with a discount at 299 Booth Avenue, in Leslieville.