You don’t have to travel very far to enjoy the world’s cultural treasures.
Note: Please check current restrictions and what’s open before making plans. We recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm service and availability.
With international travel taking a backseat for now, it’s time to explore the world right in your own backyard. In a truly multicultural city like Toronto, you can. There’s no better place to start than within our city’s vibrant neighbourhoods, home to many ethnicities and their culinary talents.
From the islands of the Caribbean to the islands of Southeast Asia, here’s how you can staycation with a gastronomical twist.
It’s a no brainer that Toronto’s Chinatown is where you’d head to spend a Chinese-inspired outing. But in case you don’t know where to start, we suggest Rol San for one of the best dim sum experiences in the city. The dumplings are juicy and the price is right if you’re looking for an affordable staycation excursion. Afterwards, walk it off among Spadina’s Chinese-owned shops of fresh produce and imported goods, including Asian-inspired clothing and accessories.
Grilling season is all seasons in Little Portugal, especially at Bairrada Churrasqueira Grill on College. This family-owned staple has been a crowd pleaser since 1989, with meat lovers flocking in for slow-roasted pork, traditional Portuguese sausage and of course, BBQ chicken.
Get your fill of deliciously seasoned meats and head over to Saudade, an eye-pleasing boutique that specializes in Portuguese craftsmanship. Treat yourself to fine Mediterranean decor, gorgeous jewelry, delicious specialty foods and exclusive beauty products—all made in Portugal.
On Bloor West (near Christie Pits Park) you’ll discover a stretch of Korean-owned restaurants and shops stocked with imported gems—yes, we’re talking K-Beauty too. Begin your journey with spicy hot pots, fresh kimchi, bulgogi and more at Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu, a neighbourhood favourite. Then sing it off just down the street at Freezone Karaoke. Equipped with English and Asian pop hits, each karaoke room comes with a fully-stocked beer fridge to help warm up your vocal chords.
Wishing you were in Venice eating risotto? Little Portugal’s neighbouring Little Italy is lined with Toronto’s most authentic Italian restaurants and bars. Start off your Italo outing at Il Covo for seasonal Italian recipes and the best vino list in town. Headed by the same owners of Buca (named one of Canada’s 100 best restaurants), indulge in handmade pasta and an ambiance that feels like Northern Italy. If the evening’s still young, make your way down College Street past the Italian Walk of Fame to Birreria Volo—an Italian-style beer hall that not only serves specialty beer but sells it too!
Pencil in a sunny afternoon to land yourself in the colourful streets of Kensington Market. Your first stop, Seven Lives. Reminiscent of Mexican street food, Seven Lives serves up some of the best and most fully loaded tacos in Toronto. You may have to line up but it’s totally worth the wait. Wash it down with tropical Mezcal and tequila-based cocktails at El Rey Mezcal Bar. Catch some rays on their huge patio, sip on a tangy margarita and pretend you’re in Riviera Maya.
The Distillery Historic District’s Victorian charm and likeness to an old European town will inspire you to live la vie en rose—even if just for an afternoon. Don your Parisian-inspired outfit and catwalk the cobblestone streets to Cluny Bistro. From French-inspired decor to fresh ingredients and exquisite service, you’ll feel like you’re having lunch in Montmartre.
Top it off with a walk through the Distillery District’s art galleries before making your way up to St. Lawrence Market. Shop the selection of French cheeses, patés and classic baguettes to continue your French staycation at home.
Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood is ripe with cultural gems. Begin your Carribean evening at Patois, an iconic haunt for Jamaican soul food and all-around good vibes. With tropical inspired decor and cocktails, trick your Instagram followers into thinking you’ve escaped to the tropics. Extend your Carribean staycay just down the street at Rhum Corner (it’s one of the stops in Samira Wiley’s Guide to Toronto), a Haitian-inspired bar and restaurant where the atmosphere is just as soulful as the rum-based cocktails. Both of these spots serve delicious eats, so you may want to stagger your hunger throughout the evening.
Build up an appetite and take a trip to the Danforth, aka Greektown. Located in the east end of the city, this neighbourhood houses Toronto’s large Greek community promising authentic culinary experiences. Mezes, a popular local haunt—it’s recommended you take reservations—promises just that. Enjoy traditional Greek staples like fresh tzatziki, hummus and pita, alongside seafood and meat platters, within an old-school Mediterranean setting. Save room for dessert and take a walk down to Akropolis Pastries for some of the best honey-soaked Baklava.
Parkdale, also unofficially known as Little Tibet, has the largest concentration of Tibetans outside of Asia. For this reason, you’ll find some of the best Tibetan restaurants, markets and shops. One of Parkdale’s best-kept secrets happens to be Loga’s Corner. Unassuming and easy-to-miss, this family-owned restaurant is a favourite among neighbourhood residents and with good reason. Incredibly affordable and freshly made, Loga’s Corner has perfected the art of Momos and parathas.
Continue your neighbourhood excursion through Queen Street’s fascinating, Tibetan-owned shops. Explore window after window displaying vibrantly coloured robes, hand-crafted singing bowls and artisanal jewelry.
Formerly known as little Poland, Roncesvalles Village buzzes with Polish dwellers, food markets, restaurants and bakeries. Walk the charming stretch of locally-owned businesses and century-old buildings before arriving at Café Polonez. Browse an extensive menu of old-school Eastern European dishes and make sure to try the pierogies. They’re known to be the best in the city.
Later on, head down to Benna’s Bakery & Deli for European snacks and goods, cured meats, Polish pastries and sauerkraut. You can’t buy these imports at your regular convenience store, so stock up and add a little bit of Poland to your pantry.
Among many things, Leslieville houses the Gerrard India Bazaar, a lively strip of Indian-owned shops, restaurants and other varied businesses. Also referred to as Little India, this enclave is North America’s largest South Asian marketplace.
There’s much to see and taste here, so carefully plan out your outing to truly appreciate the bazaar’s rich offerings. Partake in an organized Gerrard East Food Tour, or even plan out your own. The community also curates Art + Culture Walks that explore the neighbourhood’s colourful murals, galleries and art studios.
West Queen West is predominantly known for its trendy clothing and furniture stores, but it also houses wonderful Japanese experiences. Cherry blossoms aside—we’ll save those for spring—Sanko is a prime locale to kick off your Japanese jaunt.
You can’t miss this iconic food and gift shop, amplified by its anime-style exterior (aka The Japantown mural) and iconic bubble-letter sign. Inside you’ll discover shelves of ramen noodles, matcha-flavoured sweets, gorgeous tea sets and imported Sashimi knives (for you chefs out there).
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make your way to Zakkushi for Japanese Yakitori. The warm ambiance is reminiscent of authentic Japanese Izakayas with a broad menu that also includes noodles, sashimi and a large beer selection.
Sharing is caring in Ethiopian food culture—the portions are big and meant to be enjoyed communally. Most importantly, you eat with your (very clean) hands. It’s how it’s done at Ethiopian House. Head to this friendly location for your taste of fresh Injera bread and deliciously seasoned sharing platters. Try the traditional coffee ceremony that comes complete with incense and warm Ethiopian hospitality.
Round off your experience with a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum, just a ten-minute walk away. Explore the Galleries of Africa Collection, offering a comprehensive look into the ancient Nubian civilization that included modern day Egypt, North Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia.