Belly up to this east-end neighbourhood for these sweet and spicy must-try dishes.

For South Asians, food nourishes in multiple ways: it’s a prayer, a ritual, and an accessory to life’s small and big milestones. The dozen or so restaurants dotting Gerrard Street East’s Little India strip (aka Gerrard India Bazaar), between Coxwell and Greenwood avenues, are a testament to this cultural legacy. 

Whether you’re looking to graze at multiple spots or settle down for a long meal, here are the 10 must-try dishes.

The dish: paneer kathi roll

Crumbled paneer (Indian cottage cheese), onions and tomatoes are tossed in a wok with a medley of spices and then wrapped snugly inside a warm, thin tortilla. This will hit all the right notes on your palate. 

Where to order it: Bombay Chowpatty

The dish: chole bhature (aka chana bhatura)

This quintessential comfort food of chickpea curry (known as chole masala or chana masala) simmered in a rich sauce of red onions, ginger, garlic and tomatoes, and flavoured with such spices as cinnamon, anise seeds, fennel, pomegranate seeds, cardamom, cloves and more, has a perfect dance partner — bhatura, a puffed deep-fried bread made with flour and yogurt (and sometimes yeast). 

Where to order it: Motimahal

The dish: chicken tikka

When the restaurant is bold enough to plant tikka in its name, one can assume their signature dish most likely delivers. Pieces of chicken are marinated with yogurt and tandoori masala spices before being grilled just so in the tandoor oven. That first bite of chicken tikka scooped up with a piece of garlic naan will likely explode into gastronomic delight as it touches your lips. 

Where to order it: Naan Karahi & BBQ

The dish: karahi lamb 

A kadai (or karahi) is a deep wok. It’s used to create this dish, in which soft and tender chunks of marinated lamb are cooked in a spicy gravy of onions and tomatoes. The succulent lamb morsels are not overwhelmed by the spices but complement each other. In South Asia, lamb curry is called mutton curry. Traditionally, you’d ditch the utensils, grab that meaty bone with your fingers and free the marrow. Typically eaten with rice, roti or naan. 

Where to order it: Naan Karahi & BBQ

The dish: non-veg or veg thali (combo)

Thali translates as “plate.” Feast on a platter of meat and vegetable dishes served with roti, rice and dessert. Thali offers the best bang for your restaurant buck: you’ll sample chicken and lamb curries, plus a vegetable and paneer dish. A vegetarian thali combo typically features three plant-based dishes: a veggie korma (a gravy dish made with a paste of coconut, nuts and spices), saag paneer (spinach with fresh paneer cheese), as well as other seasonal vegetables.

Where to order it: Udupi Palace

The drink: mango lassi

A perennial fave. This yogurt drink, blended with sugar and mango purée, can be a gratifying choice with street food. Besides satisfying the taste buds, lassi can help alleviate the aftereffects of a hearty East Indian meal, especially if you don’t have the stomach for spicy curries.

Where to order it: Gautama

The drink: masala tea (chai)

In the wintertime, when the air is chilly and our souls are craving warmth, a piping hot cup of chai is the antidote. Made with milk and sugar, chai has cardamom, ginger and other spices. Pairs well with a good book. Wraps around you like a parka.

Where to order it: Bombay Chowpatty

The dish: rasmalai 

A classic Indian dessert made with clotted cream, sugar and milk. Spongy discs of cottage cheese are served in a base of thick, sweet milk and garnished with pistachios and saffron.

Where to order it: Gautama

The dish: kulfi

It may be an easier sell in summer, but this sweet ice cream (traditionally served on a stick) is equally delicious in winter. Available in many flavours like malai (clotted cream), mango and pistachio, this condensed milk-based treat is worth making room for before heading back out to take in the city lights.

Where to order it: Lahore Chaat & Desi Burger House

The dish: paan (sweet)

Paan is an after-meal treat consisting of a mixture of candied fennel, dried coconut, preserved rose petals and an assortment of sugary ingredients, all tucked within a slightly pungent-tasting betel leaf. It helps digest the meal and serves as a mouth freshener, too.

Where to order it: Lahore Chaat & Desi Burger House


Getting to Little India:

Take the Line 2 Bloor-Danforth subway line to Coxwell station, then catch the 22 Coxwell bus southbound to Gerrard Street East.

Or take the 506 Carlton streetcar to Greenwood Avenue.