Toronto’s diverse culinary scene offers international dishes that warm you from the inside.
Robust flavours, creamy sauces, hearty soups, gooey cheeses, fried foods, rich curries—these are a few things I look forward to during cozy season. As the cooler weather rolls in, I find myself craving dishes that warm me up from the inside.
Fortunately, Toronto restaurants have comfort food down to a science. The best part? They offer an international variety. From steamy pho to spice-filled curries, chefs across the city line their menus with traditional eats and authentic flavours that will help you thaw AND virtually escape through your palate. Ready to feast? Read on.
You could probably spend the entire winter navigating the curry scene here in Toronto. Indian, Japanese, Malaysian, Thai, Sri Lankan, Jamaican—the list goes on and on. One thing they all have in common? These deeply layered dishes will hit the spot on chilly days. Here’s one of my favourite spots.
This Thai restaurant is one of my favourite restaurants in the city. Authentic flavours, friendly staff and food made with heart are what keep me going back time and time again. Expect fresh ingredients, curry pastes made from scratch and expertly-balanced dishes.
What to order: There are three heavenly curries on Chef Nuit’s menu: Gaeng Kiaw Wan (green curry), Gaeng Massaman with Braised Beef (massaman curry) and Gaeng Panang (red curry). All are outstanding, but it’s the vibrant Panang curry that instantly transports me to Thailand on a cold day.
Mouthwatering Jerk Chicken
Slow-smoked tender chicken coated with spice (usually pimento and scotch bonnet) served on hard-dough bread or with a side of rice and peas. Drooling yet? Home to a vibrant Jamaican community, Toronto is dotted with restaurants serving up authentic jerk worth lining up for. Trust me, these spots don’t mess around and are held to high standards by fellow Jamaicans so your stomach is in good hands. Everyone has their favourite Jamaican cuisine spot, but here’s the one I go to in my neighbourhood (the Danforth).
Unapologetic in its flavour, the jerk here has just the right amount of kick for my taste buds. The chicken is always juicy and the portions are generous.
What to order: Jerk chicken with rice and peas.
Warm Bowl of Pho
There’s nothing quite like a bowl of piping hot pho when the temperatures drop. The Vietnamese soup is usually made with a clear beef or chicken broth, slippery rice noodles and thinly sliced beef. Pho is meant to be slurped while hot and is truly soul-warming. For the best of the best downtown, head to Ossington and try a bowl from two long-term rivals (Golden Turtle and Pho Tien Thahn) to determine who reigns supreme in your books. For me, it’s the latter.
This popular cash-only spot has the best pho broth I’ve had in the city. Service is fast and it’s about as casual as it gets, but the pho is excellent and has a devout following.
What to order: phố đặc biệt (pho with braised brisket)
Much like curry, this aromatic rice dish can be prepared in countless different ways. Found on menus at most Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan restaurants in Toronto, biryani is satisfying comfort food on cold nights. Popular spots include Banjara and Lahore Tikka House, but I encourage you to venture to lesser-known restaurants to try their recipes as well. Here’s one of my favourite spots.
Located in midtown, this restaurant serves up authentic, homestyle Indian food with a contemporary twist. The kitchen is incredibly passionate so you’re bound to be fed well. Their slow-cooked biryani is both colourful and flavourful.
What to order: Pretty much everything on the menu can be filed under delicious comfort food, but it’s the Dum Biryani that impressed me the most.
Toronto had a bit of a southern barbecue boom a few years ago resulting in dozens of drool-worthy BBQ joints. So, whether you’re into the saucy or the strictly rubbed, there’s a spot for you! Here’s one of my favourite Texas BBQ spots in the city.
These guys are passionate about central Texas BBQ and focus on serving up high-quality smoked meats rubbed with spices. They’re known for their ribs and brisket, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The pitmaster is from Dallas so you’re getting the real deal here.
What to order: The Austin Sandwich (tender brisket drizzled with BBQ sauce and topped with a pork rib) or the Family Cookout (brisket, ribs, sausage, turkey etc.) for those nights when you’re hibernating with the family.
Essentially a walnut, chicken and pomegranate stew, this is a hearty Iranian dish that I grew up on. It’s rich, textured and packed with flavour. Believe me, if you’re chilly, this dish will warm you up from the inside. While many Iranian restaurants have fesenjoon on their menus (especially in Richmond Hill and North York where there are thriving Iranian communities), I often find myself craving a bowl from this downtown restaurant.
This College Street gem goes beyond kebabs and serves a diverse range of Iranian cuisine (most of which hold comfort food status). Their food is always fresh, fragrant and authentic.
What to order: The chicken fesenjoon is my go-to, but you can also have it made with mushrooms for a vegan version.
Ooey Gooey Mac & Cheese
Warm, creamy, cheesy goodness. Is it just me, or is mac & cheese the ultimate comfort food? Often craved on the coldest of nights, I find that oozing cheese always hits the spot. The toughest part is deciding whether to go the classic or extra indulgent route. Yup, across the city you’ll find mac & cheese topped with everything from saucy pulled pork and pancetta to chunks of lobster and curry. Here’s my favourite spot in Toronto.
Tucked away in a shack (literally) off the trendy Ossington strip, these guys are the King/Queen of mac & cheese in my books. The noodles are cooked perfectly, the sauce is velvety and their toppings are next-level.
What to order: Everything. Try it all. The Carbonara (topped with pancetta, Grana Padano and egg yolk) and the Pulled Pork (smoked pork shoulder with a slightly sweet BBQ sauce) are two of my faves. There are a couple of Muskoka chairs outside the shack in case you can’t wait to devour your mac and cheese.
Chilly temps have your teeth chattering? Dive into a warm bowl of this Japanese noodle soup and commence your thaw. A combination of broth, noodles and toppings (that range from fatty slices of pork to seaweed), this is comfort food that will soothe the soul. Popular spots include Sansotei Ramen, Ryus Noodle Bar and Nobuya (for those in Etobicoke), but it’s the ramen at Konjiki that has me going back for more.
With locations in North York and downtown, these guys have quite a loyal following across the GTA. And for good reason. They’re serious about ramen and are meticulous about every element—from the flour used in their noodles to the complex layers that make up their soup/broth. Authentic flavours await!
What to order: Spicy Red Tonkotsu Ramen (a pork bone soup base with chashu, red chilli oil, marinated ground pork, beans, beef, braised bamboo shoot, spring onion and leek).
Perhaps the most Canadian of Canadian dishes, the gravy-drenched mound of goodness holds a special place in the hearts of many. Where do they serve the best? Well, that’s hotly debated and depends on your personal preferences, but there are a few that consistently land on must-eat lists. Sadly the much-loved Poutini’s has permanently closed, but you can still satisfy your cravings at spots like Leslieville Pumps, Smoke’s Poutinerie, Chris Jerk and Nom Nom Nom Poutine. Here’s the one that’s currently at the top of my list.
Most locals head to Rudy’s for their epic burgers, but those who’ve tried the poutine will argue it’s one of the best in the city. The classic, Quebec-style poutine is kept simple here: thick fries, squeaky cheese curds and a rich gravy that will surprise you (it’s vegetarian and made with soy, onion and beets)!
What to order: There’s only one poutine on the menu, but make sure to add a Rude Dude double cheeseburger to your order to get a true taste of the restaurant.
Also read: Best Spots for an Order-In Midnight Snack
Lasagna is Italian comfort food that we do really really well in Toronto. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find locals who can agree on the best. From the makers of fresh pasta at Famiglia Baldassarre (follow them on Instagram for weekly pasta drops) to neighbourhood favourites like Sugo, I’m certain you’ll find a lasagna that will have your taste buds doing a happy dance.
On the coldest of days, escape to the bright and airy La Palma in the city’s west end. While the California-inspired decor elevates your mood (think: big windows and a coastal colour palette), indulge in a comforting Italian dish like Cacio E Pepe or Potato Pizza to help you thaw.
What to order: The 100-layer lasagna is a must. Meticulously made and rested overnight, the lasagna is based on Chef Harding’s nonna’s recipe so you’re getting the real deal here. Best part? They fry it in olive oil which results in the dreamiest Parmigiano-Reggiano crust. Trust me, you want a piece of this.