Whenever someone asks me where to go if they’re in town for a weekend in Toronto, I always recommend Kensington Market. It’s hard not to be charmed by the “Kensington” sign spelt out in bicycle chains at the foot of College and Augusta that welcomes you into this laid-back yet vibrant world of fruit markets, specialty food shops, vintage clothing boutiques, and a new crop of restaurants and bars.
You may have to dig a little deeper to find these places but they are there and they have heart. It’s Ossie who has been the cornerstone of Casa Acoreana at the corner of Baldwin and Augusta for over 40 years. You don’t just go to buy nuts. You go to see his familiar face, to sit on a stool, have a straightforward cup of java and watch from this coveted perch. It’s the quirkiness of the restaurant, Hungary Thai, because where else in the world could you laugh over a combo of Schnitzel and Pad Thai? It’s as ubiquitous as the mixed prints you’ll find passersby wearing as they crowd the streets and roads, strolling by on their bikes or skateboards.
From its first incarnation as a Jewish community in the ‘20s and ‘30s to its concentration of Latin American grocery stores, empanada and churro stalls in the early Millennium and now Instagram-worthy bars and restaurants, Kensington Market has evolved but never lost its soul. I encourage you to crisscross the streets without abandon; to say hi to the shop owners and to find somewhere to observe and take in the atmosphere of the market bustle that I hope will never change.
1. Courage My Love is the vintage mainstay of the market on Kensington Ave. Fashion Editors covet the one-of-a-kind apparel, accessories, and DIY jewellery pieces.
2. Jen Agg of The Black Hoof empire has created the perfect little wine bar in Grey Gardens that feels like visiting a friend’s place who has really good taste in food, wine and decor. Complete with tropical bathroom wallpaper, naturally.
3. The $5 SoCal tacos at Seven Lives contend for the city’s best, if only for the signature Baja Fish and Gobernador (smoked tuna, shrimp, and cheese).
4. Global Cheese and Blackbird Baking Co. are your pit stops if you want to feel like a Parisian and make a picnic to eat in the market or en route to a destination like the Toronto Islands.
5. Sanagan’s Meat Locker is the new(er) butcher on the Baldwin block known for their quality sourced meats. Grab a deli sandwich to go.
6. El Rey is your introduction to the world of mezcal and agave cocktails. Ideal for day drinking and people watching at the sprawling outdoor picnic tables. Tostadas, empanadas, and tostones complete the experience
7. The Swedish term for “coffee break,” Fika is the ideal, cozy spot for one even though it is the Lavender White Hot Chocolate that’s put them on the Kensington Market Map. A great place to channel the Nordic “hygge,” work, or catch up with a friend.
8. The graffiti spotting opportunities in Kensington Market are endless but it’s the Alphonse Mucha mural at the southwest corner of Augusta and Oxford that’s a defining feature of the street and a good photo opportunity.