Head to Eglinton Avenue West for a sampling of Toronto’s best island foods.
Jamaica has been good to me. The island has produced some of my best friends and is one of my favorite travel destinations. I even got married on a beach in St. Ann’s Bay, to my beautiful wife (who is, you guessed it: half Jamaican). But the thing I may love most about Jamaica—don’t tell my friends or my wife—is the fiery, spicy and rich food.
Thankfully I can sample the island’s culinary magic without leaving home. How so? By taking a trip along Eglinton West between Marlee Avenue and Keele Street, to the neighbourhood known as Little Jamaica.
Despite its name, it’s actually home to many cultures with a shared Toronto history, from its heyday as a reggae hotspot, to its wealth of Black-owned businesses. Be sure to check out the street art, including a mural of local community leader Ronald “Jimmy” Ashford Wisdom, which serves as a welcoming “hello” or a heartfelt “see you soon” depending on which direction you’re walking. Painted by artist Adrian Hayles, the unmissable piece lends to the neighbourhood's storied history. The artist’s other mural can be seen in Reggae Lane, named in honour of the area’s reggae history of musicians, studios and record stores, and featuring Bob Marley, Haile Selassie and the Lion of Judah.
The restaurants along the strip serve up delicacies from all over the Caribbean. Here are some of my favorite foods to eat in Little Jamaica.
Can’t-miss restaurant #1: Judy’s Island Grill for curry goat
Served on a bed of white rice with a side of veggies, curry goat is one of the most flavour-rich Caribbean dishes ever. Powered by scotch bonnet peppers, coconut milk and curry powder, this silky and spicy dish will leave your mouth watering after you finish eating it. I often add fried chicken to my order because as they say in Jamaica, “I’m cravin’.” 1720 Eglinton Ave. W.
Can’t-miss restaurant #2: Carib 21 for mac pie
I’ve been talking a lot about Jamaica in this article, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention the island where my family is from—Barbados—and its golden masterpiece, macaroni pie. Not familiar with “mac pie?” Think of a baked macaroni casserole, with gooey chunks of cheese and a baked breadcrumb topping. And since I cannot invite everyone over to my mom’s place to try the best mac pie ever, I strongly urge you to head over to Carib 21 for what comes in at an incredibly close second. 2039 Eglinton Ave. W.
Can’t-miss restaurant #3: Celebrity Pure Vegetarian Cuisine & Retail for vegan chicken drumsticks
Looking for vegan eats with a side of positive vibes? Then definitely add this spot to your Little Jamaica must-visit list. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a chance to chat with the enigmatic owner Sherlock Shepherd. Not only did I fall in love with his incredible outlook on life, but I also loved his meatless, “chicken lollipops.” These fun bites are super addictive. 1474 Eglinton Ave. W.
Can’t-miss restaurant #4: Tinnel’s for patties and coco bread
For many non-Caribbean folks, a Jamaican patty was probably their first taste of West Indian cuisine. But not all patties are created equal. Tinnel’s hot, fresh-baked, flaky patties fly out of this bakery/restaurant faster than you can say “coco bread.” Which is a reminder, don’t forget to get coco bread with your patty. 2517 Eglinton Ave. W.
Can’t-miss restaurant #5: Spence’s Bakery for oxtail and/or stew chicken with rice and peas
My biggest “problem” when ordering Caribbean food? It’s tough to decide on just one main. When I’m craving savoury, stick-to-your-ribs goodness, it usually comes down to oxtail or stew chicken. At Spence’s, both are rich, hearty meals, full of flavour and spices that meld with the coconut milk-infused rice and peas for an experience like no other. Pro Tip: get them both and order extra gravy. 1539 Eglinton Ave. W.
Getting to Little Jamaica
Take the Line 1 Yonge-University subway to Eglinton West station and walk west