Toronto is a city of food pockets: areas, neighbourhoods and microhoods where certain kinds of restaurants have collected over the years.
Sometimes it’s regional or national cuisines, like subcontinental or Korean, and sometimes is more a style of food, like street food, vegan, or the city’s famous food courts. They’re good to know about any time, but during the pandemic, it can be fun to head out on foot, on a bike, or by car to one of these neighbourhoods, both to get out of the house, and open up your takeout repertoire.
Sometimes called Old Chinatown, this is where the Cantonese diaspora settled around the middle of the 20th century.
In addition to expanding with immigration patterns and adding a good deal of other regional cuisines, it’s become more of an Asiatown over the years, with Vietnamese and Korean restaurants wedging themselves in between the old classics like Rol San, House of Gourmet, New Sky, New Hong Fatt and Swatow.
Main intersection: Dundas and Spadina
Boundaries: Spadina and Bulwer (south); Spadina and College (north); Dundas and Augusta (West); Dundas and St. Patrick (east)
Though there are several other Chinatowns, this is the only other one within city limits. Like its Spadina counterpart, East Chinatown is really more Asian than strictly Chinese, with Vietnamese places outnumbering Chinese ones on certain blocks.
A little lower key, with a surprise Alsatian restaurant in the middle of it, East Chinatown has the great advantage of letting you get takeout to eat on the side of the big hill in Riverdale Park with the best view of the downtown skyline.
Main intersection: Broadview and Gerrard
Boundaries: Broadview and Simpson (north); Broadview and First Avenue (south); Broadview and Gerrard (west); Broadview and Pape (east)
Continue along Gerrard for a couple of kilometres and you’ll hit another pocket. Among Toronto’s best known food districts (alongside Chinatown and the Greek Danforth), Little India is once again a bit of a misnomer, not just a vibrant hub for Indian food.
It’s really subcontinental with Pakistani restaurants (like Lahore Tikka House) abounding. This is where you go to get your gold necklaces and your saris as well as your kulfi and paan. If you’re on your bike or in a car, park it: this is a walking kind of neighbourhood.
Main intersection: Gerrard and Hiawatha
Boundaries: Gerrard and Greenwood (west); Gerrard and Coxwell (east)
One of the oldest of Toronto’s food pockets, the Greek community has largely moved away from the Danforth, but many of the Greek restaurants have remained, though it’s culinarily much more diverse than it once was, it remains a food-centred neighbourhood, with dozens of non-Greek bistros, cafes, and bars.
Some of the classics include The Palace, Athena Bakery and Christina’s. At the beginning of every August, the strip is also the site of the Taste of the Danforth food festival.
Main intersection: Danforth and Pape
Boundaries: Pape and Sammon (north); Pape and Hazelwood (south); Danforth and Chester (west); Danforth and Langford (east)
The Middle East
Just as Greektown ends, the Middle East begins, with Afghani, Levantine, Pakistani, and other restaurants, mostly fast food, all halal, begin to appear, with a few Ethiopian places in there, as well.
The first one you’re likely to run into if you’re heading east along the Danforth is Makka, a Pakistani place across the street from the Medinah Masjid, one of two masjids within a couple of blocks that makes this part of town a centre for Muslim culture and activity. Madina Halal Pizza and Wings, and Cafe Tangiers are other popular spots.
Main intersection: Danforth and Greenwood
Boundaries: Danforth and Donlands (west); Danforth and Coxwell (east)
Tucked in the middle of the Middle East is a small concentration of Yemeni restaurants.
With more influences from India and Turkey than much of the rest of the region’s cuisine, Yemeni food is very much its own thing and you could certainly stop by Kabsa Mandi, Al Mandi, and Camel while you’re in the area.
Main intersection: Danforth and Monarch Park
Boundaries: Danforth and Pape (west); Danforth and Coxwell (east)
Little Lagos (Mt Dennis + Jane & Finch; see map)
There is Sub-Saharan food all over this city but there’s a particular concentration in two connected neighbourhoods, which are home to about 10 Nigerian restaurants, bars and lounges.
Suya Spot is named for the Nigerian meat skewers they specialize in, and try the waakye (rice and beans) with turkey at Panafest, a Ghanain spot in the middle of it all. You can order from all of them using Afritastes, but it may be more fun to take a trip to these sometimes overlooked parts of town.
Ethiopian (Bloor & Ossington + Danforth + Queen East)
Ethiopian food’s been popular in Toronto for decades, and that’s reflected in the depth of the scene, which goes from traditional and white-people-focused (Ethiopian House, which is actually all by itself near Yonge & Bloor) to modern takes on classic dishes (Nunu), with neighbourhood hangouts (Jolly Bar) and vegan-friendly (well, that’s all of them, but especially Selam).
Koreatown (Bloor & Christie + Yonge & Steeles)
In South Korea, restaurants have a great tendency to be extremely specialized. I’ve been to one that served only chicken livers, and another, nothing but pigs’ feet. We may get to the pigs’-feet stage of Korean culinary sophistication here in Toronto in the next decade or so, but for the moment, though we do have a cheese restaurant, a few tofu places, and quite a few braised or fried chicken places, most restaurants that serve Korean food have fairly broad menus, with an emphasis on pork, beef, and seafood.
Dip into either neighbourhood, browse the menus, and unless you’ve got food restrictions, maybe just order some untranslated item (i.e., something meant for the Korean-speaking crowd) and see how you like it.
Street food (Yonge & Gould + 707 Dundas West)
One-stop shops for half a dozen or more varieties of street food.