Every year, I try to write a little something for TCAFers from out of town and give food recommendations. This year, I’m listing neighbourhoods in order of what I’m guessing will appeal most to out of town TCAFers who are arriving early or sticking around. i.e., everything on this list is artsy and affordable. NOTE: I haven’t listed much east of Yonge Street and north of Bloor Street because I am largely ignorant of establishments there. Suggestions are welcome!
Yorkville (Bloor to Scollard/Avenue to Yonge) $$-$$$$ is first only because you’re already there. This is Toronto’s most chichi hood with the greatest concentration of luxury retailers and spas than anywhere else in the city.
- SKIP: Normally, I’d say give the ROM a pass because its main exhibits have devolved over the years into kiddie fare or spectacles of artifacts with little in the way of education. However, its smaller exhibits do tend to be better and this year, the tattoo exhibit and Japanese prints of wakushu look promising. They also throw a good shindig Friday nights with good DJs and food vendors for $12/head. Get tickets online because the lineups can snake almost all the way down to Queen’s Park.
- TRY: Page & Panel, obvi. The Japan Foundation Toronto Gallery. Koerner Hall is a beautiful venue if you’re into classical/world music and last I checked, they do rush tickets.
- EAT: Yorkville restaurants are overpriced and don’t represent the city’s best. Read this post for recommended food runs.
The Annex (Dupont to College/Bathurst to St. George) $-$$ places second because of The Beguiling! There are also a lot of cultural spaces here like the Bata Shoe Museum, the Native Canadian Centre Toronto, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and Lee’s Palace.
- SKIP: The cheap ass sushi. Some things should not be discounted.
- TRY: The Beguiling is a must. In addition to being the institution that TCAF grew from, it is the best comic book store for the weird, the wonderful, the grotesque. It has mini comics, zines, foreign language comics and a knowledgeable staff to guide you through it all. The Toronto Zine Library in the Tranzac (open Sundays). BMV for cheap remainder books.
- EAT: Skip the frat-aged crowds and head south to Harbord Street which has excellent options available at all price points. DT Bistro (Indochine dessert heaven), Bampot (tea house with board games), Flip Toss & Thai (verrrry cheap) and Harbord House (friendly gastropub) can accomodate walk-ins. Almond Butterfly makes an excellent lava cake for those with gluten free diets.
Kensington Market (College to Dundas/Spadina to Bathurst) $ is one of the densest areas when it comes to culture but you need to give yourself time to explore every nook and cranny. Best times to visit are weekend afternoons and dive bars/event spaces in the evenings.
- SKIP: 420 dispensaries. There are easier ways to go about this.
- TRY: Souvenir shopping for local crafts and goods. The vintage shopping here might appeal to some TCAFers as well. Good Egg has the best selection of food journals and cookbooks in the city as well as a small but excellently curated fiction section. Indie art venues like Studio 223A, Double Double Land and Videofag for indie music/theatre on the cheap. Kid Icarus for all things letterpress.
- EAT: Follow your nose. There’s all kinds of specialty food places like a kombucha tea brewery, a Japanese crepe house, a Berliner donair place that also serves currywurst. Many restaurants have patios. Sanagan’s for a meaty sandwich on the run. If you’re vegan, Hibiscus is the best. For a lovely café, Fika. If you’re really cheaping out, Moonbeam. There are also plenty late-night/24 hour dine-in joints in the vicinity to grab a bite to eat.
Queen West has become heavily gentrified over the years, pushing everything west, so West Queen West (Queen/Spadina to Dufferin) $-$$$$ is where the action is. It’s also my favourite hood for people watching.
- SKIP: Anything east of Spadina.
- TRY: Indie fashion, vintage and designer consignment shopping is excellent along the entire strip to Dufferin although it’s on the pricier end. TYPE Books is a great generalist bookstore with tons of Canadian content. (Yeah, I know I just sounded like the CRTC.) There are many small galleries like Stephen Bulger and Graven Feather studio. Come As You Are is a female/queer friendly sex-store that carries some books and zines (shameless plug, pun unintended: read Milkweed Zine!). Start your barhopping at The Drake Hotel which is having a free Guy Maddin exhibit for you collage art zinesters. TCAFers into burlesque should check out Dolly Berlin who hosts a burlesque show on Sundays at Cherry Cola, no cover.
- EAT: Nadege is expensive but if you love macarons, they are legendary. Sweet Olenka’s (also in Kensington) and Kekou Gelato for icecream, vegan options available at the former. Chelo & Co. for affordable Iranian stews. A lot of great mid-range restaurants here.
College West/Little Italy (College/Spadina to Ossington) $$-$$$ is worth a stroll, especially if you’re already visiting Kensington. A good day would be an afternoon in Chinatown and Kensington, heading west on College for dinner and then heading south and barhopping /clubbing about Ossington (below).
- TRY: Vinyl shopping. Smiling Buddha has live indie acts and a great night crowd. There’s also the TOT cat cafe.
- EAT: Ryoji Okinawan izakaya will take walk ins and serves damn good ramen. Caplansky’s Deli is an old stalwart.
Dundas West/Little Portugal/Junction (Dundas/Spadina to Roncesvalles) $$-$$$ is a little sleepier than Queen or Ossington but every time I visit this area it gets more interesting.
- TRY: AGO is the major art institution in town; check out The Outsiders exhibit if you like photography. There are also a lot of little galleries like Narwhal running west of Bathurst to as far as Dufferin and especially in the Junction triangle which will bring you up to Dupont. Art Metropole sells comics and zines. Monkey’s Paw has an unusual selection of OOP/antique books. Milk Glass hosts good art events.
- EAT: The Goods is vegan and totally delicious. Get take out and head down to Trinity-Bellwoods Park for a picnic. If you get lucky, you might spot Toronto’s unoffical mascot, the albino squirrel.
Toronto’s Chinatown (Dundas to College/Spadina to St. George) $ is not a tourist trap, nor is it stuck in time – there are thriving Chinese markets here as well as some artists’ studios.
- SKIP: Bootleg DVD stores.
- TRY: All manner of Asian fruits/snacks. Asian/Korean cosmetics and illegal circle lens at Beautyholic. The cheapest clothes you will ever buy and cheap souvenirs. Really cheap printing for last minute TCAF tablers.
- EAT: One hour Cafeteria and Stay Cafeteria are both cheap, filling and delicious. Baldwin St. has a lot of great, affordable restaurants (skip Kinton Ramen, try Ryus Noodle Bar) and if Kekou Gelato is open for the season, it’s not only delicious, the staff plow through the long lines with deadly efficiency.
Ossington (Dundas to Queen/Ossington to Dovercourt) $$-$$$ aka hipster paradise. Ossington and WQW are both hipper than thou. The difference is Ossington pretends that it’s too cool for everything whereas WQW is like, it takes effort to look this good, bitches.
- SKIP: The lineup to Bang Bang Icecream. Like everyone does ice cream sandwiches now.
- TRY: Vintage clothing shopping and bar-hopping.
- EAT: Bellwoods Brewery is Toronto’s top craft beer brewery. There’s also a bottle shop. Golden Turtle (pho) for a cheap bite.
The Village (Carlton/Yonge to Jarvis) $$ has gentrified a fair bit and the past few years have seen a lot of long-standing LGBTQ institutions shut down while more queer parties are popping up in the west end. Still, community pillars like the 519 are still around.
- TRY: The Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives has a library full of rare materials and a free exhibit. Oasis Aqualounge sex club is basically where sexual deviancy in the city converges. Lucky you, they reno’d last year and their newcomers event is on Saturday. Black Eagle if the old guard is more your scene – I believe there’s even a men’s-only area.
- EAT: I can’t even remember the last time I ate out east of Yonge.
Little Korea/Bloordale (Bloor/Bathurst to Dufferin) $ is pretty chill and predominantly Korean from Bathurst to Christie although the best Korean food is uptown around Finch subway station.
- TRY: All the little stationary stores. Buy enough washi tape to hold your entire life together. Head further west to Holy Oak for a queer friendly bar that sometimes has live guests.
- EAT: Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu is very cheap, efficient and filling. If you get in early enough, Nazareth for the best Ethiopian in town. Apiecalypse Now for vegan pizza or treats with a side of radical animal rights (don’t worry, they’re not scary).
Yonge/Dundas $-$$$$ is tourist central packed to the gills with big box stores. Despite this, you can still check out the last vestiges of Yonge Street’s seedier side if that’s your bag. There are peep shows and nudie shows still running just north of Dundas.
- SKIP: Those Uncle Tetsu cheesecakes a block west are not worth the insane lineups.
- TRY: Ryerson Image Centre has a number of free photography exhibits. Head a little north for the Glad Day Bookstore the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookshop.
- EAT: This is franchise central. Head a bit north for Santosei Ramen.
The Waterfront (Queen’s Quay/Bay to Spadina) $ has some great programming but it’s not fully up and running until summer kicks in.
- SKIP: CN Tower.
- TRY: The Power Plant Gallery. The Museum of Inuit Art which will close May 30 😦
- EAT: This area is way overpriced. Walk up to Queen.
Check out the TIFF Lightbox (do not eat around here. LUMA is decent but $$$), Design eXchange and CONTACT Photo Festival listings for easy, artsy things to do. Oh, and here’s a map of the city’s bookstores. If you’re a local and have some suggestions, please feel free to add a comment ❤