“I have to come and see you“GOOD FRIENDS” – Joni Mitchell
maybe once or twice a year
I think nothing would suit me better
than some downtown atmosphere
In the dance halls and the galleries
Or betting in the OTB
Synchronized like magic
Good friends you and me”
When doing research for our trip, I found quite a few helpful resources, including the BlogTO YouTube channel and website itself. Their site features videos and stories of various Toronto restaurants throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and after maybe watching/reading a couple dozen of them, almost all featuring a different cuisine from Sri Lankan to Spanish, from Pakistani to Peruvian, and Guyanese to Greek, I thought to myself, “There’s no way we’ll ever hit up all of these on one visit, much less a dozen.”
Another hint at all you could eat here in Toronto came from the website Global Toronto Eats. While not the everything is top notch (if you take the article writer’s opinions at face value) the fact that it’s even present within the GTA speaks for the breadth of options you have here.
And our research revealed things that we didn’t have time to take advantage of: for example, starting this May, all of Toronto’s history museums are now offer free admission to all visitors. Popular attractions like the CN Tower, the Distillery District, the Toronto Islands, and the Bata Shoe Museum weren’t on our itinerary. The ethnic enclaves one can visit are many – along with the five Chinatowns scattered throughout the GTA, you have neighborhoods representing Korea, Italy, Portugal, Poland, and Malta among others. Brampton, where we ended up during our stay, has a substantial Indian and Sikh population, and plenty of malls and the like for exploring their culture.
With that said and without further ado, here’s what we did for fun and yums in the GTA.
ROGERS CENTRE & STEAMWHISTLE BREWING
Our Friday evening was essentially set from the initial planning – we would meet up with some relatives to watch Major League Baseball between the visiting Cleveland Guardians and the hometown Toronto Blue Jays.
One thing that was an issue was trying to buy tickets stateside for the game: neither the Ticketmaster app nor its website would allow the purchase of the tickets. Thankfully, the Blue Jays front office was more than happy to help, and got us the seats we wanted along the first base line.
Unsurprisingly, the pairing of Rogers Centre and the CN Tower make this area a natural attraction for tourists and locals alike. Many people make the $35 CAD/person trip up to the top until it’s closing time (10 PM), with a few heartier souls going in on the EdgeWalk, which tethers you such that you can hang precariously over the tower’s edge outside.
While newly announced renovations promise to make the experience a lot more intimate for fans, Rogers Centre is still one of the most attractive ballparks in the sport. The fans on this day proved fairly diehard for their team – despite the Jays falling substantially behind early, the atmosphere never really went dead as happens often, and every hit starting with star Vladimir Guerrero’s double (the only hit that Guardian’s starting pitcher Cal Quantrill gave up in 7 innings of work) was cheered loudly.
One of the more unique aspects of the ballpark involves food – outside food is allowed provided it’s packaged properly. Plenty of people brought in food, much of which provided by the numerous hot dog carts stationed around the stadium. Another option lies in a trifecta of sorts for the area: Steamwhistle Brewing, which lies just across the street from the stadium and shares space with the Toronto Railway Museum.
Housed in part of the original train station roundhouse on site plus historic train cars, Steamwhistle Brewing offers up its one and only beer (a Pilsner; other beer styles from other breweries are available) with an elevated pub fare menu. The Pilsner proved perfect on one of the warmest, sunniest days of our trip. Their food leans towards German Biergarten style fare, and we were both drawn to their take on a Filipino Longanisa. The sausage was more of a German Bratwurst with some Longanisa spicing – we happily scarfed it down, but we would’ve loved more of the pickled veg that came as a topping along with crispy rice noodles and a soy lechon sauce.
Steamwhistle Brewing: 255 Bremner Blvd, Toronto, ON M5V 3M9, Canada | Ph: (416) 362-2337 | Website: https://steamwhistle.ca | IG: steamwhistlebrewing
Toronto Blue Jays (Rogers Centre): 1 Blue Jays Way, Toronto, ON M5V 1J1, Canada | Ph: (416) 341-1000 | Website: https://www.mlb.com/bluejays | IG: bluejays
Continuing our historic house touring, Casa Loma packs a lot into its castle-like interior. Built in the 1910s by financier Sir Henry Pelatt, this fanciful Gothic Revival-style castle mansion actually sat vacant for years after the post-World War I depression in Canada forced Pelatt to leave his house in 1923. After a brief stint as a luxury hotel, the house was transformed into a tourist attraction by first the Kiwanis Club and, most recently, Liberty Entertainment.
Casa Loma isn’t the largest nor the most audacious historic home we’ve visited (those respective honors still belong to Hearst Castle and the Winchester Mystery House, both in California) but we found it a home that stretches out in surprising ways yet remains fairly practical (as wealthy people’s houses go, anyway.) With the house not fully built out, the third floor was transformed as a exhibit for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (a regiment which Palatt eventually commanded) as well as The Girl Guides, the UK’s version of the United States-based Girl Scouts.
The house gets more intriguing as you proceed higher and lower. If you don’t mind narrow, windy staircases and a slightly claustrophobic setting, the house allows you to access a couple of the house’s castle towers, offering you a great view of the Toronto skyline as well as a peek at the mechanics behind the house’s newest ventures in the form of themed escape rooms. Heading below, guests can access a tunnel that gets you across to the property where Palatt housed his gardens, horse stables, and auto collection. While in the tunnel, one can get a taste of Toronto’s darker past, with exhibits detailing events like the Great Toronto Fire of 1904 and its run in with various disease outbreaks from the 1910s and 1920s.
Unsurprisingly, this unique house has been used in numerous films and TV productions, including the X-Men movies, The Adventures of Scott Pilgrim, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Strange Brew.
Casa Loma: 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto, ON M5R 1X8, Canada | Ph: (416) 923-1171 | Website: https://casaloma.ca| IG: casalomatoronto
THE TORONTO ZOO
Located on the eastern outskirts of town, the Toronto Zoo offers a mix of the usual and not so usual (e.g. the two Mouflon pictured above, whose typical home is the Caspian region of the world from Turkey into Iran.) We found this zoo on the larger end of zoos (we didn’t even really get to see much of the Africa or native Canadian section before we had to get going) and hosts various hands-on kid-friendly exhibits and activities (some activities, such as their Tundra Air Ride and Gorilla Climb Ropes Course, are only open on the weekends.) If zoos are your thing and/or got children in tow, Toronto’s version will suit you perfectly.
Toronto Zoo: 2000 Meadowvale Rd, Toronto, ON M1B 5K7, Canada | Ph: (416) 392-5900 | Website: https://www.torontozoo.com| IG: thetorontozoo
Started as a spinoff of the Brooklyn, NY Flea Market in 2011, Smorgasburg touts itself as the “largest open-air food market in America” with a focus on local vendors and new concepts, featuring locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Jersey City, Los Angeles, and Miami.
Toronto’s version, which started this year along the city’s Waterfront, offers a great sampling of what this city has to offer, with numerous cuisines from all over the world and concepts available for the diner. In fact, this diversity makes it tough to choose, especially for a one-time visitor just like us.
After much debate, we ended up going pizza, with both an Armenian (Mamajoun) and Filipino (Saints Island Pies) twist, a unique coffee/calamansi bagged drink from Baker Rae, and some local chili crisp from CC Sauce. Our only regret was we didn’t each stash an extra stomach for this experience (or frankly, for all the other restaurants we wished we could try.)
Smorgasburg Toronto is scheduled to continue every Saturday along the waterfront through September 10. Vendors do change, so you may encounter someone entirely new depending on the week you go.
Smorgasburg Toronto: 7 Queens Quay E, Toronto, ON M5E 0A4, Canada | Website: https://www.smorgasburgtoronto.com| IG: smorgasburgtoronto
We skirted through numerous neighborhoods in Toronto, but Bloor Street’s Koreatown was the one we decided we would walk through. Frankly, we’ve done a poor job of including Korean restaurants on our past travels, and we weren’t going to miss out here.
Again, simply walking through the neighborhood proved to be half the fun, from the local corner markets to the plethora of restaurants that, like Smorgasburg, made it hard to choice. In the end, the warm weather made that decision for us, as we opted for Tofu Village – their advertised Cold Noodles (Naengmyeon) seemed perfect for my spouse, while their Pork Soon Tofu (which came out sizzling in a stone pot with an egg you cracked yourself) hit the spot for me. The tofu by itself, which came out in their banchan, was especially delicious.
We topped that off with some tea from nearby Real Fruit – the owner proved quite friendly and provided a lot of help for my spouse in choosing what she wanted. I’m a taro freak, but he suggested a taro-coconut combo that I really enjoyed. The shop’s homemade boba and jellies proved to be a lovely bonus.
Real Fruit Bubble Tea: 660 1/2 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6G 1K9, Canada | Ph: (888) 896-1829 | Website: https://realfruitbubbletea.com| IG: thetorontozoo
Tofu Village: 681 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6G 1L3, Canada | Ph: (647) 345-3836 | Website: http://www.tofuvillagetoronto.com| Yelp: Tofu Village – House of Soon Tofu
FOOD, FOOD, AND MORE FOOD
As hinted by Smorgasburg above, ethnic twists on the venerable pizza are abundant in the GTA, with Slice of the 6ix being one such vendor. The star item by far was their Samosas – we said we’ve never had a bad samosa anywhere, but these were a notch above. These substantial triangles remained crispy and held their rough crackly texture even a half-hour after we brought it to our hotel. They were so good, in fact, that we forgot about the chutneys included for dipping. The Piri Piri Chicken Pizza was no slouch either, and it also passed the cold pizza test (we had our leftovers for breakfast the next morning) just fine.
Asian malls are plentiful in my old haunting grounds (the San Francisco Bay Area.) The two we had marked for visiting in the Vaughn and Markham suburbs were due to close just as we got there, so we opted for the SkyCity Shopping Centre in Scarborough. In many ways, the setup reminded me of places like Milpitas, CA, where you’ll see newer complexes right next to older strip malls – SkyCity seemed to be a place for the younger folks to hang out late into the evening. Despite a higher concentration of tea/boba drink vendors, we located the perfect later evening lighter meal in Katsupan and their shokupan-bread sandwiches. Bonus: they did not skimp on their Togarashi Fries.
Non-egg-based breakfasts are always a challenge for us (my spouse has an egg allergy), but Galata’s Turkish Cafe’s morning offerings proved to be perfect solution. Their Turkish Breakfast (essentially, a Turkish-themed charcuterie board sans any meat) and Menemen (a traditional dish with scrambled eggs, various peppers, tomato sauce, and salt) is things we hope our we can see soon in Columbus at places like Tulip Cafe; also, we discovered that electric Turkish Coffee makers are actually a thing.
After visiting the Toronto Zoo, we were content to stop a fast food place and get on the road toward our next destination. However, you don’t need to twist our arms too hard to get us to stop a random Asian market advertising Filipino food inside. And that’s what we found inside the Fusion Market, which sported two turo-turo (point-point) style Filipino counters.
After taking a look at what this market had to offer compared to what we’ve seen in the States, we chose Tagpuan (a mini-chain with three locations in the GTA) and picked up a quartet of basics (Adobo, Menudo, Pancit, and Lumpia) from Tagpuan. I’ve heard a theory that many Filipinos are biased toward their family’s versions of dishes – if this is the case, I can safely say that Tagpuan’s versions remind me a lot of the versions my parents cooked regularly at home.
Galata Cafe: 5122 Dundas St W, Etobicoke, ON M9A 1C2, Canada | Ph: (647) 351-4888 | Website: https://galata.ca| IG: galata.cafe
Katsupan: 3262 Midland Ave E111, Scarborough, ON M1V 0C6, Canada | Ph: (416) 291-2348 | Website: https://www.katsupan.ca| IG: katsupan.to
Slice of the 6ix: 2960 Drew Rd Unit 137, Mississauga, ON L4T 0A5, Canada | Ph: (905) 671-9200 | Website: https://sliceofthe6ix.ca | IG: sliceofthe6ix
Tagpuan (inside Fusion Supermarket): 1150 Morningside Ave Suite 113, Scarborough, ON M1B 3A4, Canada | Ph: (416) 281-1222 | Website: https://www.tagpuantoronto.com/menu| IG: tagpuan.toronto
ODDS AND ENDS
We didn’t find anything as quirky as Columbus’s The Book Loft, but we found a couple bookstores to pick up some books in Bakka-Phoenix (focused mainly on Sci-Fiction and Fantasy literature) and Caversham Booksellers (which specializes in books and other publications on mental health.)
A nice couplet of activities in Downtown lies in Berczy Park, centered around a whimsical fountain by architect Claude Cormier featuring 27 life-size dog sculptures (and a couple of nonplussed cat sculptures, if you can find them.) Not too far away, the St. Lawrence Market, once named the best such market by National Geographic Magazine in 2012, offers visitors an experience not unlike what you might get at Cleveland’s West Side Market. Currently the north building of the market is undergoing renovation; the southern half sports the market’s vendors, with Arts at the Market events from May through October, and a farmers market from 5 AM through 3 PM on Saturdays.
Nova Pastry and Bakery in Mississauga perhaps represents how you can’t swing a hockey stick around the GTA and not hit a small strip of shops with a number of cuisines. In this case, this Portuguese bakery and market is smack dab inside a corner mall with an Italian pizzeria and a slew of Ukrainian shops (the next door and very striking St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church explains the latter here.) We only bought a couple of (very good) pastries as well as coffees to go; if nothing else, we’ve got more exploration (Portuguese and otherwise) on our mind the next time we visit.