Eat + Drink

Spice Fix: Where to Find Toronto’s Most Authentic Ethnic Eats

Are you craving spicy Indian chana masala or a steaming dish of Korean bibimbap? Thankfully, you’re in Toronto, which means you’re just steps away from authentic ethnic eats. The Canadian city is home to an extensive immigrant population and welcomes travelers from every corner of the globe. The result? The world’s most enticing flavors are always within arm’s reach.

“The global ethnic food scene is rooted in the people of Toronto and [in] the fact that this is the most diverse city in the world, with fully half the population born in another country,” says Andrew Weir of Tourism Toronto. This means the Chinese dumplings you sample, or the roti you bought from a foreign-born street vendor, will rival anything you’d find in their country of origin.

“You find vigorous expression of their home cultures through food as well as a richly collaborative spirit among the chefs that combine flavors and styles from home to create dishes that are entirely new — and entirely Toronto,” adds Weir.

The city is home to five Chinatowns, three Little Italies, a Koreatown, a Little India and a Little Manila. Though Toronto may not always be acclaimed as a culinary leader like New York City or Paris are, foodies know it’s the place to be for multicultural eats.

Arrive hungry and check out a sampling of the city’s best cuisines, from Chinese, Korean and Indian to Ethiopian, Italian and Polish (and more).

Jamaican

In the mood for some island food in a lively atmosphere? Try The Real Jerk on Gerrard Street. Rihanna fans may recognize the spot from her music video for “Work Work Work,” but locals know it as a comfortable spot for good Jamaican jerk chicken and other Caribbean dishes.

Ed and Lily Pottinger own the business, which has a second location in the Beaches neighborhood. You can chow down on fried plantains or oxtail soup before working it off on their dance floor like Rihanna and Drake.

Mexican

If you’re craving fresh salsa and burritos, take a stroll to Kensington Market and seek out El Trompo on Augusta Avenue. El Trompo started out as a storefront selling Mexican spices and transformed into a taqueria and local gem.

This Mexican eatery is lodged between two storefronts, and it has a patch of sidewalk patio for outdoor dining on warm summer days and nights. Still, diners should step inside for a blast of Mexican kitsch.

The modest-sized restaurant has primary-colored wood seats, Spanish artifacts lining the walls and a bright yellow bar to sidle up to for margaritas and tacos.

Vegetarian/Bakery

toronto restaurants
Vegans, rejoice! Wanda’s has your dietary needs covered. (Photo: courtesy of Wanda’s Pie in the Sky)

Travel a little farther down Augusta Avenue and you’ll find a restaurant perfect for a vegetarian with a sweet tooth. Wanda’s Pie in the Sky is a hipster hangout with a slew of vegetarian dishes on the menu, including veggie burgers, soups and pierogies.

The main attraction here is the pie, with more than 30 choices to tantalize the taste buds. The six-layer rainbow cake is a must — for the Instagram shots alone. If you’re still hungry, try Canadian treats like butter tarts and date squares.

Korean

Koreatown is on a wide downtown street and looks like any other Toronto neighborhood — except for telltale Korean storefront signs and a smattering of Asian products for sale. Go to Bloor Street West between Bathurst and Christie streets to reach the neighborhood’s hub.

First, make your way to Korean Village Restaurant, which gives visitors a taste of celebrity and history. With a guest list including Jackie Chan, this family-run business dates back 38 years, and owner Ok Re Lee plays host. Try the seafood noodle soup, bibimbap or Korean barbecue.

Newbie Tofu Village attracts a mix of locals and visitors with 20 types of tofu soup and eight pancake varieties, including oyster and kimchi.

Indian

If Mumbai street food is calling you, then Bombay Street Food is the spot to go. Opened in 2014 as a pop-up food stall, it’s since moved into permanent digs on Bay Street. The sisters-in-law who run the shop use 100-percent halal meat and offer your favorite chai and extensive vegetarian choices.

Side dishes include potato vada, a spicy Indian version of potato fritters, or the more traditional daal chawal, a rice dish made with red lentils and basmati rice.

Polish

Want a taste of pierogies done right? Check out Café Polonez on Roncesvalles Avenue in the heart of Toronto’s Polish community. Locals regularly make the pilgrimage to this charming spot thanks to its tasty, traditional fare and warm service. The restaurant has been open for more than 30 years and dishes out the city’s best cabbage rolls, red borscht and beef goulash.

Italian

toronto restaurants
This family-run favorite is an institution in Toronto. (Photo: courtesy of Café Diplomatico)

End your tour of Toronto’s ethnic fare in Little Italy, which stretches between Bathurst Street and Ossington Avenue on College Street. Grab an espresso or Italian dessert at Café Diplomatico. Nicknamed “the Dip,” it opened in 1968, as evidenced by the well-worn tables and decor. But the scene inside is always bustling, and service is friendly.

A local favorite, the family-run, beloved institution is a prime location to unwind after dinner and people watch. Sit on the expansive patio and watch revelers stroll past on their way to nearby nightclubs and other restaurants.

Ethiopian

The family-owned Lalibela restaurant serves Ethiopian favorites like lamb, chicken and vegetarian options at midrange prices in a friendly atmosphere. Try authentic injera bread and traditional spiced stews — both will give you the comfort you crave.

Chinese

No food aficionado comes to T.O. without checking out Chinatown. At the corner of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street, you’ll find dim sum, barbecue and dumplings made to perfection.

Head to Rol San (323 Spadina Ave.), which specializes in dim sum and late-night eating for those looking to nosh at 2 a.m. The restaurant’s simple decor belies its ample varieties of dim sum. Reports of patrons lining up and packing the joint are not exaggerated. You’ll find basics like spring rolls, shrimp dumplings, roast-pork buns and everything in between.

King’s Noodle is the go-to spot for barbecue, and you’ll find the requisite barbecued duck hanging in the window. But also try this Cantonese restaurant’s wonton noodle soup, hot & sour soup and seafood noodle soup.