What's the best Toronto can offer a couple this weekend?
August 20, 2009 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Romantic getaway this weekend in Toronto, staying at Sutton Place Hotel near university. What's the coolest stuff to do relatively nearby when we're outside the room?

We'll be in Friday night and Saturday. Can you help us pick the best Toronto has to offer within walking distance, or 20-30 minutes by public transportation? (Anonymous because it's a surprise.)

Particular interests:

Good ethnic eats. Recommendations for nearest good Chinese, including must-hit Chinatown dumpling shop, or other great cheap ethnic food? Arab, Indian, Asian, what have you?

Value dining. Not the most expensive restaurants in town, but one where you can have a fine romantic meal without getting skinned.

Gardens. Botanical, hobbyist, public, what have you.

Waterfront attractions. Looks like there's lots to do along the waterfront. Which places have something particularly interesting this weekend? Are there any boat tours you'd recommend?

And anything else you want to suggest. Thank you kindly.
posted by anonymous to Shopping (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Under the category of value dining/ethnic eats... you could try Ethiopian House on Yonge at Irwin (just south of Bloor).
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:16 AM on August 20, 2009

Allan Gardens is a wonderful 100 year old domed greenhouse at the corner of Gerrard and Pembroke. On Saturday morning, have breakfast and then walk east on Wellesley and turn south on Homewood.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2009

For the waterfront, check out the wave decks.

For general attractions, I'd suggest the Bata Shoe Museum or the Textile Museum of Canada (both way cooler than they sound).
posted by onshi at 7:33 AM on August 20, 2009

The Dumpling House near Spadina and Dundas is great, but they have had rat problems in the past. I still go there, but YRTMV. Mother's Dumplings is even tinier, but there are no rodent reports (that I know of), it's on the south edge of the U of T campus, and lots of people love it.
posted by maudlin at 7:41 AM on August 20, 2009

(Well, far south edge of campus -- Huron and Dundas, but it's still walking distance.)
posted by maudlin at 7:42 AM on August 20, 2009

The best Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Indian/any ethnicity food is in the suburbs, but there are a lot of great places downtown.

Lai Wah Heen in the Metropolitan Hotel (near City Hall) has excellent dim sum. They don't have carts; you write down your orders. A bit pricey, but worth it in my opinion.

In Chinatown proper (Spadina/Dundas) my favorite buns place is Chinese Traditional Buns just west of Spadina on Dundas. Unlike most of the Chinese restaurants in the city, this one focuses mainly on Northern-style food. Try their Kaifeng soup-filled buns and the Tianjin "goubuli" buns. They have dumplings and noodle dishes here as well.

For barbecued duck, cha siu pork, wonton noodles, etc. try King's Noodle (Spadina/Dundas) or Kom Jug Yuen (a bit north of Dundas). There's also a good deal of Vietnamese sandwich shops and pho places around this area, as well as some cheaper dim sum places. There is one with carts which I forget the name of - it's in a really big building right at Spadina and Dundas. I don't remember the food being that great but it's a fun experience.

If you like lobster, there are a whole bunch of restaurants on Baldwin street offering double lobster specials for around $30. Try the black bean lobster at Hua Sang.

Not Chinese, but also on Baldwin street is Mata Hari grill, a nice Malaysian place. I always get the mee goreng (Malaysian-Indian curry fried noodles) and the appetizer platter to share.

For Japanese, there are a ton of indistinguishable cheap sushi places around the city, but one of the best sushi restaurants in downtown is Japango on Elizabeth just south of Dundas. Make a reservation as their seating is quite limited. They offer omakase, a several-course meal where you leave the selection up to the chef - make sure to tell them in advance so they can prepare stuff. At $70+/head it's a bit pricey but I love the unpredictability. If you like Japanese-style Western food (e.g. croquettes, curry), try Tokyo Kitchen at Yonge and Charles.

For Korean, head to Koreatown on Bloor between Bathurst and Christie; Ka Chi is a neighborhood favorite for quick meals, and further down the street there's a pretty popular place that serves mainly soft tofu stews in stone bowls, with rice. It only has a Korean sign but there are always tons of people in there. My favorite Korean restaurant for nicer meals has to be Na Deul Mok, which is right on Christie, on the south side of Bloor. Everything I've ordered there has always been done well and they're generous with the side dishes. I would avoid the various Korean Grill House joints you see around the city, as well as the New Generation Grill.

In Koreatown there is a somewhat misplaced South Indian restaurant, Maroli, that serves great food and has a bunch of signs dissing its neighbor, KFC. Try asking for the pork vindaloo if it's still on the menu - they make the actual dish with vinegar + pork here.

Continuing west on Bloor past Koreatown and Christie Pitts park, there's a great dosa place called Madras Masala. Their Hyderabadi Biryani is also really good. Further down the street are a lot of Ethiopian restaurants; I've always gone to Lalibela, but if you want something closer, Sheba on College west of Spadina is good too.

Have fun and consider posting this question on the Ontario/Toronto board at Chowhound too. Thankfully the weather should be cooling down by the time you arrive.
posted by pravit at 8:01 AM on August 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

You should check out Lahore Tikka house (and little India while you're at it--Southeast Asian fest is this weekend). Subway south to College (or Queen's Park)--get a transfer when you get on--and then take the 506 College car (showing your transfer to the nice driver) east to Greenwood (on Gerrard). Stroll east and enjoy. If you're vegetarian, I recommend Udupi Palace too. Once you're in Little India, you can head south to the Beaches. Take the Coxwell bus south to the water. Lovely boardwalk strolling. Hope you have a great weekend!!
posted by Go Banana at 8:03 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

As for the waterfront, you can take a ferry out to the Toronto Islands for around $6/person. There isn't anything to do once you're there, but you get a great view of the skyscrapers downtown. Personally, I wouldn't bother if you only have 1-2 days here.
posted by pravit at 8:05 AM on August 20, 2009

in chinatown, on east side of spadina just north of dundas is a place with a yellow sign called swatow. everything is really good but the shrimp dumpling soup is super happy fun time fantastic!
posted by chasles at 8:17 AM on August 20, 2009

Pravit - have you had Japango omakase lately? It used to be my mainstay whenever I'd go to Toronto but since the old chef Bruce left I haven't found their food as exciting. Maybe his new Yuzu restaurant is worth checking out? They have an "Chef designed course meal" on their menu for $50.

Seconding Allan Gardens, and also recommending a stroll through Kensington Market (near Chinatown) - Jumbo Empanadas is a great place to have a little snack but there are lots of great small restaurants, bakeries, groceries, cheese shops, head shops, etc. Too bad you won't be there for Pedestrian Sundays.
posted by Gortuk at 8:18 AM on August 20, 2009

here's a link to swatow map:
google maps, swatow
posted by chasles at 8:18 AM on August 20, 2009

Oh, and one more comment - don't bother trying Thai food in Toronto as you'll be disappointed. With the city's diversity you'd think we'd have excellent Thai food here, but we don't. Every Thai restaurant I've tried here has been extremely inauthentic - think soggy sweet neon red pad thai. It seems Thai food here got inauthentic at some point and once it got popular, people came to expect it to taste like that.

To be fair, I had delivery from Sukhothai (in Cabbagetown) once and it was okay in the sense of not being completely inauthentic, but you'd find much better in other cities. Even Kingston has better Thai food than Toronto.
posted by pravit at 8:31 AM on August 20, 2009

"Allan Gardens is a wonderful 100 year old domed greenhouse at the corner of Gerrard and Pembroke. On Saturday morning, have breakfast and then walk east on Wellesley and turn south on Homewood."

While technically correct, the park containing Allan Gardens Conservatory is more often described as being located at College & Jarvis street.

In my experience, more locals will recognize this intersection - in case you get lost and need directions.

Also, to get there, I would walk east on Wellesley and turn south on Jarvis. This way, you get to walk by the architecturally beautiful National Ballet Academy.

Some great recommendations here!
posted by Apollo's Favorite Mistake at 10:50 AM on August 20, 2009

One of my favorite cheap ethnic restaurants -- though I won't make any claim for its authenticity -- is Yung Sing Pastry Shop on Baldwin street near McCaul. For $1, you get a bun filled with curried beef, or pork, or vegetables, or whatever. In fact, that whole block of Baldwin Street is a gem--lots of cheap food, and picturesque to boot.
posted by goingonit at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2009

Err, just to correct Apollo's correction, Allen Gardens is actually at Carlton & Jarvis, as College turns into Carlton east of Yonge...
posted by onshi at 10:58 AM on August 20, 2009

Ethnic eats: If you've never had okonomiyaki, head down to Okonomi House at Bay and Charles. So tasty and cheap. I'm going home this weekend and am thinking about it already, so you'll probably see me there. All my favourite dim sum places are definitely not in the city centre; but if you find yourself in Richmond Hill go to Ambassador Chinese Cuisine, it's worth going out there.

Random recommendation: Greg's Ice Cream for dessert! 750 Spadina (at Bloor). If you like roasted marshmallows, their roasted marshmallow ice cream is amazing. If you don't, the rest of their ice cream is fabulous too.
posted by ilana at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

For slightly more spendy Japanese fare, go to Kaiseki Sakura on Church, just north of Wellesley. Your mind: blown. Trust me.

For cheaper, go a few doors north to Slack's. Have the gazpacho (divine, and I hate gazpacho) and the duck and double smoked bacon sandwich. Your tastebuds will grovel in abject thanks.

For world-class eats at reasonable prices, Nota Bene (Queen West, just west of University, north side; ~10 min on TTC, get off at Osgoode) is run by chef David Lee, who also owns Splendido, which has been a mainstay of Toronto fine dining for ages. Romantic, spectacular menu, normal person prices.

For very spendy (and utterly fantastic) Bistro 990 on Bay, between Harbord and Bloor.

Avoid C5 at the ROM. The food is only good when they're catering private functions, in my experience.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:48 PM on August 20, 2009

Hippo bus! Unfortunately, you have to go all the way to the lake just to go by your hotel again, but it takes you into the water at Exhibition/Ontario Place. Which reminds me...

The Ex opens this weekend! Go win your SO a prize at the midway and eat Tiny Tom doughnuts while watching farm competitions/SuperDogs/Elvis Stojko figure skating/the parade.

High Park is kind of far, but not too bad by subway. Get yourself a picnic together and go see Shakespeare's The Tempest. Go EARLY, as in when they say the gates open. It fills up fast! I saw it a couple of weekends ago and it's a good show, and it's nice to watch the sun go down while watching a play outside. The weather looks OK on Saturday, but I don't know how late you're staying.
posted by cathoo at 8:05 PM on August 20, 2009

Oh! Following from Cathoo, there's a decently-reviewed production of Lear in Withrow Park on Sunday. Take the TTC to Chester Station. Turn right when you walk out, turn left at the lights, turn right at Logan until you reach the park.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:05 PM on August 20, 2009

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