Due North
July 12, 2010 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Toronto! So MeFites helped make my vacations to London and San Francisco amazing, maybe I can score a hat trick?

We'll be there from August 5 through 9, and have been to the city twice before for conventions but this is the first time we've had time to explore. Items already on our list include the Bata Shoe Museum, Kensington and St. Lawrence Markets, and a nice bunch of divey bars. We're also planning on goth night at Neutral for Friday. Staying at the Residence Inn downtown.

Specific questions:

Food: I know about poutine, but when else does Toronto have that's unique or better than other places? We're especially interested in seafood/sushi, European-style pastry, and dim sum.

Beer: What not-available-in-the-US brands should we keep an eye out for? Mr. Arkham is a fan of dark stouts, and I like red lagers and fruit lambics. Local is good. Weird is good.

Shopping: We plan on hitting Queen Street, are there any other areas with unusual boutique-type stores worth checking out?

Transit: Any tips or tricks to navigating? Are taxis easy to get? We will have our car (driving up) but would like to use it as little as possible.

Sekrit Local Knowledge: Anything else we should be aware of?
posted by JoanArkham to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I would highly recommend a trip to the Distillery District. Fun shops run by local artisans and a large central patio where you can enjoy many delicious local beers from Mill Street. I like the Coffee Porter.

I'd also recommend getting TTC day passes (good for unlimited travel on the weekend and holidays) for your transit needs. Take the King streetcar to get to the Distillery.
posted by Go Banana at 9:58 AM on July 12, 2010

For food-related questions, start to scope out Chowhound and the reviews on BlogTO and Now Magazine (take those with a large grain of salt, you never know which reviewers are 19 year old university students just trying to make the $10 / post or whatever).

If you have time, try to plan a meetup towards the beginning of your trip - the TO mefites are the best (no false modesty here) and if you have conversations about what you like there will certainly be a slew of recommendations (our own Jacquilynne is a pretty serious foodie and knows everything. Same goes for Dirtynumbangelboy).

Beer: just go in and find out what's on tap. Recommending beers to Americans is a losing game because you never know what people like until they try it. When I moved here I liked Amber Bock and Yuengling. Now I like Creemore and Mill Street Tankhouse and Organic. I still don't know shit about beer. Fruity beers like St. Ambroise Apricot and Amsterdam Raspberry Wheat are pretty great. There are places like the Rhino where you can try any of hundreds of beers. Just ask for a half pint to start.

Other than Poutine (Poutini's is waaaay better than Smokes, btw), I would read up on Chowhound re: dim sum, my only advice is just go crazy early (10am). Sushi in Toronto can be plentiful and mediocre. Don't eat Mexican or Thai food unless you get a specific recommendation, this is the number 1 mistake my visiting friends have made and complained about ad infinitum ("Isn't Mexican food a no-brainer, always?" No, buddy, this ain't California).

There's so many cultures and restaurants that you can have a little bit of everything which is the delightful bit. There's no signature thing other than maybe grilled street meat with olives and such. Go to City Hall and try the chip wagon fries. Go to brunch - brunch is huge. Easy Breakfast or Saving Gigi/Saving Grace or Mitzi's/Mitzi's Sister or Utopia. Go to Tacos El Asador for Salvadoran food. Definitely go to Roncesvalles and go to Cafe Polonez for some Polish food. Definitely go to Chitos near Lansdowne for pizza with shawarma on top (make sure you get the sauce, too).

Taxis are more plentiful here than anywhere I've been, unless you're in the boonies, then just call a cab (put a few cab companies numbers in your phone, they're all the same so don't overthink it). If you can rent a bike and not be intimidated by city traffic, do it. If you want to walk, do it - just google maps plan it first (the city is very spread out, you can walk hours and still be in the downtown core). Get a TTC weekly pass, or a day pass (you can share it between 2 adults on weekends). Try not to drive, parking is a big time pain. For boutique stores, Start in Queen west at Roncesvalles and follow the antique stores and galleries to Ossington. Go up Ossington and check out more trendy stuff. Eat pizza at Libretto or stop into Sweaty Betty's (or 10,000 other places) for a drink. If you're looking for the bathroom note that in Toronto, 9/10, it will be in the basement. You're welcome.

My #1 recommendation is to go find a fruit market in Chinatown, buy a bunch of ripe fruit, hoof it over to the Grange Park or to Trinity Bellwoods (the better of the two times a million) or across the ferry to Toronto Island (beats both parks times a billion) and get some weed, chill out on the grass eating ripe fruit and listening to tunes. This is the best thing you can do in Toronto in August. Toronto in August is better than Toronto basically any other time (other than the heat / need to shower so much because no one has air conditioning).

Feel free to Memail me. Have fun! Hope the weather holds out for you.
posted by SassHat at 10:09 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

For dim sum, go to Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant.
For beer, look for Amsterdam or Mill St.
For shopping, it depends on what you're looking for. For antiques and mid-century furniture, check out the area along Queen and Roncesvales, or along King East (around jarvis) or Queen East. For vintage clothing, go to Kensington. For higher end fashion (or to window shop and go for lunch) head to Yorkville.
Transit - no real tips/tricks. The TTC is very straightforward, although pretty expensive (a one way fare is $3). Taxis are easy to just flag down on the street. Downtown is also compact enough to be really walkable.
Other random things:
Go to the Distillery District to check out little boutiques, super old architecture, have a fantastic coffee at Balzac's, and a pint at the Mill St Brewpub.
Go to Ossington st for the latest/greatest in bars/restaurants.
Go up to the north suburbs to Pacific Mall for the modern version of chinatown, and for the most authentic chinese food you'll find.
Pick up a free copy of Now to find out about events and restaurants and stuff.
posted by Kololo at 10:10 AM on July 12, 2010


C'est What
Smokeless Joe's
Only Cafe
Victory Cafe

Granite (requires use of car)
C'est What
Mill Street

Probably in that order.
posted by sid at 10:12 AM on July 12, 2010

It looks like the Festival of Beers and Taste of the Danforth will be on while you're here. No advice for the Beer festival (I have friends who go every year & enjoy it), but if you do go to the Danforth, be prepared for LOTS of people. I don't usually go to TotD any more because it's just too crowded for me.
Check out Koreatown, at Bloor between Bathurst & Christie. There are a few places there for great Korean BBQ (don't go to the all you can eat places outside of koreatown - I've never had a good meal at any of them). My favourite is Korean Village. There are some fun Korean bars in the area as well.
For dim sum, I like Sky Dragon, which has the cart service and is a better experience than Bright Pearl, but Bright Pearl is a favourite among Torontonians. Also popular is Rol San, but I've found the quality has declined recently.
posted by nprigoda at 10:15 AM on July 12, 2010

Little India on Gerrard St. East can be nice place to walk around on a summer evening. Take the ferry to theToronto Islands where you can wander around all the cute cottage neighbourhoods, beaches, boardwalk and a really swell children's amusement park. The Rectory is a nice restaurant just off the boardwalk.

If it's raining, the recently re-jigged Art Gallery of Ontario has lots of great new stuff (including an amazing collection of model ships in the basement). The Gardiner Ceramics Museum is small but has a cool collection of Pre-Columbian art and some fine 18th c. Italian and German figurines.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:48 AM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! Not picking favorites since this is all good info. I'm definitely going to ask about food on Chowhound, but I like to see what Metafilter thinks as well. :)
posted by JoanArkham at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2010

The TTC is straightforward if you're using an unlimited pass (daily/weekly/monthly). If you're using a token or cash fare, you'll probably need a transfer (especially since you're downtown), and you can run into trouble if you aren't intimately familiar with how transfers work.

You probably want a day pass, (especially on Saturday and Sunday, when one pass can be used by two people traveling together)—it's exactly the price of four tokens. The downside of a day pass is that you can enter the subway only at a staffed entrance, because it's just a piece of paper.

I strongly recommend against driving downtown. If you're driving up here, you'll see what I mean by the time you get to your hotel.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:21 AM on July 12, 2010

Toronto is a great city, but it's great in a peculiar way -- what it lacks in Signature Touristy Things it makes up for (imho) in a million great neighborhoods, mostly walkable or TTC-able, with a million different personalities and wonderful quirks. It rewards wandering.

You can probably see that in the replies so far. People are telling you to go to Kensington or Koreatown or Chinatown or Ossington or wherever -- and yeah, all these places are cool for their own reasons, either just in terms of general vibe or because they have great restaurants or great bars or whatever, but part of what's cool is seeing the contrasts between all these neighborhoods, walking four or five blocks and being in what seems like a different corner of the world. So walk around. A lot. You could start a day with dim sum in Chinatown, then walk through the markets there and end up (having walked North on, say, Spadina) on College St -- maybe check out out U. Toronto for architecture? or have lunch -- depending on day -- at the Gallery Grill in Hart House? Then you could stroll west, then south again through kensington market; then go west on Queen St. for shopping, boutiques; etc; eventually wander up Ossington for a drink (and maybe dinner at Libretto's? though the wait there is getting a little silly); then head back east through Little Italy (College St, again) -- the patios will be overflowing with people till late into the night. Maybe end up with a drink at one of the many, many bars there -- or, if you're looking for something more upscale, there's a speakeasy-esque bar (Toronto Temperance Society) that just opened on that stretch (which is members-only, but I bet you could call them and explain you're visiting from out of town & would like to check them out...).

The day after that would be a good candidate for going to St Lawrence Market, picking up some picnic materials, and heading to the Island. You can rent a bicycle-built-for-two and wander around, or just find a quite place (or a spot on the beach) and relax.

There are other interesting neighborhoods east of downtown, too. Leslieville, or the Greek stuff on the Danforth, or the Beaches (by, um, the beaches) all have their charms.

Other misc. stuff from your question:

beer: for Canadian brews, go to C'est What, as sid mentioned. Some of the other places (Beer Bistro, Volo, Smokeless Joe's) have somewhat better selections overall (lots of imports), but C'est What has probably the best selection of local taps downtown. Imho, the state of microbrewing in Ontario (or at least Toronto) is still not all that great; there is more stuff being made in Quebec, but most of it is hard to get here (though I think LCBO may have started carrying Dieu du Ciel beers, some of which are superb). But Mill St, Granite, Durham, etc are all making a few things worth checking out.

transit: taxis are insanely plentiful, but crazy expensive. I now routinely marvel at how cheap taxis are in basically every other city on earth, by comparison. Base rate is $4.00 and it escalates rapidly. TTC is, fortunately, pretty good; second the recommendation for a day pass, especially on the weekends when one roundtrip (for two people) is enough to pay for it. Driving here is a recipe for madness; don't do it.

Have fun!
posted by chalkbored at 11:59 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was a recent post on travelling to Toronto. I remember because I suggested Lai Wah Heen. Someone at the New York Times said it was the best restaurant for dim sum in North America. I went once and enjoyed it more than a couple dim sum restaurants I tried in San Francisco. Those restaurants were also highly rated, so I think Lai Wah Heen is pretty special.
posted by stuart_s at 12:32 PM on July 12, 2010

Aug 7th at neutral is Neurodance - not so much goth as EBM/industrial, but it's packed, everyone is dancing and dressed up, and it's awesome fun. memail me if you'll be there, we can have a drink together!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:35 PM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone. I love the idea of exploring neighborhoods, it's one of my favorite things to do.

5_13_23_42_69_666: Is there any sort of schedule for Neutral posted anywhere? I can't find any info on it at all. I am meeting up with a local friend for clubbing, that's the only way I knew anything about it.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:04 AM on July 13, 2010

as far as I know, there's only a facebook page for neurodance, and venue listings at Eye and Now magazine. Check those closer to your arrival date to get the best info
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:13 PM on July 13, 2010

Response by poster: WHEW! Just got back and still recovering. Thanks to everyone for your advice. We ate (and drank!) very well, and took the streetcar just about everywhere...the day pass was perfect for us. (You were right about the expensive taxis.) We saw a lot, but missed a lot too so we'll be back for sure.

We liked C'est What for beers, and had a really amazing final night dinner at Sidecar. We were then allowed up to the Toronto Temperance Society as guest and OMG it was a one-of-a-kind experience. Seriously, if I lived in TO I would have bought a membership on the spot.

Thanks again everyone, and I hope I can repay your good advice if you ever venture down to DC.
posted by JoanArkham at 7:04 AM on August 10, 2010

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