Appetizer One: Updated Note, May 12, 2022:
I am on an airplane at this exact moment, and I can’t believe all that has happened since my first time compiling this document of my favourite restaurants and small shops in our city of Toronto. The Toronto restaurant scene has been resilient, inventive and persistent. I will continue to support them a lot this summer and moving forward, just as I know we did during the height of the Pandemic. Please enjoy my little preambles below where I indicate why I even began writing this post, and then the main course: my Toronto Must List for 2021-2022. I’ll continue to update this list as new places opens make sure to check back!
Appetizer Two: Updated Note, June 21, 2021:
As soon as we entered out third provincial lockdown this Spring of 2021, I knew I needed to write this post. I am a voice- albeit a small voice- and wanted to curate some of my favourite businesses to show them my support. (Okay, so my speaking voice is actually quite loud, but you know what I mean). Toronto had already been in lockdown for what seemed like months — oh wait, it was months– so nothing much had changed for us City Parents and privileged folks who work from home, however I knew what the extended lockdown meant to floundering small businesses. We’ve had the longest lockdown in North America, and quite possibly, the world.
And now it’s summertime: It felt like this day would never come; that we would never be emerging from a lockdown with hope. But I have it: cautious optimism, despite the knowledge of an incoming fourth wave. And I am going to hang on to it, because I can’t continue to live in a desperate fear. I did my part as a community member and citizen… and now it is time for our country’s small businesses to spread their wings and fly again.
If you can, support them. Tip your aestheticians, servers, drivers. Thank your pharmacists, health practitioners, grocers, gas station attendants. Smile at people. Let’s try to be better than we were before the pandemic. Let’s learn from it. Let’s move forward.
Salad Course: Original Intro, Written April 13, 2021:
As we enter our third lockdown in Toronto 13 months after the pandemic hit, I could say I am at a loss for words, but the thing is: I have alllll the words. I have all the thoughts, emotions, frustrations, empathy and mental health issues that so that many people across the world are experiencing. However, this post is not about me: it is about the small businesses in our local community who need our continuous support.
I wanted to create an up-to-date list of some of my favourite places around the city. I know I typically do a Toronto Food Guide, or a Toronto Brunch Guide, but obviously this year has been very different so it will be more of a How You Can Support Small Guide.
I am dividing this post into categories and I know I will miss incredible places, so please feel free to DM me or add your faves to the comments! These are a top-of-mind list (and mostly focused on the East End because that’s where we live) of places currently operating through these challenging times. Most of these businesses are in Toronto, but I am including a few other small business from Canada and US that I have found to be helpful during this time.
A few of the pictures I included here and on my Instagram are from my friends Julie and Ang’s stunning dress rental shop, Fitzroy Dress Rentals. Although they are based in Toronto, they ship all over Canada, are doing virtual fittings during the lockdown, and also have jewelry and masks for purchase. Ian and I did a date night recently where we dressed up for a Cityline TV segment featuring Fitzroy. I picked out some dresses from their easy-to-use website, Ian and I made cocktails with Empress 1906 gin, and we ordered paella from Labora downtown. It felt so surreal to get dressed up, wear heels, eat delicious food, and put makeup on again… all to have a date night in the house! But it was so much fun and I highly recommend it. It took us out of the present and transported us into a special evening that we all need right now!
We will get through this.
Small businesses: you are strong and have been adapting like you have never had to before. You continue to work, stay afloat, change. Hope is on the horizon, and hopefully you have felt your community’s love.
Sending all the health, love and positivity to you all. Happy eating, shopping and supporting local! And now… for the main course:
My (Big) Small Business Guide:
Coffee & Brunch, East End:
- Pomarosa – Coffee, arepas, takeout drink kids and empanadas. Pomarosa is owned by the kindest family and employees our favourite barista, Millie. Coxwell & Danforth.
- East Social Coffee Co (I believe this is the same owners as Square Boy!)
- Poured Coffee– This environmentally friendly coffee shop us BYOT- Bring Your Own Tumbler. And if you forget, like Ian and I have before, they let you borrow mugs! Poured also houses a store with a ton of great, sustainable, local products and gifts.
- Broadview Espresso
- Sidekick– This a fun place for comic book lovers and Marval fans too… they have tons of great graphic novels and comic books to browse! Click the link to check out their online store as well.
- Celena’s What doesn’t Celena’s have? Liquid sugar butter tarts, fresh bread and pastries made every morning and beautifully decorated cakes…. it’s all there. Actually, the only things they don’t have is oat or skim milk, haha.
- Cafe Cocoro (and they have awesome South Korean food and are so kind!)
- Zav– not only a coffee shop, but an art gallery too
- Unicorn Cafe (For Kids, Ube treats and Poke Bowl lovers!)
- Nut Bar (I know, I know, I am allergic to nuts. Burt their tonics with adaptogenic mushrooms are awesome!!!)
- Lazy Daisy
- Purple Penguin
- Bonjour Brioche
- Lady Marmalade
- Maha’s- best hummus in the city
- Now CLOSED: Nava Social-
Recently opened on King East by my friend Gabe (you may remember him as the Soho House coffee connoisseur), he created a beautiful, naturally-lit coffee shop at the outskirts of the canary district. The sources everything from African vanilla beans to strawberries and eggs from local Mennonite farms, and supports local by curating goods in his shop as well . Check them out!
- SideKick– for comic book lovers and coffee fans alike!
- Rooster Coffee House – Get the Hot Blondie and the dill + feta scone!
- Red Rocket– The “hot blondie” is my fave drink, and the dill scone is my favorite snack!
- Patisserie La Cigogne – Quality croissants and baked goods
- Pasaj- a Turkish delight! (And insanely beautiful inside)
- Tango Palace
- Nut Bar
Coffee & Bakery, West End:
- The Tampered Press– Owned by my friend Cait, their coffee divine and food (shout out to Momma E!) is freshly-baked and delish! And guess what? She also does local delivery, so you don’t even need to be in the west end!
- Manita– part market, part resto, this place is a golden find.
- Glory Hole Donuts (Original Location)
- Craig’s Cookies (Original Location)
- Cafe 23- serving. major Euro vibes, I loved discovering this place!
- Cops Donuts- can’t even describe the airy deliciousness of these donuts! You just HAVE to try them! Thanks to Shum and Jess S for the recommendation… they added a little sweetness to a sad day for my family.
- Sisters – brunch on Dundas
- Somun Superstar- the best Bosnian street food in the east end- for sure. If you have never had chevapi, you need to. NOW. They also have been voted some of the best pizza in TO. Located in The Beaches.
El Sazón de la Tia Flor]- The best tacos I have eaten in the city! My Mexican neighbours agree that these are authentic tacos and so, so yummy! East York.
Rhys – Ramen! Broaview and Danforth.
- Square Boy
- Great Burger Kitchen– our fave poutine in the city
- Pomarosa- arepas, anyone?!
- Mira Mira
- Matty’s Patty’s
- FG Catering
- Atto Sushi
- Borrel– for all your Indo and Dutch needs! Deep frie3nd goodness lives here 🙂
- Matty Matheson’s Meat and Three – A must if you want to make the trek down to Fort Erie!
- Rudy’s- the Valentino Chicken and the greasy burgers… yum. West Ed and Danforth locations.
- Juicy Dumpling– Give me all the soup dumplings!!!! A fave of mine in Chinatown!
- La Cubana Two locations: Ossington and Leslieville.
- Completo Leslieville.
- The Dirty Bird Chicken and Waffles Kensington Market
- Olde York Fish and Chips– the fish and chips, and keylime pie… OH MY! East York.
- Birdies Fried Chicken East end.
- PEPPER’S West End.
- Momofuku Noodle Bar (because I am their #1 client). Downtown.
- Dave’s Hot Chicken! Don’t be a hero.
- Seven Lives in Kensington (Mexican)
- Gus Tacos
- Dirty Bird
Date Night Food/Fam Jam Food City-Wide:
- Lake Inez– I don’t know if words can describe how ordering the heat-at-home meal kits w/organic wine, essential oils, candles and love notes gave Ian and I something to look forward to early on in the pandemic… and throughout it. Thank you Lake Inez… grateful for you. And so happy to be back on your patio soon!
- Bernhardt’s– comes recommended!
- Mimi– Absolutely incredible Chinese, on Davenport
- Prime Seafood Palace (Matty Matheson’s newest venture)
- Dreyfus– French’ish’ in Harbord Village
- Casa La Palma
- Alo– You’ve heard of it 😉
- Alma– We went here for Ian’s bday dinner, recommended by my friend Shum! West end
- Core– Upscale Korean- DELISH. Located in Leslieville.
- Anglr– Run by the nicest family, Korean fusion in the heart of Riverdale
- Enoteca Sociale– Dundas West and AMAZING Italian!
- Soos- I adore you, never change. #MalaysianStreetFood
- Poor Romeo
- Sala Thai Kitchen– I am such a green curry gal, but the pineapple curry at Sala is off the chart
- Cumin– Cumin has been called the best Indian in the city, and while I am not up-to-date with all the best Indian in Toronto, this place is INCREDIBLE! They were recently broken in to, so now is an amazing time to support them!
- The Wren – We love The Wren!
- Rebel House– 27 years old and still kicking; I can’t wait to get back on this patio with Steveo and Vicky!
- Noodle Bar– nope, it never gets old.
- Gusto 101, Gusto 501– I get the same thing every time I go… and every time it makes me so happy! (Don’t tell Chef Elio, I’m supposed to branch out!)
- Fat Pasha
- Sala Thai
- Pinkerton’s – love, love, love
- Harbour 60– some say, the best streak in the city
- Maison Selby– Big fan of the martini cart. Sherbourne and Bloor.
- Grey Gardens
- Stock TC
- Planta – vegan, Yorkville & downtown locations, super accommodating to my nut allergy
- Tabule Riverside
- Good Fork- tapas, west end
- Parallel Brother’s
- Bar Isabel One of my faves in the city ❤ Tapas, College.
- Bar Raval
- The Good Son
- Jules Bistro– East end, French
- Piano Piano -College/Harbord Area
- Manita– love love love this place on Ossington!
- Paris Paris
- Gardel- haven’t tried yet but it is on my list! Riverdale.
- Maple Leaf Tavern – Best sausage and burgers in town! Plus, Ian and friend Ornob’s previous cooking instructor from George Brown is the head chef here! Located in Riverdale- a building with a LOT of history.
- Madame Levant– Brunch spot beside Wynona, which I love. Haven’t tried yet, but I want to!
- Bar Poet- Haven’t tried yet but it is on my list!
- Danny’s Pizza Tavern
- Lamesa- Filipino
- Folly BrewPub- Contemporary Cdn
- Actinolite- Canadian (a 4.9 on Resy!)
- Taverne Bernhart’s
- Azhar Kitchen and Bar
- Mamakas Taverna
- Bar Poet
- Bar Koukla
- Henry’s- Trinity Bellwood
- Union – Ossington
- Soho House
- Otto’s Bierhalle
- Le Swan– Haven’t been , but love Jenn Agg so it is on my list!
- Gerrard East Market – a beach for the kids to place on, dumped in the middle of a parking lot. What more could you want in the heart of the east end?
- Chubby’s – April and I, along with some work friends, were actually on the Chubby’s episode of You Gotta Eat Here! It is delicious!
- East Side Social– only houses the best server in the city, Martin
- Leslie Jones
- Greta Solomon’s
- Cafe Boulud– Located in the Four Seasons
- Mamakas – If you feel the urge to go somewhere other than the Danforth for Greek, this is your best bet, located on the Ossington strip
- Batifole– Best French food in the East End
- Little Anthonys– An Anthony Rose Resto (what gave it away?)
- The Morning After – I haven’t been to this super cute brunch spot yet, but there is a lot of bright colours and comes recommended by my friend Erica!
- Cote De Boeuf – You had me at oysters and burgers
- Bar Isabel- Always a fave
- Campechano – Mexican!
- Cafe Nervosa- my go-to in Yorkville
- Rose and Sons
- Birdies – fried chicken anyone? And it is in the east end, lucky us 😉
- Ok Diner
- La Palma – A favourite of mine in the West end; they also have a 100 layer lasagna, so… yah.
- Maha’s- Best hummus in the city (sorry fans of Parallel Brothers!) I have so many favourites from here, including the cardamon honey latte, the date grilled cheese, anything pickled, and the shrimp po boy.
- Kiin- Elegant Thai.
- Khosan Road- Classic Thai in the heart of downtown. An institution!
- Pai- More Thai, baby! Great vibe.
- Figo- Italian on Adelaide.
- Mother Tongue
- Drake One Fifty – in the heart of downtown
Cocktails, Bars and Cocktail Classes:
- Pinkerton’s– Delicious cocktails and tasty fusion food.
- The Wood Owl– a new favourite wine bar in the east end
- Famous Last Words Literary Themed Bar in the Junction (and during the pandemic….Cocktail Classes! We have done three of these cocktail classes now. We have seen other classes through Bar Chef, etc, but we like the cost of these ones, and how the ingredient gathering is minimal. Plus, each class is literary-themed and peppered with book quotes and info!) And, most importantly, it is also a bar in the west end that I still haven’t been to yet- @Jane when are we goingggg?
- Alo Bar– Delicious cocktails in Yorkville, and now a Michelin Star Resto!
- Cold Tea– They are BACK! Queen W
- Storm Crow Pub
- Mahjong– Loveeeee this bar. Looks like a speakeasy when you walk inl. The vibe rocks and the cocktails are A+.
- Library Bar– Love the Renos!!! Located in the Royal York, across from Union Station.
- Coffee Oysters Champagne
- Cocktail Bar– A Jen Agg establishment; elegant and located on Dundas West
- Melrose on Adelaide– Love the ambiance and the cocktails here! Adelaide West. Also, great forepeople watching.
- Sous Sol– Maison Selby’s underground speakeasy. Lots of cool history in this area- just make sure you know the password to enter!
- Vatican Gift Shop– Have had my birthday here a few times and highly recommend! Great vibes, nice owners and fantastic pizza! Riverdale.
- Bar Chef – Fancy Cocktails
- Lovechild Social House This place has everything- include great ‘za!
- Good Fortune– Uptown
- Chula Dine-in and Takeout Margaritas. Riverdale.
- The Dive Shop– Riverdale- love the summer street set up!
- Port Light Bar + Cocktail Kits (Presented by the Shameful Tiki Room, see below)
- Bar Atlas Takeout Cocktails Kits + Pastries
- Bar Chef– Famous cocktails and a little overpriced.
- Momofuku Buns Classes- This was 2 hours of fast-paced, bun and dumpling FUN! It was led by the Noodle Bar chef here in Toronto and was very well-organized.
- Air BNB Experience- we did this soup dumpling making class and it was so much fun!
- Seoul Shakers Club
- Shameful Tiki- My friend Kieran sent me AMAZING drinks from here to celebrate my return to work. I highly recommend! Still a hotspot in the west end 🙂
- Prohibition Gastropub: We’ve been going to Prohibition for some time now, but we haven’t been since it has new ownership! My bestie Apes tells me it is still great 🙂
- Broadview Hotel Rooftop
- The Comrad- east enders love this cocktail bar! Also, get the oysters
- Rhum Corner
- Bar Vendetta – Haven’t been, want to go!
- The Getwell
- Seoul Shakers
- Ascari Enoteca
- Miss Thing’s Tiki Bar
- The Drake
- Petty Cash Social House- Adelaide West
- Pomarosa Dine-in and Takeout Cocktails, delicious treats and cafe, owned by a wonderful family
- Farside– hip and inclusive
- Paradise Grapevine– Winebar in Bloorwest Village
- Paris Paris– a hot spot for about 5 years now (or has it been longer? the Pandemic makes time very difficult to figure out)… delightful plates and great service
- Rooftop at The Broadview Hotel– the view and the cocktails are fantastic.
- Makers Get Frank’s Best!
- One Night Only
- Descendant- Detroit Style, baby!
- Vatican Gift Shop
- Vatican Gift Shop– I had my birthday at this saucy speak easy in 2019 and cannot wait until we can go back in for my birthday this year! The pizza is sooo yummy too!
- Piccalo Piano Pizzaria
- Best Pizza in Toronto- a List
- Gusto 101
- Gusto 501
- Queen Margarita
- Pizza Libretto
- Danforth Pizza House
- General Assembly
- North of Brooklyn
Sweets: (Not including Ice Cream… that’s it’s own section)
- Bobbette and Belle – Although, this could go under the coffee section too!
- Glory Hole Donuts
- Milk Bar
- Von Donuts
- The New Pie Company– Drop it like it’s hot: These pies go quickly! They have a couple drops a month, and I got one for Ian for Father’s Day… it was off-the-charts!
- Mary’s Brigadeiro How do I even describe the deliciousness of these truffles? Mary’s is a black woman-led chocolate business on the Danforth.
- Isabella’s Mochi Donuts– We ordered these for Ian for Father’s Day and they were SUCH A TREAT! We also got Vietnamese iced coffees and Japanese curry buns- everything was incredible and the shop is so cute!
- Craig’s Cookies…. obviously!!!!!
- Coco Fresh Bubble Tea
- Core Bubble Tea
- mon K patisserie
- Vlad Bakery– best kept secret? This bakery replace Von Donuts and has INCREDIBLE baked goods on the Danforth.
Specialty Grocers and Brewers:
- Tienda Movil- A new(ish) Latin American Grocery Store
- The Ellery
- Manita https://www.manita.ca/
- Sukoshi Mart
- Azhar (Also a resto, but iI haven’t experienced it as one yet!)
- Eastbound Brewery – Our friend Mano’s beer and food is delicious. Located right beside Broadview Hotel, make sure you check them out!
- Kensington Brewing Company
- Godspeed Brewery
- Radical Road
- Kettleman’s Bagels – When I found out that this Ottawa original came to Brown’s Line, I rushed there immediately. Get the hot pepper cream cheese and don’t ask questions. :p
- PAT Market– If you know me, you know I love this Korean Grocery store with it’s hidden beauty counters on the second floor! (Koreantown)
- Oh! Kimchi
- Betty’s General- You may remember it as City Betty. This rest was one of our favourite local spots, and at first we were bummed they decided to revamp into a general store. But it’s weekly themes and menus, along with it’s specials and go-to takeout fair, make this little spot such. treat!
- The Good Cheese
- Alex Farm
- Health Hut
- The Drake Commissary
- The Big Carrot
- Yoga Mamas– The owner of Yoga Mama’s, Jamie, has shown such innovation this past 1.5 years, and she continues to adapt and grow her offerings to fit the needs to mother’s everywhere. No women everywhere can join her yoga classes on demand, and I personally can’t wait to workout on their patio again this summer. But Yoga Mama’s isn’t just a fitness studio and shop, it is a full service wellness centre and continues to expand its offerings..
- 1Wrkout– Run by a friend of a friend, Nick, I have never done a workout like 1Wrkout before. It is so hard to explain, but as a celebrity fitness trainer, Nick clearly knows what works. Try out a class- I highly encourage it. The workouts are only 30 minutes and the instructors are awesome. You will leave feeling energized and so much stronger.
- Loft Cycle– I love the team at Loft and cannot wait to work out with them all again soon!
- 6ix Cycle– This west end spin studio is a bit of a trek now that I have two kids and don’t work downtown (at least, not atm), but I love their classes!
- Peloton – I know this isn’t a small business but it has been a great asset for both Ian and I during the pandemic. And Cody Rigsby and his love of Britney make any hard-hitting spin class more than tolerable.
- ToneitUp– Introduced to me by my friend Jane, the two women who run Tone It Up have built an incredible community. They have been running their fitness app long before the pandemic hit, and can be relied on for inspiring emails, new fitness content, and a plethora of products (now in Target!)
Flower + Garden Shops:
- Bang Bang– Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows this place is my jammmm. The best flavours, so fresh and unique. And don’t even get me started on the Hong Kong cones.
- Carter’s- A local fave, they serve all the Kawartha Dairy you could dream of, have so any fun candies for kids to add to their cone (which they are very generous with) plus some other sweet treats for parents. Plus, their owner Tammy is such a great advocate in the community. She does delivery of some grocery essentials and baking products as well, and I mention her in my baking post here- she is the one who inspired me begin making bread!
- Unicorn Cafe– I also have so many great things to say about the Unicorn Cafe- the people who own it are so wonderful. They let Xavi and I in all the time during one of the lockdowns while they were renovating and bringing furniture over from their other location. Xavi had counted down the days until it opened! Yes, some of the things are beyond sugary and over-the-top, but it is such a fun treat and experience for the kids, and I actually love their rolled ice cream, iced ube whipped coffee, their poke bowls, and their Vietnamese sandwiches.
- Halo Crunch– ONE JUST OPENED IN THE EAST END TOO! Asian-inspired flavours and Toronto’s first charcoal ice cream. Just, wow.
- La Diperie
- The Drake Commissary – I cannot tell HOW GOOD THE SOURDOUGH ICE CREAM IS
Fashion, Wellness, Activities and Boutiques:
- Fitzroy Dress Rentals- Mentioned in my intro, these girls have made this pandemic work- and I know it hasn’t been easy. With no events go to ge, these girls have helped women find reasons to celebrate, get dressed up and feel good about themselves throughout this pandemic. It’s time to get dressed up again, everyone!
- Wellbe– a new find for me in 2021, recommended by my friend Kaitlyn. Dr. Aliya is Wonder Woman!
- Crying Out Loud- I have ordered some beautiful packaged kits from here for mamas-to-be, infertility and heartbreak. The kits are curated and locally sourced and brought smiles to everyone’s faces I had them delivered to. I love this store so much!
- Yoga Mamas– As mentioned in the Fitness section, Yoga Mama’s is so much more than fitness. Check out my post here to learn about prenatal acupuncture.
- Morocco By Nezik Argan Oil- This is my coworker and friend Nezik’s company. Nezik organizes personalized, custom tours to Morocco , and has started importing cold-pressed argan oil, which is amazing for your skin!
- Queenie’s Cards- The cutest card and gift shop! Lots of fun little treats and a great place to find Pusheen!
- The Side Kitchen- Owned and Operated by a friend of a friend, this store has the cutest curation of goods, and the most delicious kimchi.
- Eye Studio/ Dr. Reena Sud @ Leslieville Optometry- Dr. Reena is a jem and is so personable that you’ll be wanting to visit the optometrist several times a year!
- Good Neighbour– A trendy store in a converted bungalow. They just expanded, and it is beautiful!
- Silly Goose– Kids Toys
- Swag Sisters– Kids Toys
- Brave New Soles– My friend’s zero waste baby shoe company! Soooo cute.
- Little Navy – Obsessed with all the monogrammed swag.
- Mabel’s Labels– A must for camp and school… whenever the kids get to go. (Update: Xavi started camp!)
- Fashion Truck Canada– Local Toronto Fashion Truck- have always loved the fashion truck and have wanted to support the gals running it!
- Vancouver Fashion Truck – Introduced to me by my bestie Bee, this truck is a great option and tends to have a lower price point than Fashion Truck Canada.
- Fresh Paint Studio– We have had three of Xavi’s birthday parties here, including his virtual party this year! We love the owner, the activities are perfect and age-appropriate, and it is so well-organized!
- Pingles Farm– Outside of the city, we went apple picking last year and it was such a delight!
- Toronto Food Blog– Don’t forget to check out my friend Ashley’s Toronto Food Blog for all the best hidden gems and mom-and-pop shops across the city!
- Stak Company– A friend from work’s reasonably priced jewelry site! #FemaleOwned
- Health Hut
- Kandl- Luxury Candle Making in Yorkville
The “Dessert Course” of this post is the dessert shops above 😉
I know there are SO many more- please feel free to DM me your faves and I will add them to the list, or comment below!