Food in Your City: Exploring Toronto’s Culinary Scene

“Food in Your City,” a new original mini-series umbrellaed underneath the Foodable Network's "On Foodable Side Dish" channel, brings viewers into different cities around the world, painting a realistic picture of the local culinary canvas. An artistic interpretation that showcases various cultures’ approach to dining, “Food in Your City” celebrates food vendors, street markets, restaurants, and the people who have dedicated their livelihood to the craft of food production, in the most raw, original form. In this second installation, we visit Toronto. [Check out our first installation featuring Tokyo here.]

Toronto (and Canada in general) has been on our radar for some time now, hence Foodable’s recent Canada launch. Four years ago, David Chang expanded his Momofuku empire into Toronto with three restaurants, including a 3-story restaurant, but not just because the local culinary scene was heating up. Rather, he saw its potential. He even told The Canadian Press as recently as 2014, “We’re not there yet — I don’t think anywhere close — but I believe it will happen.” Now, with so much diversity to pull from — its population stands at 6M+ — and well-known chefs building presence in this city, Toronto, known as being the “New York of Canada,” has become a culinary force to compete with. True Torontonians know this sentiment goes beyond peameal bacon sandwiches at St. Lawrence Market (though there’s that, too).

A Bit of This, a Bit of That

Nearly half (47 percent) of those living in Toronto speak a mother tongue other than the country’s native English or French. This diversity directly reflects in the area’s culinary spread, which can range in any given neighborhood from modern fine dining to street food, and globally influenced cuisines spanning from Cuban to Korean to Brazilian to Southern (BBQ style). Nicknamed “the city of neighborhoods,” Toronto is comprised of nearly 200. Neighborhoods like The Danforth, which pays homage to Greek-influenced architecture and restaurants, are clearly marked for culture — think Little Portugal, Koreatown, Little Italy, and Little India.

According to The Globe and Mail’s dining critic, Chris Nuttall-Smith, “…Toronto’s food is kind of synthesis — it pulls from all sorts of traditions around us and turns them into something that is uniquely Toronto.”

But don’t call it a melting pot. “Our population demographic is changing so quickly and we’ve always had open arms to the entire world to come and be part of our country,” Donna Dooher, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada, told Foodable. “And, unlike being a melting pot, the diversity still stays, so not only do we have communities and neighborhoods, we also have the heritage of those people who are coming from different countries to live here with us.”

With that being said, Toronto is less a city unified as one, and is instead a lot of little neighborhoods conglomerated together.

Taste of Talent

Aside from international famed chef and restaurateur David Chang, high-profile culinarians like Daniel Boulud, Jamie Oliver, and Mario Batali have all seen promise in Toronto’s food scene, resulting in expanding their concepts to the city.

But let’s not forget about the local crop of notable talent, either: Grant van Gameren (Bar Isabel, Bar Raval); Scott Vivian and Rachelle Cadwell (Beast); Bertrand Alépée (The Tempered Room); Ezra Title (Chez Vous Dining); and Graham Pratt (The Gabardine), plus more, are setting the bar high for innovation.

At Bar Raval, for example, an array of small plates are spread on the bar top for guests to smell and visualize. Should a customer be interested in a particular plate, an employee (known as a “Ravalian”) will bring it to them. Guests are encouraged to ask about the ingredients and processes behind the tapas.

Beast Restaurant, located in the downtown area, is helmed by Chef Scott Vivian, who rotates the menu out on a weekly basis and is known for using local ingredients, unique combinations that he hopes opens the minds of diners. Vivian says he wants “to offer an experience to patrons to come into Beast not only to have a delicious meal and be treated like they belong here, but also to leave with a sense of fulfillment in their belly and be educated about food and different food combinations.” Guests can also book “whole animal” dinners, where the guest chooses the animal, reserves a date, and is prepared a multiple-course meal by the Beast team.

Another of the many acclaimed restaurants in Toronto is The Black Hoof, known for its early adoption of nose-to-tail cooking. Perhaps it sounds familiar because it was featured on the Toronto episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover.” According to locals, a lot of chefs have launched their own new restaurants after putting in their time at The Black Hoof.

According to Foodable Labs’ own Top 25 Restaurants list, Toronto restaurants that ranked highest in 2016 so far include Edulis, which accepts reservations a month in advance and features a daily rotating menu; Buca, which serves Italian-inspired fare with an emphasis on seafood; TungLok Heen, traditional, authentic Chinese cuisine helmed by celebrity chef Susur Lee; and Terroni, an Italian restaurant with multiple locations (in both Toronto and Los Angeles).

You never know what you’ll find exploring the Toronto food scene, but the hidden gems are yours for the taking. And we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.