In the last couple of years of travel, we had changed our focus from whirlwind sightseeing to a more food-based activities. We are by no means foodies and cannot tell if the particular food is one dimensional or not. We just like to eat – preferably large varieties and small portions. Food tours are a great way to get introduced to local dishes, especially in a new country where we may not even speak the language. Another benefit is that you can usually pump the guides for more information about sightseeing and other local food joints to sample on your own.
Toronto is a very multicultural city with many diverse neighbourhoods. Having lived here(ish) for so long, there are many pockets of the city I haven’t really checked out, so I figured it would be cool to do food themed tourism, one neighbourhood at a time. I asked my two travel buddies if they would like to do this together (well, more people, more stuff to sample!) I think I had them at the word “food”.
Our first stop is Kensington Market. There are a few food tour companies that have Kensington Market tours. However, being our frugal selves, we just scoured websites and best of lists (Yelp, Chowhound, BlogTO, Toronto Life, etc.) and came up with our “targets” of 11 places. Armed with a TTC day pass (to share between 2 adults on weekends), tupperware(s) and the best plastic utensils one could procure from previous takeout restaurants, we embarked on our quest. We actually made it to 8 of the places on the list and added 2 more stops! Here is the list and a brief “review” of each place.
Address: 96 Spadina Avenue
We wanted to try the coffee from some local roasters and we found this one just down the street (ish) from Kensington. (Adelaide & Spadina is walking distance, OK?) There are some interesting selections on the menu and we ordered 2 regular lattes and a Turkish latte to share. We took our coffee to the upstairs sitting area, which also happened to be the lobby of the building and enjoyed the drinks.
We always get the latte at coffee shops. Many places seem to use too much milk in their drink and you don’t even know you are drinking coffee. The regular latte here was good – the slightly sweet milk complimented rather than diluted the taste of the coffee and the drink really goes down smoothly.
The Turkish latte was interesting – you could tell the distinctive Turkish coffee taste but because it was in latte form, it was less bitter than I remembered. That said, I am not sure I liked this flavour. I would go back for the latte. We actually bought some beans to take home.
28 Kensington Avenue
Since it was only around 10:30am when we got to the Kensington Market area, our brains were still on breakfast, so FIKA seemed like the most logical choice. According to the blogsphere, they had pretty good brunch, coffee, and ice cream sandwiches. We walked down Kensington Avenue and almost missed the cafe, which is located in one of the many houses on the street.
The staff at the cafe was very helpful. We selected 1 portion of the grilled cheese with prosciutto and 1 croissant to share. We passed on coffee but were convinced to come back later in the afternoon to sample the FIKA iced coffee and the famed ice cream sandwich.
We grabbed a table in the backyard (there is a hammock and all) and enjoyed the beautiful day while waiting for our breakfast. The seats were very comfortable and welcoming although we should have brought some bug spray – we kind of forgotten about mosquitoes since it seemed like winter never left until a couple of days before. (Being the genius that I am, I forgot to take a picture of the backyard area!)
Right, the food. The grilled cheese was made with bread from the bakery up the street and it was just right – crunchy crust but soft, pillowy bread. The cheese and the prosciutto went well together. The prosciutto was a bit salty to us but I think it was just because we were comparing this to the pata negra / prescunto we had in Portugal, which were not salty at all. We quite enjoyed this grilled cheese and would order it again.
The croissant was awesome. We had been searching for a croissant with the perfectly flaky crust and the right amount of buttery goodness. Normally, we found one or the other, but this croissant hit the jackpot on both counts. We even hear the crunch when we cut into the bread. It is interesting that not a lot of people have commented on the croissant.
So, the verdict was that we were definitely coming back in the afternoon.
61 Kensington Avenue
It was around 11:15 am when we left FIKA, so as far as we are concerned, lunch was fair game!
The next stop on our list was Rasta Pasta. A couple of months ago, I went to check out the Japanese cone-styled crepes at Millie’s Creperie with a friend and she mentioned that Rasta Pasta was supposed to be quite good. However, I didn’t get to the store until around 5pm and by that time, the famed jerk chicken was already sold out, so I bought some goat curry to take home. I enjoyed the curry very much, so I added this to the list.
The owner was just starting to grill the jerk chicken. We asked him if we could order or if we should come back and he showed us a batch of delicious looking chicken sitting ready on the side of the grill. We went inside to pay for 1 portion of the Jerk Chicken special ($4.99). We were handed a box with rice, sides, and went outside to collect our chicken.
I didn’t have many experience with jerk chicken before and the ones I had did not leave much of an impression. On the contrary, Rasta Pasta’s jerk chicken was tender and juicy, well marinated and finger licking good. Despite having to eat with a plastic fork while standing in the sidewalk next to an empty store, we were completely satisfied with the choice. The chicken was as good as the “frango” we had in Cascais, where tore into and devoured in unladylike manners while sitting on a park bench. (Hmmm, I see a pattern.) Had we actually drove downtown, I think we would each have taken a large portion of chicken home with us at the end of the day.
We wanted to get the rasta pasta as well, but they were not available that day. The owner told us that he just took over the space next door. The renovations should be completed in a few weeks and we would be able to sit down and have both the Italian and the Jamaican stuff. Guess I know where I will be next month!
214 Augusta Avenue
We came here for the churros. We probably would have tried a few other things but our stomachs were starting to protest. We had the churros here before because they also run the “I Love Churros” food truck that occasionally stops near our office.
We were greeted by a friendly face, who very efficiently got our order of 4 churros (for $5) – 2 chocolate and 2 dulce de leche (caramel). The dulce de leche actually wasn’t very sweet, which was welcoming. I don’t think I need to say more – go get the churros while they are warm.
The mime was not around at the time but he popped up again in the afternoon. Maybe he was watching the Argentina vs. Belgium game? We said we were rooting for Argentina, which was the right answer. :)
244 Augusta Avenue
This vegan, gluten free cafe just opened today, so they were giving away free treats from noon-3pm. We went in and got an ice cream. Because it was vegan and gluten free, it had a softer texture than regular soft serve ice cream. It was quite refreshing and the taste was good.
A Small Break
By this time, we had been eating non-stop for 2 hours, so we had to take a pretty long walk to calm our stomachs. I think the churros did us in. Check out these random street scenes!
It was getting pretty hot, so we just wanted to sit down somewhere and surf the net. We ended up at Coffee Culture near College & Bathurst. We had the iced lemonade here. It was nice, tart, and not too sweet. They serve hot food as well, but we didn’t try any.
Alley between 214 and 218 Augusta Avenue
There were a few food stalls in the alley between the 2 buildings. The first stall sells juice and the second sells takoyaki, a Japanese snack that essentially a fried dough with octopus inside.
The ones at this stall was quite delicious with a nice portion of octopus inside. The sauce was also pretty good. Since we still had many stops, we just ordered one portion of 3 takoyai ($3) and split. It was another one where we would have got more if our stomachs could handle this.
69 Kensington Avenue
A colleague said that this place has amazing fish tacos. Since we were still rather full, we only ordered 1 portion of the Baja fish tacos, despite wanting to try the blackened mahi mahi and the Gobernador as well. The place was packed, so while we waited, we checked out the quirky decor. There was a lot of macabre imagery in the restaurant – to go with the theme of seven lives?
We finally got our fish tacos. We still kept our bamboo boat and the forks from the takoyaki place, so we were able to split the tacos into 3 equal portions. This was the first time we had Baja fish tacos and we tasted something different – the fish was quite fresh and seasoned with something that is popular in North African cuisine. (I googled the recipe and it was indeed cumin that was used.) The taco shell was OK, but the fish was the main star and it did not disappoint. We would come back one day with a more empty stomach and try the other stuff too.
240 Augusta Avenue
You may notice that we seemed to be going back and forth between Kensington and Augusta Avenue. This normally would not make sense on an organized food tour logistically but seeing as we were full since 2 hours ago, we did this intentionally to walk off some of the food. That said, we still had limits, so we were going to take food home to sample.
Nu Bagel specialized in wood-fire baked bagels. They had these basic flavours: plain, sesame, poppy seed, coconut, onion, everything, and whole wheat. We got 1 dozen to split ($9) and I took 3 of them. So far, I had tried the “everything” and the “coconut”.
I liked the flavour but the bagel was a little denser than I liked. Not sure I needed to try again.
218 Augusta Avenue
This store was known for chorizo and other South American snacks. We tried a coxinha de gallina con catupiry (chicken balls) and a mini chorizo. I saw some Inca Kola and bought one to take home as well.
The Brazilian chicken ball was interesting – the texture was quite “sticky”, which would make sense since apparently catupiry is a Brazilian cheese. The chicken and corn was nice, though I would like a bit more flavour in the chicken. The chorizo was a bit dryer than we expected.
I think we would try some other stuff at this store next time as they have a lot more on their menu.
214 Augusta Avenue
El Gordo serves many different styles of Chilean empanadas as you can see in the above picture. Seeing as empanadas are quite heavy and we had only been eating for hours on end, we split 1/2 dozen of empanadas to take home. I got the Chicken Habanero and Chorizo Chipotle.
Empanada with different fillings were made in different shapes. We got 6 to share ($20) and it was a good thing. We didn’t realize they were quite large when we ordered.
The chicken habanero was super hot, so I wasn’t able to taste anything other than heat. The chicken might be on the salty side, but I couldn’t tell as I was busy choking down water. Yes, I may have overestimated my spiciness tolerance.
The chorizo chipotle, despite also having a 1 pepper sign next to it, was way less spicy. I think it was pretty good for empanadas. The dough was a little too heavy though. I would prefer a lighter dough and smaller size.
We saved just enough room for the iced coffee and ice cream sandwich, although truth be told, we weren’t quite ready for the ice cream sandwich, which the staff in the morning described as homemade vanilla ice cream, covered with a layer of jam, and sandwiched between two shortbread cookies.
We got the FIKA iced coffee and took it out to the same table in the backyard. The coffee was spiced with cardamom and garnished with a sprig of mint, giving it an interesting and refreshing taste. I think it worked well with the iced coffee but I don’t know if everyone will like the spice.
By the time we wanted to order the ice cream sandwiches, we were told that they were completely sold out. Disappointed, but I suppose we might be able to get some Japanese crepes? We bought the last 3 croissants to take home and left.
I was checking Yelp afterwards and someone said that the ice cream sandwich was replaced recently. It used to be homemade ice cream with lemon compote and sandwiched between pistachio cookies. That sounds really delicious.
So, we walked by Millie’s Creperie and we were still too full after all. I guess we would have to save the Japanese special crepe (with green tea ice cream, red bean, and other goodies) for next time.