Last year, Toronto became Canada’s first Michelin city, with 13 restaurants receiving Stars. It’s also one of the world’s most multicultural cities – the Greater Toronto Area supports 6.4 million people, including 253 ethnicities that call its 158 neighbourhoods home – meaning you can expect authentic, diverse and exciting eateries serving comforting favourites and inventive fusions across nearly every type of cuisine in all corners of the city.
But if you only have time for one area, make it the downtown neighbourhood of Kensington Market. Sitting right next to the CBD skyscrapers, with Chinatown and Little Italy on either side and the distinctive 533-metre-high CN Tower only about two kilometres away, this low-rise haven is filled with rows of colourful Victorian houses, many of which have been converted into the city’s coolest shops and restaurants.
As an historical hub for new migrants, it’s a microcosm of Toronto’s rich diversity – something immediately apparent in its mix of menus. Take Rasta Pasta for example, the brainchild of Jamaican and Italian Canadians. Here you can order a creamy yet punchy jerk chicken lasagna or feather-light gnocchi with ackee fruit and saltfish. Locals line up for Jamaican classics as well, such as homestyle jerk chicken and pork and slow-cooked Dutch pot oxtail.
Kensington Market has also been described by Toronto Life as the city’s taco “seat of power”, and Gus Tacos tops many lists for its fresh, vibrant offerings. Load lightly charred handmade corn tortillas with your choice of delicious fillings (if your tastebuds can handle it, try the chilorio, pork simmered in chillies), then head to the salsa bar and dial up the flavours.
Chasing Stars? There are some of those nearby, too. On College Street, about a 10-minute walk from the Market, Quetzal was awarded a Michelin Star for its elevated and modern Mexican cuisine, with most dishes cooked on an eight-metre wood-burning grill. The Opal Valley Australian lamb rack is served with black garlic mole negro and hoja santa, a Mexican pepperleaf.
The heart of Toronto’s high-end dining scene is Yorkville, where five Michelin-starred venues sit within four blocks, alongside the most glamorous and luxe shopping you’ll find this side of Fifth Avenue. Sushi Masaki Saito, the only restaurant to be awarded two Michelin Stars in all of Canada, is helmed by chef Masaki Saito, a master of Edomae-style sushi (Tokyo-style, traditionally with fresh seafood caught in the bay near Edo castle) that is a rare treat outside of Japan. It’s an omakase tasting experience – so you will be tantalised by a changing selection of fresh and immaculately presented seafood chosen by the chef and prepared right in front of you. And book ahead for the theatrical, flame-seared creations of Chef Ryusuke Nakagawa at starred Aburi Hana.
Go east along Yorkville’s main artery, Bloor Street, and it turns into Danforth Avenue: the area officially called Danforth but known to many as Greektown. Eat your way through yia yia-approved kalamari, moussaka, souvlaki and baklava at tavernas such as Mezes (pro tip: try the tangy Greek fetta drizzled in extra virgin olive oil) and Athens, slow-roasting lamb since 1977. Other cuisines are represented here, too. Head to Momo Hut and Gardens for juicy steamed momos (Tibetan dumplings) or Simone’s Caribbean Restaurant for flaky beef patties and flavourful curries. Tea N Bannock, a 20-minute walk south to Gerrard Street, is where Indigenous chefs serve specialities such as bannock, also known as fry-bread (a thick pan-fried dough) with wild blueberry jam or medicinal Labrador tea made with hand-picked herbs – a Canadian First Nations experience you don't want to miss.
Take your tastebuds even further
Good taste goes well beyond Toronto’s city limits. These must-visit places around Ontario serve up culinary delights and natural beauty.
Niagara Wine Region
You could easily visit the picturesque Niagara Wine Region in a day – it’s less than a two-hour drive from Toronto if traffic is on your side – but with more than 50 wineries, Niagara Falls and one of Ontario’s prettiest towns (Niagara-on-the-Lake, filled with flowers and 19th century buildings) on the doorstep, you’ll want to stay longer. Icewine, a sweet varietal made from frozen grapes, is the biggest export, but you can also sample crisp chardonnays, bold rieslings and brews from a burgeoning craft beer scene. Wineries such as Southbrook and Icellars Estate employ regenerative farming methods to improve the soil and create and restore local habitats while producing elegant, organic drops.
Prince Edward County
Hip meets historic in Prince Edward County, just two hours east of Toronto. Think charming small towns bursting with boutiques and galleries, rolling green hills, cycling trails, boutique inns and an eclectic culinary scene that champions local produce such as asparagus, apples and artisanal cheeses – all on an island easily accessible via a road bridge. There are also more than 35 wineries and cideries, producing a variety of low intervention and sparkling drops.
Once you’ve made your way to Prince Edward County from Toronto, you’re already halfway along the four-hour drive to Ottawa, Canada’s capital that’s also the home of one of the nation’s most beloved treats, sugary pastries known as BeaverTails. For these, head to the historic Byward Market, where you’ll also find fresh local produce, sustainable Canadian fashion and a buzzy scene of bars and restaurants.
About two and a half hours drive from Toronto, Muskoka is a sprawling wilderness frontier, where holiday homes and hip towns meet the natural abundance of Algonquin Provincial Park. There is no shortage of lakes here and there are also plenty of craft breweries, fine restaurants and laid-back terraces. Keep an eye out for iconic wildlife like deer, moose and fishing birds called loons.
The Blue Mountains
Year-round outdoor adventure awaits here, 150 kilometres north of Toronto – ski, mountain bike, hike or even go caving or canyoning, then rest and enjoy the fruits of the surrounding orchards in a freshly baked pie or locally fermented cider (they don’t call it Apple Country for nothing). The Blue Mountains is also a stop along Ontario’s 900-kilometre Bruce Trail, a marked hiking footpath that runs through vast forests of the Niagara Escarpment, from Tobermory back down to the falls.
Image credits: Rasta Pasta, Quetzal Toronto, Destination Ontario