This was originally meant to be part of the previous article listing things I’m looking forward to about going home, but that dispatch is already unreadably long with all my ranting, so I split this one off into its own list.
It’s been four years of strange food around the world - some bad, some fantastic, as you can read in the articles dedicated to those two topics. But I’ve still got my favourite restaurants back home. Some of them I’ve been thinking about at least once a week while we’ve been gone, and some of them it’s taken me a couple of years to realize that I miss eating there. All I know right now is that the instant I get back home I’m going to stuff myself at every one of them.
Here, the eighteenth article in the World Tour Highlights series, I present 15 Toronto Restaurants I Miss, in alphabetical order. If anybody out there knows that one of these places has been closed, or burned down, or anything… please don’t tell me.
1. Albert’s Real Jamaican Food
The best curry roti in the city, by popular acclaim. Each one is big enough for two meals. Albert himself was still behind the counter half the time, when I left. And they have Ting.
This is one of the better cheap Indian takeaways in Toronto, which has a lot of them. I love Indian food - north, south or in-between, and I’d eat it every day if I could. Actually, if I’m being honest, it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to India in the first place, and it’s definitely the reason we stayed there so long. Indian food in Toronto can’t be as cheap as in India, but I hope my now better-educated mouth still likes it as much.
3. Burrito Boyz
Home of the late-Saturday-night, massive two-meal burrito. Not cheap, but spicy, tasty and filling.
4. Fairmount Bakery
I’m cheating a bit here. This legendary bagel bakery is actually in Montreal, not Toronto. There are only two kinds of Montrealers - those who prefer the Fairmount, and those who prefer rival St. Urbain. Me, I know the best when I taste it. There’s a queue at all hours, and not a single person makes it out the door before they’re opening the bag.
A venerable Toronto institution, this family restaurant makes the best open-faced hot turkey sandwich anywhere - mushy, drippy comfort food if ever there was. The decor hasn’t changed since the Sixties, neither has the menu, and nobody wants it any different.
6. Future Bakery
Cookies and tea and pierogi night on Tuesday; sitting alone for hours with a book and an empty mug of tea in the winter, or on the patio with friends and a jug of sangria in the summer. It’s not as cheap as it once was, but it’s still a special place for me.
7. La Paloma
This neighbourhood gelateria was a short walk from my apartment, and I used to go there a couple of times a week in the summers for the best gelato I’d ever had. Now, I’ve been to Italy, and I’ve lived in Buenos Aires, the home of the world’s best gelato, so I’m curious to know if the place still holds up well.
8. Lakeview Lunchroom
A Queen West landmark, this greasy spoon is legendary for its terrible food, glacially slow service, fantastic ambience and amazing malted chocolate milkshakes. Breakfast there will last you all day… when you finally get it.
This drab, down-at-the-heels place made me fall in love with Ethiopian food. Huge mixed platters served on springy injera flatbread, smoky and spicy enough to make your nose run. Still the best I’ve ever had.
10. Okonomi House
I loved okonomiyaki, the so-called “Japanese pizza”, long before I ever went to Japan, and this tiny lunch counter is the reason why. Grilled in front of your eyes, they come to your table still sizzling on a cast-iron plate, and the smoke from the grill keeps you smelling of okonomiyaki for an hour afterward.
11. Shanghai Cowgirl
A late-night diner near the Queen West club strip, popular with gothy types and rock n’ rollers. Great patio out back, good corned beef hash and fried potatoes on the menu. Just don’t look to closely at the cooks.
12. Sneaky Dee’s
Those who know it call it Sneaky Disease, but don’t let the name fool you, this beloved Tex-Mex restaurant, bar and concert venue has veggie chili that even confirmed carnivores will cross the city for, and jalapeno omelettes that will sweat out the toughest hangover.
13. New Generation Sushi
I haven’t got any particular attachment to this specific place, but Toronto is full of cheap sushi restaurants. Sushi is expensive pretty much everywhere I’ve been, even in Japan, and it’s a big indulgence when travelling, so I miss it.
14. Swiss Chalet
Highbrow it ain’t, but the longer we travelled the more Sheryl and I realized that we were craving this chain restaurant’s rotisserie chicken and iconic salty, spicy dipping sauce. Twice toward the end of the trip we had packets of the sauce brought to us (thanks, Steven and Heather) but it’ll still probably be one of our first stops when we get home.
15. Tim Horton’s
All right, it’s a pretty sad addition to this list, but I wouldn’t be Canadian if I didn’t miss Timmie’s just a little bit. There are at least seven locations of this franchised coffee-and-doughnut shop on every street in Canada (seriously, it’s a law). I’m going to have a maple-dip doughnut and a Dutchie Timbit and then I’m never setting foot in the place again.