6 Toronto Food Trends You Need to Know About
Forget passing fads. These developments are changing the food landscape.
Canada turned 150 this year, and its food has come a long way. While you can find many of the food trends that have taken root across the U.S. (charcoal ice cream, poke bowls, avocado toast), you can also find Toronto-specific ones like sushi burritos and butterfly pea flowers. But to truly experience its food zeitgeist, the following developments — from Syrian restaurants to microbreweries — hold more promise than passing fads.
Indigenous Food Is Slowly Taking Hold
The first restaurant dedicated to indigenous food (a.k.a aboriginal or First Nations) appeared on the scene about five years ago with Tea-n-Bannock. Bannock is a round bread that’s traditionally fried. The small restaurant serves simple, authentic fare, so you can find Navajo tacos, elk stew and grilled salmon with wild rice. About a handful of restaurants have opened since, including higher-end Ku-kum Kitchen, one of the only places to try seal tartare (pictured), and NishDish, a more casual spot specializing in Anishnawbe cuisine and offering a constantly changing menu. There’s also the tiny PowWow Cafe, found in the trendy Kensington Market section, where it’s all about Ojibway tacos and hearty brunches with frybread, smoked trout, corn pancakes and all manner of eggs. Though not traditional, Boralia focuses on native-inspired fare, and as such, it's a good introduction to game dishes, from venison to squab. Antler Kitchen & Bar has also distinguished itself by redefining regional Canadian meals, and the menu is heavy with game meats like wild boar gyoza, rabbit pappardelle and prime cut of deer, along with foraged ingredients.
New Restaurants Are Redefining the East End
Toronto’s east end includes Leslieville, Little India and Riverside, whose changing populations have introduced a new restaurant vanguard. Suresh Doss, a food writer and editor of Foodism Toronto, attributes the spate of recent openings to a number of factors. First, you have chefs who are priced out of the trendy Queen and King West neighborhoods. Second, said chefs are following the shifting demographic, who, also priced out, are moving to east end sections. Doss observes that the east end would develop even faster if more spaces were already commercially certified.
That said, the renovated Broadview Hotel in Riverside is among the buzziest openings, with dining options from Toronto restaurateurs Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli. Of those, monitor the yet-to-open Civic restaurant, whose early 20th-century-inspired fare will nod to the hotel’s roots. Joyal and Sinopoli have been busy, also opening Gare de l'Est Brasserie, an upscale French bistro, in Leslieville.
Following a million dollar, multi-year renovation of the historic Hotel Maple Leaf, the reborn Maple Leaf Tavern is another welcome addition to Leslieville. Besides the lovingly preserved historic features, homemade bread and sausages are among its many highlights. It also serves cocktails (Manhattan, Rye and Ginger) on tap. Nearby, those craving Chicago-style deep-dish pizza can find it at the casual Double D's. In fact, it’s currently the only place in the city you can find it.
Over in Little India, which has witnessed mostly non-Indian restaurants opening in recent years, Lake Inez is attracting crowds to its Asian-fusion gastropub. Here, you’ll find mashups like Filipino-style ceviche and pappardelle with Sichuan lamb ragu.
Fast-Casual Concepts Are Rapidly Expanding
This concept falls into two categories: either better-quality versions of traditional fast-food joints or scaled-down versions of full-service restaurants. The latter concept boomed this year, starting with Planta Burger, a vegan burger spinoff of Planta. Planta itself is relatively new and reshaping the scene with high-end vegan cuisine. LASA is the fast-casual version of Lamesa Filipino Kitchen. The former is all about traditional Filipino, while the latter is Filipino-inspired. The popular Tabule chain, with three locations serving traditional Middle Eastern, has spun off with Souk Tabule, a hybrid market and café with an upscale Middle Eastern bent. Meanwhile, Chase Hospitality Group, which already owns six other spots, just opened Palm Lane, where you can enjoy gourmet salads in a nicer-than-your-average-salad-bar environment.
Microbreweries Are Moving Into Industrial West End Spots
Toronto’s thirst for craft beer means there are now 66 breweries in the Greater Toronto Area. Of those, at least eight microbreweries have popped up in industrial west end sections since 2016. Bandit Brewery has quickly become one of the most popular ever since the owners, former homebrewers, opened it in a converted auto shop. Their beer-making philosophy involves producing the kinds of beer they want to drink — so don’t expect to find any sweet beers or brown ales here. Speaking of finding, tracking down beer from Blood Brothers Brewing proved difficult until its taproom opened this past summer. Now fans can enjoy sour beers and a lively atmosphere in a converted garage.
Henderson Brewing Co. cites Toronto’s first brewer (circa 1800) as its inspiration. As such, look for modern interpretations of traditional beers, along with its Ides series. This cool idea is a limited, monthly release that uses a Toronto figure, place or event to inform a one-of-a-kind beer. (An early 20th-century painter inspired September’s Ides, resulting in a Belgian Blonde Ale with notes of tart Niagara cherries.) Like Henderson, Halo Brewery is also located in the industrial Junction Triangle neighborhood. And like other breweries, it was founded by former homebrewers — except ones who are obsessed with fruit and spices. A statement on Halo’s site says, “If you happen to be a gene-splicing scientist hell-bent on creating the latest novel fruit or fermentative microorganism, we should talk.” In a rarely seen move, Halo also offers all of its recipes online.
Syrian Eateries are Emerging
Roughly half of Toronto’s 2.8 million residents are foreign-born, and Syrians are among its most recent arrivals. As a result, authentic Syrian dining options are slowly entering Toronto’s global food scene. Beroea Box is the first to pave the way downtown, joining the Market 707 street food community, whose businesses are located in former shipping containers. Beroea is the ancient name of Aleppo, where owners Nour and Amir were born and raised. They also operate Beroea Kitchen, a catering company that also does supper clubs. Plus, you can even order some of its dishes from UberEATS. Soufi’s is another downtown newcomer, introducing Syrian street food to the trendy Queen West section. The café is all about two eats: manaeesh, a flatbread that can be topped with yogurt, eggs, ground beef and more, before it’s folded in half; and knaffeh, a type of cheese pie soaked in orange blossom syrup. The Depanneur is west of downtown, but once a week it hosts non-profit Newcomer Kitchen, which offers recent Syrian refugees the opportunity to make homecooked dishes. These in-demand meals are currently available for pickup or delivery.
Filipino Food Is Gaining Ground
Filipino food started becoming more popular about five years ago, stemming from the city’s large Filipino population. New restaurants are now opening at a fast clip; recent newcomers include the aforementioned LASA, the fast-casual spinoff of the more established Lamesa Filipino Kitchen (pictured). Don't miss the opportunity to try Lamesa's weekly Kamayan. Translated as hand-to-mouth, this Sunday night dinner serves a visually stunning spread on banana leaves, meant to be eaten with your hands. Dolly’s is part Filipino mojito bar, part restaurant, and all about executing trendy Filipino-fusion. Quite a number of Filipino-inspired dishes represent at newcomer Lake Inez, which is taking Asian-fusion to the next level. Finally, keep an eye on Platito Filipino Soul Food to return. It’s currently rebuilding following a fire, but might appear at festivals and pop-ups in the meantime.