Sometimes you can’t judge a kitchen by its front door. Here are five of Toronto’s best hidden gems, often tucked behind the most unassuming facade.
Few things can top a dining experience like going into a place that looks condemned and then being blown away by the meal. The city still has a few secrets up its sleeve when it comes to dining, be it an unmarked bar that hosts guest chefs, or a decades-old Japanese pancake house tucked away on a quiet side street just south of the ritzy Yorkville district. Here are five places that many locals still don’t know about.
When the bar fist opened, the city’s hipsters were racing to see who could find the location of this unmarked bar named after illegal booze served out of teapots in Chinese restaurants. All people had to go on was that it was located in Kensington Market in a run-down mini mall. Upon finding the place, you’ll find a spacious bar serving delicious cocktails, tall boys, dim sum snacks, and a gorgeous backyard patio that hosts weekend barbecues and pop-ups with the city’s top chefs from places like Momofuku and Valdez. To find it, go to the Kensington Mall and walk all the way down the hall. Look for the door with a single red bulb above it. You’re welcome.
60 Kensington Ave., @coldteabar
This hidden gem doesn’t look like much from the outside with its dated signage and red lanterns that look more bordello than restaurant, but this is a superb place for okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake that’s like a starchy cousin of a frittata (it tastes better than it sounds). Choose your toppings like beef, chicken, bacon, shrimp, pork, veggies, and squid (we’re partial to the seafood deluxe), and watch the cook prepare it on the flattop in front of you. It’s a cheap and filling meal (they cost under $10 with tax) in a truly unique setting of decades past.
23 Charles St. W., 416-925-6176
East of the gleaming Yonge-Dundas Square is the rundown Dundas East strip – and one of the best Pakastini meals you’ll ever have. Make the trek to this unassuming takeout joint that enjoyed its 15 minutes thanks to a raving review from The Globe and Mail as well as British Times restaurant critic Gilles Coren. It’s located on a tiny plaza where Mr. Butt (yep, that’s his name) makes dozens of curries, kabobs, paneers, daals, biryanis, and slow cooked meats. Try the lamb brain masala if you see it; it’s wonderfully rich in gamey, organ meat flavour and punctuated with sweat-inducing chilies. Less adventurous (but equally delicious) options include palak paneer, chicken korma, and lamb shank. Open till 6am every day.
236 Sherbourne St., 647-352-0786
On evenings from Wednesdays to Sundays, Chef Dave Mottershall takes over the kitchens of Leslieville’s Hi-Low Bar and transforms it into Loka Snacks, a pop-up restaurant serving seriously high-end plates focusing on foraged and farm-to-table cuisine. Recently there was smoked ham hock with apricot jam and leaves on toast; cured smelts with abuja mayo; and charred broccoli with peach bourbon barbecue sauce and kimchi mayo; but you can always just order the whole menu for a steal at $40. The pop-up won’t last long though, after a successful crowd-funding campaign Mottershall secured the funds to open his own space.
753 Queen St. E., 416-407-4414
Interestingly, one of the best fried chicken joints is inside a Korean supermarket in the suburbs of North York and Thornhill. But Galleria isn’t your typical grocer: a large portion of it is devoted to a food court with stations that make their own tofu and fish cakes, an in-house bakery, and a giant open kitchen serving bubbling bowls of pork bone soup, sushi, dumplings, and rice and noodle dishes. Don’t leave without an order of Mom’s Chicken, made-to-order fried chicken slathered in a sticky sweet Korean chili sauce that’s unlike anything you’ve had. Expect big portions and prices much lower than what you’d find in Korea Town.
865 York Mills Rd., 647-452-5004;
7040 Yonge St. (Thornhill), 905-882-0040
1. Cold Tea; 2. Okonomi House; 3. King Place; 4. Loka Snacks; 5. Galleria Supermarket.