Welcome to Toronto! If this is your first time visiting Toronto I am glad you are reading this because Toronto has a lot to offer that most people are not aware of. If you’ve been to Toronto before welcome back! Hopefully I can enhance the quality of your stay by giving you some new ways to explore and enjoy our great city. I am writing this article hopefully for multiple websites so I am going to use the tried and tested method of a Ctrl+F table of contents. Some people are interested in food, some people are interested in night life and some are just interested in how to get around the city so instead of having to read through a wall of text you can simply use the table of contents to find what you are looking for.
One important thing that I would like to point out is how to figure out directions in Toronto. All you have to do is find the CN Tower. You can see it almost anywhere in the city. It is on the South end of the city closer the West end of Downtown. If you can find where Yonge Street is (pronounced Young), the main subway line runs beneath it that is slightly east of the CN Tower. With those two landmarks to guide your way it should be pretty easy to find your way in our city.
[S&AT] SITES, SHOPPING AND ATTRACTIONS
– [NIFA] Niagara Falls
– [PACM] Pacific Mall
– [AIRC] Air Canada Centre
– [CNRC] CN Tower/Rogers Centre
– [EATC] Eaton Centre
– [Y&DS] Yonge and Dundas Square
– [SLVR] Silver Snail Comic store
– [CTYH] City Hall/Nathan Phillips Square skating
– [QUST] Queen Street West
– [B&BL] Bay & Bloor/Yorkville
– [DISD] Distillery District
– [SPOU] Smoke’s Poutinerie
– [STYD] The Stockyards
– [BUPR] The Burger’s Priest
– [PZLI] Pizzeria Libretto
– [GREL] Grand Electric
– [LACA] La Carnita
– [BBLT] Bubble Tea
– [YETU] Yeuh Tung
– [MOFU] Momofuku
– [JPNZ] Japanese
– [SPFK] Spoon and Fork
– [GUTO] Guu
[LNET] LATE NIGHT EATS
– [ZETS] Zet’s Restaurant
– [LKVW] The Lakeview
[MU&E] MUSIC AND EVENTS
[MGTP] MANADEPRIVED.COM GP Toronto Party
This year’s venue is located at the Toronto Congress Centre http://www.torontocongresscentre.com/Exhibiting/Directions.htm. It is a much better location than last GP with easy access by transit and limited food options nearby. Sadly it is still in the outskirts of the city, technically not even in Toronto, so if you are planning on visiting anything in Toronto you will have to drive or take the transit. There is also FREE PARKING which is a great bonus for locals and anyone who is renting a car to get around. It is close to the airport. You can actually take a bus directly from the airport to the venue if you are so inclined. Take the 58 bus towards Lawrence West Station. Get off when you see the Subway, Swiss Chalet or Harvey’s. The cash fare will be $3
As I am writing this we are currently in our first real cold spell of the winter season. We’ve had our first snow fall, but it was just light snow that hardly stuck on the ground if at all. I am not even sure if the core of our city even saw a single flake. Some people are still walking around with shorts on but I personally wouldn’t suggest that. The current temperature is 0 degrees Celsius which is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It should stay in that general area so heavy fall/light winter apparel should be fine but if you are coming from some place that never gets a hint of cold make sure you at least have decent coat, hat and scarf. If you are planning on visiting Niagara Falls, which I would suggest you do, you may want to bring some warmer apparel. No parka’s, thermal underwear or artic gear required unless you doubling this as a snowboarding/skiing trip.
There are two main modes of public transportation in the city of Toronto, TTC and GO Transit. The TTC is the main way to get around the actual city of Toronto. It is for the most part a one fare system that will take you anywhere the TTC goes, just remember to grab a transfer in case you get lost. If you end up going the wrong way a bus driver can punch your transfer to allow you to go back on another bus. The TTC system is comprised of buses, street cars and a 2.75 line subway system. 2 big lines, a short 5 stop line and a short 6 stop LRT line. The bus in front of the venue takes you straight to Lawrence West Station. From there you can access almost anything in the city in less than 2 hours with most places being roughly 1 hr away from the venue because it is in the outskirts of the city. Regular cash fare is $3. They do not give you change on buses. Tokens give you a small discount but have to be purchased at stations. You can purchase them through a machine or the ticket booth operator but can only be purchased in certain multiples. A day pass is $10.50 and can be used by 2 adults and up to 4 kids on Sundays. The day pass gives you unlimited travel on the entire TTC for that day. You will have to buy them at a station. You are also able to buy tickets/tokens at random convenience stores in the city but I can’t guarantee there will be one close to your hotel or the venue.
The other transit option is GO Transit. This is mainly used as a commuter service for people who live in the suburbs and need to get into the city for work. There are trains as well as buses but for the most part you won’t need to use this service. If you do end up having to take it for some reason, the fare is distance/service based. It is not easy to mix the two up but if you are down town and looking for a way back to the air port there are possible ways to take GO Transit to the air port.
HOW TO GET DOWNTOWN
From the venue you can take the 58 bus East towards Lawrence West Station.
Once you are at Lawrence West station (4th stop on the left side of the yellow line) take the subway down to anywhere between St Patrick Station to Dundas Station. It all depends on where you want to go. Eaton Centre is connected to Dundas and Queen Station. All of the stations in the left side of the “U” at below the green line are on the same streets as the corresponding right side of the “U”. Its about a 5-10 minute walk from one side of the U to the other side.
Sites and Attractions [S&AT]
OUT OF CITY
Niagara Falls [NIFA]
If you have never been to Niagara Falls and its surrounding area you should probably go here. It is a great example of how powerful yet beautiful nature can be. Seeing it in the winter give you a different view of the falls that you won’t see in pictures. Aside from staring at the falls while freezing your face off the surrounding area is a great entertainment district.
Niagara Falls is roughly 1 to 2 to two hours from Toronto, depending on where you are located. Here are driving directions from the airport to Niagara. http://maps.google.ca/maps?q=pearson+airport&sugexp=chrome,mod%3D14&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&ei=2AC4UPbiL4qTyQH8uoFQ&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAA
If you don’t want to drive there is actually another way to get to Niagara, the Casino shuttle buses. They are a great deal and the only down side is you are restricted on when you can go or come back on them. Here is a link to their pick up locations. http://www.safewaytours.net/casinobus.html The basics of it are you pay $30 if you don’t have a player’s advantage card then you bring your ticket to the player’s advantage card booth at the casino and you get a $25 play Voucher. So basically the trip ride costs you $5. Talk to the bus driver and find out what times buses leave. From what I understand you get priority seating on the bus 5 hrs from when you arrive but your ticket back is valid for standby seats up to 48 hrs.
There are two casinos, Casino Niagara and Fallsview Casino. Fallsview is the newer one and much better in my opinion. However for poker I am not sure which is a better venue. Fallsview has a decent buffet but the last time I ate there was when it opened so it could easily have fallen off the wheels since then.
Other than the Casinos, there are a lot of tourist trap attractions; a Ferris wheel, 4D Theatres, Haunted Houses etc… They are all kitschy but fun none the less. In the past I’ve gotten a pass for $30 that gave me access to 4 attractions and it was worth the money in my eyes just for the laughs alone.
There are a few clubs in Niagara that are pretty busy because a lot of Americans come over to party due to our lower drinking age. I am sure they are better for booze than music though so depending on what you are looking for they may or may not interest you.
Pacific Mall [PACM]
Pacific Mall is a very unique mall. It is basically a modern China Town rolled up into a nice mall. Every store has glass doors and walls. You can find a lot of import goods from China, Japan and the rest of Asia in this mall. If you are looking for an interesting place to shop while sipping on a Bubble Tea you should make the trek out east to Pacific Mall. Make sure to go up stairs to the mini food court for some great finger food options like Beard Papas (cream puffs) or some other more traditional Asian street food options. To get here the easiest way is to go to Finch Station and take the 53 East bus to Kennedy Rd. There are several 53 buses (A, B, C etc…) but all should go to Kennedy.
Raptors/Leafs/Air Canada Centre [AIRC]
If you are a hockey fan you will thank your wallet that there is no NHL this year. Leaf games are pretty much impossible to get tickets to and if you can find a ticket they are extremely expensive. If Dave Matthews Band or Carrie Underwood are your cup of tea they will be performing on the weekend of the GP. The Air Canada Centre is a great venue for concerts. Acoustics are good and views are generally good. Depending on if you stay in Toronto after the GP or not you could catch the other horrible team that plays in the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors (can you tell I’m a disgruntled fan?). The earliest game is the Wednesday after the GP vs the Nets. If you are not here for that long but do want to watch some basketball or any sport for that matter in the city I would suggest heading to Real Sports bar just outside the Air Canada Centre. I will go into more detail about the bar in the food section but it is definitely the best place I have ever been to for watching any sporting event. To get to the ACC area as well as the Skydome/Rogers Centre area all you have to do is take the TTC to Union Station and follow the signs. There is a direct access to the ACC through Union Station.
CN Tower/Rogers Centre/Skydome [CNRC]
The Skydome, now named the Rogers Centre is a few minutes away from the ACC. It is easy to find because all you have to do is look up and find where the CN Tower is. Both should have tours if you are into that sort of thing. Both have restaurants in them as well but are higher priced places just for the novelty/view.
Eaton Centre [EATC]
Eaton Centre is arguably the city’s best mall. Regardless of how good it is compared to other malls it is still a decent sized mall with almost anything you would want. Eaton Centre is a tourist landmark in the city and it is understandable once you get in there. Because the Christmas season is upon us the mall will have a special kind of cheer in the air you only get during this time of year. If you only do one daytrip while in the city Eaton Centre and its surrounding areas, Yonge and Dundas Square, Queen Street, City hall and possibly Kensington Market are your best bet. The Club district is also pretty close to Eaton Centre so if you really want a full day of going out and enjoying Toronto, this area is definitely your best bet.
Yonge and Dundas Square [Y&DS]
This is basically Toronto’s mini version of New York’s Time Square. It isn’t necessary to see the actual corner itself. Billboards are just billboards and it is nowhere as impressive as NYC, but it is located right in the centre of downtown Toronto. There are also usually events going on in the area so you may luck out and catch a food truck event or a free concert. If you plan on going to Eaton Centre to shop you may as well check it out as you are basically there anyways. To get to Yonge and Dundas Square just get off at Dundas station. From here you can access Eaton Centre, Silver Snail, Kensington Market (a little bit of a walk) and Queen Street (a little bit of a walk).
Silver Snail [SLVR]
Silver Snail is the city’s best comic book store. It recently moved to its current location and you are lucky you get to see it in all its glory. Its location is perfectly situated across the street from Eaton Centre and Yonge and Dundas square. It is above a Five Guys and doors away there is a Chipotle. Like I said, PERFECT location for a comic store. Inside you will find a huge assortment of action figures, vinyl figures, trade paper backs and comics. They do have Magic cards but selection is limited. They also have a café inside the store which is a nice addition if you have time to lounge around and read a chapter or two of a TPB.
City Hall/Nathan Phillips Square Skating [CTYH]
City Halls are usually boring but if you are into architecture etc… you can check out our new and old city hall right beside Eaton Centre. Interesting fact, our New City hall was pictured blowing up in Resident Evil Apocalypse seen here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEK2uIVDuKQ. You can also check out Nathan Phillips Square beside city hall which is basically a skating rink. There are burger/fry trucks along Queen Street beside the skating rink. Nothing special but if you want a greasy freshly fried poutine you can’t really go wrong with these trucks.
Queen Street West [QUST]
Queen Street West is our trendy alternative district of our city. You will find big name stores along this street but you will also find a lot of small boutiques, vintage apparel stores and some great shoe stores. Almost any place on Queen Street is at least an ok meal. Nothing outstanding but good enough if you want to eat in that area. It is a short walk from Eaton Centre, just exit on the end of the mall where Mc Donald’s and the Disney Store are and walk west. You are going the right way if you exited out the doors where you face the Bay department store walk right down Queen Street. Along the way you will see City hall with a large skating rink keep on walking down Queen Street. You can walk all the way to Bathurst but stopping at Spadina, the corner with McDonalds is good enough for most. The further west you go the more hipster it gets.
Bay and Bloor/Yorkville [B&BL]
The Bay and Bloor area of the city is the posh end of the city. During the Toronto International Film Festival, this is where all the big stars shop, eat and party. Most of you will probably not be interested in shopping here but for the few of you looking for your next $100 pair of socks head over here.
Distillery District [DISD]
This is one of my favorite parts of the city, especially during the Christmas season. It is a historic area of the city with brick laid streets and restored Victorian Industrial buildings. There is a Christmas Market going on at this time of year. It involves lights, music, decorations and festivities as well as great food and interesting shops throughout the area. It is a short street car ride from Eaton Centre as well so if you are not interested in shopping on Queen Street you can’t really go wrong heading up towards the distillery District either. To get here all you have to do is walk to King Street from Eaton Centre (South) and take the 504 Street car East. Get off at Parliament and walk two blocks south.
Toronto has a large China town, Little Italy, Greek Town, Little India and Korea town among other ethnic centred areas. If you are looking for food in any of those areas it is hard to go wrong. I won’t really list any of my favorites out of those areas because they all really come down to personal tastes.
Toronto is not known as a foodie town worldwide, but trust me, there are tons of great places to eat and if it were an American city it would definitely be in the top 10, maybe even top 5 for food destinations in North America. Our large variety of cultures only helps this out as there is basically something to please almost anyone’s tastes in Toronto. An easy way to get a quick view of how good the cuisine in Toronto is to head over to BlogTo http://www.blogto.com/toronto/ , or theGridto http://www.thegridto.com/grid-picks/ and check out their restaurant picks. BlogTo’s best of lists cover almost any type of food you want to try and you don’t have to go to the number one spots; any spot on their lists is usually worth the trip.
Now on to my favorite spots…
If you do not know what Poutine is it may sound weird at first but trust me, it is one of the best comfort foods you could ever eat. A basic poutine is fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. Any foodie coming to Canada should be looking to try a poutine joint. I haven’t tried many places known for “poutine” specifically because you can get a decent poutine almost anywhere that sells fries. However for an out of towner there is one place I would send them too just for the experience of it.
Smoke’s Poutinerie [SPOU]
Smoke’s Poutine is one of the better poutines in the city but it is so far from what I remember poutine as when I was growing up. My favorite poutine is still the poutine I used to get in high school at a local burger joint made with fresh bacon crumbled on top. Sadly that burger joint no longer exists but like I said, you can find decent poutines everywhere in Toronto, even from fry trucks scattered throughout the city. However if you want to go to one place to have a poutine and have a great experience Smoke’s is the place to go. I would suggest going to the Adelaide location which is just South of Queen Street West and worth the small detour. It is also in the club district and open really late so if you end up going to a club in Toronto that is a great after club option. The location on Dundas Street is in a little bit of a shady area so I wouldn’t suggest an out of towner going there unless you want to go to the really dirty strip club across the street.
The Stockyards [STYD]
I’ve only had burgers here but it’s because I am pretty much in love with their burgers. My wife has had the fried chicken and says it is amazing as well. Their fries are great. Seasoned well and perfectly cooked. Their biscuits are also tasty. It is a small place and can get pretty busy at times so if you do go set some time aside for waiting to get in and/or waiting for your food. If you are driving you will have to find parking on the street.
The Burgers Priest [BUPR]
Burgers Priest is basically Shake Shack the Canadian version. The “Option” is their cheese infused Portobello mushroom similar to Shake Shack’s “ShackStack”. The fries are nothing to be excited about. I would stay away from them unless you were really hungry. There are two locations, one East of downtown. You would have to take a street car if you wanted to get there from downtown. It is on Queen Street East. The other is in our uptown area. About a 10 minute walk North of Lawrence Station. There are actually a lot of good food choices in this area but nothing else that a tourist would really want to go to this area for.
Pizzeria Libretto [PZLI]
I’ve had Pizza all over the world and Libretto is in the higher levels of my Pizza hierarchy. It is a thin crust style pizza but not overly crispy. They have fresh toppings, a great atmosphere and amazing service. There is nothing much else one can say about a good pizza joint.
Tacos are a newer trend in Toronto but we have a few great joints.
Grand Electric [GREL]
Grand Electric is as trendy as they come. It may scare away some people with its loud music and too hip it hurts waitresses but if you can get past that you are in for a treat. The music is actually really great if you like hip hop. The Baja fish taco is insanely good but I would suggest trying anything that peaks your interest on their menu. It changes day to day but you I’ve never been disappointed with anything I’ve ordered. The line ups can be pretty insane, sometimes 3 hrs for a table and they don’t take reservations. The best bet is to get there 30 minutes before opening. If you can’t do that you can always get your name down on the waiting list then heading to a bar close by for a drink or three while waiting, they will call you when a table opens up.
La Carnita [LACA]
La Carnita is not as good as Grand Electric food wise; however, you may have a better experience. It too plays great hip hop (a current Toronto trend for new restaurants) but it is a much bigger restaurant. The wait times are definitely less. The only thing I would say stay away from on their menu is the Avocado Taco. It’s a vegetarian option and it just isn’t as good as the meat options. La Carnita currently makes my favorite drink of all time. I can’t remember what it is called but it is their version of a Caesar. On the menu it is made with Tecata beer but ask for it to be made with Negra Modelo. Try it out if you like Caesars or Bloody Marys, you won’t be disappointed. Their desserts are also excellent but because it is cold outside you probably won’t want to try one of their fancy homemade popsicles.
I am a little biased when it comes to Asian food because, well I am Asian. So I end up eating more Asian food than anything else without even consciously doing it. Toronto has a huge Asian population so our choices here are pretty top notch. The problem with Asian food in general is similar to the problem with Poutine. Local places you grew up eating at are usually your favorites but they may not be the best and there are definitely tons of other places similar to your favorite place sometimes even next door.
Bubble Tea [BBLT]
I’ve heard some places call bubble tea Boba but in Toronto we call it Bubble Tea. We have some awesome Bubble Tea spots in Toronto but they are pretty much everywhere. Tea Shop 168 is a decent chain that is consistent if anything. If you do end up in Pacific Mall my favorite spot there is Serissa. Their bubbles are of varying size and taste great which makes it different enough from everything else you can get to make it memorable. If you wanted a place to hang out for dessert/bubble tea I would head to Destiny Café on Hwy 7 and Hwy 404. It is easy to get to by car, has a great open ceiling design and is surrounded by tons of decent chain restaurants if that’s the type of dinner you want. There is a Melting Pot nearby and it is beside a decent Korean BBQ place called Chako.
Yeuh Tung [YETU]
This is your run of the mill China town style restaurants. However they have one dish that I crave more than anything. After a foodie trip to NYC my wife and I headed straight here after we stepped off the plane. If I was on death row this is what I would ask for as my last meal. The dish is Manchurian Chicken, dry. I’ve heard their Chili Chicken is good as well but I think they are basically the same thing with just a slight variation in the spices. This restaurant is about a 5 minute walk from Eaton Centre and is basically behind City Hall. You can actually get to it if you walk to the right of the actual city hall building. It is on the corner of a side street that intersects with Dundas. Look for the Longos super market it is across the street from it.
If you are from NYC you may recognize the name. Momofuku just opened up its Toronto location in the past few months. It too is close enough to Eaton Centre that you can walk to it. There are 4 separate sections to the restaurant on 3 different floors. The noodle bar is the ground floor and is the cheapest to eat at. If you want to have a finer dining experience, you can go all the way up to the fine dining option on the top floor. So if you are dying for a little bit of NYC Momofuku is the place you want to be.
Japanese cuisine is very popular in Toronto. Sushi especially can be found almost everywhere. There are tons of all you can eat Japanese places but the quality is never top notch but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the meal. My rule of thumb going to an all you can eat Japanese joint is as long as it is busy the sushi should at least be somewhat fresh.
Spoon and Fork [SPFK]
One of my preferred Asian all you can eat places is Spoon and Fork. This is mainly because I live close by but it is also a little higher end so you aren’t eating day old sushi. It is about a 20 minute drive from the venue so if you are driving and only have time to eat at one place this is a decent choice if you are staying near the venue. It has a classy décor and lots of great choices if you are not a sushi lover. It has some great Thai curries and Chinese noodle dishes. My favorite dish is actually the smoked duck salad. Try it if you head over to this restaurant.
Izakayas are another trend creeping throughout the city. Probably one of the more popular ones is a place called Guu. I personally haven’t been yet but it is definitely on my list of places to go. Guu has done so well that they now have a chain of restaurants that have all gotten decent reviews. They have a Ramen joint called Kinton http://kintonramen.com/ which is hard to get into at times. Their newest spot is one that I really want to try. It is called Ja Bistro http://www.jabistro.com/. It has been getting really good reviews and is probably one of the better spots to get sushi in the city.
LATE NIGHT EATS [LNET]
I work odd hour shift work so Late night eats are very near and dear to my heart.
Zet’s Restaurant [ZETS]
Zet’s Restaurant is not a fine dining experience. It is what it is, a 24 hour diner close to the air port. It has a mean hamburger as well as a great souvlaki. You can’t really go wrong with diner food at 4am. If you are going to the Manadeprived party http://manadeprived.com/announcing-the-manadeprived-com-gp-toronto-party/ this is a great place to head to for an after party bite to eat, especially if you have a little bit of alcohol in you.
The Lakeview [LKVW]
This is my go to eatery any day of the week. I have been here dozens of times and I have never been disappointed. It is comfort food at its finest. They have a great selection of sandwiches and burgers as well as a great poutine. You can also get all day breakfast but there are so many other great things on the menu that I have never even tried their breakfast. They have cheap mimosas and Caesars every day all day. To top it off they have killer milk shakes. You can even get a slice of pie BLENDED into your shake! They also have deep fried chocolate bars available for dessert. They don’t list them on the menu but I’ve had deep fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and they were DIVINE! Warning, this is a Hipster joint but other than that it is one of my favorites in the city.
MUSIC AND EVENTS [MU&E}
If you are looking for entertainment in the city I am not the best person to talk to. I work off hours and have weird days off. Luckily Toronto events are pretty well organized online. Check out the following websites or physical newspaper/magazines to find out what sort of things are happening in the city.
Toronto is also known as a theatre town. Check out www.mirvish.com if you are interested in going to see a play you have some decent options.
Manadeprived.com GP Toronto Party [MGTP]
I’ve saved the best for last. If you do one thing and one thing only with your time while in Toronto it definitely has to be the Manadeprived.com’s GP Toronto Party. Check out this link for full details. http://manadeprived.com/announcing-the-manadeprived-com-gp-toronto-party/
It is steps away from the venue and will be a blast. @MrScottyMac has organized what looks to be an amazing night. SCG Vegas and GP Toronto Replays will be streaming on the TVs in the bar. They’ve organized Karaoke to be available and there will be food specials for the night as well. Capacity is 250 so get there before it fills up. Several Team Channel Fireball guys are going as well as writers from Manadeprived.
And finally, here’s a handy map to put together all the places I’ve outlined above: http://goo.gl/maps/C5Mtk