Where are you heading off this summer? If you are a major foodie like me, you’d take to Google to plan out your foodie trail in the little time you’ve got at your destination. However, an even better bet is having a local friend who’s lived and eaten around the city. Today we are exploring Toronto (Canada) through the tastebuds of my very special friend Upa Hazarika. Upa and I go back a long, long time and have been friends since we were wee toddlers. Trust me, this girl has great taste when it comes to eating out 🙂 Read on about her recent trip back to her hometown Toronto.
Art, Cocktails, and Good Eats: Toronto Insider Tips
Every year my family and I visit my hometown of Toronto and I cannot help but feel a little lost in terms of the dining scene – so much has changed since I moved away 10 years ago. So this year, my husband and I set out on a culinary tour with our local foodie friend – it was an epic journey as we walked the neighbourhoods of Toronto and explored restaurants off the beaten path. Instagram-worthy giant ice cream cones, old fashioned cocktails, Spanish art nouveau architecture, and Jamaican Asian fusion bites made for an unforgettable experience. If you are ever in the city, I highly recommend paying a visit to one or more of the following eateries.
We began our journey by appeasing our sweet tooth at Sweet Jesus on John Street – a tiny shop that serves giant, decorated cones of soft serve ice cream. Normally, we are not the type to stand in line for anything – let alone for ice cream. However, we were assured that it would be worth it and the line that snaked all the way outside the shop definitely had us curious.
Sweet Jesus did not disappoint – the huge cones smothered with decorations are a sight to behold. Krusty the Cone looks like a beehive smothered with sprinkles and surrounded by tufts of cotton candy. Other favourites include Bangin’ Brownie, Cookies Cookies Cookies & Cream, and Red Rapture, although you cannot go wrong with any of their 10 creations. Apparently, they make a whopping 200 to 1000 cones per day, even in the frigid winter months!
Next we meandered through the Kensington Market neighbourhood – a National Historic Site of Canada and one of Toronto’s most photographed sites. Nestled amongst Rastafarian shops, cannabis cafés, and large street murals in this Bohemian neighbourhood is Trinity Common, a craft beer hall and cocktail bar. We settled into their sunny patio and ordered a round of libations.
You know a bar takes cocktails seriously when they use specialty liqueurs and serve cocktails in retro-style champagne coupes. The Last Word, a gin-based cocktail, with green Chartreuse (powerful liqueur distilled from 130 different plants) won my vote hands down. If you prefer something more casual, the 20 rotating tap handles offer a variety of craft beers from all over the world. Live music on the stage or people watching from their patio makes it a pretty fun hangout.
Bar Raval, a Spanish tapas bar co-owned by a celebrity chef and two world-renowned mixologists, was our next stop. Unassuming from the outside but mind-blowing architecture on the inside – think modern day Gaudi. The interior is covered by impeccably detailed mahogany wood designed to resemble the muscle fibers and tattoos of the owners.
Once we managed to collect ourselves and settle in at a table, we ordered a variety of tapas. Most notable was their canned specialties – normally, I would not touch canned food at a restaurant with a ten-foot pole (especially scallops) but upon our server’s recommendation I acquiesced. It was absolutely scrumptious and nothing like I had ever had before. We also shared a slice of Basque cheesecake – it was decadent and I can never have a regular cheesecake after this experience. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the cocktail menu – amateurs beware as the list presumes knowledge of spirit names and makes no attempt to provide laymen descriptions of the ingredients. But not to worry – for $16 you can describe the flavour profile you like and the bartender will concoct a custom drink. Bar Raval is open from 8am to 2am daily and is perfect for breakfast or small bites later in the day.
We concluded our culinary adventure at Patois – a fusion of Jamaican, Chinese, and Canadian cuisines. In addition to our foodie friend recommending the place, a server at another restaurant two days prior was also raving about it – so we had to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about.
The Jerk Chicken Chowmein was brilliant – succulent pieces of spicy chicken topped with crispy noodles and vegetables cooked in oyster sauce. As the noodles absorbed the sauce, the two flavor profiles combined to create the perfect soul food dish. Another noteworthy dish is the Jamaican Oxtail with plantain coconut rice. For the adventurous amongst us, Patois has a chef’s tasting menu where you can try The Whole Shebang for $110. In hindsight, combining Jamaican and Chinese cuisines seems like a no-brainer and it was the perfect ending to our adventure in a city that promotes the fusion of cultures.
A big ‘thank-you’ to my lovely friend Upa Hazarika for giving us an enticing glimpse of the foodie scene in Toronto. We promise to churn out more global foodie posts on The Tezzy Files soon!