1166 Dundas St., Little Italy
Possibly the coolest (and most atypical) Chinese restaurant in Toronto, SoSo Food Club’s dining room is shaded in pale pink and turquoise, with abstract prints on the wall and lit by neon pink lighting once the sun sets. (The result feels like a cross between Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and Blade Runner.) The food also defies easy categorization, with twists on regional dishes from Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Hong Kong. Our favorite is the XO Lobster Mapo Tofu, a bowl of piping hot soft tofu (and a side of steamed rice), sustainably-sourced Nova Scotia lobster, blue crab, and spicy seafood XO sauce. Book a late reservation and go straight from dinner to dancing, which kicks off at 11pm every night in the dining room.
60 Kensington Ave., Kensington Market
The name is local slang for the alcohol concealed in teapots served in Chinese restaurants after last call at the bars. But here at Cold Tea in Kensington Market, everything is all out in the open—and it’s packed to the rafters. Some call it hipster utopia, where young Toronto creatives gather for locally pressed cider and cans of Ace Hill Pilsner. The tiny kitchen churns out endless supplies of dumplings and also plays host to a rotating cast of restaurant pop-ups (check Cold Tea’s Instagram for the latest collaborations).
1276 Dundas St., Little Italy
It's hidden behind a modest, nondescript storefront, and walking into Mahjong is like entering a portal to another world. The walls are adorned with a vivid jungle scene by local artist Gabriella Lo, the floors evoke a glamorous retro feel with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern, and apothecary-style glass cabinets hold bottles of booze and wine. Drinks may have Canadian-centric names (like the Lake Joe Spritz, which, as the menu proclaims, is meant to evoke “that Muskoka lifestyle minus mosquitos and four-hour drive”), but with a Japanese influence, using ingredients like yuzu, sake, plum wine, and Nashi pear.
1161 Dundas St., Little Italy
With potted greenery; light wood accents; a high, wood-beamed ceiling; and skylights that flood the room with natural light, Paris Paris can feel more Southern California than, say, the capital of France. But this wine bar and all-day canteen in Trinity-Bellwoods stays true to its name when it comes to the menu, featuring Cabernet Francs from the Loire, Chardonnays from Burgundy, and grenache rosé from Provence. Foodwise, the whole roasted oyster mushroom doused in chicken jus is a winner.
140 Yonge St., Old Toronto
The Dineen Building is an 1897 Renaissance Revival beauty that now houses the flagship outpost of this popular independent café. Dineen makes a solid matcha latte and macchiato, but really it’s the building itself that’s worth a visit. Double-height ceilings, mosaic-tiled floors, and plenty of natural light and seating means that a quick cortado can turn into a few hours reading and soaking in the warmth next to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
St. Lawrence Market
93 Front St. E., St. Lawrence
Over 120 food vendors selling artisan cheeses, exotic fruits and vegetables, Canadian wines (yes, they exist), just-caught fish, spices, and prepared grab-and-go goods call this gigantic redbrick building next to Toronto’s Inner Harbor home. Aside from all the edible items, there are also stalls selling handmade crafts and jewelry, and it’s as much a place to shop as a community hub—check the website for the program of cooking classes, workshops, and lectures throughout the year.
550 Wellington St., Entertainment District
King West Village—one of Toronto’s hipper neighborhoods full of bars, cafés, restaurants and converted warehouse lofts—is a fitting place for the Thompson, which has the same fun spirit as the blocks surrounding it. Locals love it, and you’ll often find them using the hotel as an unofficial clubhouse, whether at the Thompson Diner (a modernized version of a classic American diner), the rooftop lounge (with gorgeous views of the skyline), or Wildflower, a sleek nightlife spot for late-night revelry. The guest rooms feel more like your coolest friend’s apartment than a hotel; they’re designed by New York firm Studio Gaia with super modern furniture and little touches like heated marble bathroom floors—a nod to Toronto winters.
118 Yorkville Ave., Yorkville
If we may be so bold: First-time visitors to Toronto should stay in Yorkville, a central, very walkable neighborhood known for some of the best shopping in the city (the famous department store Holt Renfrew is a few blocks away). It’s also home to the Hazelton, a high-end boutique hotel with seventy-seven rooms designed by superstar local design firm Yabu Pushelberg. The overall look is minimal, streamlined, modern, and big (even the smallest rooms are the size of most other hotels' suites). And don’t go looking for color—almost the entire place is in shades of gray, white, and black. Our favorite part is the indoor lap pool, perfect for a swim before a steam and deep-tissue massage at the spa.
Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto
High above Lake Ontario, about a forty-minute drive northeast of central Toronto, the Scarborough Bluffs make for an ideal outdoorsy day trip from the city in nice weather. The nine-mile-long stretch of glacial cliffs contain several parks for hiking, biking, or picnicking on a grassy lawn overlooking the water. Our favorite park, Bluffers, has direct access to the lake with a long, wide, and beautiful beach. It can get crowded during the height of summer, which makes early fall and late spring the best times to visit. Image courtesy of todocanada.ca.
Electric Mud BBQ
5 Brock Ave., Parkdale
Service can be a little brusque here, but who cares? If you’re a fan of BBQ, you have to try this place. The grilled pork ribs (served with avocado, cucumber, and sumac yogurt) and the buttermilk fried chicken are the things to order, but if you’re visiting with vegetarian friends, there’s also a crispy fried Buffalo Cauliflower and a fine beet salad, smoked and served with spiced pecans and gremolata.
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