Toronto Specialty

Specialty neighborhood
Balzac’s Distillery District
1 Trinity St., Distillery District
This space is reminiscent of the kind of café you'd find down a Paris back alley—all the details look timeworn in the best way possible. Old posters line the walls, the checkerboard tile floor is a little scuffed, and the small round tables make conversation easy. With so many stellar coffee spots in Toronto, Balzac distinguishes itself from the masses with their unique coffee blends, our favorite being the Atwood (named after the Canadian author).
Bang Bang Ice Cream
93a Ossington Ave., Ossington
We have it on good authority that this is hands-down the creamiest, most flavorsome ice cream to be had in Toronto. Run by a pastry-loving brother and sister duo, Rosanne Pezelli makes the cookies and her brother Arthur handles the rest. Get in line for mouth-watering flavors like burnt toffee and cinnamon toast, sandwiched between two chewy cookies. Everything is made in-house and is so good that not even Toronto winters deter the crowds.
Blackbird Baking Co.
172 Baldwin St., Kensington Market
While this bakery looks fairly nondescript from the outside, rest assured, Blackbird churns out the best bread in town. With British chef April Blomfield (also of NYC gastropub The Spotted Pig) as an investor, no stone is left unturned in the quest for the perfect slice. Blackbird uses only the freshest, stone-ground, unbleached flour—older flour really does have a negative impact on the taste—made from a heritage Canadian grain called Red Fife. (Traditional fermentation methods are used to give their sourdough that signature sourness.) Lines wind down to the street come the weekend for Blackbird's baguettes, focaccia, spelt, and sesame loaves as well as their flaky pastries. For the ambitious at-home baker with room to spare in their luggage, bags of their custom flour are available for purchase.
Boxcar Social
235 Queens Quay W., Harbourfront
Intended to be a spot to linger over a drink—both caffeinated and alcoholic libations are available—and socialize, rather than rush in and out, the menu, décor, and ambiance at Boxcar make it hard to leave. The tasting flight (three different blends and types of coffee on a tray), is an exciting way to slow down and really taste the nuances in flavor between blends. Boxcar also offers a short menu featuring breakfast standbys like avocado toast and granola, alongside more inventive items like a particularly delicious ricotta and jam toast for those of us who like our sweet fix before 10am.
28 Kensington Ave, Kensington Market
This beautiful, Scandinavian-style café centers around the Swedish tradition of 'fika'—which essentially means taking a break through the day for a coffee and ideally sweet snack. The interior is an oasis of Scandi calm—all bleached wood, and greenery. (There's even a sweet nook lined with old books.) The menu is a healthy but deeply delicious mix of Nordic granola with stewed fruit, banana on toast, and signature Swedish treats like cinnamon and cardamom buns, alongside inventive riffs on classics like lavender-infused brownies and chamomile cookies.
Greenhouse Juice
740 Queen St. W., West Queen West
Greenhouse Juice is a bit of a well-kept secret, but for those in the know this wellness mecca merits a daily drop-in for smoothies and cold press juice. With as many of the ingredients as possible sourced from local farms (with a particular demand for the misshapen, but no less nutritious veggies typically rejected by food markets), the leftover pulp from the cold press is re-used as compost, and all drinks come in recycled glass bottles. Drop in for probiotic tonics, chia seed-boosted hydrators, homemade nut milks, and a selection of cleanse options.
Sam James Coffee
917 Queen St. W., West Queen West
Founder Sam James is an award-winning barista, so it's natural you'd expect that the coffee here is nothing short of sensational. However, the real draw of this tiny, minimalist space remains the grown-up versions of throwback sweet treats like Pop Tarts and Twinkies, all made in the back by pastry chef Lindsey Gazel of LindseyBakes. Instead of tables and chairs, a long wall-side bench envelopes the space encouraging conversation and a sense of community between drinkers, though lingering all day with a laptop is politely discouraged.
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