As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is home to hundreds of different cultures and communities, each bringing its own flavors, spice combinations, tastes and regional dishes to the table. In turn, this has created one of the most diverse hubs for food in the world — and one of the most exciting.
To help us navigate through all the deliciousness, we sat down with Pay Chen, a Toronto-based food writer, TV personality and, most notably, guest judge on the debut season of Iron Chef Canada. Read on for her list of the 10 dishes you can’t miss the next time you’re in town.
Chicken empanadas from Jumbo Empanadas
When exploring the city’s Kensington Market neighborhood, most of the fun is in discovering the mom-and-pop shops whipping up street foods that hail from all over the world.
“I have been buying empanadas from Jumbo Empanada for at least 15 years,” Chen said. “It’s the perfect snack to take home after loading up my arms with groceries in the market. There is one black olive in each empanada, and it’s like finding a treasure each time.”
Cheesy pies from Descendent Detroit-Style Pizza
“I crave their Detroit-style pizza every day,” Chen said. This east side favorite serves up the classic Italian-American dish baked in a rectangular pan with edge-to-edge cheese for a super-crispy finish.
“Every pizza here is amazing, but one worth trying is the Truff-ghi — roasted mushrooms, a blend of cheeses, caramelized onions, double-smoked bacon, white truffle sauce, lemon zest, thyme and Grana Padano [a cheese similar to Parmesan]. It’s a dream!”
Spicy chicken taco from Campechano Taqueria
Located in Toronto’s King West district — the area is home to the city’s best nightlife and the luxurious Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Thompson Toronto boutique hotel — Campechano is an upbeat Mexican eatery that serves up great guacamole and ceviche, but be sure to stay for the tacos.
Chen’s pick: the spicy chicken option. “This taco is spicy,” Chen said. “Every time I order it, my mouth burns, but in that good way where you can’t stop eating because the burn is also so damn delicious.”
Butter tarts from Andrea’s Gerrard St. Bakery
This little bakery is a gem in East Chinatown, serving cookies, cakes and a true Canadian treat: the butter tart. The classically rich shell is filled with a sweet custard, prepared plain for traditionalists or with nuts and raisins to spice it up.
“Raisins are my nemesis, and Andrea’s makes perfect raisin-free butter tarts,” Chen said.
Sea-salt-crusted whole sea bream from Kiin
From the owners of Pai Northern Thai Kitchen — which makes the city’s best pad Thai and is mere steps from Five-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto — comes Kiin, their newest restaurant.
Nuit and Jeff Regular’s menu features traditional dishes from all over Thailand, like mieng pla, a whole sea bream cooked with a sea-salt crust and Thai herbs. It’s served with butter lettuce for crunchy wraps.
Burrata from Campagnolo
For comforting Italian cuisine, there’s nothing like chef Craig Harding’s Campagnolo on Dundas Street West.
Since day one, Harding’s burrata cheese with roasted grapes, paired with garlic toast, has been one of the best dishes in the city. “This is a must-order every single visit,” Chen said.
Ceviche or grilled beef short ribs from Foxley Bistro
Foxley Bistro has been a staple in the Ossington neighborhood for years. Even after nearly a decade, chef Tom Thai’s fusion cuisine continues to rake in the acclaim.
“People don’t talk about Foxley like they talk about other buzz-worthy restaurants,” Chen said, “but this is one of my favorite restaurants in Toronto because the food is consistently good. A lot of dishes include fresh ingredients with Asian influence and every item on the menu is worth trying.”
Duck liver parfait from Canis Restaurant
Over on Queen Street West, this high-end dining room brings fresh, inventive cuisine to the city. While the menu changes regularly, the duck liver parfait (or a variation of it) is a fan favorite. Chen swears by it: “This is definitely one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life.”
Almond toffee gelato at Soma Chocolatemaker
For artisanal chocolate and treats, this sweets shop is the go-to for those in the know.
In the winter, Soma’s specialty hot chocolate will warm the soul. But during the summer, don’t miss the gelato.
For Chen, it’s the seasonal almond toffee scoop that hits the spot. “This gelato is so wonderfully decadent and creamy with a hint of salty sweetness in the toffee bits,” she said. “Everything at Soma is done perfectly, but this gelato wows people every time I introduce them to it. It makes me feel like a gelato queen.”
Spicy beef noodle soup from GB Hand-pulled Noodles
Right in the heart of the city, just steps from Yonge-Dundas Square and Toronto Eaton Centre, GB Hand-pulled Noodles turns out fresh, made-to-order Chinese comfort food.
Request your noodles fat, thin, flat, round or in whatever style you crave, in your choice of soup base (there’s a vegetarian option, too) with a variety of toppings. It’s simple, but oh so satisfying.