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Places

Hit Toronto’s hottest neighborhoods

To get a true sense of Toronto, take a stroll through some of the many diverse neighborhoods in Canada’s largest city.

Over 50% of Toronto residents were born outside of Canada, giving Toronto the claim to fame of being one of the most multicultural – if not the most multicultural city in the world. What truly sets Toronto apart from other multicultural cities is the broad representation from pretty much every part of the world. Torontonians are proud of this diversity and embrace the extra flavor that it brings to their city – in its restaurants, and its neighborhoods. Here are a few very distinct neighborhoods within walking distance of each other in Toronto’s west end.

Little Italy

Little Italy, mainly running along College Street West, is frequented by Toronto locals during the day and attracts people from all over the city in the evenings due to its considerable restaurants, cafés, bars and music venues. This is a neighborhood that is proud of its Italian heritage – there’s even the Italian Walk of Fame on College Street honoring actor Armand Assante, Maria Grazia Cucinotta from The Sopranos and NHL hockey great, Phil Esposito, among others. Today, the predominately Italian area of Little Italy shares space with Portuguese, Spanish and other Latino descendants, turning the neighborhood into a particularly lively, flag-waving, car tooting place whenever there’s an international soccer game playing.

That's amore

There are so many good Italian restaurants in Little Italy that it’s hard to go wrong. Little Italy truly has something for every budget, whether it’s a pizza, baked goods to go, a sit-down pasta lunch or an elegant dinner. For the latter, it’s always a good idea to make a reservation, especially on weekends when places tend to fill up quickly. Behind its non-descript façade, Giulietta is a sophisticated Italian restaurant with steel accents and marble and an open kitchen and bar that offers a view on what’s cooking. Many of the dishes are meant to be shared, which is a good thing as it’s hard to pick just one top-notch delicacy from this foodie menu.

Giulietta

972 College St, Toronto

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Photo: Café Diplomatico

An Italian original

There are plenty of trendier and more gourmet restaurants in Little Italy but Café Diplomatico is a classic institution in Toronto, with a loyal following and a welcoming and familiar vibe. “The Dip” has been around for over five decades and was a second home to new Italian immigrants. It was also one of the first restaurants to flaunt an outdoor dining patio and its ideal corner location still fills up fast. If you want old-fashioned generous portions of Italian food at reasonable prices, visit the unpretentious Café Diplomatico.

Café Diplomatico

594 College Street, Toronto

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Photo: Voodoo Child

Put a spell on you

Craving a cappuccino fix or just plain thirsty? The Little Italy’s cozy Voodoo Child Espresso & Cocktail Bar will satisfy that craving. The friendly staff take their coffee, tea and cocktails very seriously and offer lovely nibbles too. With its wooden floors, soft lighting and chalkboard menus, it’s the kind of place where you can just chill or let the intellectual conversations flow. Voodoo also has an eclectic selection of cheerfully packaged food, coffees and tea for sale, so you can take your favorite blend home with you.

Voodoo Child Espresso & Cocktail Bar

Voodoo Child Espresso & Cocktail Bar

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Go Spanish in Little Italy

There are some terrific tapas bars in Little Italy, including the dark and cozy Bar Isabel (797 College St) and Bar Raval, which is a real standout, not only due to its creative menu, but its stunning Spanish Art Nouveau-inspired interior. Bar Raval’s centerpiece is a massive, contoured mahogany bar and eye-catching laser-cut steel screens framing the windows. Tapas and pintxos are on the menu here with an interesting wine and beer selection from southern Europe, plus a nod to Canadian breweries and wineries. Tables spill out onto the street patio in the summer, which is a good thing, as it’s an extremely popular place. Open seven days a week.

Bar Raval

505 College St

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Kensington Market

Toronto’s Kensington Market neighborhood is just a few blocks away from the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), with its magnificent addition by architect Frank Gehry, who grew up on nearby Beverley Street.  His parents were among the many new immigrants, particularly eastern European Jews, who lived and worked in the area when they first came to Toronto in the 1920s and 1930s. New waves of immigrants from the Caribbean, South America, East Africa, Vietnam, China and elsewhere, have filled the crowded neighborhood since, but there’s still a synagogue on Andrew Street. Unlike most downtown Toronto neighborhoods, Kensington Market hasn’t quite gentrified, despite some hipster hangouts (like the fairly Swedish “Fika” café on 28 Kensington Avenue). It remains genuinely working class, gritty and multicultural.

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Fulfill your vintage desires

Courage My Love has been around since way before vintage shopping was cool, opening its doors to Toronto bargain hunters back in the 1970s. Today it is packed with clothing, trinkets, bags, jewelry, decorative items, an incredible stock of buttons and beads – and everything you were ever looking for – or had never imagined. The store is as wild and crazy on the inside as it is on the outside, where racks spill out onto the front yard of this brightly painted old Victorian house.

Courage My Love

14 Kensington Ave, Toronto

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Photo: Shutterstock

Smooth jazz

Every summer, Toronto hosts the 10-day Toronto Jazz Festival at various venues around town, but when that’s not on, you can still experience live jazz at one of the city’s many music venues. One of the coolest (and tiniest) jazz venues around is Poetry Jazz Café, tucked away on Augusta Ave. The small lounge means you’re practically on the stage, but there’s also a courtyard if you prefer to carry on a conversation. Up and coming jazz musicians from around the world are served up here along with some tasty cocktails like the Bitches Brew, named after a Miles Davis album.

Poetry Jazz Café

224 Augusta Ave, Toronto

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Cheap and Cheerful eats

If you don’t feel like a sit-down meal, there are great cheese shops, fresh fruit stands, bakeries and everything you could wish for to create a perfect picnic – or grab inexpensive take-out food with a Latino twist in Toronto’s Kensington Market area. There’s Gus Tacos at 225 Augusta Avenue or Jumbo Empenadas, for authentic Chilean food. What started out as true street food, sold out of a hotdog cart in the early 1990s, has expanded into a restaurant and patio, but you can still order an empenada and side of salsa to go.

Jumbo Empenadas

245 Augusta Ave, Toronto

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Photo: Shutterstock

Be transported in Chinatown

Technically, Chinatown is another neighborhood, but it rubs shoulders with Kensington Market and is another must. You’ll forget this is Canada on the streets of Chinatown, with the sights, sounds and smells of Asia, and locals haggling over bok choy, herbs and roasted meats hanging in shop windows. Pop into the fully stocked Kai Wei Supermarket or another Asian food store to experience the chaotic vibe. Today, you’re just as likely to find a Korean hot stone pot bibimpap (Ka Chi Korean restaurant at 414 Dundas St.) or a Vietnamese Pho (Pho Hung at 350 Spadina Ave.) in addition to Chinese dim sum in the neighborhood.

Kai Wei Supermarket

253 Spadina Ave, Toronto

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Trinity-Bellwoods

The focal point of Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods neighborhood is its 15-acre park, once the home of Trinity College, which is now located on the downtown University of Toronto campus. Trinity Bellwoods Park includes an ice-skating rink, tennis courts, picnic areas, playground and even a Farmers Market in the summer. It’s a popular place for sunbathers, picnickers and sporty types but much of the action happens street side – on Queen Street West, Dundas Street West and Ossington Avenue, arguably the city’s trendiest strips today. There is an endless choice of restaurants and cafés, and artsy Queen Street West has the largest concentration of art galleries in Toronto. Most of them are free – as are the laneways off Ossington Avenue with their quirky and highly original street art.

Triple size me

Across from Trinity Bellwoods Park is a hopping hamburger joint owned by Matty Matheson, a Toronto-based chef, cookbook author and host of the food and travel show Dead Set On Life. The tiny burger place is busy so be prepared to put in your take-out order and wait for a high quality, meaty burger topped with Matty’s Patty’s sauce. For the vegetarians there’s the plant-based Impossible Burger. All burgers come in a single, double, or triple-size for those who dare. Add a chocolate milkshake and you’re good for the day.

Matty’s Patty’s Burger Club

923 Queen St W, Toronto

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Photo: Bar Koukla

When in Toronto, go Greek

Greek immigrants came to Toronto in droves following World War II and the military junta of the 1960s and 1970s. Subsequently, Toronto had the largest Greektown in North America, located on Danforth Avenue, or as locals say, “The Danforth”. Trinity-Bellwoods also has its share of Greek restaurants and the lovely Mamakas, with its sister Bar Koukla are among the best, with fresh ingredients, original dishes and a pleasant Mediterranean atmosphere. The restaurant was started as a tribute to the matriarchs in owner Thanos Tripi’s Greek family.

Mamakas Taverna & Bar Koukla

80 & 88 Ossington Ave, Toronto

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Clothes with class

Gravitypope is an independently owned, high-end Canadian store, with various locations in Canada. Browsing around the ultra-cool, three-floor Toronto store you’ll find a wide selection of shoes, clothing and accessories for men, women and children – all carefully curated from around the world. This is a store that’s worth visiting just for its highly original design, which includes French chandeliers and an art deco staircase reclaimed from the Buenos Aires Paramount Theatre.

Gravitypope

1010 Queen St W, Toronto

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Photo: Arden Wray

The purest wines

Located west of Trinity Bellwoods Park, on Toronto’s Dundas Street, is Grape Witches, a wine shop, club, bar and patio for tasting organic, biodynamic and natural wines. The female duo behind Grape Witches are passionate about natural wines and they represent 25 independent wineries including excellent local Ontario wines. The space itself, located in a former gallery, is ideal for displaying so many appealing bottles. Enjoy wine by the glass, bottle or through multiple “sippers” – a good way to taste the wines one at a time.

Grape Witches

1247 Dundas St W, Toronto

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Photo: Shutterstock

Artsy hotel venue

Prior to 2004, the Drake Hotel was a graffiti-covered dive, a derelict hotel and Toronto rock club without a future – until it was lovingly revamped to its former glory. Today, the hotel, which was originally built in1890, is the den of artsy cool. This fun and quirky 19-room boutique hotel is where creative locals and international travelers gather and eat well around the clock. There is live music, comedy, poetry or film screenings in Drake Underground and a rooftop terrace with a DJ. And, while on the topic of “Drakes” Toronto’s famous rapper has opened a brand-new music venue, called History, on Queen Street East, in the Beaches, yet another vibrant Toronto neighborhood not to be missed!

The Drake

1150 Queen St W, Toronto

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