Chef Aktar Islam’s top places to eat in Toronto
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This article is part of a guide to Toronto from FT Globetrotter
I’ve spent a lot of time exploring Toronto over the years; it’s somewhere I feel at home, I love the culture and people and I have many friends to visit there. However, the real draw is the eclectic food scene. Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, excels in so many cuisines, but the variety of Asian food in particular is truly exceptional.
I normally stay in the financial district when I visit, usually at the Shangri-La as the service is always impeccable. I start the day by tracking down a latte from somewhere local. There are lots of excellent independent coffee shops across the city, but one of my favourites is Dineen Coffee in downtown Toronto.
I’m not really a breakfast person, but I make an exception whenever I’m here and eat it everyday. The portion sizes are typically generous, and you’ll often find breakfast and brunch options with an array of interesting concoctions, from poached eggs and scallops to meatballs. There really is something for everyone. I always head to Insomnia, which is all about comfort food and best known for its brunch.
The best brunch cocktail might also exist in Canada. I’ve tried my fair share of Torontonian tipples, but I am partial to a Caesar or two after breakfast, which is essentially a Canadian take on a Bloody Mary, made using clamato juice (tomato juice with a touch of salty clam juice) and vodka. Ask for it spicy — it really packs a punch. The Keg, a Canadian chain similar to Hawksmoor in the UK, makes a great Caesar. If you need something to soak up the alcohol, a side of bread with their three-cheese butter is so simple but delicious. You won’t regret it.
For a late lunch, I like to head to Union, which offers a mix of bar classics such as burgers, steak and fish dishes, sometimes using more unconventional ingredients. Union is where I tried elk sliders for the first time, which is one of the restaurant’s most popular offerings. The meat looks like venison, but it’s usually leaner and tastes more like beef.
Toronto is famed for its food halls, and they don’t disappoint, catering to all cravings with a world of flavours. A favourite is Chef’s Hall, a chef-driven community market. It features 17 gourmet vendors offering a variety of international cuisines, from Mexican street food to a standing omakase joint. It also has a lively beer hall. St Lawrence Market is another favourite, which is famous for its historic Saturday farmers’ market. During the week, visitors can enjoy food and merchandise from an array of local artisans.
Come dinner, it has to be Nana on Queen Street, a hole-in-the-wall style place that serves dishes inspired by the street food found across Thailand. The food is simple but delicious, from noodles to curries to soups, but my favourite dish is the papaya salad, which hits the palate with all of the wonderful flavours that Thai food does best. The setting conjures eating along the streets of Bangkok, with shared tables and colourful plastic stools. Nana is the more casual offshoot of its sibling restaurant, Khao San Road, which is equally tasty. If you go there instead, you must order the garlic shrimp.
Lastly, you can’t visit Toronto without trying poutine, a French-Canadian dish of chips, cheese curds and gravy that the country is famous for. You can have poutine any time of day, though admittedly, my enjoyment of it usually takes place after hours on Charles Street at 7 West. Add the sloppy joe mix and thank me later.
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