If you have an appetite that warrants the sentence, "I just wish this sandwich were BIGGER," then California Sandwiches is the place to stop. With 13 locations (mostly in and around the GTA), turns out that Toronto was looking for messy sandwiches with fresh tomato sauce. Meat lovers will love the variety: veal, steak, sausage, meatball and chicken. Veggie lovers have a couple of options as well, including fried eggplant. Meat is cut fresh on site, kaisers are baked daily and toppings include sautéed onions and sweet peppers. Sandwiches run for under $10 with toppings costing extra, but we swear, it will fill a giant appetite in 90% of cases.
Recommended for Best Value because: A messy, delicious, made-to-order meat sandwich that will keep you going.
Courtney's expert tip: Get some of the olives on the side and dipping sauces for your sandwich (like the awesome marinara). You are going to need a lot of napkins.
The general mathematical rule is that the more kale a Toronto restaurant has, the more expensive it will be. Healthy doesn't have to break the bank because Kupfert & Kim is right in the heart of the financial district (with five other locations to boot) and wheatless, meatless, delicious takeout. Breakfast and lunches are served in hearty portions as substantial fuel for long days at the office (or exploring Toronto by foot). If you go early, a hearty breakfast option is the sweet quinoa with cashew butter, bananas and cinnamon. (Take that, oats!) Lunches come in charming takeout boxes and are filled to the brim with good stuff like brown rice, beans and chia seeds.
Recommended for Best Value because: Health food that tastes great and leaves you some money for those skinny jeans you are going to have to buy.
Courtney's expert tip: Drinks range from organic kombucha to green smoothies. If you bring your own empty water bottle, you will get a discount for re-using.
Toronto is a notoriously competitive city when it comes to restaurants. Amazing ones close and open every day of the year. However, it will be hard to find a restaurant that holds a match to La Cubana, which shines with inexpensive Cuban diner food from 11 am until "late" (and a Cuban's interpretation of late is certainly different from a Canadians). Starters include tropical chips (plantain chips) with salsa, which give good crunch alongside one of their many cocktails. Sandwiches have luscious and filling ingredients, like pork belly, chorizo or pineapple salsa. There is a high turnover and it is always busy, so go for a quick belly fill and give your seat to someone else, already.
Recommended for Best Value because: Intriguingly different, La Cubana in Roncesvalles is popular for a good reason, with many menu items under $10.
Courtney's expert tip: No reservations are taken, but La Cubana's brunch is worth waiting for the lineup. Expect a heavy-on-the-meat hangover helper.
There is certainly an ongoing debate as to who makes the best pizza. You can go microcosm or macrocosm, comparing countries if you wish. If pizza is not worth fighting over, what is? No matter what team you may get behind, there is something to be said about a New York slice. There is a thin crust that works very well for the folding style that is classic New York. The Yeah Yeah's pizza joint in Toronto has this covered, with classic choices like the Margherita with fior di latte, parmesan and basil or the meat-centric pie known, fittingly, as "The Meat." (Pepperoni, sausage and smoked bacon, in case you were wondering.) You can get a whole pie to share, of course, but slices are under $6 which makes this a value meal worth exploring.
Recommended for Best Value because: Charred crust and cheesy deliciousness for less than the cost of a frozen pizza.
Courtney's expert tip: The garlic fingers are universally thought to be "unbelievable." Hard to go wrong with dough, garlic butter and mozzarella.
When The Burger's Priest opened in 2010, it catapulted in popularity. Now three restaurants in, there is a cult following, because Torontonians love nothing better than overpopulating a new hot spot. Luckily, the service is quick and even if it weren't, the wait would be worth it. The griddle-smashed 4-ounce burgers can be loaded up with toppings or doubled up, easily overtaking the small white bun. Veggie burgers are by no means virtuous (fried cheese-stuffed Portobello mushrooms) but definitely delicious. If you are extra hungry, try The Vatican: two grilled cheese sandwiches encasing two cheeseburgers. You may not be able to fit into your skinny jeans after this lunch, but you won't be able to prevent a huge smile from overtaking your face.
Recommended for Best Value because: Burgers that are so big and juicy, they will cure all that ails you.
Courtney's expert tip: On the secret menu: the Vatican, which is a burger sandwiched between grilled cheese sandwiches.
If you are looking for a unique twist on a filling Vietnamese sandwich, you certainly can't go wrong with Banh Mi Boys. Right on Queen and Spadina, the sandwich shop takes the Vietnamese construct and gives it multicultural twists, from Korean to Japanese. People line up out the door in anticipation, serving the grab-and-go style quite nicely. It is a skinny, hip and modern restaurant which serves its sandwiches on retro checkerboard paper. Banh Mi Boys was an overnight sensation for Toronto foodies who had no idea how great five-spice pork belly could taste. Other mouth-watering choices include duck confit or kimchi fries slathered in mayo, kimchi and slow roasted pulled pork.
Recommended for Best Value because: It is worth lining up for these affordable Vietnamese sandwiches. The kimchi fries may destroy your diet, but they will soothe your soul.
Courtney's expert tip: The unadvertised Club Bao is only $6: a steamed bun piled high with fried chicken and pork belly. Secret menus rock.
Vegetables have known for a while that they are versatile. They didn't have to be placed in the salad box. Veghed is a small takeout restaurant in Toronto's Little Portugal area that explores the dimensions and possibilities of vegetables. There are salads, too, but not the ones you would expect, like Muay Thai Salad on a bed of glass noodles, drenched in peanut sauce. During the colder months, there is a coconut kale chili that is out of this world. With a plethora of ingredients in every dish, your lunch from Veghed is going to kick your officemates boxed lunches to the curb - and all for $8.
Recommended for Best Value because: Non-GMO products with organic plant-based options that are actually affordable.
Courtney's expert tip: Try the grilled cheese with salad deal if you have a roaring appetite. It isn't a basic Kraft singles variety, either. Some options are goat cheese with truffle honey or cheddar and ancho onion chutney.
The business of tacos is serious business in Toronto. Bloggers and food writers argue endlessly over where the best shell is in town. High on many lists is the small and always busy Seven Lives taquería. Patrons spill onto the street in all seasons, with blackened mahi-mahi or spicy octopus tacos in hand. The specialty is fish and the ceviche sells quickly. Marinated in lime and served with salty tortilla chips, it makes an excellent side dish to your taco...or seven. If you are in a hurry, this is not the place to go. Expect a 30-minute wait during peak lunch hours.
Recommended for Best Value because: Double tortilla-ed tacos are $5 a pop, tax included. Bet you can't eat just one.
Courtney's expert tip: This is the place for fish taco connoisseurs. There isn't much seating, so take your meal to go and peruse Kensington Market. As with many restaurants in this neighbourhood, Seven Lives Tacos Y Mariscos only accepts cash.
Toronto is definitely a vegan conscious city. The many vegan restaurants are as likely to be frequented by those who might have a steak that same day as they are a dedicated vegetarian. The Hogtown Vegan is a great place to go if you think vegan food is synonymous with eating sprouts and drinking wheatgrass (two practices that most people would not define as "delicious."). There is gravy (and lots of it. There are wings, sticky with sauce. There are chili cheese fries (yes, really). Best of all? The entire menu is under $14. Ethical eating for you, and for your wallet.
Recommended for Best Value because: All your comfort classics made vegan with an amazingly affordable price tag.
Courtney's expert tip: The brunch is pretty awesome. Need proof? Homefries with nacho cheese sauce.
Canadians have found many ways to call french fries dinner. Moo Frites isn't exactly poutine, but it is comfort food in the form of french fries. Fries are sliced thick like potato wedges and toppings range from kimchi to peanut sauce. The "special fries" have curry ketchup, mayo and chopped onions. If you are finding the choices of sauce overwhelming, ask for samples. Even a small ends up being incredibly filling due to the generous scoop of accouterments. Fries are served in a cone, and there are holes in each table to level the cone. Convenience eating at its finest.
Recommended for Best Value because: A grab and go restaurant that will elevate french fries to meal status.
Courtney's expert tip: Pay $1 extra for potatoes fried in beef fat for even more indulgence.