Toronto’s dining scene is well-developed and diverse. You’re just as likely to find a hole in the wall serving great Ethiopian food as you are a high-end restaurant where the chef is classically trained and has learned in the world’s great kitchens. The city’s food trends are influenced by countries around the world.
But Toronto’s proximity to great U.S. cities such as New York and Chicago means the foods that become trendy in those places eventually make their way to Toronto. In 2013, locals across the city have gone crazy for dishes that are quick to eat, well-priced, flavourful and, in some cases, indulgent.
Take tacos, for example. Toronto has always had a sizeable Spanish population, which has translated to great tapas, Chilean and Mexican restaurants. But until recently, terrific tacos – the kind with flavour-packed, slow-cooked meats served on real corn tortillas – were hard to come by except in a few areas of the city. That’s all changed over the past year or so. The success of hip West end taco joints like Grand Electric and La Carnita have led to authentic Mexican taquerias popping up in all Toronto neighbourhoods.
While La Carnita is now a bricks-and-mortar College Street restaurant, it started a couple of years ago as a food stall serving its popular tacos at Toronto festivals. It was one of a small crop of early street food vendors that began what today is a full-on food truck boom. Now, not only will you find dozens of truck-only operations, but local restaurants like Caplansky’s deli have their own trucks. Whether you’re craving a lobster roll, a cupcake or slow-cooked BBQ, you’ll find a truck that meets your needs operating somewhere in the city.
Toronto’s somewhat restrictive bylaws don’t allow the sort of food truck coverage you’ll find on the streets of New York City. But enterprising Toronto truck owners have gotten around that by staging food truck-specific festivals, as well as gathering at popular events such as Hot Docs and the Canadian National Exhibition.
And what better way to cap off a day of sampling savory quick eats than with a dessert that might be Toronto’s sweetest recent food trend – gourmet doughnuts. With its proliferation of popular, open-late coffee shops, Canada has always been a doughnut-hungry country. But over the past year or so in Toronto, this simple treat has been kicked up several notches. Gourmet doughnut shops have opened all over the city. And restaurants are getting in on the act, too. Beast has become known almost as much for its inventive, delicious doughnuts (try the maple bacon!) as it has for its great savory menu. And you’ll even find doughnuts on the dessert menu at some of Toronto’s most refined fine-dining restaurants, like Bymark.