A Local’s Guide to Toronto (part 2 of visit)

A Local’s Guide to Toronto

One of the many notable things that make Toronto a great city is the diversity.

There are at least three but I was told six mini-Chinatowns in Toronto, which means a lot of tofu for me…As far as districts go — there is a little Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Little Italy, Koreatown, Little India, Cabbagetown, Queen West, King West, Kensington Market, Distillery District and much, much more. If one expected Toronto to be a homogeneous Canadian city that assumption would be wrong. In fact, it is quite a melting pot similar to other great cities such as New York, San Francisco or London.

My wonderful friends put together a locals tour for me and took me all over the city. We packed in so many cool sights, fabulous local shops, restaurants, culture and fantastic urban outdoor spaces that I was fairly worn out at the end of my weekend getaway. And, still left with the feeling I had only scratched the surface.

Good thing I am visiting again in a few months…

So, it has taken me quite a while to write this blog because of grad school commitments and this will give away how long, but, one night as we drove through a neighborhood we saw some fabulous Halloween decorations so Diana and I had to get out of the car and take photos… And I thought Americans were the only people who enjoyed big holiday displays.

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One planned stop on our list was The Bata Shoe Museum, which I highly recommend. It’s a great look back in time at shoes from different periods. Some shoes featured are from urban settings, while other examples such as Chinese bound foot shoes, ancient Egyptian sandals, Alaska Native peoples and other indigenous North American shoes are also prominently displayed.

Another favorite stop was University of Toronto’s Trinity College Annual Book Sale. I love to read, I always have and though I have a kindle and enjoy the convenience, my preference is an actual hardbound book. I also love a good sale, especially when it is for a good cause. A spectacular annual book sale is held every October in Seeley Hall at Trinity College. Friends of the Library raise funds to support projects and activities of Trinity’s John W. Graham Library. They have great inexpensive popular current titles in paperback, books in French (I grabbed a few) and then very rare volumes at extremely reasonable prices (grabbed a few more). I was told by a local (Diana) that the annual revenue from sales reached or exceeded $120,000. It’s a great way to raise cash and features roughly 100,000 donated books in 70 academic and popular categories. I bought so many books Diana volunteered to schlep some of them to NY for me on her next visit. Thanks Miss! And thanks Ian, for taking me along on an annual adventure you started years ago.

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One chilly afternoon we drove over to the Evergreen Brickworks, which I believe my friends typically walk to from their home. Brickworks is another great example of how Canadians repurpose abandoned or transitioning spaces and is a great indoor/outdoor space. They have a garden market, restaurant, out door gardens and spaces for children to learn about gardening and nature, farmers and flea markets, and an amazing outdoor space and trails for hiking. It was a little brisk when we were there but tons of people were still out walking around. It is definitely worth a visit, especially as an alternative to shopping, yet still in the city.

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We roamed around a lot of areas and popped into many local shops and restaurants in Queen West, King West, Kensington Market, and the Distillery District.

The Distillery is a national historic site was previously the home of The Gooderham and Worts Distillery. The Victorian Industrial Architecture has been preserved and shops, bars and restaurants now fill the compact walkable area. Balzac’s is a fabulous coffee shop but have a little patience and be prepared to wait and sit outside. One of my favorite shoe companies Fluevog has a new shop there and also Soma Chocolatiere, in case you do not make it over to King Street, plus so much more.

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Food, where do I begin….I did not have a bad meal in Toronto.

Since I have so many food allergies, dining while travelling sometimes poses a challenge, but not in Toronto. One afternoon we stopped in the Kensington Market area for cocktail hour and chips and salsa at Valentina’s. We also went to Bar Italia in Little Italy for dinner, which was packed and usually a good indicator.

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Bar Italia makes great food, has a nice wine selection and a lively crowd. They are also very open to altering their menu to accommodate allergy issues.

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We also stopped at Cava around cocktail hour for appetizers and wine. It’s 5:00 p.m. somewhere, right? In my experience traditional tapas restaurants are not always great choices for vegans, vegetarians, maybe. This girl is typically happy with a petite salad, warm olives and wine, but Cava actually had several options beyond that and I was having a difficult choosing, after all, this was meant to be snacks, not dinner. But, it’s vacation, right? We sat at the bar, recommended if you like wine and want to sample the menu. If you check out their website, the room is brightly lit, but in actuality it is much darker inside later in the day, which adds to the ambiance of the place.

There is a great vegan restaurant called Grasslands in the Queen West area that I highly recommend. The food was amazing and my friends who are carnivores, seemed honestly and pleasantly surprised.

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I am sure there are a ton of other fabulous things to do for my next visit, though I’d be happy to revisit the places described above, especially since it will be Pocky’s first visit. Who knows, maybe next time we’ll hit up Tofu village – mmmn Korean BBQ. So many choices, so little time. I’m fairly certain my friends have already come up with new fabulous ideas.

But my favorite restaurant was/is chez Ian. You can’t beat a scrumptious meal at home with good wine, a fire and most important, great friends. http://www.flickr.com/photos/loriperkovich/12156447634/

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