As an avid traveler and eater, I'm always on the lookout for the next great food destination, big or small, domestic or international. Will Bloomington, Indiana be the next Austin, Texas? Is Madrid poised to steal the culinary crown from Barcelona?
Toronto has been on my radar for some time now. Vogue called the Canadian city the world's next culinary hotspot, and one of Montreal's top chef's said he thinks Toronto has the best food in Canada. It's so buzzy that I felt compelled to hop on a flight and check it out for myself.
(Sidebar: Porter Airlines may be my new favorite airline. I walked to my hotel from the airport, and they give out free Walkers shortbread cookies. Enough said.)
While I know — I know! — that poutine is more of a Montreal tradition, I have to admit that I expected to see poutine everywhere. And, you know, there was poutine; I'm sure it was very good poutine. But there were so many other culinary delights to try that I didn't sample one bite of french fries with melted cheese curds on top.
Here's a look at what I did eat, including the very best bite (or several dozen bites, as it were).
- The ravioli "capresi" at Toca at the Ritz-Carlton is life-changing. They're so stuffed with goodness that they look more like spheres than the traditional envelopes, and they're made with caciotta cheese (which is like a funkier mozzarella). The sauce is special, too — it's made from a combination of imported Italian tomatoes and locally grown ones.
- Pretty much everything at Jen Agg's Grey Gardens is excellent. In fact, it was so good, I was inspired to eat at both of her other restaurants (The Black Hoof and Rhum Bar). My very favorite thing I ate was probably the eggplant with black garlic, soy, and beef tendons. But you should also get the bread with butter and schmaltz and the chips with smoked fish dip.
- At the outdoor stalls at Lawrence Market, I grabbed a quart of concord grapes, then headed inside to try the famed peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery, which reminded me of schnitzel crossed with a deli bacon sandwich. I also got a Montreal-style bagel (not my favorite) and two different egg custard tarts (not as good as the ones I ate in Portugal).
- One of the cuisines that's really heating up in Toronto (and elsewhere) is Filipino food, and the best way to get a taste is with a "silog" or combo plate at LASA by Lamesa. I went with the BBQ pork skewers, which are marinated in soy and 7up — yum!
- I had a few different ice cream cones in Toronto (including a disappointing ube & coconut swirl soft serve), but I would fly back for the ice cream sandwiches at Bang Bang. You choose your flavor — say, burnt toffee or Thank You Very Matcha — and your cookies, like Rococoa (chocolate) or Gingerrrr and voila! A custom ice cream sandwich.
Are you hungry yet? Me, too. But I haven't gotten to the best thing I ate.
The best thing I ate in Toronto: The Hainanese chicken at Jackpot Chicken Rice.
Okay, so this is actually two menu items: the super-tender Jackpot chicken, served with ginger-scallion and chili dipping sauces, and the schmaltzy rice. You must get both, and should you happen to be traveling with a chicken hater (as I was), this is the dish that will convince that fowl foulmouther to change her mind. I have been dreaming of this dish and how I can make and eat it all the time. Also, you should probably try the bok choy with vegan XO sauce and have a hibiscus negroni to wash it all down.