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13 of the Most Unique Cafés in Toronto

VISIT ANY ONE OF THESE UNIQUE TORONTO CAFÉS FOR HIGH-QUALITY COFFEE AND DECADENT BAKED GOODS—PLUS BONUSES LIKE AMAZING AMBIENCE, SUPERIOR SERVICE, GREAT VIEWS AND EVEN BOARD GAMES!

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Boxcar Social makes its coffees and espresso-based beverages with a often-changing selection of beans from world-renowned roasters (photo: Boxcar Social)

Is a proliferation of cafés any indication of a city’s success? It’s not hard to argue in favour of the idea. Those who pass time at coffee shops necessarily have the leisure to do so. Leisure implies financial comfort, freedom—at least temporary—from work. Others, of course, use cafés as de facto workspaces, with caffeine helping fuel their creative contributions to the economy. And then there are the café owners themselves, who must be sufficiently confident in a city’s commercial vitality to have opened their businesses in the first place.

Ever dynamic, downtown Toronto hosts innumerable independent coffee-sipping spots. Many of the most popular, like Dark Horse, Sam James, Crema and Jimmy’s, are successful enough to support multiple locations across the city. There are far more excellent cafés than can reasonably be counted here, so let’s just say we hold the 13 places below in high regard—not only for their beverages, but for their delicious snacks, congenial ambience and other intangibles, too.

1 A perfectly pulled espresso makes the ideal complement to acclaimed pastry chef Bertrand Alépée’s gourmet nibbles at The Tempered Room.

2 Commiserate with friends over Nutella lattes and one of more than 3,000 board games at Snakes and Lattes.

3 Manic Coffee was among the mid-2000s kickstarters of Toronto’s indie café craze. Today it’s popular as ever—for the drinks, sure, but also because of its excellent house-made gelato.

4 Corner café Quantum Coffee attracts the city’s digerati to its airy, minimalist space (it shares a building with tech-training company BrainStation). Perfect pour-over coffee is doled out by a precision-crafted Pour Steady machine, while pastries come from local vendors including The Tempered Room.

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Fika’s cozy, Nordic-inspired confines in Kensington Market (photo: Craig Moy)

5 Scandi-chic Fika serves a lovely cardamom-spiced latte. The chef-designed daily sandwiches and weekend brunch offerings are similarly scrumptious.

6 Coffee by top local roaster Pilot is available throughout the city—including at the company’s own Te Aro and Crafted cafés—but its new kiosk in Union Station’s great hall is a must-visit for travellers.

7 Get the single-origin espresso, macchiato and pour-over flight at Boxcar Social for a unique tasting experience. Then return in the evening for craft beer, wine and whisky.

8 Midtown café De Mello Palheta is certainly one of the city’s most colourful, what with its vividly graffiti’d storefront and interior walls, unique umbrella-based light fixture and hip soundtrack blaring on the stereo. Grab a seat at the front bar for great people watching, or sit in the back to see pastries being made and the (excellent) coffee being roasted.

9 Concept café Neo Coffee Bar encourages customers to see how different brewing methods affect the flavour of its locally roasted offerings. Make sure to get a slice of the subtly sweet Japanese-style roll cake, too.

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The space may be small, but Fahrenheit punches well above its weight when it comes to quality coffee and snacks (photo: Craig Moy)

10 The baristas at tiny Fahrenheit Coffee are among the friendliest and most knowledgeable in town, and are always willing to entertain queries from inquisitive java junkies.

11 An unobstructed skyline view across Riverdale Park East lends the Broadview Avenue location of Rooster Coffee House an idyllic atmosphere, especially as the sun goes down.

12 Many cafés are great for getting some work done on your computer; Paint Cabin is the only one that encourages you to work on your art. The recently opened coffee and wine bar features a sizable studio space that hosts varied workshops for painters and watercolourists, and opens to all artists when classes are not in session.

13 Leslieville’s The Sidekick not only serves a mean cup o’ joe, it also sells an expertly curated selection of comics and comic-book ephemera.

—Craig Moy

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