By ALEX BALDINGER AND REBECCA FLEMING
Photography by DAVE GILLESPIE
After spending a year scouring the Greater Toronto Area, from Bay Street to the burbs, the editors at Toronto Life magazine assembled a list that proves the city’s food scene is a source of amazing bargains. Here are their top 25 must-try dishes under $10. Visit torontolife.com for 75 more budget-conscious culinary wonders
The Spicy Classic ($7)
This is the year fried chicken sandwiches surpassed burgers for bun-filling brilliance on a budget. This perfectly crunchy, cayenne-infused slab of Nashville hot chicken, doused with buttermilk ranch dressing, fermented chili sauce and tangy coleslaw, is as messy as it is habit-forming.
610 College St.
Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel ($6.99)
The Bagel House
It figures that the place that makes the best Montreal-style bagel in Toronto would know how to handle a proper lox and cream cheese sandwich. The schmear is spread thick, flecked with red onions and capers, and layered with smoked salmon, and here’s the best part: it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all your middle-of-the-night noshing needs.
1548 Bayview Ave.; four other GTA locations
Deep Dish Slice ($7)
This is no floppy, unfulfilling slice. This is Chicago-style deepdish, a dense wodge of buttery crust, cheese, fillings such as pepperoni and Italian sausage, more cheese, and a sploosh of crushed tomato sauce, baked in a metal pan thicker than a crime novel. One parm-dusted slice is more than enough for a midday munch, and it comes with a drink.
1020 Gerrard St. E.; 1256 Dundas St. W.
Meat roti ($2.50)
Quality Bread Bakery
The “short eats” (that’s the Sri Lankan term for “snacks”) at this Scarborough bakery are kind of like Hot Pockets—if Hot Pockets were delicious. Spicy dried mutton is tucked into a plain roti that’s then folded up into a palm-sized treat that can’t be beat for a bit more than a toonie.
1221 Markham Rd.
Mapo tofu ($5.99)
For this classic spicy dish, the Chinatown restaurant tosses tender cubes of tofu, ground pork and bean paste in a fiery pool of chili oil dotted with crushed Sichuan peppercorns. The rice provides some respite from the numbing heat.
359 Spadina Ave.
Half chicken with rice ($8.75)
Churrasco of St. Clair
In the city’s west end, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a churrasqueira—and that’s not a bad thing. But this no-frills Portuguese chicken shop on has been turning out golden-brown, budget-friendly birds since 1986. Their combo No. 3—half of a charcoal-grilled chicken served with seasoned rice—is a no-brainer.
679 St. Clair Ave.
Dirty duck fries ($7.25)
King West’s popular beer hall is a seven-day-a-week sausage party, but it makes some pretty great Belgian-style taters that are dirty in the best possible way: fried in duck fat and buried in roasted peppers, jalapeños, sautéed onions and Wvrst’s addictive special sauce.
609 King St. W.
Korean Fried Chicken ($10)
Legit Korean fried chicken, or KFC, is fried twice and should almost shatter on first bite. This Riverside chicken joint passes the crunch test and then some: the two-piece thigh and drumstick combo—shellacked with a gochujang chili sauce and sprinkled with green onions on a heap of crispy fries—offers more satisfying bites than an entire bucket of that other KFC.
722 Queen St. E.
Eggplant tramezzino ($8.50)
It doesn’t much matter what goes on the sandwiches at this King West bakery: the bread—oh, that bread—is the main attraction. But the toppings on this particular herbed focaccia concoction are excellent, too: delicate sheets of roasted eggplant and zucchini with fior di latte, arugula, baby kale and a creamy aïoli.
609 King St. W.
Tacos El Asador ($3.75)
These corny, doughy discs at Koreatown’s long-standing Salvadorean spot are stuffed with queso, and sided with tangy pickled onions, cabbage, carrots and beets, and a teeny paper cup of kicky tomato salsa.
689 Bloor St. W.
Curried vegetable samosa ($1.10)
Sultan of Samosas
The samosas at this North York takeout shop come in almost a dozen different flavours, but we like the curried vegetable one. Each teeny triangle is packed with potato, carrots, green beans and corn, all tossed in a secret blend of north Indian spices.
1677 O’Connor Dr.
Tofu stew ($8.85)
Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu
No matter the season, the windows at this Koreatown favourite are always steamed up. The reason: mini-cauldrons of soon tofu, a spicy Korean stew of kimchee, tofu, pork and a freshly cracked egg that cooks in the boiling, roiling mess. On the side: a stone bowl of sticky purple rice.
691 Bloor St. W.
Barbecue pork skewers ($2.50)
The grilled pork skewers at Lamesa’s midtown sister spot are marinated—in true Filipino style—with soy and 7-Up, but they’re a more subtle, less saccharine rendition of the traditional dish. Each one makes for a perfect three bites.
634 St. Clair Ave. W.
Rotisserie chicken sandwich ($9)
Cory Vitiello’s signature rotisserie chicken is pulled, then heaped on a soft milk bun and decked out with crunchy apple, beet and horseradish slaw; creamy avocado; crisp onions; and romaine lettuce.
330 Adelaide St. W.; three other GTA location
Doubles with curried chickpeas ($1.99)
Drupatis Roti and Doubles
These piping hot pillows of dough stuffed with spiced chana are ubiquitous in Toronto’s Caribbean and West Indian enclaves, and while everyone swears by their doubles joint, Drupatis is one of the standard-bearers. Order them with slight pepper and some tamarind chutney to really savour the spicy sweetness.
1085 Bellamy Rd. N.; three other GTA locations
Nona’s veal eggplant ($9.75)
There’s something almost parental about cradling a hefty sandwich from this St. Lawrence Market stalwart. Each one is a couple of pounds of saucy veal, eggplant and parmesan. Topping it with roasted peppers and jalapeños, plus sautéed onions and mushrooms, is an offer you can’t refuse.
95 Front St. E.
Shanghai won tons ($7.99)
Ding Tai Fung dim sum
Tossed in a mixture of chili
oil and soy sauce, these pork-packed dumplings are equally sweet, spicy and tangy, and they deserve some of the
attention usually received by the restaurant’s ever-popular soup dumplings.
3235 Hwy. 7 E., Markham
The Gobernador Taco ($6)
If you have time for only one taco in Kensington (and there are many), make it this one. Double-shelled to hold the heft of its contents, the gobernador is a delicious mess of shrimp and smoked marlin, all glued together with gooey mozzarella cheese.
69 Kensington Ave.
Hainanese chicken rice ($6.99)
Malay Thai Famous Cuisine
The food court in First Markham Place is full of gems, including this hearty serving of tender, boneless Hainanese chicken and rice cooked in broth, with even more belly-warming broth on the side. Winter and summer colds, you’ve been warned.
3255 Hwy. 7 E., Markham
Three-piece chicken dinner ($8.05)
Not to be confused with the even-more-east-end chain of the same name, this family-run Leslieville chicken shop has been frying up fowl since 1977. A three-piece dinner here includes a trio of fresh-never-frozen country-fried thighs, legs or breasts, a choice of sides, and a roll. Don’t forget to order the famous yellow gravy for $1 more.
1483 Queen St. E.
Whitefish dumplings ($3)
Yan Can Cook
This long-time vendor in the food court of First Markham Place has a borderline-overwhelming menu of Chinese dishes. A sure bet is the fish siu mai: five massive dumplings loaded with whitefish and drenched in a homemade chili-garlic soy sauce.
First Markham Place, 3255 Hwy. 7 E., Markham
Savoury Chinese crêpe ($5)
Look for the routine lineup at Dundas and Spadina to find the street vendor selling lamb kebabs, stinky tofu and jianbing, delicious savoury Chinese pancakes. Made to order on a flat-top grill, the paper-thin crêpes are covered with egg, painted with two sauces (sweet and heat), sprinkled with cilantro, green onions and lettuce, and topped with a couple of crispy crackers before being folded up into a tasty multi-layered mess.
492 Dundas St. W.
Chicken mole burrito ($6.99–$9.99)
The people who hand out those free samples of pork belly right inside the main entrance of St. Lawrence Market have a hidden talent: they make a damn fine burrito. The rich, smoky chicken mole has a distinct dark-chocolate note, and a few pickled jalapeños offer an extra stab of heat to the bundle, which is stuffed with cheese, salsa, lettuce and sour cream. It’s lightly crisped on the grill before serving.
93 Front St. E.
Crab-and-pork soup dumplings ($7.99)
Shanghai Dim Sum
Don’t pop these perfectly pinched parcels whole: each of the Richmond Hill dim sum restaurant’s xiao long bao with tender crab and pork is filled with piping hot soup that needs to be carefully slurped.
330 York Regional Rd. 7, Richmond Hill
Mutton kothu roti ($6)
Kothu roti, a Sri Lankan staple, is an ingenious (and delicious) use of day-old bread. For this particular version, crispy roti that’s 24 hours past its prime is grilled on a flat-top along with spicy mutton, chilies and onions. Then, two blunt metal blades chop it all to pieces, ensuring you get a bit of everything with each bite.
2761 Markham Rd., Unit 15