It’s not quite the Annex, it’s not quite Little Italy. Koreatown is in-between. It’s where the clear lines between neighbourhoods, the ones Torontoians know so well, start to blur. It’s home to families, popular with students and free (for now) of condos. While it’s a great place to live (if you can afford it – homes start around $700,000) it’s an underrated weekend destination. With easy access via TTC to Christie Station, here’s a list of things to do in this yyz hood.
If you start your day in Koreatown, coffee at Sam James Coffee Bar is a must. There are two choices: the original SJCB at Harbord and Clinton or the petite version, Sam James Coffee Pocket at Bloor and Clinton. Both locations will treat you to great tunes, a minimalist vibe and some of the very best coffee in town.
Coffee in hand, time for brunch. Stroll over to White Brick Kitchen. It’s an unassuming diner from the outside but the menu has so much more to offer. Beef. Bacon. You may first ask why you should eat beef bacon when the regular kind is so good. You won’t ask that ever again after your first chewy, smoky bite.
Koreatown might seem like an unlikely shopping destination, but there are great (and cheap!) stores lined up and down this stretch of Bloor. If you’re looking for something pretty, check out Boutique Cherie and House of Rinka. If it’s accessories, costume jewelry or stuffed animals you’re after Just You Sara & Tom or their sister store S&T is the spot. What would you rather: the Hello Kitty or Yoshie plush backpack? And of course Honest Ed’s (which is sadly closing). Make your way through a wonderland of things, from funhouse mirrors to toasters and $2 suits.
Most people’s perfect day doesn’t include grocery shopping, but in Koreatown even groceries can be an adventure. P.A.T. Central Market at Bloor and Manning has great seafood and more varieties of kimchi and tofu than you knew existed.
Trinity Bellwoods may be the best Toronto park for people watching, but those looking for a different scene hang out in Christie Pits. This green bowl was originally dug for a gravel pit. It was also the site of The Battle of Christie Pits in the 1940s. This historic fight was an all night neighbourhood brawl that started in the park during a baseball game broken up by Nazi youth. It’s storied past is marked by a plaque that kids whiz by as they go down the steep hill on magic carpets. Christie Pits is also home turf for the Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Club and many a bootcamp. In warmer weather, you can slip down the slide into the public pool. If Christie Pits is too busy for you, Bickford Park is Christie Pit’s little sister south of Bloor between Grace and Montrose. It’s an off-leash dog park, with two baseball diamonds available to rent from the city.
You’ve likely worked up an appetite what with all the strolling, tobogganing and shopping so maybe it’s time for dinner. For tacos, sit yourself down at a picnic table at teensy tiny Tacos El Asador at Bloor and Clinton. The Mexican chicken soup here rivals Bubbie’s. There’s lot of Korean restaurants to choose from (duh) but Buk Chang Dong Soon To Fu, makes the best jjigae (Korean stew). The soup comes to the table bubbling and boiling and it’s spicier than you think. Mild is not mild here. It’s perfect for a polar vortex kinda day. If you’re really hungry, follow your nose to Banjara Indian Cusine. Dive into steaming fragrant platters of palak paneer (fried cheese smothered in a thick spinach sauce) and aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower cooked with tomatoes and spices). Locals know what it means to get “Banjara’d.” It happens when you plan to go home for dinner but a changing breeze carries the scent of Banjara’s kitchen across Chrisie Pits and you can’t help but follow your nose.
If you ate dinner at Banjara just cross the street to Northwood for drinks. It’s a dimly lit cozy spot for sippin’ cocktails and good conversation and it was voted in as BlogTO’s #1 best new bar in 2013. If you get the urge to play Catan, because you can’t forgive your best friend for taking all the sheep last time, Snakes and Lattes Board Game Café has the cure. Of course, you’re in Koreatown though. So have one more drink and head over to BMB Karaoke to sing your heart out before last call.