Toronto’s restaurant scene is known for some of the best cuisines out there, but what about the hidden joints that survive for years on nothing but word of mouth? These mysterious treasure troves may not be huge spaces, but they have aced the true test of greatness by bringing in crowds based on nothing but legend alone.
Check out these Toronto hot spots you might not spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
416 Snack Bar
This Queen and Bathurst bar is a celebration of Toronto itself. Creators Dave Stewart and Adrian Ravinsky created 416 as a way to embrace the beautiful diversity of the city — making everything from sushi to steak. You can go for the snacks and drinks or make a full tapas style meal out of your visit. Although the menu may change each visit the food is consistently fantastic (and always to be eaten without utensils).
Located above Dai Lo at College and Bathurst this cocktail and dim sum snack bar offers everything from KFC Popcorn Tofu ($5) to the Asian Scotched Egg ($7) — and yes both dishes actually manage to fit all those tastes into delightfully tiny dish sizes. Order a wide selection of cocktails and settle into the cozy atmosphere for a relaxed night with friends.
From brunch to lunch or carnivore to vegan, Cardinal Rule has you covered. The Roncesvalles staple’s extensive menu features comfy foods that are as creative as Maki N’ Cheese ($10) or as classic as Beer Battered Fish and Chips ($14). Visit for the funky 70s diner décor, come for a trivia night, or checkout their quarterly art shows.
North-East Chinese Restaurant
Cozily hiding between Kensington Market and Chinatown, this basement fixture might leave little to be desired when it comes to décor, but they are unmatched in menu and price. Even if you can’t get into the amazing dumplings ($7), spicy soups ($6-$8), and sweet & sour shrimp ($12), the menu boasts pitchers for $8, which makes them a popular choice among students in the area.
The Hole In The Wall
It’s right there in the name. Popular Toronto spot that it is, The Hole in the Wall does it all. Located in the Junction, you can go for open mic nights, live music, cheap beer, pub food and brunch. Like many of the other places on this list, they prefer to keep the menu changing and evolving — they’ve tried everything from Buffalo Duck Confit Wings ($12) to every kind of Eggs Benny imaginable. No matter what’s on the menu on any given day, guaranteed it’ll be creative (and delicious).
Located in upscale King West, Barfish may be a little hidden, but it’s no dive bar. The menu is a Brazilian-Japanese fusion and the cocktails are designed by award-winning mixologist Nish who’s ready to ensure visitors are in for an incredible experience. And though you might want to be prepared to break the bank a little on this one, this unique spot is worth it.
Image via Google Street View