The Harbord Guide: 25 spots that are giving the strip a good name

The Harbord Guide: 25 spots that are giving the strip a good name

Once-sleepy Harbord Street leaped into the spotlight last year when it became the setting of Toronto’s latest NIMBY vs. business debate. Citing residents’ rights, crime and the strip’s uncertain future, deputy mayor Joe Pantalone tried to keep a new restaurant—Ici Bistro, helmed by famed chef J.P. Challet—from getting a liquor licence. His intervention may have had the opposite effect he was looking for: Torontonians turned their focus to the south Annex and realized that Harbord isn’t as stuffy (or dodgy) as the councillor would have them believe. With its gradually expanding array of shops, galleries and cafés, Harbord is fast becoming a destination for diners seeking an alternative to Ossington and Queen West. We take a look at 25 seminal spots, old and new, along a street in transition.

(Sam James photo, Jessica Darmanin; Harbord Bakery thumbnail, Danielle Scott)

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)


New owners Carlo Catallo and chef Victor Barry recently revamped this 20-year-old hot spot to keep up with Harbord’s new, younger attitude—’80s glam has given way to an industrial-meets-organic mix of warm wood, cool glass and steel. Professionals and foodies stop by for tasty seasonal cuisine and an atmosphere somewhere between the old, upscale incarnation and the high-decibel Harbord Room across the street.

It items: Menu musts include Barry’s velvety foie gras parfait ($18), Highview Farms pulled rabbit pappardelle ($27) and a selection of new dishes for sharing, like boneless black Angus rib steak ($38).

Splendido, 88 Harbord St., 416-929-7788,

Read the Toronto Life review of Splendido »

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Ring Music

With its long, skinny layout and abundance of instruments, this guitar shop feels like a little piece of old-time Queen West. Aptly named owner John Larocque has been manning the store for 25 years and has built up a loyal clientele of music fans, some Canadian legends (Gordon Lightfoot is a rumoured client) among them. An old-school occupant eager for growth, Larocque sounds out the local dilemma: “I think it’s unfortunate if business is hindered by local residents, though I realize this is a residential area.”

It items: For the purist, nothing says rock star like a turquoise Fender Jaguar, a modern recreation of the ’60s classic. Larocque can also pull strings to get a custom Fender for the picky artist.

Ring Music, 90 Harbord St., 416-924-3571,

(Photo by Ryan Szulc)

Harbord Room

Brad Denton’s design—Barbie pink meets library chic—brought Queen West cool to Harbord in January 2008. A favourite of the renaissance-announcing newcomers, the room is cozy and crowded every night of the week. Locals and restaurant industry types crowd around the salvaged wood bar for Dave Mitton’s serious cocktails and fill the tables for Cory Vitiello’s luxe comfort food.

It items: The menu changes seasonally, but standouts include grilled octopus salad ($12); Kerr Farms naturally raised beef burger ($15); and a charcuterie plate ($17) starring pig’s head and black trumpet mushroom terrine, and rabbit and Berkshire pork rillette. Designer drinks include Mitton’s citrusy lavender sidecar ($13).

Harbord Room, 89 Harbord St., 416-962-8989,

Read the Toronto Life review of the Harbord Room »

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

93 Harbord

One of the street’s first namesake restaurants (it opened seven years ago), 93 Harbord offers a contemporary interpretation of classic Middle Eastern cuisine. The narrow dining room’s quiet, neutral tones don’t distract from the bold North African spicing of chef-owner Isam Kaisi’s dishes. Kaisi loves the Annex, but to keep it real, he travels yearly to Morocco to taste his roots and tweak his craft.

It items: Signature dishes include shiraz-marinated Ontario lamb tajine with Turkish figs ($22), pistachio-crusted halibut in ginger-garlic tamarind sauce ($24) and succulent seafood biryani ($20).

93 Harbord, 93 Harbord St., 416-922-5914,

Read the Toronto Life review of the 93 Harbord »

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)


Messis was on the street long before the hip parade arrived. Owner Eugene Shewchuk watches his vision play out from an airy patio: “I was a pioneer, one of the first to come down here, and I’ve always thought this street was made for restaurants.” Though Messis has lost some thunder to the new kids on the block, the 18-year-old eatery is still big with academics and the steely-haired set. California beach-house chic (think white linen and geometric cedar accents) is paired with simple continental fare.

It items: Meaty mains include pan-seared halibut and shrimp with beurre blanc and tomato-coconut drizzle ($25), and strip loin served with bordelaise sauce, tomato butter and a side of sour cream mash ($24).

Messis, 97 Harbord St., 416-920-2186,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Charlie’s Gallery

Former art space Charlie’s Gallery gets a second stab at hipsterhood under new ownership by Ike Smirnis, George Charilaou and Gerry Katis, one of the men behind the hip lounges Wild Indigo and Cache. The reincarnated space still sports indie art (but adds such swank accents as leather loungers, exposed brick and designer wallpaper) but now keeps hours that catch daytime traffic. The multi-vibe haunt will soon be offering café service at 8 a.m. (coffee, pastries and panini), then switch into a bar later in the day. The newcomer has steered clear of licence fiascos, but it remains one of the late-night spots that make residents nervous. Smirnis, who sees the Harbord crowd as more mature and less crazy than Ossington’s, thinks the influx is good for the ’hood.

It items: The owners’ goal is to keep all food items priced below $10, like the Philly cheesesteak, tuna and veggie sandwiches ($4–$7).

Charlie’s Gallery, 112 Harbord St., 416-961-2828,


Palestinian owner Mohamed Abu-Taah has been refuelling U of T students with affordable no-frills grub for 14 years. Presently in mid-renovation, this long-standing canteen adds colour to the strip. Middle Eastern lanterns, tchotchkes and a muraled patio are a fitting backdrop for solid halal dishes. Come summer, it’s hot as a desert inside, but a corner patio offers breeze and shade.

It items: Such lighter bites as hummus and baba ghanouj ($5.25) are top picks, and shawarma ($13), falafel ($11) and shish kebab platters ($14) stand up to heartier appetites. Turkish coffee ($2) is a caffeine-packed closer for somnolent scholars.

Momo’s, 196 Robert St., 416-966-6671,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Tati Bistro

Named for the French comic-filmmaker Jacques Tati, this bistro is a playful addition to Harbord’s French new wave. The casual neighbourhood spot, opened in 2007, buzzes with couples and thrifty francophiles drawn by the $25 prix fixe. Chef Laurent Brion—who has two eggs in the Harbord basket (the other is Chabichou)—serves up classic dishes with Parisian appeal. Antique chandeliers, radiators and throaty laughs make for lively brasserie ambience. With close ties to the neighbours, Brion is wary of club buzz. “People, including me, don’t really want a club or any nightlife on Harbord. I like the fact that by 10:30 or 11, it’s quiet.”

It items: Crowd-pleasers include fragrant garlic butter escargot ($8) and mushroom fricassee ($10), duck confit ($22), and luscious cheese fondue with comté ($48, for two), emmenthal and appenzeller from Brion’s nearby Chabichou.

Tati Bistro, 124 Harbord St., 416-962-8284,

Read the Toronto Life review of Tati Bistro »

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Harbord Bakery

Harbord Bakery’s original owner, Albert Kosower, started working at this institution when it opened in the then-Jewish-Italian area. By 1953, the shop had swallowed up at least two Harbord storefronts and was attracting a steady stream of rye-loving regulars. Today the bakery proudly displays photos of three generations of bread winners alongside a collection of time-tested pastries. After 30 years on the block, co-owner Rafi Kosower—who’s hoping for another 60 years—doesn’t appreciate comparisons to Queen West. For Kosower, “The charm is in the individual businesses here.”

It items: The challah ($4) is legendary. Chocolate babkas ($8) are also big, but it’s “the cookie”—double-chocolate walnut ($15 per pound)—that has its tribute taped up with the family photos.

Harbord Bakery, 115 Harbord St., 416-922-5767.

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)


Chef Jean-Charles Dupoire travels beyond his Loire Valley roots, rewarding destination diners with French specialties from across the country. He and sommelier Sylvain Brissonnet, a fellow Frenchman, have an eye for detail and a concept they call “casual gourmet.” Dark, streamlined decor—tall reed arrangements and simple art say less is more—complements the seasonally focused continental menu.

It items: Such attention-demanding dishes as sea scallops with a jerusalem artichoke purée and honey-mushroom vinaigrette ($27) helped Loire earn a reputation as one of the city’s best newcomers.

Loire, 119 Harbord St., 416-850-8330,

Read the Toronto Life review of Loire »

Harbord House

Owner John Oakes feels an affinity with Harbord Street. As a U of T student some 20 years ago, he had his first date with his wife at the Boulevard Café, and she went into labour while dining down the way. Oakes opened his Canuck-inspired canteen in March 2008. The colour scheme comes from a Georgian Bay rock, and Oakes’ photographs line the walls. Comfort food and 13 draft beers attract U of T faculty, but students are fewer: “I didn’t want people doing tequila shots next to someone eating a $25 dinner.” Still, with screens for sports fans, singalongs and rustic accents, the spot feels like the anti-designer answer to its posh neighbours.

It items: Top picks include chicken pot pie ($13), Berkshire pulled pork sandwich ($12) and crispy buffalo shrimp ($10). Sticky toffee pudding ($6) has demigod status with locals.

Harbord House, 150 Harbord St., 647-430-7365,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

DT Bistro

DT Bistro has a full menu (snow crab quiche, $14, is a lunch staple) but is better known for happy endings. Chef Donald Duong stocks some 30 seasonally inspired cakes and tarts. Minimalist decor leaves centre stage for the main event: exquisite cakes and pretty pastries that line glass showcases.

It items: Brunch bests include lemon-dill scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on brioche ($13), but save room for a sugar high: the chocolate-pear-vanilla cake (with wine-poached pears, vanilla cream and chocolate mousse, $7) and the chocolate symphony pastry (white and milk chocolate mousse in a striped cocoa casing, $7) are top notch.

DT Bistro, 154 Harbord St., 416-916-8155,

Read the Toronto Life review of DT Bistro »

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Clay Design

The polished windows of this storefront don’t betray its age, but co-owner Mari Lise Stonehouse and her crafty crew have been here for close to 30 years. Founding potter Frank Trotz took over from Greenspan’s Kosher Butcher back when the strip was still largely Jewish. “They always said this was going to be the next Yorkville,” says Stonehouse of Harbord Street. “Thirty years later, it’s finally getting there.” The studio showcases 10 to 15 ceramic artists, and clay workers help young professionals exercise their left brains at after-work classes. Says Stonehouse: “I’ll be Patrick Swayze, and you can be Demi.”

It items: Phillis McCulloch’s sleek, Japanese-inspired pieces pair minimalist chic with organic textures (starting at $28). Crackled gloss gives a rustic finish to elegant, uncluttered ginkgo-print earthenware.

Clay Design, 170 Brunswick Ave., 416-964-3330,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Flip, Toss and Thai Kitchen

Touted as one of the best quick Thai kitchens in town—it’s good enough for Olivia Chow’s campaign team and chef Nobu Matsuhisa—Flip, Toss and Thai is a go-to for students and Annex dwellers looking for a spice fix. The Zhang family serves up fresh, fast, homemade dishes (all MSG-free) for under $10. Though the spot is mostly takeout, a new lunch counter and banquettes collect heat-seeking chowhounds on their way home from happy hour.

It items: The noodle house is famous for un-ketchupy pad Thai ($8). Top-drawer green curries (each made with 11 different ingredients) spawned a new dish—the Green Lady ($8.30)—requested by a regular who wanted all the goodness of green curry chicken with zucchini, bell peppers, basil and an unorthodox helping of noodles.

Flip, Toss and Thai Kitchen, 141 Harbord St., 416-966-6955,

Read the Toronto Life review of Flip, Toss and Thai »

Harbord Fish and Chips

This British outpost was opened by an expat almost 30 years ago but has been owned by Joe Zhou for 14 years. Housed in a stout white-brick shack, the chip shop serves up two newsprint-wrapped varieties of the pub classic: halibut or haddock. Takeout is standard. The few stools and window-box-style counters aren’t inviting, but two picnic tables out front are well attended in warm weather.

It items: Purists swear by the crunchy, thick-battered halibut with a heaping side of crispy fries and a choice of tartar sauce or salt and vinegar ($11).

Harbord Fish and Chips, 147 Harbord St., 416-925-2225.

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Boulevard Café

With such cheery accents as Incan-patterned pillows and rustic stucco walls, the Boulevard Café brings South American flavour to the strip’s ethnic mix. Chef-owner Lirio Peck has been a one-woman heat wave—complete with hot peppers and fireplace—since she landed on Harbord from her native Peru 30 years ago. When the outside temperature matches that of the menu, the flower-fringed terrace offers respite from the city. “It took a long time for the street to heat up,” she says, “but it’s a little more lively. Everybody does their own thing. There’s a distinct flavour at each place.”

It items: Peruvian specialties include seafood ceviche ($14) and pollo tropicale with pineapple-mango sherry sauce and kick-packing mirasol peppers ($19).

Boulevard Café, 161 Harbord St., 416-961-7676.

Read the Toronto Life review of Boulevard Café »

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)


Wafts of buttery pastry greet customers at this gourmet food shop. Tati chef Laurent Brion stocks specialty oils, preserves and charcuterie, and cheese freaks flock here for such hard-to-find French varieties (there are over a dozen bleus) as brie de Melun (100 grams $6) and Bleu des Causses (100 grams $5). Brion opened the shop in what he calls “a great village” in 2008, one year after Tati was founded. Followers are largely local, with occasional visits from nearby restaurateurs.

It items: In addition to curds and whey, Chabichou sells fresh-baked pastries—a tasty apple tart ($5), for example. Dense, stick-to-the-ribs quiche lorraine ($4.50) is for serious eggophiles.

Chabichou, 196 Borden St.,647-430-4942,

Read the Toronto Life listing for Chabichou »

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Good for Her

Carlyle Jansen knows what a girl wants. She set up her femme-friendly sex shop on Harbord over a decade ago, spreading her feel-good gospel with educational (need we say “hands-on”?) workshops, erotic lit and toys. Twenty- to 70-something women swear by the knowledgeable staff and chick-centred sexology.

It items: The silicone Sasi vibe’s ergonomic form and vibrating ball ($166) is smarter than the average boy—the gadget has memory that saves favourite settings for user satisfaction. Carlyle’s ever-popular How to Give Great Head workshop ($55) gives lasses a leg up on going down. Sadly, its counterpoint gets lower enrolment. “Men don’t come to workshops as often as we’d like,” says Jansen.

Good for Her, 175 Harbord St., 416-588-0900,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Pizza Gigi

Though ambience is in short supply (the banana tree is an acquired taste), Sicilian owner Sam Crimi has been making from-scratch pies worthy of the motherland for 36 years. The typical crowd includes U of T students, loyal locals (who have seen other pizzerias come and go across the street), post-bar revellers, Tie Domi, Jesse F. Keeler (of Mstrkrft) and the occasional Blue Jay.

It items: Crimi’s top sellers are the gooey four-cheese pizza, made with feta, parmesan, ricotta, mozzarella and spinach ($15); and Gigi’s super special, with mozzarella, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, bacon and tomatoes ($15). On the eternal question, Crimi doesn’t take a side: both thin- and deep-crust pizza have their virtues.

Pizza Gigi, 189 Harbord St., 416-535-4444.

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Ici Bistro

When Toronto gastronomes J.P. Challet (Windsor Arms, The Fifth), Peter Tsang and Jennifer Decorte (The Fifth) teamed up to take on an underripe block of Harbord, they set off an Ossington-style storm from dissenting residents and booze-blocking deputy mayor Joe Pantalone. Thanks to persistence and a charm offensive, the trio won their liquor licence and the favour of locals looking forward to an intimate bistro with standout food. Says Decorte: “We have gotten to know our neighbours as we never would have, and we feel really connected to this funny little strip of Harbord.”

It items: Ici’s menu is still unfolding, but expect traditional French cuisine recast with a modern concept. Locals are already loving French pastries at nearby Sam James Coffee Bar.

Ici Bistro, 538 Manning Ave., 416-536-0079,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Sam James Coffee Bar

Coffee kid Sam James pulled shots in the city’s finest brew houses (Cherry Bomb, Dark Horse) before striking out on his own last autumn. The Annex dweller stumbled on these digs by chance and was roped in by the promise of J.P. Challet’s imminent opening down the block. James calls the renaissance (which he helps to stretch west) “the rebirth of a new kind of neighbourhood.” In a few months, his joint has become one of the city’s go-to spots for coffee aficionados.

It items: Hand-ground siphon-brewed coffee ($6). Each cup is meticulously overseen by James or one of his espresso experts. Fresh croissants ($2.25), scones ($2), cakes ($1.50) and baguettes ($2) by Challet are a perfect pairing for the superlative coffee.

Sam James Coffee Bar, 297 Harbord St., 647-341-2572,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Linux Caffe

A south Annex hub since 2005, Linux has indie rock charm with a tech infusion (offerings include laptop rentals, free Wi-Fi and Fruit Loops). Code junkies and Mac devotees talk java over I Deal coffee and traditional and gluten-free baked goods. Programmers meet here monthly; owner David Patrick stokes the community feel with open-mike nights, street parties, workshops and water fights. “West of Bathurst has been a bit of a ghost town,” he tells us. “This part of Harbord is coming to life slowly.”

It items: Such weekend breakfast specials as blueberry buckwheat pancakes ($5) and eggs florentine with “hollonDave” sauce ($5.35) have a following, but sandwiches ($5.35), soups ($4) and sweets are the standard fare.

Linux Caffe, 326 Harbord St., 416-534-2116,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

Rebecca Gallery

Owner Kerry Fitzmaurice specializes in CanCon, with 80 per cent of her gallery’s featured artists coming from Toronto. She hosts a new show every month, with wine on hand to draw collectors. A long-time resident of the Annex, Fitzmaurice isn’t fazed by the recent bistro brouhaha. “I think we can continue to be a community and be sensitive to the neighbourhood,” she says.

It items: At the moment, German-born Ontario resident Fred Franzen’s work—abstract paintings inspired by the Nova Scotia landscape—grace the walls.

Rebecca Gallery, 317 Grace St., 416-537-8213,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)


This burger shop is a family affair: patriarch Phil Lasagna opened defunct Lips 20 years ago, and now his son has reincarnated the family restaurant, and his dad’s legacy: the fat lip burger. In addition to the sprawling patio, the swanked-up Terrazza features flagstone and hardwood floors, a blue-lit bar and homey ambience. “Harbord is really up and coming,” says mom Cathy Lasagna, “and it intersects with Ossington.”

It items: The Caesar burger ($13) has romaine lettuce, parmesan, pancetta and homemade dressing; the margarita ($14) is topped with bocconcini, fresh basil and tomato.

Terrazza, 372 Harbord St., 647-343-3283,

(Photo by Jessica Darmanin)

The Roxton

This five-year-old neighbourhood watering hole is full most nights; professional 20- to 40-somethings flock for Ontario beers and gastropub bites by chef Casey Cruickshank. Dark woods and leather make for a warm atmosphere, and such kitschy accents as vintage art and Bentley parts give the place some edge. Starlet Rachel McAdams and local musicians, like the boys of Steamboat, have been among the stylish barflies. A spoon’s throw from Ossington and steeped in Queen West style, the Roxton is central to Harbord’s hipification.

It items: The Roxton burger ($11) is a DIY fave with locals. Tailor it with a choice of 10 fixings, including brie, strip bacon and sautéed mushrooms.

The Roxton, 379 Harbord St., 416-535-8181.

Read the Toronto Life listing for The Roxton »

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