The east end’s main thoroughfare has long been known for two things: Greek food and the Taste of the Danforth. Over the past many years, though, homebuyers drawn to the subway line have slowly turned the long strip of two-storey brick buildings into a bustling neighbourhood that has attracted a rich selection of fine shops, independent coffee houses, Thai joints and haute cuisine restaurants. The Danforth has reached a wonderful maturity that we think should be celebrated. Here are 21 of the best reasons to cross the viaduct.
Embrujo Flamenco has emerged from the tapas trend with its Spanish authenticity intact. Owned by three sisters who grew up in Barcelona, including chef Mali Fernandez, the restaurant’s interior is sultry and brooding, and the small plates include seafood, meat and vegetarian options. There is more than just food here: flamenco is performed five times a week, and the lower-level bar, Café Madrid, is open late on Friday and Saturday nights.
It item: The classic paella ($69 for two) uses short-grain rice from Valencia and is served with mussels, clams, shrimp, chicken and chorizo.
At this locavore hot spot, chef Kevin McKenna applies the lessons he picked up from Eigensinn Farm’s Michael Stadtländer, mostly crafting international dishes out of Ontario ingredients. The breathtaking rooftop lounge is the ideal spot at which to enjoy one of the area’s most sought-after Sunday brunches.
It item: Pork. At dinner, it’s the Norfolk County pork belly app ($12), and at brunch, it’s the “swine and dine”— three eggs served with pork done six ways (Pingue sausage, double-smoked bacon, confit Tamworth pork, peameal from Cumbrae’s, cretons, and maple crackling, $14).
This space may have spent 17 years as an adult entertainment store, but these days, when the windows steam up, it’s because the espresso machine is producing some of the area’s best coffee. Popular with the stroller brigade, the café has a constant stream of locals pouring though its living room–like sitting area. Mike Cullen, the owner, knows many by name and drink order.
It item: A foam art–topped latte ($3.75, double) with any of the delicious baked goods from Bake Dessert Co. (apple-walnut cake with caramel–cream cheese icing, $3.25).
Broadview Espresso, 817 Broadview Ave. (at Pretoria Ave.), 416-553-3833, broadviewespresso.com.
If sister joint Allen’s is a touch of New York in Toronto, then Dora Keogh is a touch of Ireland. The 13-year-old pub has a cozy interior with a tin ceiling, wood-panelled walls, copper tables, bench and stool seating and, in winter, a crackling fire. Celtic musicians jam in Thursday and Sunday evening sessions.
It items: A pint of Guinness ($8), naturally, or the popular Scotch Mountain Meats lamb burger ($12).
The sign outside says “air conditioned,” but who cares? The legendary and charming back patio here features dozens of tables set in the shade of a century-old willow. On the Danforth for 24 years, Allen’s may no longer draw such celebs as Kiefer Sutherland and Bette Midler, but the hallmarks of the place—crisp service, mile-long beer menu—are as reliable as ever.
It item: One of the best (and most famous) burgers in the city ($10.25). The patty is made with nothing but pure Angus beef.
Negash and Dessa
Geared toward professional (read: 30 and older) women with quiet but sophisticated tastes, this is the exclusive Toronto outlet for Negash’s understated leather bags, belts and notebooks. Many of the products are locally designed and made, including fun purses by Susana Erazo.
It item: Embossed, leather-bound notebooks held together by oversized steel bolts are a fresh alternative to the ubiquitous Moleskine ($125–$148).
Negash and Dessa, 161 Danforth Ave. (at Ellerbeck St.), 416-462-9306.
Although the name might be better suited to a James Cameron flick, this shop specializes in getting people into, not out of, the right pair of pants. Walls and racks of styles from over two dozen different labels—AG, 7 for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity among them—might be daunting, but the friendly staff will help navigate.
It item: It jeans are firmly divided into two categories: skinny (like a dark blue pair from 7 for All Mankind, from $200) and slouchy boyfriend (a loose-fitting pair from AG, $265).
Body Blue, 199 Danforth Ave. (at Broadview), 416-778-7601, bodybluedenimlab.com.
It was always owner Andre Wikkerink’s ambition to open a food shop, but it took 20 years of working in the tech sector before he got his chance. Open since 2004, the cozy, cheerful shop specializes in a rotating lineup of seasonal, prepared meals to go, though local favourites like mac-and-cheese ($5.50) are always on the menu.
It item: “Gorgeous” and “meatloaf” might not be words that go together very often, but these muffin-shaped turkey meat pies ($7.25), glazed in shimmering molasses, are both sweet and subtly spiced.
Dash Kitchen, 236 Danforth Ave. (at Playter Blvd.), 416-463-3274, dashkitchen.ca.
Empire by Bullet
After 14 years operating Bullet, a hard-edged, masculine decor shop, owner Creig Stearne traded in stainless steel for soft linen and changed his emporium’s name to Empire. Focusing on products made in France and Britain, Stearne has lined one wall almost entirely in French beauty products and the opposite wall with English food goods and accessories (like Marmite and pottery from Emma Bridgewater), subtly suggesting, we suppose, that the French know how to stay clean and the Brits know how to eat.
It item: A hand-carved basswood ram’s head ($700) to add a touch of English manor to our living (without harming animals in the process).
Empire by Bullet, 239 Danforth Ave. (at Bowden St.), 416-603-0009
Started by a trio of best friends (two of whom also own La Di Da gift shop down the street), this small, bright shop is like a decked-out dorm room overflowing with the clothes popular with shopaholic girls in their late teens and early 20s. Lockets and charm bracelets are on hand to accessorize the abundant stock of flouncy dresses.
It item: A stunning white beaded French Connection sundress, colourfully embroidered around the bust line ($170).
In a time when shops seem to open and close like Rob Ford’s mouth (both frequently and abruptly), Erietta Gatos’s wee clothing store in the Carrot Common is a welcome revelation for those who don’t already know it. Not only has Gatos been in business for close to two decades, but she knows many of her devoted clients by name and has a knack for stocking exactly what they like. The inventory is updated weekly with such brands as Dex, Mexx and Ca Va de Soi.
It item: Free People floral cotton camisole ($60).
Erietta, 320 Danforth Ave. (at Jackman Ave.), 416-778-8363.
Over its 27 years, the mother of all natural food stores has become both a community gathering centre and an innovative food seller, having spawned a juice bar and a dispensary. The bustling market remains the heart of the operation, with its compostable take-away deli containers and for its stand against artificial colours and refined sugar. Employees are usually co-owners, which may explain why the cashiers are cheerful despite the crowds.
It item: The Carrot offers classes and seminars on food and food issues, such as introductory vegetarian cooking classes with chef Nettie Cronish ($350 for five sessions) and free lectures every Thursday night (topics include Designing Your Own Skincare).
Finding a Greek restaurant on the Danforth is like finding sand on the beach, but Avli stands out for its warm Old World feel and above-average fare (traditional, but not limited to greasy souvlaki). The narrow, arched ground-floor room has recently been expanded to a more spacious second level.
It item: Any one of Avli’s signature dips—taramosalata, tzatziki, hummus, kopanisti, melitzanosalata, skordalia—served with grilled pita ($5.50 each, $12.50 for a trio).
Mong-Kut Thai Gold
Forgettable decor is instantly redeemed by the portion of the menu titled “Home-Made Section Thai Style.” This list of authentic (fish sauce yes, ketchup no) Southeast Asian dishes includes many jewels, including the delectable tom yum moo num sai (pork soup, $11). Owners Seksan Luechapipat and his wife, Rawiwan Pongmorragot, opened the Danforth’s first Thai restaurant down the road in 2002 (Mong-Kut Thai), but the “Gold” version far surpasses its predecessor.
It item: Kanom jeen num ya kai, somen noodles, Thai curry, basil leaves, galangal and zucchini ($12).
Geared toward the young and label-loving, this tiny outpost, with a sister store in the Vaughan Mills mall, carries such sought-after brands as Religion, Gentle Fawn and Soïa and Kyo.
It item: A marine-blue jacket from Scotch and Soda ($140), for people who want to look like they are driving a yacht when simply out in a rainstorm.
Fiveoseven, 496 Danforth Ave. (at Logan Ave.), 416-466-5677, fiveoseven.com.
The ornate decor, like the lone Ionic column in the middle of the room, might suggest Mediterranean pastiche, but the authentic Greek seafood is consistently excellent. The sidewalk patio is a great place to watch the Danforth’s human theatre.
It item: The tender grilled calamari dinner ($15) with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh herb emulsion is a standout.
The Cook’s Place
There’s a method to the cluttered madness of this kitchenware store: point to any item and a staffer will give a rundown on how it’s used and whether or not they recommend it. Living up to its name, the Cook’s Place is an excellent destination for the latest gadgets and gifts for home chefs.
It item: Fire Wire flexible barbecue skewers ($15) are a 30-inch stainless steel alternative to the average wooden skewer—a bit like upgrading from an iPhone to an iPad.
The Cook’s Place, 501 Danforth Ave. (at Logan Ave.), 416-461-5211, thecooksplace.com.
With cupcakes voted best in the city by Susur Lee’s son Jet and an apple pie adored by Michael Stadtländer, it’s no wonder the fresh-baked sweets here sell out almost every day. The menu changes seasonally, too; the manager assures us that in the fall, the pumpkin pie is among her top sellers.
It item: A rich, dark chocolate cupcake ($3.50) topped with fresh raspberry icing (the odd seed is still present) and a delectable chocolate ganache.
Sweet Tooth, 508 Danforth Ave. (at Logan Ave.), 416-778-8800.
With a limited selection of Greek pastries, Athens is one of the best bake shops on the strip and has been for over 30 years. The no-frills shop’s signature phyllo pastry is renowned far beyond the Danforth and is available to buy fresh ($2.50 per pound) for home use.
It item: One of the city’s best spanakopitas ($3.30), packed with feta and ricotta but somehow not greasy.
Athens Pastries, 509 Danforth Ave. (at Logan Ave.), 416-463-5144.
The giant words “Must Have,” painted in black on the front window, might be brazen, but they make sense once we’re inside the store. Even non-foodies will delight in the vast array of kitchen gizmos, like Whisky Rocks—ice cube imitators that won’t dilute Manhattans ($25 for set of nine).
It item: Two-tone maple serving boards from New Brunswick’s Brent Rourke turn mere cheese and crackers into impressive hors d’oeuvre.
IQ Living, 542 Danforth Ave. (at Carlaw Ave.), 416-466-2727, iqliving.com.
Jennifer Park’s brand new shop (her first, which she opened after spending years as a designer for Le Château) combines vintage pieces that she refurbishes—by adding a modern hemline to a classic summer dress, for example—with such new, up-and-coming lines as BB Dakota and Left on Houston. The formula (focused on keeping the price point low) is working so far: people have been coming in from all over the city.
It item: Alternative Apparel unisex baseball jerseys in red, green and blue ($38).
MORE TORONTO NEIGHBOURHOOD GUIDES
The Roncesvalles Guide
Our 25 favourite eating and shopping destinations along Parkdale’s Polish drag
The Path Guide
24 spots worth getting lost for
The Harbord Guide
25 spots that are giving the street a good name
The Mount Pleasant Guide
Our 26 favourite spots along the charming strip
The Leslieville Guide
26 essential destinations for shopping, eating and drinking
The Ossington Guide
22 hot spots along the west end’s hippest avenue