The Dundas West Guide: our 21 favourite places between Ossington and Lansdowne
The strip of Dundas West between Ossington and Lansdowne has not been immune to the wild gentrification going on directly south of it. New restaurants, stores and bars have been cropping up for the past couple of years (Red Canoe, a swank Canadiana shop, opened two weeks ago), but there is a hesitation in the ’hood to turn Little Portugal and Brockton Village into the next Ossington. Incoming business owners make a point of blending in with the long-standing family-owned bakeries, soccer bars and pho stops. Even in new establishments, the decor has a thrift shop feel, and the prices cater to locals rather than destination diners. From east to west, here are our 21 favourite Dundas West spots for cheap eats, good music and authentic Portuguese cuisine.
This cramped dive bar marks the end of the Ossington strip and is easily missed due to the misleading Nazaré Snack Bar sign still hanging outside. Relics are appreciated inside, as well—the decor is a bizarre mishmash of flea market finds. Nevertheless, on weekends the place overflows with a mix of working class and young music lovers drawn in by the live bluegrass swing jazz band that plays by the front window.
If you go: Come on a Saturday afternoon and find a good standing spot. Order a beer, some pickled eggs and watch as people become so enamoured of the music that they completely miss their streetcar.
Communist’s Daughter, 1149 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington), 647-435-0103.
Nova Era Bakery
The ongoing debate over who has the best custard tarts on the strip comes down to Caldense and Nova Era (we think Nova Era wins by a tiny margin). This location of the 11-year-old bakery chain is a hub for gossiping Portuguese grandmothers, as well as young writers going at it on their laptops—a juxtaposition that speaks to the neighbourhood’s character.
If you go: In addition to the tart ($1.10), check out the bolo de arroz, a rice muffin that tastes like a lemony pound cake ($1.10).
Nova Era Bakery, 1172 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington), 416-538-7700, novaera.ca.
Owner Pol Cristo-Williams has bookended the Ossington strip with rock-tinged holes in the wall: first Sweaty Betty’s, and last year, Red Light. The new bar maintains his philosophy of serving only beer and no-fuss, uncomplicated mixed drinks. There’s a big spirits selection and a healthy collection of single malts, as well, though it’s pretty much a pint ($6) and bottle crowd.
If you go: Turn up before 11 p.m., when tall cans of PBR are $5.
Red Light, 1185 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington), 416-533-6667.
The bar, named after a camping site in Yosemite, is finding its identity since opening in May 2010—is it a rowdy soccer bar, a music venue, a hipster outpost or all of the above? Who cares? It’s a much-appreciated Ossington alternative that keeps its beer local (Beau’s and No. 9 IPA) and serves a mean old-fashioned. The decor follows the urban-naturalist aesthetic to a T—painted-out brick, reclaimed woods, industrial signs—but it’s still an unpretentious and honest place to have a pint.
If you go: Try Camp 4’s take on old-fashioned tequila and bourbon ($13).
Camp 4, 1173 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington), 416-546-6780, camp4.ca.
When Sneaky Dee’s booker, Shaun Bowring, headed west to open The Garrison in October 2009, so did many of Sneak’s music lovers (especially after the Wavelength showcase moved to this venue). Trampoline Hall, a beloved lecture series, also ditched College for Dundas, pushing the local arts scene farther west.
If you go: Check the Garrison Web site for a list of shows (tickets are around $10) and album launches. The intriguing Trampoline Hall, in which three people give lectures on wildly different subjects, is definitely worth a trip.
The Garrison, 1197 Dundas St. W. (at Lakeview Ave.), garrisontoronto.com.
This second-hand bookshop focuses on unusual subjects, like sexual delinquency, taxidermy and billiards. Shopkeeper Stephen Fowler named the store after a W.W. Jacobs short story about a cursed monkey paw that grants three wishes—not The Simpsons Halloween special.
If you go: This is a great place to browse, but check out the new arrivals on the store’s Web site to get an idea of the collection of curiosities. We were particularly drawn to a 1938 book that dealt with female medical problems ($25) and a 1966 paperback collection of Marquis de Sade’s work ($14).
Monkey’s Paw, 1229 Dundas St. W. (at Ossington), 416-531-2123, monkeyspaw.com.
Casa da Ramboia
Its stuck-in-the-’80s appearance means Casa da Ramboia is easily missed by the uninformed. Well, it’s their loss: owner-chef Isabel Carvalho creates Portuguese meals that are filling, flavourful and authentic. The unrestrained hospitality of the proprietor translates into huge portions, carried to the tables by joyous, helpful servers.
If you go: Until August 25, 2010, the staff is on a very European month-long vacation. The sea-inspired food is worth the wait, like grilled sardines ($10) and the cataplana ($35)—a big pot of mussels, clams, shrimp, bacon and sausage in a spiced broth.
Casa da Ramboia, 1282 Dundas St. W. (at Dovercourt Rd.), 416-534-0407. Closed Sunday.
Red Canoe has been making its name with Canada-themed clothes and accessories for eight years but opened its first store only in July 2010. It’s a testament to the continuing popularity of Canuck style: CBC and RCAF logos appear on shirts, sweats and bags; scarves are patterned with provincial tartans; and moccasins are hand-made by native Canadians in Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan.
If you go: The CBC gem tee is a favourite ($32.50). The rugged RCAF kit duffle ($150) will stand out on a luggage belt crowded with Samsonite and Louis Vuitton overnight bags.
Red Canoe, 1356 Dundas St. W. (at Rushmore Dr.), 416-205-1271, redcanoebrands.com.
Grain, Curd and Bean
Owner Mike Wdowiak keeps GCB living up to its name by offering Epi breads, cheeses from around the world (but mostly Quebec and Ontario) and damn good Americanos. The shop, open since November 2008, is a popular place for the stroller set to stock up on such basics as milk and bread while the kids are distracted by buttery croissants and cookies.
If you go: The hummus ($4.55) made by Wdowiak’s wife, Yvonne, is worth a pit stop, as is the selection of local cheese, like the semi-soft fleur en lait from Lancaster (100 grams $8).
Grain, Curd and Bean, 1414 Dundas St. W. (at Gladstone Ave.), 416-533-1418, Facebook page.
This family-run all-day breakfast spot forgoes the bells and whistles and focuses on such breakfast staples as bacon, eggs, sandwiches and Bennies. Service is always quick and attentive—especially from the matriarch, whose motherly tone drives home the fact that this is a mom and pop shop.
If you go: The big breakfast ($13) will cure any hangover with two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausages, home fries, toast and a fruit salad. Folks preparing their hangovers for the next day will be happy to know that bottles are available ($4.50–$5.50).
Gayley’s, 1424 Dundas St. W. (at Dufferin), 416-538-3443.
The neon signs flashing in the windows—“chicken!” “beef!” “goat!”—are beacons to the area’s discerning carnivores: they’ve come to rely on this family-operated butcher’s huge selection of cold cuts, Portuguese sausages and fresh meat, like rabbit, lamb and veal. Though Pavao has been calling Dundas West home since in 1990, the first shop opened in the Azores more than 40 years ago. Outlets still exist in Terceira, Faial and São Miguel.
If you go: Don’t be afraid to specify a particular way to cut the meat, like bacon ($4.99 a pound) sliced as thick as you’d like.
Salsicharia Pavao, 1435 Dundas St. W. (at Gladstone Ave.), 416-533-7667, salsichariapavao.com.
This coffee bar represents all that’s great about Toronto’s indie café trend: spacious seating, welcoming staff, idiosyncratic decor and a menu that rivals its coffee drinks. Melanie Janisse opened the place in January 2009 and named it after her old workplace in Detroit: Zoots. Considering the following it already has, it seems like this café has been here forever.
If you go: Grab a mate, a table, order a latte ($3), bite into one of the daily sandwiches ($10) and try not to knock anything over while playing Yahtzee.
Zoots Café, 1438 Dundas St. W. (at Gladstone Ave.), 416-536-2233.
The Henhouse doesn’t advertise itself as a gay venue, but the laid-back bar is as popular among west-end queers as it is with neighbours looking for a local. The reputation probably stems from Katie Sketch and Jenny Smyth’s former membership in the all-girl Vancouver band The Organ, which once appeared in an episode of The L Word. The group broke up in 2008, and the two now churn out drinks, grilled cheese sandwiches and weekend breakfast fare.
If you go: Cameron’s Lager is the only thing on tap. At $5.50 a pint, though, the beer, the friendly crowd and killer jukebox keep the crowds coming back.
The Henhouse, 1532 Dundas St. W. (at Sheridan Ave.), 416-534-5939.
Brazil Bakery and Pastry
The tarts are hit-and-miss, but sweets are not why Portuguese ladies flood this yeast-scented place every morning. They and many others come for the mind-boggling selection of freshly baked breads, most of which are proudly displayed in the front window.
If you go: While picking up a loaf for dinner, pick up a milk tart ($1.10), which is heaps better than the custard variety. Bonus points if it’s ordered in Portuguese.
Brazil Bakery and Pastry, 1554 Dundas St. W. (at Sheridan Ave.), 416-531-2888, brazilbakery.ca.
OMG Baked Goodness
OMG’s muffins and croissants may be available in cafés across the city, but we believe it’s always best to go straight to the source. Last October, after running a wholesale business for two years, Lesley Mattina set up shop on Dundas West and brought along her modern take on baked goods, including vegan cupcakes (that taste anything but), oversized cookies, and seasonal muffins bursting with berries.
If you go: Cool off with a Mosicle, a frozen mocktail on a stick in such rotating flavours as watermelon and jalapeño with ginger, and cantaloupe with pineapple and lavender ($2.50).
OMG Baked Goodness, 1561 Dundas St. W. (at Sheridan Ave.), 647-348-5664, omgbakedgoodness.com.
This colourful, beloved music venue focuses on world music—mostly Latin, Cuban, African and jazz—but considering it has weekend dance lessons, art exhibitions and an affordable brunch menu (try the poached eggs on polenta cakes with spinach and smoked salmon, $10), it’s more of a community centre than anything.
If you go: Check the Web site for upcoming events, which range from free to $15. Dinner-and-a-show packages are $49.
Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas St. W. (at Brock Ave.), 416-588-0307, lulalounge.ca.
Chef Nathan Isberg made amends with his old bosses at Coca, and together they opened The Atlantic in April 2010. The ever-changing menu focuses on the “lower part of the food chain”: steaks and charcuterie are out, seafood and veggies are in. Although his spin is fresh (like frogs’ legs marinated in Korean chilies), the dark blue walls and nautical kitsch fit in with the decades-old mom and pop shops that line Dundas West. Isberg even kept the old Atlantic sign.
If you go: Bring a couple of friends to share the small plates. We like the striped bass ceviche with pickled cucumber ($8) and the steamed mussels with garlic, vinho verde and basil ($7).
The Atlantic, 1597 Dundas St. W. (at Brock Ave.), 416-219-3819.
She Takes the Cake
Former TV producer Adrienne Weinberg set up shop in spring 2008, bringing a modern, elegant contrast to the traditional Portuguese bakeries that dot the neighbourhood. Selections range from simple, three-tiered wedding cakes to a vibrant cupcake tree blooming with sugar flowers. The roster includes more novel requests, such as cakes shaped like cheeseburgers, PS3s and Edward Cullen’s brooding visage.
If you go: Be warned that the retail shop is closed until September, but the wholesale part of the company is still catering.
She Takes the Cake, 1600 Dundas St. W. (at Dufferin), 416-538-2253, shetakesthecake.ca.
The food and atmosphere at this Vietnamese restaurant are a step up from downtown’s other pho joints, which seem to be either delicious but dingy or sleek but bland. Aside from the obligatory banh hoi, spring rolls and giant bowls of pho, less common dishes include blood pudding congee.
If you go: An extra-large bowl of house special pho ($8.25) is always comforting on a rainy day. Pair it with spring rolls ($4 for two), which have a thinner and crispier wrapper than at most places.
Pho Phuong, 1603 Dundas St. W. (at Brock Ave.), 416-536-3030.
JC Pimentel Photography
Dundas West, home to many art galleries, may seem like a strange location for a spot devoted to celebrity snapshots, but photographer George Pimentel strives to treat his subjects with the inventive glamour of the golden age of Hollywood. There are no paparazzi post-rehab shots here: Brangelina, Clooney, Ford and other A-listers are all immortalized with wit and style.
If you go: Remember that the place is a working studio, so take a quick, admiring browse before moving on.
JC Pimentel Photography, 1661 Dundas St. W. (at Lansdowne), 416-537-9918. jcpimentel.com.
Naco Gallery Café
Naco, a once-derogatory term for Mexicans that has been reclaimed by the country’s youth, was one of many new establishments that reinvigorated the neighbourhood in 2009. It’s winning fans with a lineup heavy on book readings, new media exhibits, Toronto art shows and dance parties. Plus, there’s a menu of Mexican-inspired dishes all under $9.
If you go: The dance parties are great, but it’s also a relaxing lunch spot. Order the mole Naconda ($7)—corn tortillas with black beans, chicken and mole sauce finished with sour cream and avocado—and then a mug of spicy hot chocolate ($3.25).
Naco Gallery Café, 1665 Dundas St. W. (at Brock Ave.), 647-347-6499, nacogallery.com.
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