The Underground Gourmet
Our favourite places to eat and drink without going topside
Winter is here, as is the desire to avoid the elements, but there are underground options galore. Hungry Path-goers will find everything from sinus-clearing kimchi chicken at Ho Ga Oriental, a hard-to-find Korean kiosk, to bottles of wine and house-made tagliatelle at Amano (pictured above), just one of Union Station’s new full-service restaurants. Here, 20 of our favourite places to eat and drink in our city’s subterranean labyrinth—not including Union’s shiny new food court, which is finally open.
Atrium on Bay, 595 Bay St., 647-352-8325, @mustachio_to
It’s a little-known fact that Uno Mustachio, the St. Lawrence Market’s popular Italian hot table, has a second location: a beacon of light in the Atrium on Bay’s little underground food court. Look past the pizzas and pastas, and go straight to the sandwiches. Ask for the veal with everything (a crispy cutlet topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and jalapeños) and, for an extra dollar, make it a Godfather (that’s Mustachio-speak for the addition of fried eggplant). Weighing in at what feels like three pounds, this Brobdingnagian sandwich is big enough for two and one of the best bangs for your buck in the Path.
Saks Food Hall by Pusateri’s
CF Toronto Eaton Centre, 176 Yonge St., 416-365-3130, pusateris.com
This 25,000-square-foot haven of gourmet bounty below Queen and Yonge is equal parts fancy grocer and grab-and-go lunch spot—or dinner spot for those working after-hours. There’s plenty of trendy high-end comfort food, and shoppers can stock up on everything they need for dinner (from raw ingredients to prepared meals) or just an elegant charcuterie-and-cheese spread, including the serving board itself. The most gilded part of this lily, however, is the champagne bar, which offers bubbly, wine, beer and cocktails along with a rotating selection of elevated bar snacks: right now, the menu features an assortment of Spanish tapas. Who wouldn’t want to pair their grocery run with a Perrier-Jouët and a plate of jamón ibérico?
Nosh & Go
Sun Life Financial Building, 150 King St. W., 647-808-0336, noshandgo.com
Smoothie bowls might be the Instagrammy breakfast-food darling, but we’re all about the back-to-basics yogurt parfaits from this tiny stall. Here, zero per cent Greek yogurt (with all the richness of the full-fat stuff) comes topped with things like maple syrup, preserved fruit (lemon, sour cherry, blueberry-lavender), almond slices, coconut shavings and chia seeds. We’re currently crushing on the one finished with squiggles of sweet Ontario honey, crunchy walnuts and fresh granola chock full of good-for-you grains and seeds. It’s a breakfast of champions that tastes like dessert.
Sun Life Financial Building, 150 King St. W., no phone, samjamescoffeebar.com
Sam James, Toronto’s coolest coffee nerd, has cafés in the hippest parts of the city—minimalist spaces frequented by the young and stylish in need of a caffeine fix. At his Path location, just steps from St. Andrew station, betuqued baristas pour perfect lattes made using the brand’s own Cut Coffee beans and a couple of tricked-out La Marzocco espresso machines—saving us from five straight days of double- doubles. Get there early enough to score flaky, buttery pastries brought in from Mabel’s Bakery.
Kupfert & Kim
Brookfield Place, Metro Centre, First Canadian Place, Sun Life Financial Tower and WaterPark Place, kupfertandkim.com
Nutrients are at a premium for sunlight-starved Torontonians during the winter months. And, while dining underground won’t do anything for your seasonal Vitamin D deficiency (take a multivitamin, kiddo), a bowl from this salubrious “wheatless, meatless” Path mainstay is an easy way to keep your system running smoothly. We like the Cauliflower Tahini bowl, a rib-sticking combo of organic greens and quinoa, roasted cauliflower, pickled onions, sesame seeds and root veg—carrots, cabbage, beets—jazzed up with house-made hummus, za’atar salsa, lemon-tahini sauce and as much of their bright-green hot sauce as your palate can stand.
First Canadian Place, 100 King St. W., 416-866-7412, no website
The best cheap lunch in all of the Path’s corridors can be found inside this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nook of a Hong Kong–style bakery. Our go-to is the row of serve-yourself cases of buns galore: fluffy pucks of dough filled with curried beef, red bean paste, sausage and other savouries, each for a shade under $2. The standout is the sweet, golden-crowned pineapple bun stuffed with barbecued pork. Two or three make a meal—especially if you also snag some siu mai or har gow from the dim sum case.
First Canadian Place, 100 King St. W., 416-504-8305, fornocultura.com
The fabulous King West bakery runs an underground outpost that stocks the flagship’s greatest hits. That means Path-dwellers can grab a crusty sourdough filone or a round of focaccia to bring home for dinner, plus a midday meal from a lineup of pre-made sandwiches, like the spicy soppressata one with pepperonata and provolone on a dark demi-baguette. There’s an entire sweets case, too, filled with Italian cookies and cakes—but there’s a very good chance you’ll have already filled up on bread.
Porchetta and Co.
Exchange Tower, 130 King St. W., no phone, porchettaco.com
The city’s favourite purveyors of porchetta now have a location underground, where Path-goers can have luscious roast pork for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The porchetta breakfast sandwich—available until 11 a.m.—is topped with a fried egg and provolone, and finished with both truffle and hot sauces. It sure beats those other morning-time muffins (you know the ones). For lunch, while you can’t go wrong with anything on a bun here, we like the porchetta plate: a pile of juicy, hand-carved pork topped with crunchy crackling (that’s crispy, salty roasted pork skin, to the uninitiated) plus a choice of sides, like spicy, garlicky rapini.
Dynamic Funds Tower, 1 Adelaide St. E., 416-364-4203, no website
This Indian restaurant at the eastern edge of the labyrinth is a gem. It has all the charm of a food court—fluorescent lighting, styrofoam plates—but you aren’t here for the ambiance. You’re here to get a not-sad-desk lunch of lamb curry, beef vindaloo or palak paneer. We suggest ordering a thali—like an Indian TV dinner—with a choice of two meat or veg plus rice or naan. Also good: a kathi roll, Frisbee-sized naan wrapped around cubes of tender chicken tikka topped with lettuce, onions and a lashing of raita. If you ask for it spicy, make sure to tack a cooling mango lassi on to your order.
Ho Ga Oriental
Bentall-Kennedy Tower, 121 King St. W., 416-368-5555, no website
This slightly-off-the-beaten-path kiosk draws lineups for its pan-Asian classics. Comfort food doesn’t get more satisfying or flavour-packed than a takeout container filled to bursting with spiced bulgogi, crispy katsu or tongue-tingling Korean chicken, sided by a tangle of glass noodles and a mountain of funky kimchi, and with a fried egg on top. Or does it? That depends on how much of the earthy chili sauce you care to squeeze over the whole thing. Our advice: use lots.
TD Centre, 66 Wellington St. W., 416-214-0320, fabbrica.mcewangroup.ca
This casual version of Mark McEwan’s Italian eatery offers Path diners a good reason to turn lunch into a personal pizza party. The Roman-style squares are crispy-bottomed structural marvels, all airy and focaccia-like and heaving with truffle crema and roasted mushrooms, fried eggplant and fior di latte, or curled-up pepperoni cups and hearty tomato sauce. A single slice is plenty—too bad there’s also an entire selection of fresh pasta and antipasti by which to be tempted.
TD Centre, 66 Wellington St. W., no phone, mcewan.mcewangroup.ca
Mark Mcewan’s 6,500-square-foot supermarket is the premium place in the Path to shop for fresh produce and artisanal pantry items. But at lunch, the pièce de résistance is the market’s serve-yourself hot table stocked with over 40 items (in Le Creuset crockery, no less). The selection changes daily but can include samosas and pakoras, Thai curry, Sri Lankan goat, jerk chicken and braised short ribs. Food is measured by weight, so you can get a whole lot or just a little, depending on how hungry you are. It’s like being back in the high school caf, except the food is actually good.
Buster’s Sea Cove
Commerce Court, 199 Bay St. W., 647-341-2020, @bustersseacove
St. Lawrence Market’s go-to for lobster rolls and baskets of coconut shrimp has cast its net at the Bay Street crowd with a polished subterranean food court location. The gussied-up offerings include fish tacos and a gourmet avocado toast bar. But we go here for the fried seafood, and that includes hefty helpings of halibut and a Southern fried oyster po’ boy sandwich—the crispy golden-brown bivalves crammed into a bun slathered with tangy scallion aïoli. Don’t forget the napkins.
Commerce Court, 199 Bay St., 416-504-2626, eatkanga.com
Kanga’s personal-sized, all-butter pastry pies come in a multitude of flavours, but we like the traditional Aussie one loaded with ground beef and savoury gravy, and best dipped in ketchup. Do yourself a favour and order a lamington for dessert—the popular Australian treat is basically a brick of fluffy sponge cake slathered in creamy chocolate icing and rolled in sweet shreds of coconut. Warning: do not operate any machinery heavier than a MacBook after this meal.
Lovejoy Bar and Cafe
Brookfield Place, 187 Bay St., 416-628-7681, donnellygroup.ca/lovejoycafe
This adorably twee watering hole appears out of nowhere like a mirage, tempting thirsty suits to linger underground a while longer—or kick off happy hour a bit earlier. Lovejoy looks like the licensed diner of a 1950s train station and serves a short menu of caffeinated beverages (the Lovejoy Cà Phé, a take on Vietnamese coffee made with condensed milk and Angostura bitters, is the Path’s most unusual latte), a couple of classic cocktails and natural wines—the trendiest of wines right now—including an orange one from Southbrook Vineyards.
Brookfield Place, 187 Bay St., 416-628-7014, donnellygroup.ca/pong
Tucked away behind Lovejoy (and hipster haircut spot Barber & Co.) is Pong Bar, the subterranean sister bar to Walrus Pub and Beer Hall, and a place for Bay Street types to unwind over giant mugs of local craft beer (Blood Brothers, Halo, Burdock, Godspeed) and games of table tennis. After a hard day’s work, there’s no better way to displace pent-up anger than by exerting force on a small, inanimate object—again and again and again.
Union Station, York Street Promenade, 65 Front St. W., 647-350-0096, unionchicken.com
It used to be that peckish people passing through Union were limited to pre-boarding snacks of Blizzards and Big Macs. But the transit hub has become a dining destination—or at least a not-bad place to be if your train is delayed. Because now there’s a spot for fried bird and tallboys of craft beer. If you can take the heat, we recommend the Nashville Lightning Hot Chicken plate: fried boneless thigh doused in habanero sauce and maple-honey syrup and served on a slice of white bread.
Union Station, York Street Promenade, 65 Front St. W., 647-350-0092, eatamano.com
If catching the 5 p.m. train is the grand prize of commuting, Amano offers a good reason to throw in the towel. The pasta joint—located steps from the GO platforms—pours house wine for just $1 per ounce every weekday until 5 p.m., which makes it ideal for wine-paired lunches of chef Michael Angeloni’s pecorino-dusted bolognese, or a 4:55 p.m. tumbler with nibbles. For weekend travellers, the Sunday Gravy meal is a family-style feast starting at $35, with half-price bottles of wine.
Union Station , York Street Promenade, 65 Front St. W., 416-283-3251, wvrst.com
The Union Station outpost of King West’s WVRST is designed to catch commuters coming and going. Mornings bring hearty breakfast sandwiches, while midday and evenings lean heavier into strudel and schnitzel territory, along with the now-iconic lineup of sausages and duck-fat fries. There’s also a fastidiously maintained selection of 40 taps—prime pre-game terrain for Leafs and Raps fans.
Danish Pastry House
Union Station, Front Street Promenade, 65 Front St. W., 905-844-7777, danishpastryhouse.ca
Biscotteria Forno Cultura
Union Station, Front Street Promenade, 65 Front St. W., 416-214-5656, @biscotteriafornocultura
There’s one corridor of the city’s bustling rail hub that can make even the most harried commuter stop and smell the pastry. Danish Pastry House makes whimsical creations like the Høj Snegl, a 27-layer twist laced with cinnamon and butter-sugar filling. A few doors down, Biscotteria Forno Cultura has biscotti, amaretti cookies and the chocolate-and-lemon-curd torta caprese to cure the commuting blues.
This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $24 a year, click here.