The Belly of the East

It’s been a crazy year of restaurant and bar openings on the other side of the Don. Take our gut-busting tour of all the tasty new places to check out

The Don River is more than just a meandering waterway that divides the city’s east end from the centre of the universe commonly known as “the rest of Toronto.” It’s also long been seen as a psychological boundary beyond which west-end loyalists never deigned to dine. But even non-residents are noticing what east-enders have known for a while now: a phenomenal food and drink renaissance is underway, from Danforth to Eastern, Broadview to Woodbine. These are our favourite new reasons to feast in the east.


Lake Inez

Chef Robbie Hojilla—formerly of Ursa, Hudson Kitchen and the Harbord Room—has landed in Little India. At Lake Inez, a boisterous Filipino restaurant just west of Coxwell, Hojilla adds personal touches to the dishes he grew up with. Crispy fried chicken wings are coated in honey-garlic adobo and sprinkled with sesame seeds and fiery chilies, and skewers of tender pork are glazed in 7-Up and soy sauce, then grilled over Japanese charcoal. They’re perfect bites to go with one of the many natural wines or excellent local beers on offer—Lake Inez is run by the folks behind the Wren, another A-plus craft beer bar on the Danforth. 1471 Gerrard St. E., 416-792-1590,

Pork skewers glazed in 7-Up and soy sauce.
Chef Robbie Hojilla’s previous stops include Ursa, Hudson Kitchen and the Harbord Room.
Filipino bone marrow broth with two-day-brined, braised brisket.
Inside the dining room in Little India.


Sugar Loaf Bakery

The expanding east-end chainlet—the first Sugar Loaf opened near Queen and Broadview in early 2016, followed this summer by a second location in a former Starbucks at Gerrard and Jones—calls itself a “nontraditional artisanal bakery.” But multi-traditional might be more apt: the display case is a UN summit of baking traditions, where chewy, cheesy Brazilian pão de queijo and chocolate brigadeiros rest alongside braided challah, French pain de campagne, custard-filled beignets, and all manner of sweet and savoury cookies, croissants and sandwiches. Brunch is a big hit on weekends. 729 Queen St. E., 647-847-6122; 1062 Gerrard St. E., 647-341-9383;

There’s a whole arsenal of global sweets and savouries to pick from at Sugar Loaf.
And extensively braided challah.
Inside the Sugar Loaf at Gerrard and Jones.


Godspeed Brewery

Luc “Bim” Lafontaine, the former head brewer at Montreal’s Dieu du Ciel! brewery, has opened his long-anticipated 140-seat brewpub on Coxwell just south of Gerrard, in what was once a giant dollar store. The beer lineup is starting to get seriously interesting, with creations like the Transatlantic pale ale, made with grains, hops and yeast from Canada, England, France and the U.S. The food is pure izakaya, including bowls of crunchy karaage chicken and pork katsu sandwiches, making for one of the most unique food-beer pairings in the city. 242 Coxwell Ave., 416-551-2282,

This used to be a dollar store.
And now, it’s got really good beer.
The covered patio is a cool place to hang out on a sunny afternoon.



Handlebar’s east-side counterpart is Farside, a colourful and quirky dive that’s impossible not to love. From the Astroturf welcome mat to the vintage living room furniture and VHS movie nights, the place oozes character. There’s craft beer aplenty and well-made (and awesomely named) house cocktails, like the Forever 41, a wine spritzer with an elderflower twist. The snack menu is limited, but includes a “sour plate” (kimchee, a pickled egg, kettle chips) and birthday cake—procured daily from neighbouring Tung Hing bakery—served by the slice on a Spice Girls plate. 600 Gerrard St. E., 647-347-7433,

Want some birthday cake to go with your beer? That’s a possibility at Farside.
The Gerrard Street bar oozes oozes colour and character.


White Lily Diner

Having a single standout patty melt would be reason enough for most nostalgists to trek over to this contemporary diner. But White Lily’s got a best-in-the-city arsenal featuring three of these classic burger spinoffs served on toasted house-baked breads. The Classic is a good place to start, topped with a house-made cheese sauce and poblano relish. (There’s a double-patty version if you’re really going for it.) But it’s nice to have options, so chef Ben Denham (a veteran of the Hoof Café and Grand Electric) created a Reuben patty melt, topped with sauerkraut, Russian dressing and swiss, and a breakfast patty melt, with bacon and a runny egg—the eye-opener we didn’t know we needed. 678 Queen St. E., 416-901-7800,

That’s a good looking patty melt you’ve got there.


Saulter Street Brewery

Hidden behind a dead-end road, the east end’s newest brewery only comes into view after visitors duck down an alley that opens up to a parking lot and Saulter Street’s cherry-red barn doors—it’s like a beer lover’s version of Narnia. The bright and airy taproom with a farm-like feel is unlike any other in Toronto right now—it’s a little bit country, less city—and it’s also supremely stroller- and dog-friendly. Still in its infancy, Saulter has the occasional one-off but is primarily focused on its flagship brew, a totally crushable pilsner. 1-31 Saulter St., 416-463-9379,

Saulter Street Brewery isn’t easy to find, but the freestanding space has an appealing clubhouse feel. (Dogs welcome.)
The Riverside pilsner is the name of the game for now.


Bodega Henriette

This tiny treasure on upper Gerrard, run by the same owners as nearby Eulalie’s Corner Store, is equally charming and eclectically decorated. It’s a place for perfectly pulled cortados and behemoth breakfast sandwiches; a one-stop shop for last-minute needs (milk, eggs, butter) or wants (house-made doughnut holes, a football-size loaf of Petit Thuet sourdough); a purveyor of fine local beer and a go-to for a romantic dinner…or a more frazzled one with the kids—the family-friendly bodega has a selection of toys and games on hand. 1801 Gerrard St. E., 416-546-6261, @bodegahenriette.

Breakfast is a big deal at Bodega Henriette, which serves sturdy plates of food throughout the day.
They don’t skimp on the sandwiches either.
It’s easy to ride right past the restaurant as the streetcar chugs along Gerrard Street.


Wong’s Ice Cream

Sriracha–buttered popcorn ice cream is officially a thing, and it’s goddamn delicious. Find it on Gerrard Street at Wong’s. Owner Ed Wong, Toronto’s new Willy Wong-ka of the ice cream world, creates unique, small-batch Asian-inspired flavours—Hong Kong milk tea, pine needle– pink lychee, black sesame with salted duck egg—and serves them to-go, $4 per scoop, in adorable Chinese takeout containers. The aforementioned sriracha–buttered popcorn is both sweet and savoury, with just a slight kick that lingers—until the next spoonful. And FYI, the small retail section at the front of the shop stocks candies, confections and cases of LaCroix sparkling water. 617 Gerrard St. E., 416-778-8883,

Ice cream comes in your choice of a cone or a Chinese takeout box.
(Though there’s really only one correct choice.)
Also available: snacks, and cases of LaCroix water.



Chef Rodney Bowers closed his Leslieville sandwich spot Hey Meatball and in its place opened Bunny’s, a moody room decked out with maroon booths and vaguely macabre rabbit art (for example, a print of two children fleeing from a Franken-hare and a Donnie Darko–like neon number) that serves three meals a day, brunch on weekends (breakfast tacos!) and boozy cocktails. The menu is eclectic: for dinner, there’s a burger, risotto, chicken schnitzel and maple-glazed cod. But the house-made pasta—thick, chewy ropes of bucatini coated in tangy tomato sauce—is where it’s at. Sitting on top of the tangled pile: four of the meatballs that made Bowers famous and a whack of freshly shaved parm. It’s basically grown-up Beefaroni—and that’s a very good thing. 912 Queen St. E., 647-340-6439,

Hey, meatballs. These ones are served over bucatini.
They also come in sandwich form.
The dining room sports red leather booths and a number of bunny-themed prints.
Follow the purple rabbit.


Rorschach Brewing Co.

A trio of friends took over the Le Papillon on the Park space late last year, turning the Eastern Avenue roadhouse into a huge brewery and restaurant with a 100-seat rooftop patio and a retail store. For such a young operation, there’s already an impressive selection of 16 house-brewed beers, including some bold sours, hoppy IPAs and experimental gimmicks, all with names borrowed from the pages of a psychology textbook. We like the Acquisition, a dry-hopped sour that rings in at only 3.4 per cent ABV, which makes it as sessionable as it is tasty. 1001 Eastern Ave., 416-901-3233,

Rorschach came out of the gate strong, with more than a dozen house-brewed beers on tap.
Dogs seem to like the place, too.
The long brewery and dining room formerly housed Le Papillon on the Park.



Leslieville already has a place to go for top-of-the-line tacos (we’re looking at you, La Carnita) but this colourful new Mexican taberna on Gerrard, with a two-level tiki-bar patio, is the place to do drinks. Guests can buy a ticket to Margaritaville (there are seven variations, including a few frozen ones) or hop on one of the tequila flights, with three clay copitas of the stuff to sip and savour. The bar offers almost 40 kinds of the Mexican spirit, ranging from a $7.50 shot of 1800 Silver blanco to a $54 ounce of Clase Azul anejo. Mescal, tequila’s hipster cousin, is also available. 1058 Gerrard St. E., 416-901-9859,

You can hop on a tequila flight, with three small copitas of the stuff…
…or you can book a ticket to (specialty) Margaritaville. This one’s the Rosita, made with strawberries, lime juice, fresh basil and Himalayan pink salt.
You can’t miss the yellow trim.


The Dylan Bar

The four-panelled fridge behind the bar, stocked with a vivid array of tallboys and bombers, confirms what you’ve heard about the province’s craft beer scene: it has blossomed to a degree no one in their right mind could have predicted. The bottles-and-cans list at the Dylan is 50 deep, with another 15 draft lines, and there’s not a single Molson or Moosehead to be found. Virtually everything is Toronto- or Ontario-brewed: expect to find plenty of small producers, like east-end locals Danforth Brewing and Muddy York, alongside bigger names like Collective Arts, Henderson and Blood Brothers. 1276 Danforth Ave., 416-792-7792,

The Dylan Bar’s fridge and draft lines are loaded with Ontario selections.
The kind of neighbourhood local everyone wishes they had.


Mister Frenchy

The signature French “taco” at this Greektown spot is more burrito than taco, but when it tastes this good, who cares what it’s called? Flatbread is stuffed with savouries and sauces, and pressed into an incredibly dense, tightly sealed brick sporting a grid of grill lines. The Lyonnais packs spiced ground beef, red peppers, french fries and a tangy, mayo-like Algerian sauce owners Mohamed Bordo and Youcef Boudouh import from France. These are probably the only “tacos” in the city that take 15 minutes to prepare, but everything is made to order, and it’s worth the wait. 675 Danforth Ave., 647-340-0790, @misterfrenchyfood.

This French “taco” isn’t really a taco in the traditional sense, but it’s delicious all the same.
The small eatery is sparsely decorated, but the food makes up for it.
French street food in Greektown.


Gare de L’Est

Dinner and a show no longer means having to schlep all the way downtown—and pay $40 for parking. The new Streetcar Crowsnest is a residential-entertainment complex at Dundas and Carlaw: the contemporary Crow’s Theatre provides the entertainment, and the handsome Gare de L’Est Brasserie the meal. The kitchen—run by chef de cuisine Mathew Gulyas and the east-side tag team of Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli (Broadview Hotel, Ascari Enoteca)—specializes in Parisian classics. Pre-theatre menus are available, starting at $35. For a nightcap, the by-the-glass wine list is littered with trendy picks that are typically bottle-only. And yes, there’s plenty of street parking nearby. 1190 Dundas St. E., 416-792-1626,

Gare de L’Est opened earlier this year with a classic bistro dining room along Dundas Street East.
There’s chef’s counter seating, too.
The restaurant sits at the bottom of a condo development.


Chez Nous

Nothing on owner Laura Carr’s wine list comes from outside the province. That’s a feature, not a bug, of this corner spot, where the motto is Our Wine, Our Place. And the neighbourhood has taken to it. This is more a spot for sipping than snacking, but for anyone looking to taste what small producers in Niagara and Prince Edward County are bottling, the ambience and selection here make it a good alternative to driving two hours east or west. Selections change often, but look for Southbrook Winery’s skin-contact orange vidal and Rosehall Run’s pinot noir, both available by the glass or bottle. 798 Queen St. E., 416-781-4743,

Formerly the County General, Chez Nous is an all-Ontario wine hangout.
The bar’s corner perch faces out onto Queen Street East.


Good Cheese

This city, bless its stilton-loving soul, isn’t short on fantastic fromageries, but there’s only one where you can sit and have a drink. Good Cheese, run by owners Adrian Zgeb and Luke Champion, is equal parts cheese shop and date spot. The counter is stocked with local and international dairy delights, including the impossibly red Rose Tomate from France, with notes of smoked meat (yes, smoked meat). A rotating drinks list includes beers, like a briny oyster stout from Germany, available by the bottle, and wine in three- or five-ounce pours. There’s a short menu of snacks to pick from, too. For the indecisive, two daily pairings do the work for you. On one of our visits, a hoppy Belgian blonde (one you won’t find in any LCBO) was married with a wedge of silky-smooth beer cheese from Italy. It was a whey-delicious union. 614 Gerrard St. E., 416-285-8482,

Rose Tomate is an umami-packed cow’s milk cheese from Quebec.
It’s also extremely eye-catching.



Forget Colonel Sanders: Korean fried chicken—double fried, irresistibly crunchy and incredibly juicy—is the new obsession of chicken bucketlisters, and spots like this are spreading the stuff into every corner of the city. A seven-piece order is plenty, and yet it’s barely enough for two people once the competition for the drumsticks begins. The secret is the house-made chili sauce—the staff call it Korean crack.” 722 Queen St. E., 416-546-9899,

The addictive Korean fried chicken at Kaboom.
The counter-service spot also serves addictive kimchi-topped “Kimcheesy” fries.


The Rooftop at the Broadview Hotel

The Toronto skyline is one of the most appealing features of cocktail hour in this city, but until recently, all of the best vantage points have been from the city’s west end. That’s different now with the rejuvenated Broadview Hotel’s indoor-outdoor top floor, which offers sweeping views not only of the skyscraper-filled core, but also of the striking expanses that stretch east and south. It’s a good bet those views won’t be quite so unobstructed for long. In the meantime, see the city from a fresh perspective while sipping a cocktail and snacking on beef tartare, scallop ceviche and a hefty chuck-brisket burger for which it’s worth making a reservation. 106 Broadview Ave., 416-362-8439,

The panoramic views from the top of the Broadview Hotel make for quite the dinner backdrop.
During nice weather, the west-facing patio follows Queen Street with views of the core.


Soul Chocolate

Coffee shops are among the first signs of neighbourhood revitalization, and there are plenty popping up along Gerrard East these days. But only one produces its own artisanal chocolate bars onsite. The tiny shop—most of it is taken up by production equipment—opened in late August. The coffee counter is an ideal stop-in for a sip of something single-origin, paired with a dark chocolate bar made from beans sourced from Madagascar (fruity), Tanzania (creamy, with ripe banana flavour) or the Dominican Republic (salty, with fleur de sel), and packaged in colourful custom-designed wrappers. It smells pretty damn fantastic in there, too. 583 Gerrard St. E., 416-460-7551,

The cacao beans for these small chocolate bars from Soul Chocolate are sourced from all over.
Follow your nose to the street corner that smells like chocolate and coffee.


Café Fiorentina

It’s easy to mask a pedestrian croissant by pumping it full of chocolate or burying it in almonds. But a plain croissant has nothing to hide behind, and one bite of Tina Leckie’s handiwork is a lightbulb moment for viennoiserie purists. The shell shatters to reveal wispy threads of dough that compress with each bite into pockets of buttery decadence. If they were all like this, we could have skipped the cronut craze entirely. 463 Danforth Ave., 416-855-4240,

They make lots of different pastries at Fiorentina, but the plain butter croissants belong at the top of the pile.
Also available: tarts, loaves and pizza.
The restaurant relocated from digs located just a few blocks away on the Danforth.


Eastbound Brewing Co.

With brewer Dave Lee (Mill Street) overseeing the suds and his wife, chef Tara Lee (Cowbell, Bar Hop Brewco), handling the food, Eastbound Brewing Co. has moved into a space right next door to the new Broadview Hotel. It’s the first brewery in the city to sell crowlers, one-litre cans of beer that fit nicely into a bike basket—unlike their heavier, more breakable cousin, the growler. The kitchen’s cornmeal-crusted cod sandwich is basically a fancy Filet- O-Fish, and it goes great with a pint of the peppery Basecamp saison. 700 Queen St. E., 416-901-1299,

If these ordinary cans aren’t enough for you, Eastbound also sells one-litre “crowlers” of beer.
The bar looks out at the intersection of Queen and Broadview.


Poor Romeo

The long-haired, moustachioed, tatted-up owners of Pinkerton, a one-year-old, slightly raucous small-plates bar west of Little India, have opened a kid-sister spot right across the street that’s more of a rock-and-roll dive. Where Pinkerton’s snacks skew Asian (think okonomiyaki with braised pork shoulder and kimchee), Poor Romeo fancies itself a ’merican haven of smashed burgers smothered in housemade special sauce and other comfort-food classics, washed down with cocktails and selections from a crafty brew list that reps Toronto hard. Poor Romeo, 1029 Gerrard St. E., no phone, @poor_romeo_bar; Pinkerton, 1026 Gerrard St. E., 416-855-1460, @pinkertonsnackbar.

Shrimp cocktail? Check. Oysters? Check.
Fried bar snacks? Check.
Smashed burgers and shakes? You better believe it.
There are TVs over the bar, but they’re covered over with wood paneling at night.