Gerrard Street East Guide: our nine favourite places along Little India’s main drag
The shop lights on Gerrard Street East stay on till nine—a late-night tradition that started out with the old Bollywood movie house that originally brought Indian merchants to the strip. Now sari shops, glowing neon signs for Kashmiri tea and sidewalk stands selling spiced corn on the cob keep the area filled with Pakistani Canadians from nearby Victoria Park, South Asian families in from the burbs, and residents from the slowly-but-surely gentrifying side streets. The retail bustle is creeping west of Jones, where several new businesses are revitalizing a dreary stretch of empty storefronts, noodle houses, laundromats and hair salons.
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Behind the long counter of this Turkish pizza joint, cooks in flour-covered aprons toss circles of dough skyward. The dough is then brushed with egg, sprinkled with sesame seeds and folded over the toppings, to become a stuffed pie. This variation on pizza is breaking through ethnic borders: two years ago, 80 per cent of Pide’s customers were Turks; now it’s a fifty-fifty split with non-Turkish customers. The karis¸ik (a Turkish version of quattro stagioni) is the best-seller. Worshippers from the Canadian Turkish Islamic Centre, which is three doors down, prefer the traditional lahmacun, a thin-crust dough topped with minced lamb, tomato and spices.
949 Gerrard St. E., 416-462-9666.
Last May, Gerrard East was stamped with the requisite signifier of gentrification: an indie coffee shop. This cheerful, white-brick corner café faces the Marjory and Gerrard streetcar stop. (There’s even a digital sign inside that announces the next streetcar arrival; commuters can pour their own cup and pay later if they need to make a run for it.) As the day goes on, the clientele transitions from caffeinating commuters to moms with strollers and dads who accessorize with BabyBjörns.
1021 Gerrard St. E., 416-200-4606.
Great Burger Kitchen
One of the newer arrivals on this block, Great Burger Kitchen serves up plump beef patties on Brick Street Bakery buns. The owners are Ted Koutsogiannopoulos, of Wine Bar, and Jim Grontis, of Johnny G’s on Parliament. Opening on a desolate strip was a gamble, but it appears to have paid off: at lunch, Riverdale Collegiate kids pile in, and at dinner, customers line up for burgers, thick onion rings and generous bowls of gourmet poutine.
1056 Gerrard St. E., 416-778-0111.
Centre of Gravity Vaudeville Theatre
At the west end of the bazaar, a Tim Burton-esque brick building houses the Zero Gravity Circus troupe and their monthly Lunacy Cabaret—a sort of low-rent, punk rock Cirque du Soleil. The crowd ranges from purple-haired pseudo-goths to men in suits ready to cheer, catcall and slither up onstage to participate in the artsy, politically charged and provocative sketches (Rob Ford roasts, sailor stripteases). Five-dollar beers help fuel the revelry. During the daylight hours, the Sideshow Café, at the corner of the building, serves fair-trade americanos to parents waiting to pick up their kids from Zero Gravity’s circus school for children.
1300 Gerrard St. E., 416-938-6030.
786 Halal Pakistani Restaurant
While Indian buffets still dot the heavily Sikh and Hindu eastern edge of the bazaar, halal restaurants are taking over the west. (Most buildings are still Indian-owned, but it’s increasingly Pakistani shopkeepers who own and manage the small businesses.) The dining room here is filled with large extended families who linger over their meals while the children run circles around the tables. The famous whole tilapia, rubbed with red Lahori spices and deep-fried, is juicy and crisp. The weekend buffet of authentic curries—generous chunks of meat on the bone, with whole hot peppers or slices of ginger—and such staples as butter chicken are justifiably popular (lunch $10, dinner $13).
1330 Gerrard St. E., 416-406‑0786.
Lahore Tikka House
Fourteen years ago, owner Alnoor Sayani took over a former KFC and began building a peach palace of a restaurant. A few trailers appeared in the parking lot as temporary dining space, and then never left. To feed the growing crowds, Sayani also installed a massive white summer party tent, draped inside with bright saris and strung with Christmas lights. The outdoor festival–like atmosphere, combined with the food (cinnamon-and cardamom-infused Karahi curries, Afghani chicken tikka, and homemade kulfi with a signature almond finish), so reminded Pakistani-Canadians of dining back home that business spiked. Sayani says that construction will be done in six months—he plans to turn the place into a massive nightclub—but he’s been saying that for years now. The perpetual mid-construction state is part of its charm.
1365 Gerrard St. E., 416-406-1668.
This takeout joint–meets–Bollywood movie store has the usual assortment of snack-shop chaats and puris, but the variety of Indian street food and desserts is the real reason people flock here. The vada pav ($5), a sandwich of spicy, deep-fried potato balls, is smothered with two kinds of chutney. The royal falooda ($4)—a rose-flavoured drink of cold milk, ice cream and vermicelli noodles topped with pistachios—is a traditional Bombay favourite. And then there is the paan, a digestive aid that’s somewhat controversial (the main ingredients, betel leaves and areca nuts, are known carcinogens). But for millions of South Asians, it’s a mildly addictive after-meal staple.
1386A Gerrard St. E., 416-405-8080.
Aromas of cardamom, cumin and coriander draw shoppers past the battered red sign into this 32-year-old corner grocery. The sidewalk stands are covered in boxes of tindora (similar to okra), amla (Indian gooseberry, known for its medicinal qualities), karela (a gourd reputed to help fight diabetes) and tinda (a small squash-like fruit). Inside, the narrow aisles burst with bulk spices, basmati rice, every size of tiffin box, and stacks of locally baked naan and parathas. Boil‑a-bag versions of such Indian classics as aloo gobi and mattar paneer are popular with time-strapped home chefs.
1438 Gerrard St. E., 416-461‑4432.
Herbivores can order freely at this strictly vegetarian basement banquet hall. Diners shovel in the restaurant’s signature South Indian crispy dosas, along with spongy uthapams and other traditional cuisine from the southwestern Indian city for which it’s named. When owner Hubert D’mello isn’t overseeing orders for the thalis and the ever-popular spring dosa (thin rice flour and lentil crêpes filled with potato curry, veggies and spicy chutney), he’s looking after his second venture, Nitya, a candlelit resto across the street that’s slightly more upscale.
1460 Gerrard St. E., 416-405-8189.