An insider’s guide to Kensington Market’s best restaurants, take-out spots and food shops
Kensington resident Corey Mintz on his go-to places for Jamaican patties, jerk chicken, pupusas, sourdough and more
Best take-out spots
61 Kensington Ave., 647-501-4505, eatrastapasta.ca
Owner Magnus Patterson has become a Kensington Avenue fixture: loading his steel-drum barbecue with charcoal in the morning, grilling chicken all afternoon and relaxing with a smoke in the early evening while keeping an eye on the neighbourhood from the doorstep of his Jamaican-Italian hybrid. The sweet fumes emanating from his jerk spice blend are a siren call, luring a steady, hungry queue throughout the day.
240 Augusta Ave., 647-748-4488, nubugel.com
Not even the impudent spelling of bagel can hide the fact that Nu Bügel makes good (really good) Montreal-style bagels. Baked fresh throughout the day, the semi-sweet, chewy rings are too good for toppings, though if you have 20 minutes, the staff will toast your bagel and eventually put cream cheese on it.
187 Baldwin St., 416-977-3191
From the selection of flaky Jamaican patties that includes shrimp, callaloo, akee and salt fish, spicy beef is the default. (Though the goat, with a creaminess that compliments the crisp pastry, might be superior.) The other star here is the doubles: bundles of flatbread that can barely contain their cargo of saucy, curried chickpeas. Those unafraid to stack one starch over another should go for a sandwich of a patty stuffed into a coco bun along with cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Even the sweets—moist little cakes flavoured with mango or cassava—are good too, and almost palate cleansers if you’re used to a nitro sugar sock from the nearby Krispy Kreme.
Best sit-down restaurants
Torteria San Cosme
181 Baldwin St., 416-599-2855, sancosme.ca
The intersection of Kensington and Baldwin is the nexus of the neighbourhood. After years of occupation by a café that nobody went to, the corner is now home to San Cosme, an emblematic hub of the market. The bright and shiny Mexican sandwich shop gets custom-made buns from nearby Blackbird Baking Co. and meat from Sanagan’s, another neighbour, making each meal a true taste of the community. The tortas—pepito, milanesa, cubana—are rich and saucy. Lean forward as you eat, prepared for the onslaught of guacamole, beans, mole and salsas that is sure to ooze out of the sides.
199 Augusta Ave., 647-351-1552, greygardens.ca
Kensington has long been a food-centric neighbourhood with the variety of lunchtime at the United Nations, but it’s always lacked great restaurants to sit down for a romantic meal. Grey Gardens reverses that trend. With flavours both reserved and bold and a dining room that’s simultaneously refined and boisterous, it’s become the neighbourhood’s go-to dining destination.
243 Augusta Ave., 416-351-9646
Past the bags of tortilla chips and dried epazote at the front of this Latin grocer, there’s a menu you can’t see from the street, a cash register that takes your order and a rear kitchen where you bring your ticket. Staff calls out your number when your pupusas, tamales or chile rellenos are ready. But don’t wait around: it will take at least 15 minutes from start to finish. So, order first and go grab a coffee or take a stroll while they cook. Add a fried plantain with crema—because it’s better for you than ice cream and just as delicious.
Best sweet treats
291 Augusta Ave., 647-345-0136, @grk_ygrt
A mash-up of trends—frozen yogurt, Greek yogurt, random Bulk Barn candy poured over soft serve—Grk Ygrt adds a twist: the Greek frozen yogurt actually tastes good. The tart base-note and creamy texture balance out even the sweetest of combinations, like the Cherry Bomb, made with cherries, graham crackers and white chocolate.
161 Baldwin St., Unit 6, 416-977-1922, milliedesserts.com
The signature dish here are Japanese crêpes, thin pancakes rolled into a cone filled with matcha gelato, whipped cream, cheesecake or Nutella, meant for eating on-the-go. And the savoury crêpe concoctions—pork belly okonomiyaki, smoked salmon and cream cheese—are worthy of lunch. But the real treasure, the crêpe cake, requires being seated at a table with a knife and fork in order to appreciate the fluffy vanilla custard slathered between 20 layers of wafer-thin crêpes.
214 Augusta Ave., 416-854-8770, panchosbakery.com
As a business built primarily on churros, Pancho’s Bakery did a brisk business. But since launching their #churrocone, they have lineups out the door every day. People stop me on the street to ask where the “churro cone place” is. However many #churrocones go wasted, as most tourists, after Instagramming the creation, give up halfway through the flimsy spiral of dough that needs a plastic cup to support its weight against a too-firm scoop of ice cream. The shop’s original churro, though—with or without strawberry, chocolate or dulce de leche filling—is the perfect treat. The sticks of fried dough are made frequently enough that they’re usually crunchy on the outside and still warm on the inside.
Best food shops and bars
Fong on Foods
46 Kensington Ave., 416-598-7828
Not so much a place for a snack (though they do make delicious pak thong koh and other gummy, rice-based sweets), the dark and steamy kitchen is known for its fresh tofu. Soft and silky, at six blocks for $2.50, it needs to be one of the items you schlep home.
Blackbird Baking Co.
172 Baldwin St., 416-546-2280, blackbirdbakingco.com
Kensington used to have bakeries—the one operated by the scary dude who didn’t pay staff, the one lost in a card game, Cobs—where you’d buy bread if you lived in the neighbourhood. Blackbird changed the game, immediately cementing itself as a destination bakery with some of the best bread in Toronto. On Saturday morning, people from all over the city line up for a loaf of sourdough, crusty works of art made from freshly milled wheat, rye and spelt. The idea that bread tastes better when the flour is fresh seemed nutty when I first heard it—but the taste made me a believer.
60 Kensington Ave., @coldteabar
Beyond a street entrance for a junk shop, down a hallway, through an unmarked door, Cold Tea remains too cool for a website, or to even post the address on its Instagram account. During the summer months, the bar hosts barbecues—loud and young parties—in the alley patio every Sunday. Get there early because there’s always something amazing being grilled over charcoal, by a rotating series of guest chefs from the city’s coolest kitchens.