Toronto’s Best Delicatessens
Our favourite delis for everything from antipasti to pastrami
The deli means different things to different people. For some, it’s a place to stock up on sliced salumi and charcuterie; for others, it’s a place to catch up over a mile-high plate of pastrami and sour pickles. What unites the two visions is a commitment to thinly sliced cold cuts and quality sandwiches, which is something we can all get behind. Here, our favourite delis for everything from antipasti to pastrami.
1. La Salumeria
For almost 40 years now, this Davisville gem has been a home base for—among myriad other delicious things—Italian cold cuts.
The display case in the tightly packed space is stuffed with all kinds of imported meats, each one sporting an old-timey red-and-white price tag flag: guanciale, capicollo, mortadella, prosciutto, salami you didn’t know existed (the oh-so-lightly seasoned casalingo, one with fennel, another with truffle).
But the best and sort-of-secret part about this place? Owner Carlo Celebre (who took over the business in 2006) or one of his friendly staff members will take any of the aforementioned delicacies and make them into a sandwich for you. All you’ve got to do is choose a bun and bring it to the counter—then put your trust in their talented sandwich-artist hands. They recommend that first-timers get the house special, and for good reason: a ciabatta bun layered with thinly shaved prosciutto, spicy salami, fat slabs of creamy buffalo mozzarella, spicy peppers, balsamic vinegar and fig jam—the secret weapon—is the sweet-and-savoury stuff of sandwich dreams. 2021 Yonge St., 416-486-8327
2. Scheffler’s Delicatessen and Cheese
Every inch of this St. Lawrence Market postage stamp—open since 1955—is used to its fullest potential, packing a surprising amount of artisanal goods into its 800 square feet. The current owner, Odysseas Gounalakis, worked at the market in the early ’80s, then bought Scheffler’s a decade later and turned it into a family affair. He added specialty antipasti to the lineup in the ’90s, and you can still find all kinds of olives, pickles, marinated artichokes and various stuffed things (cherry bomb peppers, grape leaves), though it may be a while before you can serve yourself, salad-bar style, again. Over the years, the shelves and refrigerated cases were stocked with olive oils, vinegars and condiments from around the world, some of the best butter money can buy, hard-to-find gems like Peruvian sweety drops and—the reason we’re here—deli meat. They offer the largest selection of prosciutto in the city, cigarillo-sized saucisson sec (some flavoured with truffle, others with espelette pepper) and not-your-average cold cuts, like sliced goose. 93 Front St. E., 416-364-2806
3. Chantecler Boucherie
It was meant to be the dream team: a sister butcher shop to supply the kitchen at the French bistro next door, Chantecler, with only the best dry-aged meats, sourced from small Ontario farms. Then, in 2019, Chantecler caught fire, and the landlord eventually sold the building before the restaurant could reopen. In spite of it all, butcher Daniel McMahon soldiers on at the thriving boucherie-slash-deli. The ex–Black Hoof chef has created a one-stop shop for the perfect prep-free night in. Grab a bottle of Italian natural wine, everything you need for a beauty of a charcuterie board—coppa, lonza, sopressata, pepperettes, a country-style pork-and-liver terrine—then stock up on goods like farm-fresh heritage eggs and Subtext coffee beans, for the morning after. Oh, and those cold cuts? They turn them into some of the best sandwiches in the city: roast beef, turkey club and—our favourite—the Italian hoagie, a sesame seed sub bun loaded up with Genoa salami, hot sopressata, Black Forest ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion and giardiniera. 1318 Queen St W., 416-628-3586, chanteclerto.com
4. Kingsway Meat and Deli
Run by siblings Adam, Greg and Ewa Wesierski, whose father, Hubert, started the biz, Kingsway Meat and Deli has been providing Bloor West Village with Polish and Ukrainian staples for over 30 years. The European-style shop is your quintessential deli: a window dressed with a valance of sausage links, various other smoked meats coiled like party streamers behind the counter and big plastic buckets filled to the brim with serve-yourself (in the before times, anyway) dill pickles, sauerkraut and herring. Most everything in the store—including the kolbasa (both ham and turkey varieties) and the Oktoberfest and village sausages—is prepared at their factory outlet and smokehouse in Mississauga. For snacking, grab some kabanosy: skinny, foot-long meat sticks that laugh in the face of other pepperettes. Bags of frozen pierogies and plum-filled paczki are quite obviously not meat products but make for excellent impulse purchases. 2342 Bloor St. W., 416-762-5365, kingswaymeats.com
5. When the Pig Came Home
A self-proclaimed “Toronto-style deli,” this Junction shop—done up nicely with subway tiles and a painted tin ceiling—draws lineups of devotees, all there for co-owner Ryan Gatner’s Montreal smoked meat, 13-hour-roasted porchetta or his kicky jerk chicken. Almost everything on the menu is made using grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat from local farmers, then cured, seasoned or smoked in-house. It’s all available by weight or—this being a delicatessen and all—turned into a sandwich. Their deluxe breakfast sammie stuffs a smooshy milk bun with thick cuts of nitrate-free peameal, an over-easy egg, cheddar, kale and tomato (because veggies), all finished with a squirt of maple aioli—it’s Canadian bacon done better. 3035 Dundas St. W., 647-345-9001, whenthepigcamehome.ca
6. Speducci Mercatto
Hidden away in an industrial section of the city, Speducci Mercatto is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. It wears a lot of delicious hats—it’s a café, a butcher shop, a grocery store for imported Italian goods and a full-service restaurant that serves house-made pizza and pasta alongside glasses of wine and beer. But it’s the room in the back corner, the size of a walk-in closet, that houses Speducci’s pride and joy: chef Gabriele Paganelli’s line of prize-winning cured meats. There’s sweet or hot cacciatore, three-bite stecchini and Paganelli’s famous gentile salami—we’re big fans of the spicy kind, made with Mennonite-farmed pork and infused with hot-pepper paste. They’re all stacked in front of a backdrop made up of various dry-cured ham gams (and some wild boar ones) aging their way to prosciutto, and all coming soon to a charcuterie board near you. 46 Milford Ave., 416-242-2777, speducci.com
It’s hard, if not impossible, to find a better rendition of Montreal smoked meat than the one from this Scarborough strip mall outlet, which has become a true destination for deli aficionados. The bona fides are unconventional but unmistakable: owner Sumith Fernando came to Toronto by way of Sri Lanka—with a 16-year pit stop working at Montreal’s famed Schwartz’s, where he absorbed every pepper-and-spice-rubbed secret (and added a few of his own) of brining and smoking a brisket, and slicing it to thick-cut, mustard-slathered perfection. He also deals in turkey, chicken, salami and steak, but the signature smoked meat (it’s halal, by the way) is his true calling card. 5631 Steeles Ave. E., 647-347-8899, sumilicious.ca
8. Schmaltz Appetizing
Anthony Rose’s appetizing shop carries all the standard fishy toppings—smoked salmon, gravlax, smoked sturgeon and, for the High Holidays, gefilte fish. It’s all available vac-packed or as part of a platter, and most everything can be ordered on a Bagel World bagel. All the classic accoutrements (cream cheese, chopped egg, tuna salad, full sour pickles) line the shelves. The place earns nostalgia points for carrying chubby New York Seltzer bottles. 414 Dupont St., 647-350-4261,
9. Centre Street Deli
Toronto’s herd of Jewish-style delis has been thinned considerably in recent years—zei gezunt to Katz’s and Yitz’s. But the best of the remaining bunch—for both quality and ambience—is this Thornhill classic, which traffics in classic delicatessen: smoked meat (asked for the old fashioned if you like yours peppery), corned beef, tongue, chopped liver, smoked whitefish, knishes, matzoh balls and a whole whack of pickled goods. Expect a healthy amount of kibitzing from staff and regulars alike when placing your order. And yes, you do want some karnatzel and a loaf of rye to take home with you, that’s a given. 1136 Centre St., Thornhill, centrestreetdeli.com
For nearly two decades, Stari Grad has been the go-to deli for the denizens of the Junction. Friendly staff slice all the standard meats of the lunch and cured kinds, but the store also stocks cevapi: springy, caseless sausages. Shelves are lined with imported European and Mediterranean products like ajvar, a tangy roasted red pepper spread perfect for sandwiches; kaymak, a clotted cream that’s delish on fresh bread or as a burger topping; and sweet treats, including boxes of Turkish Delight (and some bags of Turkish coffee to go with it). Pop into Solero, their recently renovated sister bakery in the same building, for freshly baked lepinja (a pita-like flatbread) and house-made burek, a pastry stuffed with things like minced meat and cheese—or grab a couple from the deli’s freezer cases for when future cravings hit. 3029 Dundas St. W., and two other locations, 416-763-2562, starigrad.ca
These listings (and many more) appear in Toronto Life’s 100 Best Food Shops special issue, which is available on newsstands now. To purchase your own copy, click here.