Street Dreams

If you can imagine eating it, there’s probably an enterprising vendor serving it al fresco this summer. A survey of the city’s sensational street food

We’ve all been there: standing in line for street meat after an unexpected hunger pang hits—or, okay, several pints. There’s no judgment here, but not all street food is created equal. The humble hot dog cart has been surpassed by an ever-evolving fleet of street-food specialists cropping up on our city’s busiest corners and in downtown plazas and markets. It’s way more than just food trucks, those four-wheeled revolutionaries that began appearing en masse several years ago—it’s pedal-powered quesadilla carts and streetside steak sandwich stands, whose whereabouts and hours are best tracked via Instagram; it’s a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza oven in a public park; it’s a barbecue party behind a restaurant and Korean kimchee dumplings from a walk-up window and much more. Here’s our summer bucket list of the city’s best street food.

A cheesy quesadilla from Quesadilla Cart

1 Spencer Shields is toronto’s first mobile maker of quesadillas, and you can find him and his cool homemade cart slinging stuffed and seared tortillas at city festivals, parks and pop-ups all summer long. A choice of chicken or veg is topped with cheese, sweet corn kernels, sautéed peppers and caramelized onions, then folded, pressed and served with sour cream and hot sauce. $7. @quesadillacart

A roasted pork hock from Steamwhistle Biergarten

2 A litre stein of cold beer on a hot day will surely work up an appetite, and the culinary team at the newly opened Steam Whistle Biergarten has the answer. The star of the sausage-and-schnitzel-heavy menu is a whole roasted pork hock, its skin bronzed and crackly and ridiculously easy to pull apart on the way to unearthing gloriously juicy meat. It’s served bone-in on a bed of roasted German potatoes, and it’s enough to feed you and a couple of friends over another round or two on the patio in the shadow of the CN Tower. Prost, indeed. $26. 255 Bremner Blvd., Bay 7, 416-362-2337,

Photo by Gabby Frank
A homemade hot dog from Kungfu Dawg

3 Before he became known as Kungfu Dawg, purveyor of street meat, Stephen Payne was the head of the charcuterie program at Parkdale’s now-closed Parts and Labour. He went on to cook at Wallace and Co. in the Junction Triangle, then he opened up the city’s coolest hot dog stand on Ossington. Now he slings his homemade, no-filler franks and corn dogs loaded with (also homemade) condiments and toppings at breweries, flea markets and street parties all across the city. $5 and up. @kungfu_dawg

A meal under the Gardiner at the Bentway

4 It’s hard to find any food more “street” this summer than a meal served beneath a stretch of the Gardiner Expressway. That’s the site of a weekly Thursday dinner event, hosted by local culinary incubator the Depanneur, that invites a rotating series of chefs to prepare family-style meals ranging from delicious Syrian cooking to spicy Caribbean fusion to paella parties and hands-on Filipino kamayan feasts. The vibe is extremely neighbourly, and attendees are asked to supply their own plates, bowls and cutlery. $12. 250 Fort York Blvd.,

A chicken tikka kathi roll from the Kathi Roll Express at Union Summer

5 Kathi rolls, the spicy South Asian cousin to the burrito, are ubiquitous on the streets of Kolkata. On the streets of Toronto, you’re most likely to find them from this specialist purveyor, who happens to have a booth at TD Union Summer, a seasonal patio party outside Union Station. They take flaky fresh parathas and roll them tightly around chunks of tandoori-cooked chicken tikka and a layer of egg. There’s some heat to contend with, so it’s wise to pair it with a tangy mango cardamom shake from Holy Shakes, served in an adorable old-fashioned milk bottle. $10 for a kathi roll, $6 for the shake. Daily until Aug. 3. Union Station, 65 Front St. W.,

Kimchee dumplings from Seoul Food Takeout

6 From her teeny-tiny kitchen at Bloor and Sherbourne, cheerful Mary Choi serves up hearty Korean bowls and bites through a walk-up takeout window. Go for her lunch boxes filled with bulgogi, donkatsu or weekly specials like chicken curry (Mondays) and bibimbap (Fridays). For snack seekers, the steamed dumplings stuffed with Choi’s homemade kimchee are delish. $5. 606 Sherbourne St., 416-450-0519,

A unicorn Taiyaki from Taiyaki NYC

7 No other creature has been monopolized in the name of food as often as the unicorn. Edible odes to the mythical beast have included sparkly cakes, lattes, milkshakes and toast. Taiyaki NYC, a Big Apple–based Japanese dessert chain that’s now in T.O., has doubled up on the creature feature by filling a freshly baked fish-shaped waffle cone with a swirl of sprinkle-coated soft-serve, finishing it off with twee ears and an alicorn (yes, that’s the proper name for the spiralled uni-horn) made of fondant. The custard- or red bean–filled taiyaki is leaps and bounds better than a plain old crumbly cone. $8. 128 Dundas St. W., 647-347-5957,

Paella Valenciana from Visca

8 This pedal cart serves a rustic version of Spain’s iconic rice dish. It’s made with chicken, rabbit and imported pearl rice prepared in a broth smoked with orange wood, and it’s best with a cold Valencian horchata made from a tuber called tiger nut. Visca serves six days a week, including Wednesdays at Brookfield Place and Saturdays at Trinity Bellwoods. $15 for paella, $5 for horchata.

Pad Thai and Thai iced tea from Nantana Thai Food and Desserts

9 When Chef nantana Salanont isn’t teaching cooking classes at George Brown College, she’s serving some of the city’s tastiest Thai street food from her stall at Market 707, Toronto’s original shipping container collective. The pad Thai—rice vermicelli topped with chicken, tofu, dried shrimp, egg, turnip, shallots, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and a squeeze of lime—might be the best this side of Bangkok. If you ask for it spicy, be sure to order some of Nantana’s Thai iced tea, a cold, creamy, orange-coloured concoction sweetened with evaporated milk. $11 for the pad Thai, $3.50 for the iced tea. 707 Dundas St. W., 647-526-0008, @nantanathaifood

A porchetta sandwich from the Cheese Boutique’s food truck

10 From now until October, the Cheese Boutique’s cheddar-orange brunchmobile will be outside their Ripley Avenue store (every Sunday) and at Etobicoke’s Humber Bay Shores Farmers’ Market (every Saturday). Their porchetta sandwich comes on a freshly made brioche bun stacked with juicy pork, smoked gouda, wild leek pesto and—because this is brunch, after all—an omelette. $7. @cheese_boutique

A gingerbread ice cream sandwich from Original Favourite

11 One of this summer’s newest must-have treats is the passion project (and side hustle) of Forbes Campbell, and they’re available at Gold Standard’s Parkdale outpost. Campbell smooshes a wodge of brain-freeze-cold vanilla ice cream between two slabs of his savoury gingerbread cake, then wraps it all up in wax paper for that homemade touch.
$6. 1574 Queen St. W., @original_favourite

A Nashville hot chicken sandwich from Union Chicken at Union Summer

12 The aptly named Union Chicken (their flagship location is inside the transit hub) also holds down a booth at TD Union Summer. The thing to get here is the Nashville Lightning Hot Sandwich, the brand’s take on the flaming-hot chicken from the South. A crispy fried thigh slathered in habanero hot sauce is shoved into a milk bun, drizzled with ranch and maple-honey syrup, then topped with iceberg and pickles. Bonus: it’s so dang spicy, it might make the scorching summer temps seem almost spring-like by comparison. $13.95. Daily until Aug. 3. Union Station, 65 Front St. W.,

A waffle with the works from Wafel Huis

13 The Liège-style Belgian sugar waffles from this market stand are addictive enough to eat on their own. Hot and fresh from the griddle press, the puffy squares are tender on the outside and irresistibly chewy on the inside. But you’d be a fool not to gild this lily with market-fresh fruit, whipped cream and a glug of Ontario maple syrup. The resulting concoction is simultaneously sticky, creamy, warm, cool and sweet. $8. Sundays at the Leslieville Farmers Market, 20 Woodward Ave.,

Pizza to go from Blondie’s Pizza

14 There’s virtually no seating at this neon-pink pizzeria on Dundas East, so the move is to amble with your polka-dotted pizza boxes across the street and sprawl out on the grass of Greenwood Park. All the pies have a foldable yet surprisingly sturdy cross-hatched crust, and the one called Cold Drink/Hot Girl is hard to beat, topped with gorgeously greasy cups of crispy Ezzo pepperoni, jalapeño rings and a drizzle of honey. A rotating selection of soft-serve flavours ensures a sweet picnic in the park. $15-$26. 1555 Dundas St. E., 437-341-1555,

A kaas sausage from WVRST at Union Summer

15 There’s street meat and then there’s a sausage from WVRST, Toronto’s premier sausage purveyor. They have a booth at TD Union Summer, where you can get one of their artisanal dogs to eat while enjoying live entertainment—and even a cold beer or two. We like the kaas, a lightly smoked pork-and-beef sausage stuffed with parrano cheese and topped with jalapeños and sautéed onions. $9.75. Daily until Aug. 3. Union Station, 65 Front St. W.,

A Chickee Kone from Chickee Kone at World Food Market

16 An empty lot at Yonge and Gould has been transformed into a collection of food trucks and cute-as-a-button cabins, all hawking snacks and meals to go, from the actually-good-for-you (vegan wraps, Vietnamese cold rolls) to this deliciously ungodly creation: a freshly made waffle, shaped into a cone (sorry, “kone”) and filled to overflowing with fried chicken bites doused with your choice of sauces like plum, chipotle mayo or honey garlic. Ignore all the looks you get while eating this beast—they’re just jealous. $7.99. 335 Yonge St., @world_foodmarket

Chilaquiles from La Marquesita at World Food Market

17 There’s always something glorious about diving fork-first into a takeout container filled with tortilla chips and all sorts of toppings. These aren’t nachos, though: they’re chilaquiles, a signature Mexican dish where the tortillas are fried then simmered in Mexican barbecue sauce until they’re halfway between crispy and chewy. Variations abound, but at this stall in Yonge Street’s World Food Market, the red-tinged chips are piled with steak or chicken plus shredded cheddar cheese, queso fresco, salsa, a squiggle of sour cream, onions, cilantro and as much hot sauce as you can handle. A cold Jarritos on the side is a must. $12. 335 Yonge St.,

A steak sandwich from Nobs’

18 If a steak sandwich seems like an odd thing to wait in line for on a busy stretch of University, that’s because you haven’t tried this one. Fadi Zreik preps chunks of steak—choose the New York strip—for 24 hours in a sous vide bath until meltingly tender, then skewers them on the grill and slathers on the herbed butter. The meaty morsels are piled on a soft, lightly charred bun and drizzled with punchy chimichurri. On busy days, you might have to wait a while, but the total package is one of the most perfect bites you’ll find anywhere in Toronto these days—just don’t forget to grab extra napkins. $11-$16. 505 University Ave., @nobsofficial

A personal-size funnel cake from Funnel Cake Express

19 Don’t wait for the CNE for a funnel cake fix—just head to this dessert shop at Yonge and Wellesley. The Bullet is a tangle of deep-fried dough, dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar and topped with a beautiful blob of sweet strawberries, a swirl of soft-serve and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. And it’s a personal-size treat, so you know what that means: no sharesies. $6.75. 8 Wellesley St. E., Suite 105, 416-323-0612,

A smash burger from Burger Drops

20 When he’s not working as a sous chef at Queen and Spadina’s Aloette—home to one of the city’s best burgers—Gregory Bourolias slings his own burgers from his trusty griddle at pop-up events across the city. He calls the gatherings “Burger Drops” and, to date, he’s dropped more than 1,200 patties, each one griddle-smashed then sauced, cheesed and pickle-topped inside a pillowy bun, and stacked—if you’re smart and hungry enough—several to a plate. $6.50-$7.50. @burgerdrops

An artisanal doughnut from Donut Monster at Stackt

21 Doughnut aficionados no longer have to make the pilgrimage to this Hamilton-based bakery for their yeast-risen rings, now that the brand has a booth at Stackt, Toronto’s new shipping container market. The selection changes daily, but their roster of rotating flavours has included lavender-lemon, blood-orange hibiscus, raspberry-habanero and the #Hamont Cream-Filled, Donut Monster’s take on the beloved Boston Cream. There is no wrong choice. $2.75-$4.25. 28 Bathurst St., 289-309-1139,

Street corn and ice gola from India Paan

22 At dusk, the sidewalks of the Gerrard India Bazaar come alive with the thumping beats of Indipop and the aroma of vendors roasting corn cobs in front of the neighbourhood’s ubiquitous paan shops like this one. The lightly blackened cobs, called bhutta, are slathered in butter and rubbed with salt, fresh lemon and a spicy-funky chaat masala that lightly inflames the taste buds. Cool things down with an ice gola—a shaved-ice snowcone sweetened with condensed milk and a rainbow of sugary syrup with flavours like mango, blackcurrant and Pakola cream soda. 1427 Gerrard St. E., 416-461-8914,

A Hong Kong waffle cone from Bang Bang Ice Cream

23 It just wouldn’t be summer without spending an hour in line for a treat at Bang Bang, Ossington’s perennially popular (but even more so in the warmer months) ice cream shop. The staff stays busy stuffing scoops in flavours like banana pudding, matcha-jasmine-soba and lychee rosewater, between and inside all kinds of cone substitutes: chewy cookies, sticky cinnamon buns, choux pastry puffs and our favourite, Hong Kong egg waffles. The bubbly vessel is just as much fun to eat as it is tasty. $7.95. 93A Ossington Ave.,

Doubles from a trike from Manipura Food Co.

24 Lucas Boers is on a mission to bring West Indian–style curried chickpea flatbread to the streets of Toronto…by tricycle. From his three-wheeled steed he doles out scratch-made doubles: savoury channa on bara (fried flatbread) topped with tamarind sauce, cucumber chutney and your choice of pepper sauce (we like the rosemary-habanero best). Then he rolls it like a burrito and wraps it in foil for easy on-the-go eating. Look for him at the Brookfield Place Summer Market every Wednesday. $5. @manipurafoodco

Neapolitan pizza from Cucinato at Sorauren Farmers’ Market

25 Every Monday, Bruno Di Sarno and Pasquale Ponticiello of Corso Italia’s Cucinato make legit wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas from scratch, slathered with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella (and Italian salami if you want), their crusts blistered in all the right places. BYO blanket (and a vino-filled Swell) for a picnic in the park. $10-$12. 50 Wabash Ave.,

A trio of tacos from Gus Taqueria

26 Tacos are one of the world’s elemental street foods, but in cities like Toronto, they’ve increasingly moved indoors and become upscale, with a list of globe-spanning fillings and toppings. This new Kensington taqueria, however, keeps things traditional, starting with the handmade tortillas, lightly charred in spots, that cradle fillings like grilled steak or swordfish, braised lamb or classic al pastor pork served with sliced pineapple. There’s a whole salsa bar filled with a rainbow of sauces, from mild to tongue melting. And the best part: it’s just across from the newly renovated Bellevue Square Park, which is prime taco-picnic terrain. $4.50-$5 each. 225 Augusta Ave., 647-409-6920,

A watermelon ice cream sandwich from Milkcow Cafe

27 This Korean dessert café is known for its organic-milk soft-serve and shakes, but the super-seasonal pièce de résistance is the watermelon ice cream sandwich: a slightly hollowed-out wedge of summer’s signature fruit filled with watermelon-flavoured soft-serve. For some extra yum, the juicy watermelon slice is flecked with chocolate-chip “seeds” that you won’t want to spit out. $10. 2651 Yonge St., 647-346-6669,

A backyard barbecue feast at Madame Boeuf and Flea

28 There’s nothing better than summertime backyard cookouts—especially when Anthony Rose and his team are manning the grills. At Madame Boeuf, Rose’s seasonal barbecue joint tucked behind his Middle Eastern spot Fet Zun, you can chow down on juicy burgers and hot dogs—or burgers topped with hot dogs!—and sides that include giant kosher pickles and fries of the crinkled kind. All that plus games like cornhole and bocce, along with boozy slushies and ice cream sandwiches, make it feel like a trip to the cottage. 252 Dupont St., 647-352-3337,

Sourdough loaves and seasonal pastries from Robinson Bread

29 You can always find Patti Robinson’s most excellent loaves of bread for sale at Burdock Brewery and at Paris Paris, the Dundas West wine bar where she does all her baking. But now you can also find her sturdy sourdoughs, seeded ryes and perfect pains au lait at the Dufferin Grove and Junction farmers’ markets. Grab a loaf to go and a pastry or two—like one of her ramp-and-cheese danishes, strawberry croissants or rhubarb-almond cakes—to stay. @robinsonbread

A fruit-filled hand pie from Prairie Boy Bread

30 These College Street bakers are best known for their bread, but owners Lainie Knox and Grant MacPherson also know a thing or two about pastry, and their fruit-filled hand pies prove it. For the sweet, portable treats, they take seasonal goodness (strawberry-rhubarb one time, organic sweet cherries another) and wrap it in buttery, flaky, no-need-for-a-fork pastry. $5.50. 970 College St., 416-531-1211, @prairieboybread

This story originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.