Whether or not this is your first time visiting Toronto, as a resident Chinese Torontonian for 35+ years, and someone who has been to most places around the world for food, entertainment, etc. I want to share my experiences on what I believe Toronto has to offer that is on par, if not above par of other places around the world.
As context, I’ve eaten almost everything you can think of, alive (yes that’s me eating a live squid) or cooked from mom and pop shops to Michelin Star restaurants around the globe. While I don’t think I am any qualified food reviewer, I believe I do have a decent taste bud for quality food.
Below are mostly experiences I’ve done personally. If not, I will state it. There are a lot more things in Toronto to do, but here are some of my favorites.
I will break down into multiple categories below with a table of contents in Alphabetical Order to make it easier as this may be quite long.
Table of Contents
- Sight-Seeing & Tours
- Other Information
There isn’t any great Chinese restaurants downtown Toronto as all of the top chefs moved to Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Markham. Basically, the suburbs of Toronto, about 20 mins drive away in good traffic.
Fortune House Restaurant (416 292 1260 – $) – This is authentic Chinese food. You probably won’t find an English menu here, and the waiting staff speaks very little English. This is NOT a place where you order westernized Chinese food like Lemon Chicken and Chicken Balls. This is authentic Chinese food that local Chinese people regularly go to eat. You won’t have great service here (culture), but the food is top notch.
Lai Wah Heen (416 977 9899 – $$$$) – This is an upscale Chinese cuisine in downtown Toronto. If you want to experience Chinese cuisine in a luxury environment, this is the place to go. Make sure you call and order the Peking Duck in advance.
Grandeur Palace (416 299 1622 – $$) – Located in Scarborough (25 mins drive), you won’t find the best service here, and always a line up on the weekends. The food quality is great for the mid-tier pricing.
Dragon Boat Fusion Cuisine (906 731 3718 – $$) – Located in Richmond Hill (30 mins drive), this place is always packed. No reservations allowed either, so arrive before by 10am to even get a chance to have a seat.
The two above are better than any of the popular downtown dim sum places like Rol San, Pearl, Dynasty, Asian Legend, Dim Sum King, etc.
However, if you are stuck downtown and can’t travel uptown, then you can settle for mediocre Dim Sum at Rol San ($$), Crown Princess ($$$), or Luckee ($$$$).
There is definitely no shortage of great Italian Food in Toronto. We even have a town called Little Italy. Here are just a few restaurants in no particular order that I believe you can go and not be disappointed at all.
- Biagio Ristorante (416 366 4040 – $$$)
- Buca King West (416 865 1600 – $$$)
- Enoteca Sociale (416 534 1200 – $$$)
- Gusto 101 (416 504 9669 – $$)
You will find a pretty amazing Japanese culture and food selection in Toronto. From the All You Can Eats all the way to the finest Japanese restaurants in the city.
Shoushin (416 488 9400 – $$$$$) – Omakase Tasting menu average about $400 per person here. Chef Jackie Lin delivers a sushi experience like you’ve never had before unless you’ve been to Japan’s Jiro.
Sushi Kaji (416 252 2166 – $$$$) – Omakase Tasting menu about $130 per person here. Chef Mitsuhiro Kaji is one of those unique individuals that have trained all over Japan, and been around for over 15+ years in this Toronto location.
Wow Sushi (416 923 1888 – $$) – If you want to be easy on your pockets, Wow Sushi is a good alternative if you are in the downtown core. Sometimes they are able to import some fresh Wasabi. Ask what are the freshest fish of the day.
Ramen Isshin (416 367 4013 – $$) – You will find that Toronto has a huge Ramen scene, but the one I trust and like the most is Ramen Isshin, they have a dipping noodle that is my favorite. But overall their broth and portion sizes are on point for all of their ramens.
Kinka Izakaya Original (416 977 0999 – $$) – This is a mix of a bar + food joint. Very lively! Its like Tapas for Japanese food, where locals like to go and eat after a long day of work sharing a tall beer. Try their almond tofu dessert.
For all other sushi at a low to mid-level price point, you’ll get middle of the pack quality food, and I think a Google search would probably get you some decent ones.
Jacobs & Co Steakhouse (416 366 0200 – $$$$) – This is by far the best steakhouse in Toronto, but most likely will run you $100-300 per person. They have their own dry aging room which you can tour, and a selection of steak, unlike many others. This ain’t your typical The Keg, or Ruth Chris Steak House where they drench the entire steak in butter to hide flavors. If you like your steak full of sauces and not enjoying the unique flavours of the meat itself, then go elsewhere.
Barberian’s Steak House (416 597 0335 – $$$$) – This place has been around the longest. Probably the oldest Steakhouse in Toronto. Their most impressive feature is their pairing: wine. They have the biggest wine selection I believe, in Ontario, possibly the country. Their private wine cellar (they may give you a tour if you ask), but they have wines from $60 to almost $50,000 a bottle.
Copacabana Brazilian Steakhouse (647 748 3211 – $$$) – If you just want to get your meat fixation on, then this place is an All-You-Can-Eat steakhouse. You won’t find the quality of the above two that I’ve mentioned but for $50-60 a person, you’ll get a good mix of meat (steak, chicken, lamb, etc.)
Pai Toronto (416 901 4724 – $$) – Great authentic Northern Thai food by Chef Nuit. She first opened Khao San Road which became the #1 Thai place in Toronto, then she opened up Pai which now became #1. Good vibe, packed all the time, and most importantly, great food.
Other Thai places don’t even compare and the other good ones are also owned by Chef Nuit and her group, but not suitable for bigger groups of people.
When you think of Vietnamese food, the first thing comes to mind is Pho (pronounced: “fuh”) not “foe”. In Toronto, Pho is served at lunch, dinner, and late night where in Vietnam, it’s traditionally a breakfast food. There are tons of Pho places downtown, but there is really only one that is great.
Pho Tien Thanh (416 588 6997 – $) – It’s always crowded, even at 11am in the morning. In the evening, expect a good 30 mins wait if you don’t go early enough. Many local Vietnamese people eat here, it’s as traditional as it gets. You ain’t going to find no fancy decor here, just simple Pho made right. Their drip coffee is on the sweet side so ask for half the sweetness.
Their broth is done properly and at almost perfect temperature. Have you ever had Pho and by the time you are halfway through, the soup is already lukewarm? Not here. You’ll find that when you’re done, the broth is still steamy. A rich bone broth, homemade hoisin sauce, and homemade spring rolls is a deadly combination.
Hey, don’t go ordering any chicken fried rice bullshit here, I know it is on the menu, but don’t stray away from their specialty = Vietnamese food.
UNIQUE / SPECIAL
Are there any unique and out of this world restaurants we must try in Toronto? The answer is yes and no, see below for some recommendations if you want an experience.
Alo Restaurant (416 260 2222 – $$$$) – If Michelin Stars were in Canada, then this would probably get 2-3 stars. Chef Patrick Kriss serves a unique French tasting menu. However, reservations are always booked for 2-3 months in advance. You have people refreshing their booking link every hour just to see if there is any opening. No walk-ins allowed either.
O.Noir Toronto (416 922 6647 – $$) – The food isn’t good here. There, I’ve warned you. But the uniqueness of this restaurant is that you have blind staff serving French-Italian food in total darkness. Yup, you eat in pitch dark! It’s a cool thing to experience, but the food is “decent” at best.
360 Restaurant at CN Tower (416 362 5411 – $$) – Feasting at the tallest point in the city in a restaurant that slowly spins 360 so you get a full aerial view of Toronto. Its’ a cool experience, but don’t expect too much from the food.
Chill Ice House (416 901 3330 – $$) – This is a drinks only lounge, and you are in almost an ice cave, with parkas given to you as a courtesy. It’s a cool experience.
Mysteriously Yours (416 486 7469 – $$$) – Comedic, interactive murder mysteries are staged during 3-course dinners in a basement venue. Again, this is more experiencial than it is quality of food. It’s great for a date night.
Snakes & Lattes Board Game Cafe (647 342 9229) – Lively cafe with a huge collection of board & card games, plus sandwiches, salads & drinks. Be there early as you may have to wait in line for a long time as spaces get filled up pretty quickly.
Canada’s Wonderland (Direction | Website) is a 330-acre amusement theme park located in Vaughan, Ontario, a suburb approximately 30 mins drive from downtown Toronto. From rollercoasters, carnival games, gluttonous food, it is a fun day to spend in the summer. They have one of the tallest coasters in the world at 93m tall. Nuts!
Fallsview Casino (newer & more luxurious) and Casino Niagara are both about 1 hour and 30 mins drive from Toronto. These are full fledge casinos with Poker Tables, Craps, Slots, Blackjack, you name it. If there is a game, they will have it.
If you plan on gambling lots, make sure you register yourself a Players’ Card first (FREE), as you may get comp-ed for food, tickets, hotel stays, etc.
While you are there, you might as well check out all the other stuff within Niagara Falls.
CN Tower Edgewalk
EdgeWalk is CN Tower’s most thrilling attraction in its history and the first of its kind in North America. It is the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m/1168ft (116 storeys) above the ground. It’s a little pricey for this experience, but fun never the less if you want to feel what its like to walk where the clouds are. Oh, if you are afraid of heights, I don’t recommend this.
There are plenty of Escape Rooms in Toronto, but here are the best ones since I’ve probably played almost all of these.
Omescape Markham and Scarborough (905 695 9556) – They have the most interactive rooms with different types of puzzles that are not your typical locks.
Escape Games Canada (416 633-6868) – Between Omescape and Escape Games Canada, these two are by far the best rooms in all of Toronto. Escape Games has really unique and scary rooms (horror themed).
Casa Loma Escape Series – This is not your typical escape room, but more of a guided experience. While the puzzles and interaction aren’t as good as the above two which are more for Escape enthusiasts… Casa Loma Escape series is arranged by Real Escape, and its uniqueness is that you get to learn a little history and tour Casa Loma while you are escaping (two birds, one stone).
Bar + Karaoke Lounge (416 340 7154) – Private karaoke lounges with modern decor & bottle service, plus English & Asian-language songbooks.
The Office Pub (416 977 1900) – Bar in a renovated brick building offering cocktails & bites, sports on TV & lively karaoke nights – You have to call to find out when Karaoke nights are.
670 KTV (Invite-Only Karaoke Bar) – This is an invite-only Karaoke Club that you can hire fun Japanese PR/Hostess girls to sit, drink, sing, and play karaoke games with you and your friends. No hanky panky stuff here, but these ladies are trained to entertain. Because it’s an invite-only club, if you know me, then I can hook you.
You would think, watching a movie? Really Jeremy? I’m not talking about going to just the theatre to watch a movie, but watching a movie with these experiences:
4DX Experience – It is time to transform the experience of watching a movie. With 4DX®: atmospherics like water, wind, lighting, scent and more, combine with motion seats to make you feel like you’re in the middle of all the action.
IMAX VR – I can’t do VR for long as I get pretty dizzy and nautious, but if you are one of those that can handle it, IMAX VR you’re getting the most advanced VR headset and motion-tracking technology powered by blazing fast computers in a state-of-the-art facility purposely designed to let you suspend reality. The result? A VR experience that’s light years ahead of anything else available. These are short experiences (not a full movie).
NinjaZ Warrior CANADA
Have you ever watched the TV show, American Ninja Warriors? If not, you should. Ninjaz Warrior Canada is a place where beginners to advanced athletes can go and take part in this fun physical playground that mimics some of the obstacle courses you see on TV. Its great to go alone, and in a group to test your physical abilities.
Rec Room / Dave & Busters
I call these places adult arcades because you buy credits, you play games, win tokens to trade in for novelty wear. It is like Chucky Cheese, but for adults. It’s a great place to hang out with friends, play some fun games, drink and eat. If you are downtown, the Rec Room offers this, and if you are uptown and want a bigger experience, then Dave & Busters is the place to be.
While I am not a fan of seeing animals (Zoo & Aquariums) being locked into displays for entertainment to humans… it does exist and if it fancies your boat, it’s here in Toronto.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is a public aquarium in downtown Toronto just southeast of the CN Tower. The aquarium is one of three aquariums owned and operated by Ripley Entertainment.
Here are a few malls that you may want to go to get your shopping fixation on.
Eaton Centre – Located in downtown Toronto, this is the oldest shopping malls filled in with most of the name brands you can know.
Yorkdale Shopping Centre – A little north of Toronto, but this is a mall has the largest collection of high-end and luxury brands available. So if Burberry, BVLGARI, Prada, Tory Burch, Louis Vuitton just to name a few are things you want to buy, this is the mall to go to.
Toronto Premium Outlets – Newly opened in Halton Hills, ON, roughly about a 40 mins drive from downtown Toronto, its one of the first of its kind in Toronto. You won’t find the latest styles here, but you’ll be lucky to find some of last years. Its a good place to shop for relatively inexpensive for name brands.
Skydive Toronto is a skydiving and parachuting facility located just outside of Toronto (About 1-hour drive from downtown Toronto). They specialize in First Jump programs, the Tandem Skydive, Progressive FreeFall and the Solo First Jump Course. So whether or not you are a beginner or an avid jumper, they have something for you. The plane ride up kind of sucks, but the jumping sensation is unlike any other — just remember to pull the parachute.
Sky Zone Trampoline Park
Sky Zone Trampoline Park is a chain of indoor trampoline parks featuring freestyle bouncing, dodgeball, foam zone, and fitness classes. You never thought you can get so exhausted from jumping on trampolines, but you will.
Make sure when you go, you ask about getting in on the dodgeball open play times. Trampoline plus dodgeball = too much fun.
There are a few adult-only things to do in Toronto. In any major city, there are always sinful things that are easily accessible. I haven’t done some of these things personally so I can’t vouch for them, but they are known in Toronto.
Oasis Aqualounge (416 599 7665) – Oasis Aqualounge is an upscale sex club. It is a water themed adult’s playground in downtown Toronto. This mansion in Toronto offers an exciting spa, lounge and vacation environment where you can spice things up, day or night… by yourself or with someone.
Strip Clubs / Gentlemen’s Club – There are tons of these. The best one I’ve experienced was Whiskey A Go-Go up in Vaughan (35 mins drive from downtown Toronto). They got the space and lots of entertainment factor. Not just girls stripping naked for money, these girls often put on a performance of athleticism.
One major difference in these strip clubs compared to most US strip clubs is that in Toronto, the clubs feature fully nude women.
Unfortunately, downtown Toronto wise, the quality of entertainment isn’t there, and they are usually in for a quick cash grab (from selling you a booth to charging you 2-3x for private dance rooms, etc.). But here are some popular downtown ones if you insist on going: The Brass Rail, For Your Eyes Only & Zanzibar.
Sight-Seeing & Tours
Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is an art museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Its collection includes more than 90,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. The gallery has 45,000 square metres (480,000 sq ft) of physical space, making it one of the largest galleries in North America.
Casa Loma (Spanish for Hill House) is a Gothic Revival style house and gardens in midtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada, that is now a museum and landmark. It was built as a residence for financier Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Casa Loma was constructed from 1911 to 1914.
The CN Tower is a 553.3 m-high concrete communications and observation tower in downtown Toronto. Once you get up to the top, there are some glass floors where you can stand on and look down. If you are feeling adventurous, you can also jump on it. Not for people who are scared of heights.
The Distillery District neighbourhood is a national historic site and walking District. A favourite destination in the city for locals and tourists famous for it unique restaurants, shopping boutiques, artisan studios, arts, culture, and entertainment. I definitely recommend checking out if there is an event going on before coming here, otherwise, its just really a place for some decent restaurants and boutique shops.
Niagara Falls is a Canadian city (about 1.5 hours drive from downtown Toronto) at the famous waterfalls of the same name, linked with the U.S. by the Rainbow Bridge. Its site on the Niagara River’s western shore overlooks the Horseshoe Falls, the cascades’ most expansive section. Elevators take visitors to a lower, wetter vantage point behind the falls. A cliffside park features a promenade alongside 520-ft.-high Skylon Tower with an observation deck. Here are a few things you can do at Niagara Falls:
Mistrider Zipline to The Falls – Fun experience to go ziplining at about 2,200 feet high and about 40+ mph faster.
Voyage of the Falls Boat Tour – This Niagara Falls boat tour attraction is Canada’s favourite visitor experience. You’ll experience the world-famous Full Mist boat tour of the Niagara River with an up-close viewing of the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and of course the ultimate thrill, a ride into the awesome power, thundering roar and amazing mist of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls!
And while you are there, you can hit up the two major casinos.
Ontario Science Centre
The Ontario Science Centre is about 15 mins drive from downtown Toronto. Each season, they design and builds world-class exhibits that are unique, educational, and often times mind-blowing. Pretty cool spot to spend half a day with the family and friends even if you are not into science.
Royal Ontario Museum
The ROM is Canada’s largest museum with collections that span art, culture and nature from across time and around the Globe. Among North America’s most renowned museums, the ROM is home to more than 12 million objects and specimens, 40 galleries, and exhibitions spaces and a range of fascinating exhibitions, lectures, tours and events. From contemporary art and fashion textiles to South Asian art and culture, from dinosaurs and science to the history of Canada, the ROM invites you to explore and discover a remarkable array of offerings that will delight and inspire visitors of all ages.
St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence Market is one of the world’s great markets – each merchant a square on a lively and authentic patch quilt. The mothers, sons, fathers, and daughters whose hard work and passion for food and their craft make up the collective story of the Market. You can learn more about the South and North markets here.
If you decide to go, go on the weekends in the morning (10am) is a really good time to see and taste many of the vendors. Buy some locally grown food back to your hotel to eat throughout the week. Try Buster’s Sea Cove Haddock Sandwich, its one of my favs.
Toronto City Hall
Nathan Phillips Square at the Toronto City Hall is a vibrant, active space in the heart of the City. Every year, over 1.5 million visitors attend a variety of community and special events hosted at the Square, such as the Cavalcade of Lights, New Year’s Celebrations, Remembrance Day Celebrations, concerts and more. Its a nice place to visit and right in the heart of the city. People tend to take a picture with that iconic TORONTO sign… it’s not really that special though.
The Toronto Islands – also called the Island, or Toronto Island Park – is located in Lake Ontario, a 13-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto. Boats to the Island leave from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay St. and Queen’s Quay. The Island is actually a group of 15 islands inter-connected by pathways and bridges. You can walk from one end of the Island to the other.
Kids and adults of all ages can find something to do or see on the Island. There are beautiful swimming beaches (including a Clothing Optional Beach on Hanlan’s Point!), sports facilities, bike, canoe and kayak rentals, a boating marina, large grassy fields for picnics, a theatre, nature paths, EMS and fire station, an amusement park and a charming 150 year-old community of 600 people living year-round in cottage-like homes.
You can walk, run or take your bike on the island, walk your dog (on a leash), visit the 200-year-old lighthouse or the trout pond or have a coffee or beer at one of the restaurants. There are lockers at several busy locations, a pier, boardwalk, formal gardens, playgrounds, artists retreat and even a public grade school.
Like I mentioned before with the Aquarium how I don’t really like the idea of keeping animals inside cages for human entertainment, it exists in Toronto and a popular tourist attraction.
The Toronto Zoo is Canada’s premier zoo known for its interactive education and conservation activities. As a unique wildlife experience, they look to inspire people to live in ways that promote the well being of the natural world.
Enjoy yOur Stay & OTHER INFO
I really hope you get a chance to explore and experience Toronto. If you need any help, please contact me and I’ll get you connected.
Here are a few more things to consider when in Toronto:
For Taxi and car services, Uber (this is my referral link) is the most inexpensive and I believe the safest way to travel within the city. From one side of the city to the other would only cost you like $25-30, so short distances are like $5-11 per trip. You can use it for going to the Airport as well (you can’t use it for arrival though, as the city banned it from the airport).
If you are looking to experience a different type of dining, there are services such as u-Feast which allows you to connect to behind the scene chef dining experiences.
If you are in a pinch and need good quality meals from some of the cities top restaurants delivered to your hotel door, you can use Foodora.
I didn’t suggest a good Burger joint is because they passed a law that all burgers must be cooked all the way through now. Blasphemy! Essentially, I can make a better burger at home. But if you are in a pinch and want to try out a good burger at a reasonable price point, here are a few places to go: Burger’s Priest (Secret Menu), Holy Chuck Burgers, and Museum Tavern’s Prime Beef Burger.
I didn’t suggest a dessert place either because I’m not really a fan of dessert, so I can’t objectively review it, but here is a list from Trip Advisor of the Best Desserts in Toronto. I’ve tried & liked Kekou, Tsujiri, Bang Bang, and Hollywood Gelato from that list.