Toronto is known for its diverse neighbourhoods, each distinctively unique. For decades, Gerrard Street East was ‘rough-around-the-edges’, and perhaps the place to go if you wanted to dine at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in East Chinatown or visit Little India. Over the last few years, Gerrard Street East has been on the rise and is now one of the hottest places to be in the city. Its ethnic enclaves (East Chinatown and Gerrard India Bazaar) have seen revitalization in recent years. But there is a section of Gerrard Street East from Carlaw over to Coxwell that is particularly a-buzz these days. Concentrated within a less than 2-km stretch, here are my top picks for cafés, bars, and restaurants on Gerrard Street East.
This bright coffee shop with a minimal aesthetic opened in 2016, just west of Logan on the south side of Gerrard. Hailed Coffee is a local favourite among coffee enthusiasts and bloggers (hello, floor tiles!). Apart from java, Hailed sells dates, its own high-quality chocolate, and Middle Eastern treats, like Ma’amoul cookies. Try the Hailed cappuccino which has cardamom syrup or get a Hailed shot in your coffee (“Hail” is how cardamom is pronounced in Arabic).
Dineen Outpost is the east end location of Dineen Coffee Co. (there are 2 others on Temperance St. and in the atrium of Commerce Court West). Setting up shop in early 2018 at Gerrard and Galt, its space is marked by arched light fixtures, a large, wrap-around bar, and pink marble tables. The tiles by the bar with “Toronto” in gold also make for the most Instagram-worthy photo op! You can find all the usual suspects here, from lattes to flat whites, in addition to baked goods, locally-sourced sandwiches and salads, charcuterie, and alcoholic beverages.
La Cubana serves up some of the tastiest Cuban food in Toronto. It’s my personal fave for the best rice and beans in the city. Head up by a brother-sister duo, Pablo and Corinna Mozo, La Cubana Gerrard is the east side location and third in their empire. Like the other Roncesvalles and Ossington locations, La Cubana Gerrard is an inviting, retro-style diner with bright floor tiles, teal subway tiles on the wall, and leather booths. Order the Guava BBQ Beef Short Ribs, which are braised in coca cola in the oven for 4 hours and dressed with smoky guava BBQ and chimichurri and topped with crispy onions.
Lake Inez is a restaurant with big character in Little India. It’s the place to be in the neighbourhood on evenings, when the dining room is filled with local patrons. If you can’t snag a reservation, grab a stool at the bar and cozy up with the person beside you! A large stained-glass mosaic of Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf as angels (handmade by one of the owners, Zac Schwartz) will greet you. Chef Robbie Hojilla (formerly of The Harbord Room) cooks up pan-Asian cuisine, partly inspired by his Filipino heritage. The plates are small, tasty, and meant for sharing. There is an excellent selection of craft beer, including 24 on tap.
Named after a Weezer album, this hip bar has a loud and lively atmosphere with friendly service. Go to Pinkerton’s Snack Bar for delicious Asian-inspired bar bites, like tuna tostadas on wonton skins and braised pork neck on kimchi pancakes. The menu is small and changes often, based on what chef Andy Wilson can get seasonally from local markets. Pinkerton’s serves a good selection of cocktails, wines, casks, and tall cans. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m. on weekends, making this the perfect place to grab a drink and late-night eats. Brunch is also served on weekends.
This speakeasy is tucked in behind a small storefront that appears to be selling religious trinkets, like rosaries, candles, and crosses (hence its name). Vatican Gift Shop is the third in the trifecta of new bars (including Pinkertons’s and Poor Romeo) that have popped up on Gerrard Street East at Jones, which are all owned and operated by the same team. It doubles as a beer hall and live music venue. Pizzas are served here and there is an extensive beer menu, including lots on tap.
Family-owned and operated, Maha’s is one of the first and only places in Toronto where you can get an authentic Egyptian brunch. Weekends are packed, so arrive early. Just north of Gerrard Street East on Greenwood Ave., the inside is homey and you’ll have a good view into the kitchen of the Barsoom family (including chef Maha, herself) preparing all sorts of yummy Egyptian fare right in front of you. Try the Cairo Classic, a platter with foole (cooked fava beans), falafel, sliced hard boiled eggs, feta, and charred Egyptian bread. Maha’s Mind Blowing Chicken is another standout, but really, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
An institution for authentic Jamaican food in Toronto, The Real Jerk is perhaps more famously known for being the location of Rihanna & Drake’s “Work” video. Another family-owned and operated restaurant, it dates back to 1978 in St. Ann’s, Jamaica. Coming to Canada in 1987, it had many incarnations, before settling at its current home on Gerrard Street East at Carlaw (there is another location in The Beaches). Portions are generous and the food is bursting with flavour. Tip: to try more of the offerings, order a jerk chicken combo and choose oxtail, curry chicken, goat, or jerk pork to go with it.
Occupying the space that was formerly Irish pub McGugan’s, Chula Taberna Mexicana opened in July of 2017 by the same owners of Loaded Pierogi. You’ll find a large bar area with window, bar, and banquette seating in the front, a dining room with more seating just behind, and a patio at the very back. The colourful mural in the dining room was hand-painted by the same Mexican family that makes tortillas for them. Known for their margaritas and tacos here, they also have nightly specials, including Margarita Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, and even a Bottomless Taco Sundays.
See it. Snap it. Share it. In every neighbourhood, around every corner, through every door
there's something that begs to be discovered in Toronto.
See it. Snap it. Share it. In every neighbourhood, around every corner, through every door there's something that begs to be discovered in Toronto.#OPENYOURCURIOSITY
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