A local’s guide to delicious food, vibrant shopping, unexpected art and everything else you need to know.
By Marissa Anwar
I’ve lost count of how often we would visit Little India when I was little. We’re talking about the time when grocery stores didn’t have international aisles, and certain spices and fruits could only be found in specific neighbourhoods. I remember having a “Little India” grocery list for all the things that we needed to pick up on our weekly trips.
Nestled in the east end of the city and located between Greenwood Avenue and Coxwell in Leslieville, Little India is made up of almost 100 stores and restaurants representing various South Asian communities. The neighbourhood also has an interesting origin story.
This wonderful Toronto gem is built upon the work of Gian Naaz, who purchased the cheapest theatre he could find—Eastwood Theatre—so he could screen Bollywood and Pakistani movies. That turned out to be a great draw for Indo-Canadians from across the GTA and beyond resulting in many stores and restaurants opening up to cater to those visiting.
While things have changed elsewhere, the soul of Little India is still the same as it was when I first visited as a child. Bollywood hits from the 90s and early 2000s are still heard on the sidewalks. Grilled corn, sugar cane juice and fresh coconuts are still readily available. And the vibrant aroma of tandoori chicken is still as present as ever. Here’s how to make the most of your time in Toronto’s Little India. I’ve visited with my family, with girlfriends, with co-workers and even on dates, and have always found something fun to buy, eat and do.
Here’s how to make the most out of your day in Little India.
WHERE TO PARK: There are multiple Green P locations and the ease of mobile paying make these the best places to park and then explore. The entire area is extremely walkable and best explored on foot.
There truly is something for everyone—from shopping to dining to exploring the unexpected art scene—there’s no shortage of things to do and experience.
A wonderful salon for all things beauty. This is my go-to place in the city for all things threading and henna in Toronto.
A community-focused, membership-driven, dedicated art space right in the heart of Little India. Yes, there is lovely art in the area. GAS is a delight and has been a great place to showcase different artists for the last 4 years. Worth popping in to.
Vibrant clusters of art infused with a South-Asian touch. It sounds strange to say, but trust me on this—Little India has some of the best and most unexpected street art in the city. The beautiful mosaics cover sides of buildings along the main corridor and wrap alleyways and back entrances as if it’s organic moss that’s always been there. You’ll find little nods to South-Asian culture woven into most of the contemporary designs in a really seamless way.
There’s no shortage of places to eat in Little India and narrowing down the list is a difficult task, but below you’ll find places to grab traditional Indian street foods so you can try a little bit of everything.
Traditional Indian food but with an unexpected twist. Start with cauliflower chaat (stir-fried cauliflower tossed in fresh mint, tamarind chutney, yogurt and fresh cilantro) and pani puri. Both are delicious and perfect for sharing. Add a mango shake for the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, and you’ll know why Leela is one of the best Indian food restaurants in Little India.
All the burgers with a side of spice. There’s a reason why there’s always a line at Desi Burger. Highly recommend grabbing Kashmiri chai (a pistachio laden milk tea), or their homemade kulfi (a milk-based popsicle) if you’re into sweet desserts, or the masala chai if you like stronger spice flavours.
Street corn and sugarcane juice. Word of warning – while the street corn here is delicious, it does tend to be really spicy so be sure to ask for medium spice to spare your taste buds.
One of the most popular hubs for Indian and Pakistani food. The rickshaw outside will let you know that you’ve arrived and that you should be ready for a feast. While their vegetarian options are delicious, they are known for their grilled halal kebabs, biryani and their take-out Pani puri section.
There’s so much you can find in Little India as long as you walk in and take your time looking. I’ve bought everything from clothing to home goods to groceries (seasonal fruits and spices) to gold jewelry.
Beautiful and affordable Indian clothing. The best places to pick up an outfit for weddings as well as everyday clothing. Really recommend checking out their Diwali sales.
This three-decade-old family business has the latest Indian fashions for the entire family.
Authentic and traditional afghan clothing and jewelry. A wonderful selection of vibrant hand-embroidered women’s and men’s clothing imported all the way from Afghanistan. This is where I go when I’m looking for traditional wears for special occasions such as weddings.
Home goods and decor. Looking for beautiful copper dishes? Head here. Yes, you can find other home goods and dishes as well, but I tend to come here for the stunning and affordable copper dishware.
Little India should be on your list of places to stop by regardless of whether you’re doing your weekly groceries, grabbing a bite to eat with friends/family or to pick up supplies for the holidays and upcoming festivals.
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there's something that begs to be discovered in Toronto.
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