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Animal Liberation Kitchen is the newest addition to the Riverside lunch scene.  Tanja Spasic and her family have spent years operating as caterers while also selling their plant-based snacks at food festivals, events and farmer’s markets.  Their new bricks & mortar spot at Queen & Broadview proves that vegan eats can also be cheap eats..

Kimchi Mac & Cheese ($8) is layered with maple-syrup tempeh for texture and is finished with liquid smoke.  A unique mélange of flavours… together at last!        This dish works really, really well.

Quinoa Salad ($10) is loaded with kale & julienned veggies and tossed in a lime/peanut dressing. The show-stopper is the dollop of ajvar, which I now liberally apply to just about anything.  This salad box has quickly become a once-a-week go-to for me.  Best lunch on the block (imo).

Sandwiches ($8) include avocado & veggie and a take on pulled BBQ Jackfruit… served on buns & bread from the St. John’s Bakery around the corner.

I always enjoy a conversation with Tanja as she prepares my lunch with her distinctly Serbian twist… often accompanied by some Talking Heads B-sides playing in the background.

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The Toronto Food Blog has a real soft spot for the west-end neighbourhood of Bloordale Village.  My wife and I lived on Lansdowne Avenue back in the day and thoroughly enjoyed all the diversity.  One of the ‘hood’s best-kept secrets is Latin World.  Half restaurant, half bodega, the name of the game here is cheap-eats.  These guys are more than your average grocery-store taqueria, with an abundance of Latin American menu options that are definitely worth a try.

Tacos Al Pastor are one of the more popular menu items.  Grab four of them for only $10 (most days).  Served with a plethora of hot sauces, each bite holds a little something different.  Be sure to check out their daily $1 taco special for additional value (al pastor included).  I will almost always do this so I have money left over to try something new.

With that in mind, one of my favourite things to order at Latin World is their Pozole.  This is #lunchunder10bucks at its best, with S/M/L bowls all available on the cheap.  The broth is spicy and complicated, and I actually have to ask the waitress to verify that it is indeed sweet corn providing the unique texture in the bowl.  This is a really nice soup.

The Tamales at Latin World are Oaxacan style, meaning flattened and served in a banana leaf.  Accompanied by crema and hot sauces, they’re cheap and cheerful and available with nopales, chicken or pork.  Other regional menu items include burritos, chimichangas, flautas, chilaquiles. tampiquerias, pambazos, tostadas, huarache, quesadillas, gorditas and plates of alambre.  Bring the kids; there’s something for everyone!   

Don’t forget to take home some of the Latin American grocery items that line the walls.  This is the imported stuff that rarely adorns the shelves of your typical supermarket.  Authentic salsas, beans, cactus and sauces are plentiful and easy on the wallet.  Latin World has everything you need to bring the fiesta home with you.  Salud!

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Loga’s Corner is a popular Parkdale Tibetan restaurant & take-away.  They draw large crowds, thanks to delicious food and reasonable prices.  One of the best finds for cheap eats in the city, their menu is very simple yet kinda complicated.  I spent some time chatting with Loga himself during my last visit.  He shared with me some of his secrets to a happy & healthy marriage and to running a successful business.  Not surprisingly, the focal-point for both revolved around food.

Potato Dumplings (aloo momos) are available for a buck a piece and can be found on the Toronto Food Blog’s “must-order” list.  A baseball-sized portion of curried mashed potato is dropped into the deep fryer until crispy.  Multiple textures and flavours abound.  Served with homemade hot sauce (more on that shortly) and pickled daikon, be sure to grab a half-dozen for the table or to take home.  You can thank me later.

Tibetan Momos (dumplings) are the name of the game here.  This dish is traditionally served on special occasions in Northern India and Tibet.  However, since the necessary ingredients are readily available in our Canadian altitude, Momos have become a daily staple in heights of Parkdale.  Hey, if I could eat them everyday, I would.  Have been trying since I found this place.  Try them steamed or fried… filled with beef, chicken pork or curried vegetables.  Loga’s wife makes them in the back, to order, from only $7 per dozen.

Not feeling dumplings?  Their Noodle Soup is hot and comforting.  It’s a winner with the less-adventurous palates of my daughters.  They manage to slurp down the whole bowl in a matter of minutes.

I’ll close with this… the homemade hot sauce at Loga’s Corner is as good as you will find anywhere.  Full stop.  Loaded with red chili and coriander, grab a mason jar and bring it home with you.  My wife liberally applies the stuff to almost everything we cook in our kitchen.  No complaints here!

གཟུགས་པོ་བདེ་ཐང་། (suk-bo de-thang)

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Hidden away at the very east end of Danforth, Hakka Chopsticks is a Mom & Pop that does great Chinese food with a distinctly Indian flare.  Their menu is extensive, cheap and cheerful.  It’s also Halal.  Help yourself to hot & sour soup while you wait for your pick-up orders, and be sure to try their chopped-chili-oil condiment that adorns each table.  If spice is your thing, this stuff is worth the price of admission.  A daily specials board also includes at least  dozen items that get you #lunchunder10bucks

I reckon Hakka Chili Chicken is an elevated take on General Tso.  Available dry or with gravy, these guys are going one step further by adding Garam Masala into their Kolkata rendition.  This dish comes with an ample amount of rice and is a wonderfully-spicy assault on the taste buds, all for around ten bucks.  Truly one of the more celebrated dishes on any Hakka menu.

Hakka Chopsticks is just as good at the Veggie dishes as they are with the meats.  Kan Shue Green Beans is definitely worth a try, thanks in large part to the spicy tofu crumble atop the crunchy beans.  Finished with Chili Oil, this dish is available as a lunch special or on the dinner menu.  They also do Tofu and Paneer many different ways. Feel free to sub-out meat for one of these proteins on any of their dishes.  Veggie pakoras hit the spot as well.

There’s a huge section of the menu dedicated solely to noodles.  Chow Mein & Shanghai Noodles come in enormous portions, and the flavour profiles vary depending on spice tolerance.  Our go-to is the Hakka Ginger & Masala Chow Mein.  Filled with Veggies & Chicken, this dish actually cools things off as a side car to some of the spicier things we tend to order.  Mein as a main is a thing here if noodles are your bag.

The far-east-end of Danforth is renowned for its South-Asian influences.  Hakka Chopsticks has been a fixture here for as log as I can remember, churning out their specialties  slightly off the beaten-track in East York.  No need to venture further into Scarborough; these guys have you covered from just off the subway line.  There’s ample parking in Shopper’s World across the street to boot.  The missus and I  pick-up from here a couple of times a month and have almost completely transplanted the Hakka style of cooking into our Chinese food conversation.

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Delina Restaurant is a hidden gem at the west end of the Beach.  Owned and operated by a mother & daughter duo, their smorgasbord is full of Mediterranean & Middle-Eastern classics with a distinctly East-African twist.

I love hitting-up Delina for lunch, in large part due to the salad bar.  Tabule, Coleslaw, Beets, Corn, Lentils, Beans, Eggplant, Saffron Rice, Kale, Potatoes, Hummus… pick whichever you like and then top with proteins such as falafel, chicken shawarma and grilled fish.  The East-African influences really come out with their beef offering, which more closely resembles Ethiopian beef tibs than shawarma.   Whatever you choose, these are huge plates of veggie & keto-friendly food for around $12… or you can wrap everything up in a pita for half the price.  Lentil soup and various samosas are available on the side, the latter bursting with Sudanese spices.

I first heard about Delina from my friend Marie.  She had them cater her husband’s birthday.  Pleasantly surprised at how much delicious food there was, and at an extremely friendly cost per-person.  How hadn’t I heard of this place?  Based on that birthday dinner, I sought them out for lunch and have started going regularly.  Lucky for me, they’re on the same street as my office.  Just a quick streetcar ride down Queen East and I’m lunching with the best of them.  Check these guys out the next time you’re craving something veggie or keto-friendly in the Beach or if you’re looking for affordable & healthy east-end catering.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Toronto Food Blog by Torontofoodblog - 6M ago

Happy New Year!  2018 was a fantastic year for the Toronto Food Blog, filled with great meals avec friends and family.  We tried a number of wonderful restaurants for the very first time, many of which were worth writing home about.  Here’s a recap of some of the finer moments from the past year…

BREAKFAST

The Toronto Food Blog’s favourite spot for breakfast in 2018 was The Green Wood (1402 Queen St E).  Quite the Leslieville hot spot, these guys know how to do the most important meal of the day really, really well.  Shakshuka, Huevos, French toast… this place has it all.  Their show-stopper, however, is the Salmon Rosti, which sees a perfectly crispy potato pancake get topped with poached eggs, smoked salmon, cucumbers, dill and sour cream.  This is perfection on a plate.  Oh, and great coffee drinks to boot.

BRUNCH

The Toronto Food Blog hasn’t always been a big advocate for brunch.  All that changed after a recent visit to Parallel (217 Geary Ave).  Their elevated Mediterranean menu is distinctly Israeli, and the industrial-chic dining room is a fantastic environment to dine with a group.  Hummus & falafel are some of the best in the city…  but for me, it’s their take on Fattoush Salad that keeps me coming back for more.  Substituting the typical pita chips for chickpeas and then finishing everything with their calling-card tahini, I could get used to brunching if Parallel is the destination.

LUNCH

Tucked away in a nondescript Etobicoke strip-mall lies Toronto’s only Burmese restaurant.  Royal Myanmar (438 Horner Ave) is an assault on the senses.  Perhaps best known for their Green Tea Leaf Salad (Laphet) and Fish Soup (Mohinga), they use a unique combination of fermentation and spice that’s truly authentic to the Burmese way of cooking.  Pictured above, I just love their Shan Khauk Swe Noodles because of the ample serving of pickled mustard greens and cilantro.  Such a flavourful dish.  I find myself looking for excuses to visit our Etobicoke office at work so I can frequent Royal Myanmar for lunch.  Check it out next time you’re in the neighbourhood.  You won’t be disappointed.  This is cheap-eats at its best.

DINNER

Tough to find a better restaurant in the city right now than ARDO (243 King St E).  Chef Roberto Marotta’s Sicilian dining room is orienting Toronto with Southern Italian classics, one bowl at a time.  Spuntini for sharing, pizza for the kids, a great wine list…  ARDO covers all of the bases.  It’s usually pretty tough for me to get excited about going to a restaurant for pasta.  But the way these guys are doing it is, dare I say, outright perfection.

2019

The Toronto Food Blog is really looking forward to what lies ahead.  With a podcast and web-series in development, 2019 is shaping up to be a great year.  Hey, with one-dollar beers, legal weed and no sex education, what could possibly go wrong?  Happy New Year and Happy Eating!

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Tucked away behind the main drag of Chinatown East, Que Ling is a Vietnamese Mom-and-Pop that does a couple of things really, really well.  A bungalow turned dining room, table seats are hard to come by at lunch hour.  And it’s obvious why… these guys are doling out some of the heartiest broth in town.  If you like beef and you like soup, Que Ling is the place to come.  A real hidden gem in the cheap-eats category.  #thosewhoknow

I always start with an order of Bánh cuốn…  small if dining alone, large if I’ve brought company.  These well-priced rice-paper rolls are filled with minced pork, wood-ear mushroom and scallions and are finished with crispy shallots & chillies.  Easy on the palate and wallet, these babies are a real treat while you wait for your bowl of soup.

Tripe, Beef Ball, Tendon, Rare Brisket, Beef Broth… the Que Ling Special (above) is just about the beefiest bowl of broth that you will find anywhere… all for around eight bucks.

The Hue Noodle Soup (below) is heavy on the brisket, served with wider, spaghetti-like noodles.  This registers a little higher on the spice scale (if that’s your thing).

I love spending my time & money locally in Chinatown East.  Que Ling has become part of my weekly routine.  Lunch under 10 bucks?  No problem realizing that here.  A small, affordable menu that knocks a couple of things out of the park.  Their take-out menu travels nicely, and they’re cash only.  Anyone want to meet me here next week for a bowl?

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Gyoko Sushi is the newest addition to the evolving retail landscape of Danforth East.  From a supply-and-demand perspective, it’s easily the best sushi restaurant around.  A welcome and needed addition to the ‘hood, this is a great spot for families with young kids and/or for picking up a little something-something on the way home.

Gyoko Sushi has all of your traditional sushi and sashimi offerings, varying in size depending on how hungry you are or how many people you’re feeding.  The menu is full of interesting combinations and dinner sets that come complete with miso soup, salad, rice and edamame.   Love me some on-the-house edamame!  Now, I tend to judge sushi restaurants by their Sashimi Dinner.  These guys nail it.  They also have a number of elevated rolls (Dragon Maki) which are both huge (10 pieces) and easy on the wallet.  Any place that will cover an enormous dynamite roll with BBQ Eel will always hold a special place in my heart.  Oh, and be sure to check out the numerous sushi pizza options for the kids.

Not feeling sushi ?  Fear not, because their Teriyaki Chicken is both delicious and a substantial portion of food.  It’s available on the lunch menu for a discounted price and doesn’t disappoint.  Another non-fishy plate is the Chicken Katsu.  My 5-year-old ordered this dish and it was basically the same size and presentation as the teriyaki but a deep-fried (crispy, not oily).  It worked like a Japanese take on chicken fingers, complete w/ dipping sauce.  Order one for the table if you’re visiting with kids.  If you have a hankering for noodles, there’s a section of the menu completely dedicated to Udon as well.  We had a member of our group unable to eat fish on our last visit, and there was absolutely no issue finding a multitude of things for her to enjoy.

When Gyoko Sushi first popped-up in the location of a recently-closed sushi restaurant, I had my doubts.  Gotta tell you, though, there’s no comparison between the two.  Nicely renovated and staffed with some of the friendliest folks on the Danforth, I am hoping this place becomes a bit of a neighborhood institution.  It’s certainly going to be a regular go-to with my young family.  Fast, friendly, well-priced, lots of food… this is a winning combination.

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Porchetta & Co. makes, perhaps, the best sandwich in town.  Nick Auf Der Mauer’s cash-only, counter-service flagship on Dundas West is where I first imbibed.  Now I can’t get enough.  I’m selfishly thrilled they’ve scaled to open additional locations closer to my work.  Their iteration at 545 King St W, for instance,  helps satisfy my frequent cravings with little-to-no transport required.

One of my favourite sayings is to not mess with perfection.  And while there is more than one sandwich on the menu here, I have never ventured in that direction.  There’s really no need.  If I want something else, I’ll go somewhere else.  If I’m going to Porchetta & Co., I’m ordering the same thing every time… slow-roasted pork shoulder that’s been wrapped in prosciutto, served  with crackling, chili-garlic rapini and grainy mustard.  It’s what they do… and they do it really, really well.

Recent changes in diet?  No problem.  Keto?  No problem.  Gluten intolerant?  No problem.  Porchetta & Co. will box-up your favourite sandwich, sans bun, if that’s your thing.  My next mission is to get one of our work functions catered by P&C.  That will be a wonderful day!  From there, I look forward joining the back of the line at their newest location in the Exchange Tower for a much-hyped breakfast sandwich.  If you can’t tell by now, I’m all-in on this place.  Perhaps you know what I’m talking about?  If you have yet to try this place out, all I can say is that the proof is in the porchetta.

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Bar Buca needs little introduction.  It’s Chef Rob Gentile’s rendition of a snack bar, so you know it’s going to be good.  Located a block south of his mothership, this Italian-industrial 40-seater is just about the best place you can have lunch on the westside of downtown… especially if you’re expensing it.  The Toronto Food Blog visited again recently and was lucky enough to grab a seat under the big umbrella on the patio.

We start things off with a piatti freddi.  There are a number of delicious-sounding options that jump right off the menu.  After much debate, we come to a sound conclusion… they’re known for their Burrata, so we order their Burrata.  Served with charred toast, this buffalo mozzarella is stuffed to the brim with pesto and gremolata.  Tied-up in a neat anchovy/alici bow and finished with a perfect dousing of EVOO & accouterments, this cold plate tastes as good as it looks.

The sharing plates continue with a middle course from the fritti menu.  Smelts come flash fried and taste crispy without a hint of oil.  Zucchini chips are well-textured, crunchy then creamy, finished with a zing of lemon & dill zabaglione.

We’d be remiss if we frequented an Italian resto without dabbling into the hot plate.  Bar Buca’s spuntini menu is simply outstanding.  I resist the urge to order one of everything, deciding instead to step out of my comfort zone to finish off the meal.  A bit of backstory here… I have a tough time ordering gnocchi at a restaurant because, well, it never tastes like what I was expecting.  I will now have a tough time ordering gnocchi at a restaurant moving forward because, well, it’ll surely never taste quite like Bar Buca’s.  Perfection on a plate.

Bar Buca is open from the wee hours of the morning, serving-up delicious coffee drinks and fresh-baked sweets to those heading to work.  Need a grab-and-go sandwich?  They’ve got you covered there, too.  How about late-night drinks?  This place really checks all the boxes.  Godere!

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