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How to Eat on the Cheap in Toronto

This isn’t a guide for the epicurean or the gourmand, it’s for the regular human being who doesn’t want to eat trash like Subway or McDonald’s but can’t afford anything much more expensive than that.

by VICE Staff
Mar 22 2001, 8:28am

Photo by Food In The 416

This isn't a guide for the epicurean or the gourmand, it's for the regular human being who doesn't want to eat trash like Subway or McDonald's but can't afford anything much more expensive than that. It's not that we hate foodies, it's just that we can't spend $90 on a steak at the House on Chan (where we would go if we had the money). Most of the food here is around ten bucks.

Amato (1648 1/2 Queen St. W.) A little thick but dollars to donuts you're paying what you would in New York for a higher-quality slice, not that greasy shit you get up and down Avenue A. They make a ton of pizza all the time and have a massive selection, which means you will get exactly what you want.

Bacchus Roti Shop (1376 Queen St. W.) There are a lot of roti shops in Toronto but the best, by far, is Bacchus. Actually, we have no way of proving "best" anywhere in this food guide except to say that we like it and we've eaten almost everywhere in this city. And it will not give you the shits. So there you go, all of that = "best" in this guide from now on.

Bitondo's (11 Clinton St.) The "best" panzerotti in town.

Café Diplomatico (594 College St.) Known as "The Dip" by old people. Students, wops, and hipsters have been assembling here since the 1960s and it's where Cronenberg shot the arm wrestling scene for The Fly.

California Sandwiches (244 Claremont Ave.) It's kind of gay to write about California's because it's everyone's favorite but how can you not mention the best veal sandwich in North America? The Italian ladies that work there are top-shelf veal fryers but they're bad-asses. They don't like to dilly dally because they have a lot of gossiping to do. And don't order anything hot, order it medium because even at medium the hot peppers they use come from a seed that is three million years old, forged in the earth's molten hot magma core. There was a shooting here recently but we have no comment except that the wrong person took the hit.

Chippy's (893 Queen St. West) This is the trendy fish and chip shop. They play good music and offer a wide selection of vinegars. It's nice to see someone care about offering a wide variety of vinegars. Even though we're only talking about fried fish and potatoes, it shows some fucking class. Dutch Dreams (78 Vaughan Rd.) This is the weirdest ice cream shop in the city. Packed all summer long and even in the warmer parts of the winter. They love to sprinkle those multi colored sprinkles over everything. They also have elaborate decorations inside, a bit of a visual mess but it goes well with the sprinkle motif. And they have a logo that kind of looks like it could make a great Prussian Blue album cover.

Ghazale (504 Bathurst St.) In the 90s it was called Ghaza Strip because it was unkempt. It has since undergone a renovation and while the filth is gone, the quality remains. Falafel joints are ubiquitous in Toronto but Ghazale has special charm, charges $1.99, and is open until 4 AM.

The Green Mango (all over town) Toronto has good expensive Thai, Green Mango is the franchised cheap version of that stuff. You line up, choose a noodle or rice (the noodles on their own are impressive), then a main course to go on top (standard curries, stir-fries, veggie or not, etc.). It's a mountain of food for about 7 bucks.

Harbord Fish & Chips (147 Harbord St.) The not so trendy fish and chips shop. Paying for British food is just weird but this is as close to the real deal you are going to get, greasy and authentic. For the true experience, ditch their tinfoil and wrap it up in your newspaper. See how the newsprint and grease combine? In Liverpool they call that "sauce."

Harvey's (all over town) The fries are shit but the burgers are flame-broiled and taste like the special treat your parents would buy you after hockey practice. They've managed to create a fast-food burger that tastes barbequed without losing the cheap slutty flavour of fast food. Harvey's is Ontario's In-N-Out Burger. The décor is a phenomenally weird mélange of 80s orange plastic furniture and pictures of children blown up to mural size that look so excited they may just be retarded.

Indian Rice Factory (414 Dupont St.) We don't know a fucking thing about what makes for good or bad Indian food. It's rice with curry sauce. But this is the spot everyone is going on and on about so go here, we command you.

La Paloma (1357 St. Clair W.) What the fuck is it with Toronto and good ice cream? It's freezing cold ten months of the year. La Paloma is an old-school Italian café where old men with bad breath play cards in the back. Up front they have the ice cream fridge with gelato so good it will make your cock explode. Always a line outside to Dufferin but who cares, you are about to get the best gelato you've ever tasted.

Lee Garden (331 Spadina Ave.) A clean place that serves top-quality Chinese. Always packed. Eat the steamed grouper with ginger and the hot-and-sour soup. The waiters are all characters but the skinny guy with colored hair is the best. Tell him you are friends with "Johnny" and watch him go off.

Mimi's (218 Bathurst St.) A lot of people say this place is totally "crazy" and "zany" but we say it serves an awesome breakfast.

Mr. Greek (1980 Queen St. E.) Toronto has more Greek people than the three largest cities in Greece combined. We made that up, but just go with it because it feels true. Mr. Greek used to have many locations but ever since Mrs. Greek met Mr. Jamaican and took off with all the money, Mr. Greek's eponymous empire has shrunk to one meager downtown location. Still, this is the best Greek food outside of Monastiraki.

The Prague Deli (638 Queen St. West) It's annoying how communism is kind of in vogue again. In Germany socialist art fags call it "Ostaglie" (nostalgia for the East). The Communists were really bad. You can research how completely horrible they were and how their ideals were bolstered with violence, lies, oppression, and torture. In terms of culture, the Czechs were the New Yorkers of the Eastern Bloc. Their sophistication was completely resented by the Reds and the only way to survive the steely grip of the Iron Curtain was to create kielbasa sausages, schnitzel, beef-in-dill, and szegedin goulash so delicious they made life worth living. The Kral family has been running this place for three generations. Diky moc!

San Francesco's (10 Clinton St.) It's just up the street from California's (on Clinton), San Francesco's is slightly lower quality but open one hour later and four out of five ginos cannot tell the difference between the two. Similarly rugged Italian women at the counter. Notice that both these shops are well stocked with chocolate milk. This is the perfect accompaniment to the medium-hot veal sandwich that is about to tear up your insides. (It is well worth it).

Sardinha O Rei Dos Frangos (942 Bloor St. W.) The Portuguese can roast anything and make it taste good, even a shoe. There are a bunch of Portgugese "churrasco" restaurants in Toronto but this place is really authentic, sort of like Toronto's Chez Doval (an amazing place in Montreal's Plateau neighborhood). You can buy half a chicken, rice with shrimp, potatoes, hot sauce, and a drink, for about $8.

Swatow (309 Spadina Ave.) Swatow is down the street from Lee Garden and less expensive (hence not as clean) but maybe just as good. Popular with U of T students and Chinese people (what's the difference?). You have to have the "chicken in a hot pot" and the thing in the bird's nest.

Tempo (Queen St. W.) Ignore the smell of gasoline because this is one of Toronto's best-kept dim sum secrets. If you don't see it on the menu, just ask; they have it. The service is lightning quick and it's table service so there are no pushy Jews screaming at the guys with the carts.

Terroni (3 Locations: 720 Queen W., 106 Victoria St., 1 Balmoral Ave.) Superbly fresh ingredients and handmade dough make this your best bet for a quality Italian meal. Unless it says it has cheese, it doesn't, so don't ask, and don't make substitutions; the pizza is amazing here, order the Cichio, which is a folded-over prosciutto pizza served at room temperature. Summer food.

Vetsa Lunch (474 Dupont St.) It's just one long greasy counter but how many eateries are featured in Michael Ondaatje poems? Open 24 hours, they do not fuck around here. My friend once brought a German girl who was looking for an authentic Canada eating experience. She was like "What is Canadian food?" and he said, "Um, gyros and Western omelets." She loved it.