Who is more qualified to talk about Toronto's food scene than me? Well, a lot of people. Those who hit the latest trendy eateries and food events, for one. Those who care about preparation methods and eating local and gastronomy, for another. And, you know, the food critic types writing about Oliver & Bonacini sell-your-firstborn-for-a-ribeye type joints.
But that's not how I eat. I like my food fantastic, fast, fairly inexpensive, and uncluttered by hype. Oh, I'm sure some of those hip places have tasty stuff, but let's get serious: I've got a short lead-time to hangry and a wallet brimming with those fluttery money moths. I'm not about to wait 2 hours to eat food prepared in the back of a truck.
I'm going to focus on my favourite neighbourhoods, and share some options for the four meals of the day (yes, you read that correctly). Feel a rumbling in your tummy? Then read on, friend.
Breakfast: Victory Cafe, $10 all in.
Sure, everyone knows the ol' Vic is great for drinks, but did you know they do brunch in the summer too? On that awesome, shady, spacious patio, no less? Stretch out and read the paper at a luxurious pace – this gem is often slow on the weekends, most likely because no one knows they serve brunch. It's a brief menu, which can be really nice on hangover days, because too much choice before a full cup of coffee is one hell of a trial.
I'm a big believer that the potatoes denote the quality of a brunch joint, and these ones are pretty much my ideal: crispy on the edges but fluffy inside, heavy on the seasoned salt, tossed with ribboned herbs (basil, I think?). Plus they used to have the punny "Yolks for All Folks" as the name for the basic breakfast, which gives it bonus points even though it's not even called that anymore. Bonus points from beyond the menu grave.
Lunch: Ka Chi, $10-15 all in.
Okay, this technically crosses over into Koreatown*, but this is my list, so hike those two blocks west of Bathurst, okay? Ka Chi is a basic establishment serving some of the awesomest comfort food you can imagine. Don't go for the decor – go for the tiny bowls of spouts, glass noodles, kimchi and marinated veggies served alongside your meal (called banchan). Trust me, you won't understand how charming this is until you experience it for yourself.
My recommendation would be to go for the pork bone soup which is, as a dear friend once said, off the chain. You get a huge chunk of pork bone just covered in the tenderest pork I've ever experienced in a tangy broth filled with sprouts and potatoes and other veggies. It comes with a lime to squeeze on top which, though possibly inauthentic, can only mean good things for your tastebuds. Another notable menu item is the spicy bulgogi, which isn't spicy at all but rather sweet. Order that on the hot plate, not in the bowl and maximize your deliciousness.
*Note: there's also one in Kensington Market that is similarly excellent, if that's more convenient for you.
Dinner: Roti Cuisine of India, $13 all in.
I share because I care, but don't blame me in a month when you realize you've got this place on speed dial and have gained 10 pounds from your twice-a-week takeout habit. This place is another one of those very barebones basic decor joints, but it's because they must invest everything they earn into churning out more of them sweet bricks of curried joy. For those of you unfamiliar with Indian roti, it's essentially curry folded up into a thin tortilla that tastes like pizza crust. It is god's most perfect creation.
I really like this place because a) they make my favourite roti in the city, b) they are conveniently located three blocks from my house, and c) everyone who works there seem like really nice, friendly human beings, and the food totally tastes better for it. I'm also very enamored by the fact that they offer a mild-to-medium spiciness for those who, like me, can handle more flavour than mild but aren't brave enough to start spicing above their weight class.
I get the mutter paneer every goddamn time because I'm so addicted to its goodness, but I know Laura loves the saag paneer, my boyfriend is monogamous with the butter chicken and friends who have ordered other things have been similarly pleased (and hooked – I have at least two friends who request we eat there every time they hang out at my place). BONUS POINTS: if you don't call ahead to place your order, you can kill your 15 minute wait time at the Shoppers Drug Mart next door, which is obviously the best place in the world to kill time.
I'm so torn, you guys. I've been loyal to Menchies since they opened over a year ago, and I still go there quite often. Their autumn flavours are some of the best ever (carrot cake, gingerbread) and they have a really solid group of toppings. Not extensive, but solid – all the hits are there (various nuts, Skor bits, cookie dough, fruits). They have a points card that gets rewarding pretty quickly, which is like crack for a bargain hunter me.
But I went to the new kid on the block, Yogurty's, two weeks ago, and I'll be damned if they didn't have a better selection of everything – a couple extra froyo flavours, at least double the toppings, more sauces, even the goddamn spoons came in a variety of colours (and were better designed). They had these gummy bears that were pastel coloured that tasted like sweet dreams. They had tiny dark chocolate cups filled with raspberry jelly. They had little Belgian waffles you could add to your bowl. But they do not have a points card.
Really, the only reason why I'm still going to Menchies is the red velvet/cake batter swirl pump, the Nesquik cereal and the points card, especially since they have a pretty abrasive aesthetic going on. Your move, Yogurty's.