Our first Grand Prix Toronto of 2018 is mere days away, and I’m sure all of you are eagerly jamming deeply interactive and interesting games of Modern. Ah, the quintessential Lantern vs Burn matchup, the elegant dance that is Tron vs Scapeshift. Leading with a Celestial Colonnade only for your opponent to go Mountain, double Simian Spirit Guide, Blood Moon. Pure Magic, as Garfield (the cat, not Richard) intended. I, however, have very little interest in such deep game play mechanics as “turn 3 Karn” and prefer, as a fat man, stuffing my face with the delicious food that my beautiful city has to offer. Instead of divulging all of my Modern secrets ahead of the Pro Tour that I’m not attending, I’m going to leak a far more important set of secrets: where you should eat in Toronto next weekend.
There are a couple unifying themes to food in Toronto. With a few notable exceptions, our fast food sucks, our pizza is terrible, and restaurants in the financial district look nice, but are traps. Where we shine is in our amazing ethnic food, the result of Toronto’s status as a deeply diverse city with a huge immigrant population. There’s a good option somewhere in the city for pretty much every cuisine, though you might have to hop on our dreaded public transit system. We have some decent fine dining, but that’s not really what makes food in Toronto stand out. Go get some Pad Gra Prow from Pai instead and save your money.
There is no food near the venue, which exists in a desolate wasteland of parking lots. Uber Eats has some sick options downtown, and while it’s an awkward service to use yourself in a Magic tournament, you can get some amazing food delivered straight to the venue. Get something obscenely satisfying from from Smoke’s Poutinerie or any of the roti joints. Since publishing this, my friends have insisted that I am factually incorrect to hype Smoke’s and should instead send you all in the direction of Poutini’s, which is also available on Uber Eats. Please stop the death threats, thanks.
We are, however, fairly close to Liberty Village, and the hipster Parkdale neighbourhood nearby offers some of Toronto’s best food a short drive or bus ride away.
A short walk north of the venue, you’ll find School and Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, purveyors of solid brunch, and a bunch of pubs. My personal recommendation for after-event eats in this area, full of AirBNBs, is Local, an extremely-millennial craft beer pub with good taps and a decent menu. Nothing to write home about, but it’s the most playable nearby choice. Across the street from Local is an outpost of microbrewery chain 3 Brewers, a respectful place to hang out and unwind.
Go a little bit further out, and you’ll find Parkdale, sort of a hub for Toronto’s strong hipster food scene. Lots of great coffee, lots of excellent food. Ever heard of Matty Matheson, the giant tattooed Canadian of internet chef fame? His restaurant, Parts & Labour, is nearby, serving up good eats with an underground concert venue. Parkdale has solid BBQ at Electric Mud, great Mexican at Grand Electric, and world-class roti at Mother India. You can’t go wrong with any of these choices.
Head up Ossington street for Toronto’s best Vietnamese food at Pho Rua Vang, also known as Golden Turtle. Nothing quite satisfies like a steaming bowl of noodle soup after a long day at a tournament. Down the street is Oddseoul, a cool joint full of modern Korean food. Also on Ossington, you’ll find a location of Pizzeria Libretto, one of the few exceptions to Toronto’s atrocious pizza situation. The other notable outlets fighting against that rule in the same general area of the city as the venue are North of Brooklyn and Maker Pizza, another Matty Matheson joint.
Keep heading north and you’ll hit Toronto’s downtown K-Town, featuring a strip of fairly generic Korean restaurants. Owl of Minerva is a classic 24-hour joint with cheap beer, but the food quality isn’t quite what it used to be. Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu is a great stop for Soondubu Jjigae, a spicy tofu stew that cuts right through the cold Canadian winter. You might have seen their menu make its way around the internet, as the no spice option is listed as “white spice”. An underrated Korean meal is Dakgalbi, a spicy chicken and cheese stir-fry cooked at the table. Find it at Hancook in K-Town or Kobi Korean BBQ up at Yonge and Steeles. If you want Korean food but find yourself downtown, Kimchi Korea House near Dundas and University pumps out solid renditions of the staples. Looking for KBBQ action? Check out Jangwon in K-Town or settle for any of the Korean Grill House locations downtown.
The downtown core also features a variety of top notch ramen outposts. Toronto’s been taken over by a bit of a ramen craze as of late, but many of the chain establishments are poor at best. My recommendations in the general downtown area are Sansotei, Santouka, and Isshin. Expect lineups at a bunch of these places, but it’s worth it. As for other Japanese food, I’d recommend Miku, a Vancouver import, for sushi, and Kinka Izakaya, formerly known as Guu, for tapas-style food and drinks. Momofuku has a three-story Toronto outpost, with a ramen restaurant on the ground floor, and higher end restaurants upstairs. Don’t leave without grabbing a crack pie from the Milk Bar freezer! If you’re willing to tread off the beaten path, Ematei and Manpuku are some hot spots for more homestyle Japanese food. For Japanese BBQ, check out Gyu-Kaku on Church Street.
Toronto is blessed with some top tier Thai restaurants. Pai and Nana are nearby and absolutely amazing, while some would swear by Isaan Der, further away in the Junction. I can’t recommend any of these places strongly enough – they’re some of the best Toronto has to offer, and Thai food is without a doubt one of the world’s best cuisines.
Spadina, from loosely Queen through College, is Toronto’s busiest Chinatown, with a bustling food scene. R&D serves up inspired pan-Asian dishes, Jackpot has delightful chicken rice, Dumpling House is a gold standard, and any number of noodle and seafood restaurants nearby cater to all kinds of Chinese food. Some personal recommendations are Swatow, House of Gourmet and King’s Noodle.
Looking to drink? My favourite places to go are Sin and Redemption and Village Idiot, sister establishments with vast beer lists, with a focus on Belgian Trappist ales. They’re across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario, right downtown, and steps from Baldwin Street, featuring a smorgasbord of excellent restaurants, including the main Kinton Ramen location and Konnichiwa, a solid place for traditional Japanese fare. Further downtown, I’d also recommend Bar Hop Brewco, a hip place with a massive selection of high-quality alcohol.
You’ll find a lot of local craft beer on tap around the city, and I might as well do you the service of tossing out some recommendations. Mill St Organic is my go-to for a light lager – it’s closer to Sapporo than Bud Light, while Amsterdam’s 3 Speed Lager and Ace Hill’s Lager are also widely available. As for various pale ales, Toronto has a pretty wide variety. Boneshaker and Tankhouse are common classics, but pretty much anything you’ll find on tap here is a-ok. If you happen to find bottles of Bolshevik Bastard, accept the blessing that the gods of RNG have given you and give my favourite beer a try.
So don’t despair when you 0-3 the main event. Don’t go write a diatribe on Facebook titled “The Seventeen Fundamental Problems With Modern”. Just go stuff your face with the outrageously good food you can find in this city and bury your bad beats stories (and anger my straight edge editor) in a stiff drink.