Hand-held heaven: we sample Toronto’s best street-food inspired creations
By David Paterson and Karolyne Ellacott
If there’s one thing Toronto is head over heels for these days, it’s street-style food. So we scoured the city’s restaurants, markets and food trucks for the best in hand-held cuisine. Having munched our way through countless burgers, sandwiches, wraps and tacos, we present our list of the city’s tastiest, most innovative and most unusual portable eats.
THYME & SEA SALT FRIES
$4, JK FRIES, BRICK WORKS FARMERS’ MARKET
At the Brick Works Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, Jamie Kennedy’s sons make their father’s frites. Crafted from Yukon gold potatoes, the fries are tossed in fresh thyme and a mix of coarse and fine sea salt. Garnish these neat batons with cider vinegar or dip them into a chili lime or maple citrus aïoli.
PIZZA IN A CONE
$5.49, THE MAD ITALIAN, 1581 BAYVIEW AVE.
Eli Turkienicz, owner of the Mad Italian gelato bar, launched the pizza cone in Toronto after seeing people eating them in Europe. The “zazzu” cones come in 15 flavours. The standout is the Mediterranean, an avalanche of mushrooms, black olives and red peppers smothered in cheese and tomato sauce.
POSH PEAMEAL BACON
$5, UNDERGROUND MARKET, THE BRICK WORKS
The monthly Underground Market food fest attracts vendors making everything from maple-bacon doughnuts to soft-shell crab pancakes. But big foodie love goes to Little Tomato for its elevated peameal bacon sandwich. You’ve never eaten this Canadian staple until you’ve had it on a freshly baked butter biscuit, with red onion marmalade dressing and a soft quail’s egg.
VATICAN CITY BURGER
$10, THE BURGER’S PRIEST, 3397 YONGE ST.
Hidden on the “secret” menu, this is a sinful concoction. Starring two four- ounce premium beef patties, the burger is topped with a square of American cheese and lettuce, onion and tomato. But it’s the bun that’s the kicker: two grilled cheese sammies take the place of your average roll. One bite of this will send your diet plans straight to hell.
TASTE OF TUNISIA
$8, KING DAVID PIZZA, 219 WILMINGTON AVE.
David Hazan (a.k.a. King David) has been filling bellies with pizza, falafel and boureka for 20 years. His Tunisian sandwich is loaded with egg, tuna, eggplant and cucumber. The Mediterranean taste comes through in the topping of matbucha (a sauce of tomato and red pepper) and hummus. It is spritzed with lemon and served on a fresh baguette.
ULTIMATE GRILLED CHEESE
$14, UNCLE BETTY’S, 2590 YONGE ST.
Oozing a mix of both white and classic cheddar, the grilled cheese at Uncle Betty’s is topped with a hefty slab of mac ’n’ cheese and — as if that weren’t enough — a choice of meat loaf or pulled pork. Drizzled with roasted garlic aïoli, this truly is the mother — or should we say uncle — of them all.
$5.60, KHORAK, 6125 YONGE ST.
The busy takeout counter at Toronto’s largest Persian supermarket offers various kebabs and cooked dishes, but the Olivieh sandwich is the most interesting. It contains a mix of eggs, chicken, pickles, peas and mayo, with some salad, parsley and a few more pickles thrown in. Hefty, zesty and yummy.
RAINBOW CHOPPED IN CRYSTAL FOLD
$16, AMBASSADOR CHINESE, 280 WEST BEAVER CREEK RD.
A beautiful name for a beautiful treat. At Ambassador Chinese, they mix ground pork or chicken with vegetables, then place it on a leaf of iceberg lettuce. The result is succulent, crunchy, juicy and somehow refreshing. This is truly a rainbow of tastes.
$16, PARADISE FARMS CAFE, 678C SHEPPARD AVE. E.
If you like to eat local and to eat expensive burgers, then this is for you. The beef for the burgers at Paradise Farms Café comes from the company’s farm in Caledon, Ont. For the nine-ounce Koberger, that beef is of the hormone-free wagyu variety. For the true gourmet experience, throw on some toppings like crispy shallots or sautéed bell peppers.
$8, LA MEXICANA, 3337 BATHURST ST.
These mini-empañadas from family-run La Mexicana are cute as anything and also tasty. They are made with corn flour for a wonderfully crumbly texture. With four in a serving (two stuffed with chorizo and potato and two with Oaxaca cheese) the only difficulty for the street eater is holding them all in your hands.
MASSIVE MEATBALL SANDWICH
$6.42, BOCCONE DELI, 1378 YONGE ST.
This traditional Euro deli is a hit with the lunchtime crowd. When you order the meatball sandwich, the person behind the counter takes a huge meatball and slices it thinly, to fit it into the soft white bun. The tomato sauce and cheese are rich, and there’s a kick from the hot peppers on top. This is comfort food for the person on the go.
GREEN CHILI PIMENTO CHEESEBURGER
$8.50, THE STOCKYARDS, 699 ST. CLAIR AVE. W.
At this Wychwood BBQ joint, the green chili pimento cheeseburger is an innovative take on the backyard staple. Done medium-well, the beef patty is topped with a blend of smoked jalapeno, cheddar and mayo and tucked into a fresh white bun. The result? A meal that’s jacked with flavour.
$8, CRÊPES À GOGO, 18 YORKVILLE AVE.
Crêpes à GoGo is the ultimate hand-held eatery: there are no plates or cutlery, and each light, fluffy crepe is served in a brown paper bag. Say “bonjour” to the Parisienne, which is a delicious mix of scrambled egg, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, onions and dill. You can wash it down with the house-made lemon-mint Limonana drink.
BEEF BRISKET SANDWICH
$7, BLACK CAMEL, 4 CRESCENT RD.
This sandwich sells out so often the Black Camel posts its availability on its Twitter feed. It takes close to a week to make each of these sammies. The process includes a three-day dry rub and 12 hours of slow cooking. The result is a mouth-watering, tender brisket.
VEAL PILED HIGH
$7.30, CALIFORNIA SANDWICHES, 10815 YONGE ST.
If ever a sandwich could be said to have a cult following, it’s the veal one at California Sandwiches. People write on the Internet of their cravings for this creation of breaded veal piled inside a kaiser bun. It’s made with cuts that are carved daily by an in-house butcher and pan-fried to order. It’s simple, but it works.
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