Hail to the ‘Dale

gatefishPeople don’t really think of Parkdale as being a foodie paradise. And yes, if you’re looking for high-end health food items, organic meat or artisanal bread or cheese, you’d be mostly out of luck. But as one of the most multi-cultural neighbours in one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, we’ve got a lot of variety working in our favour.

Most folks tend to think of the ‘Dale as a low-end neighbourhood full of nothing but greasy spoons and burger joints. For sure, we’ve got two of the best. The Gate (1206 King Street West) sits at the corner of King and Dufferin and offers up filling breakfast, burgers and some damn fine fish and chips. Peggy, the waitress who’s been working the tables here since the late 60s when she came to Toronto to be a go-go dancer, tells regulars to help themselves to coffee. Further west along Queen, The Skyline (1402 Queen Street West) is about as retro as you can get in terms of diners, with that famous neon sign out front, and fast and efficient service inside from the flurry of activity that is Doris, once voted “best waitress in Toronto”. Other places that serve up a mean burger or all-day breakfast includes Harry’s Burgers (160 Springhurst Avenue) and Stavros (1530 Queen Street West).

cowbell_front1For those who prefer brunch over the all-day breakfast (just try and order fresh-squeezed juice as the Gate or The Skyline), the neighbourhood offers up tasty food and coffee at Mitzi’s (100 Sorauren Avenue), Easy (1645 Queen Street West), Rustic Cosmo (1278 Queen Street West) or Poor John’s Café (1610 Queen Street West).

Every now and then, the brunch crowd starts expecting the hood to swank up a bit, and newly opened Cowbell (1564 Queen Street West) and Parkdale Drink (1292 Queen Street West) fit the bill nicely for Parkdalians who either need an excuse to dress up or want to watch the society folks drop by for a bit of slumming.

rhinoheadThose who want their local to be a bit more laid back flock to The Rhino (1249 Queen Street West) and their more than 200 different beers, The Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen Street West) for rockabilly on the patio, Mezzrow’s (1546 Queen Street West) for live jazz, Stones Place (1255 Queen Street West) for dance nights and all things Jagger or Cafe Taste (1330 Queen Street West) if they want a glass of wine in a classy and but unpretentious little space. Locals also love Mitzi’s Sister (1554 Queen Street West) for the live music and good pub grub, and Not My Dog (1510 Queen Street West) for it’s indie feel. Chino (1378 Queen Street West) is still finding its neighbourhood niche (that is, they seem to be doing well but not necessarily with locals) and any of the society folks looking for one of the new upscale spots is in for a surprise if they accidentally wander into the Happy Time (1384 Queen Street West) where the local scooter crew (and I’m not talking Vespas) enjoy the cheap beer and hang out on the sidewalk in front to smoke.

Parkdale has a strong Caribbean community and we’ve got as many roti shops as there are countries that make the things. The neighbourhood standard is, of course Bacchus Roti (1376 Queen Street West), but in recent years, places like Ali’s (1446 Queen Street West), Roti Lady (269 Dunn Avenue), and Island Foods (1182 King Street West) are all giving the Bacchus family a run for their money. It really depends on whether you prefer your roti Guyanese style, Jamaican style or Indian style. A&N Jerk Chicken (1427 Queen Street Qest) and Chicken Plus (216 Close Avenue) offer up some other Caribbean favourites and Mother India (1456 Queen Street West) offer East Indian style roti.

With the biggest ex-pat Tibetan population outside of India, Parkdale also has a number of Tibetan restaurants. 1959 Restaurant (1439 Queen Street West) and Tibet Kitchen (1544 Queen Street West) across the street serve up competing Tibetan brunch on weekends while Rangzen (1600 Queen Street West) joins in at dinner to see who has the best momos. There’s even a Tibetan grocery called Shangri-La (1406 Queen Street West).

goodcatchteaGrocery and food stores reflect the multi-cultural community. Fullworth (1371 Queen Street West) is the mother of all these, with plenty of Indian and Jamaican foods (and a whole aisle of curry!), but there’s also a Sikh grocery called Queen Supermarket (1429 Queen Street West) with a secret fridge full of burfi and jalebi, Kana Supermarket, a Sri Lankan grocery (1455 Queen Street West), Bahn Mi Dakao (1316 Queen Street West), for all your Vietnamese grocery needs (and probably the only place in the ‘Dale to get lemongrass). There’s also Cattleman’s Meat Market (1538 Queen Street West), Brown Sugar Bakery and Café (1374 Queen Street West), Harvest Fresh Farms (1558 Queen Street West) for produce, Superland Market (1400 Queen Street West) for plants and garden transplants, JR’s Natural Foods (1382 Queen Street West) for health food items and The Good Catch General Store (1556 Queen Street West) for everything from fresh bread and dairy to Parkdale’s best selection of high-end chocolate bars.

Of course, like most neighbourhoods, we’ve got pizza, with most of our pizza places located in the area around Parkdale Collegiate. From chains Pizza Pizza (1432 Queen Street West) and Pizza Memo (1407 Queen Street West) to Old Man Pizza and Wings (223 Jameson Avenue), all offer middling slices for cheap. For good pizza, Parkdalians head to Amico’s (1648-1/2 Queen Street West).

pho21vermicelliFor those in need of a pho fix, Pho Asia 21 (1208 King Street West) serves up our favourite pho, with competition from Pho Mi Thuan Loi (1265 Queen Street West) and Hanoi Restaurant and Desserts (1285 Queen Street West). Bahn Mi and Vietnamese coffee can always be found at Jason’s Coffee (1495 Queen Street West).

The rest of Asia is also represented with Thai Spring Rolls (1485 Queen Street West) serving up tasty Thai cuisine, and Yummy Food (1690 Queen Street West) and Rice and Noodle (1508 Queen Street West) on the Chinese front. Oddly we’ve yet to get a sushi restaurant, the closest of which can be found in Liberty Village.

zippiepomodoroWe’ve got lots of other good eats from around the world, too. M & B Yummy (1263 Queen Street West) offers up delicious vegan Ethiopian food, Ali Baba’s (1430 Queen Street West), while part of a chain, fills the need for gyro and falafel. N.S. Tharsi (1608 Queen Street West) serves heavy, spicy and greasy Sri Lankan dosa but the deep-fried chili peppers make the heartburn worthwhile. Simply Delicious (1526 Queen Street West) has great bistro fare, while we love the sandwiches at former vintage clothing shop Salvador Darling (1237 Queen Street West). Polish street food sandwiches and waffles win fans at Zippie Café (1718 Queen Street West) and Skardalijia (1608 Queen Street West) is a little taste of Serbia in the ‘Dale. Rosie’s Xpress Takeout and Deli (5 Brock Avenue) serves up a little bit of everything including burgers, fish and chips and chicken, which is fitting given that it’s located in a former KFC location.

No doubt I’ve missed a few important places, but it’s clear from the list above that Parkdale is no where near the dearth of good food it’s made out to be. Sure, we may still be more Coffee Time than Starbuck’s or even Tim Horton’s, and sure, for every swank new restaurant opening up, there’s still two soup kitchens, but our little village of misfits and outlaws manages to eat pretty darn well.