Guides

Where to Eat, Stay, and Explore in Toronto

The reasons why a native keeps on coming home.

AT THIS POINT I consider myself a New Yorker, a Manhattanite to be specific. But I was proudly born and raised in Toronto’s West End. Since my departure from the city, I’ve done my fair share of frolicking — with stints living in Vancouver, Copenhagen, and Los Angeles and travels throughout Central America, Asia, and Europe. But it’s always good to return to good ol’ Toronto. Yes, there’s family and a network of childhood friends, but also something that makes it stand apart. It’s cosmopolitan, but with logic and a sensible pace. It’s invitingly doable.

In its vibe, Toronto is similar to Chicago or a little cousin to New York, but it’s distinctly Canadian. The city has diversity and liveliness, but it’s livable. The streets are clean, people are friendly, and it’s quiet — or at least the roars of sirens and honks of gridlocked cars are less frequent. Toronto has the same assortment of world-class restaurants and cultural institutions you’ll find in other capital cities, but without the unrelenting pace of a London, New York, or Paris. Oh, and the green space! Never have you ever seen so many trees, parks, and urban trails. This city has room to breathe. There are so many pockets and different worlds you can experience in a day, from the idyllic Roncesvalles Village to the painfully hip Ossington strip to two bustling, thriving Chinatowns. It’s all within reach.

After a bit of a post-pandemic boom, there has been a lot of new to experience. As a food, film, and travel writer, I’m always on the lookout for what to eat, what to see, and where to stay. Here are a few of my picks from a recent summer stretch.

Where to Explore

Toronto is Canada’s largest city and, I’d argue, its cultural capital. It’s home to countless theaters, galleries, and music venues that make it easy to take in a lot in a short weekend. I’d also recommend experiencing a park or two, since they really are urban oases like no other.

Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto (MOCA)

There won’t be any Manet or Picasso, but you’ll be better for it.
After relocating from a smaller space in the heart of ultracool Queen West to a bigger location further west, the MOCA is back. It’s the place to see the latest in Canadian art, but also prominent international names like Félix González-Torres and Rirkrit Tiravanija. You’ll find large-scale... After relocating from a smaller space in the heart of ultracool Queen West to a bigger location further west, the MOCA is back. It’s the place to see the latest in Canadian art, but also prominent international names like Félix González-Torres and Rirkrit Tiravanija. You’ll find large-scale installations, mixed media work, and video art — and sometimes a canvas or two.

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

It’s worth the hype.
After relocating from a smaller space in the heart of ultracool Queen West to a bigger location further west, the MOCA is back. It’s the place to see the latest in Canadian art, but also prominent international names like Félix González-Torres and Rirkrit Tiravanija. You’ll find large-scale... After relocating from a smaller space in the heart of ultracool Queen West to a bigger location further west, the MOCA is back. It’s the place to see the latest in Canadian art, but also prominent international names like Félix González-Torres and Rirkrit Tiravanija. You’ll find large-scale installations, mixed media work, and video art — and sometimes a canvas or two.

High Park

Home to many of the city’s millions of trees.
If something remains unchanged in this constantly evolving city, it’s High Park — and that’s a good thing. Located in the city’s West End, High Park comprises 400 acres of gardens, ponds, and ruggedly unmanicured nature. The park is the perfect setting for a jog, walk, or urban hike on one of its... If something remains unchanged in this constantly evolving city, it’s High Park — and that’s a good thing. Located in the city’s West End, High Park comprises 400 acres of gardens, ponds, and ruggedly unmanicured nature. The park is the perfect setting for a jog, walk, or urban hike on one of its many trails. And it’s open all four seasons with something distinct to experience at each: cherry blossoms in the spring, a picnic in Maple Leaf Garden in the summer, a leaf-peeping tour in the fall, or skating on Grenadier Pond in the winter. A perennial favorite of mine since childhood.

Where to Eat

Toronto has always been a great food city. Its diversity has meant stellar dim sum, banh mi, Jamaican patties, and Portuguese chicken, but recently it’s seen a boom in splurge-worthy meals, meaning there has never been a better time to fine dine in Toronto as well.

Prime Seafood Palace

Toronto’s first really great steakhouse with an AD-worthy interior.
The latest offering from local legend Chef Matty Matheson, is exactly what the city needs — an actual great place to treat oneself to a martini, little gem salad, and a steak. It’s immaculate in its consideration of details on the food, design, and service fronts. Go with someone else and split a... The latest offering from local legend Chef Matty Matheson, is exactly what the city needs — an actual great place to treat oneself to a martini, little gem salad, and a steak. It’s immaculate in its consideration of details on the food, design, and service fronts. Go with someone else and split a 20 oz. cut of fine Ontario beef, or sit alone at the bar with a shrimp cocktail and Negroni. Don’t overlook the vegetable sides; they all come from Matheson’s nearby farm.

Mamakas Taverna

The best Greek food, even if you’ve been to Greece.
Right around the corner on the buzzy Ossington strip you’ll find Mamakas Taverna. Since opening in 2014, they’ve expanded to three locations in the area (two are more casual), all serving Aegean food. It’s your familiar Greek favorites, like creamy tzatziki, tangy feta-topped horiatiki, and smoky... Right around the corner on the buzzy Ossington strip you’ll find Mamakas Taverna. Since opening in 2014, they’ve expanded to three locations in the area (two are more casual), all serving Aegean food. It’s your familiar Greek favorites, like creamy tzatziki, tangy feta-topped horiatiki, and smoky grilled sea bass — all done with care, precision, and the right balance of imported and local ingredients. The service is welcoming and unstuffy, perfect for a long, drawn-out meal or quick bite.

MIMI Chinese

Go with a crowd and order the whole menu.
A little further uptown in Yorkville, you’ll find one of 2021’s most exciting openings, MIMI. The food is pan-Chinese, meaning you’ll get tastes from many of the country’s provinces, including Sichuan, Hunan, and Guangdong. The vibe is intimate opulence: dark wood, red flourishes, and cushy... A little further uptown in Yorkville, you’ll find one of 2021’s most exciting openings, MIMI. The food is pan-Chinese, meaning you’ll get tastes from many of the country’s provinces, including Sichuan, Hunan, and Guangdong. The vibe is intimate opulence: dark wood, red flourishes, and cushy leather booths throughout. This food is best shared. Don’t miss the vibrant smacked cucumber salad, the house-made spicy four-foot belt noodle, or any of the cocktails.

Writers Room Bar at Park Hyatt

Classic cocktails with a view.
There are few better places in the city to enjoy a Manhattan or a glass of Champagne than the rooftop Writers Room at the Park Hyatt. Originally opened back in the 1970s, it quickly became a literary haunt for the likes of Margaret Atwood and Hunter S. Thompson. A renovation forced it to close... There are few better places in the city to enjoy a Manhattan or a glass of Champagne than the rooftop Writers Room at the Park Hyatt. Originally opened back in the 1970s, it quickly became a literary haunt for the likes of Margaret Atwood and Hunter S. Thompson. A renovation forced it to close for several years, but as of last fall, it’s back and slickly redesigned, though it hasn’t lost any old-world charm. It might be busy at sunset, but it’s worth it to catch the twilight over the city.

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Where to Stay

Despite being a world-class city, until recently Toronto had relatively meager options for lodging. In the past five years that has all changed, with renovations, reimaginings, and new openings.

Four Seasons

Who knew the world’s favorite 5-star hotel chain was born in Toronto?
The iconic hotel chain opened its first location in the city back in 1960 and, of course, a lot has changed since. A decade ago it moved its original Yorkville location to an even bigger space a few blocks away. Here you’ll find the luxury you’ve come to expect in a Four Seasons: flawless... The iconic hotel chain opened its first location in the city back in 1960 and, of course, a lot has changed since. A decade ago it moved its original Yorkville location to an even bigger space a few blocks away. Here you’ll find the luxury you’ve come to expect in a Four Seasons: flawless service, an immaculate spa, wellness facilities, and standout restaurants (by Chef Daniel Boulud at this location). I highly recommend a visit to the indoor relaxation pool and dinner at either Café Boulud or, just across the courtyard, local Italian favorite Buca.

The Drake Hotel

Check in for the most local experience.
If you’re looking for a more local, boutique experience, The Drake is your best bet. Located downtown on Queen West, it has thoughtful rooms with Malin+Goetz toiletries, regionally specific mini bars, and a whole playground of food and dining options on-site. The hotel recently expanded, with a... If you’re looking for a more local, boutique experience, The Drake is your best bet. Located downtown on Queen West, it has thoughtful rooms with Malin+Goetz toiletries, regionally specific mini bars, and a whole playground of food and dining options on-site. The hotel recently expanded, with a new wing hosting many more room options. You really never need to leave, except to check out the neighborhood; it’s the peak place to explore the city’s best independent restaurants, shops, and bars.

1 Hotel

For glamorous, sustainable luxury with a healthy focus.
Most are familiar with this rapidly expanding boutique chain that has locations throughout the U.S., including South Beach and Brooklyn. As with all their hotels, the idea is to fuse each space with the natural elements that surround it. In Toronto this means local materials, like salvaged wood... Most are familiar with this rapidly expanding boutique chain that has locations throughout the U.S., including South Beach and Brooklyn. As with all their hotels, the idea is to fuse each space with the natural elements that surround it. In Toronto this means local materials, like salvaged wood and limestone. The vibe is greenhouse-y, with lots of plants throughout the space — a particularly nice touch in the dead of a dark Canadian winter. Since I’m forever a fitness addict, I love the 24-hour gym and free group fitness classes they offer multiple times a week.
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Kyle Beechey Writer

Kyle Beechey is a New York–based writer. She’s either writing a screenplay, on a far-off adventure, or baking a cake.

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