Our Best List
An essential part of being in Riverdale is good eats within easy reach. With The Danforth to the north, and Leslieville to the south, there's no shortage of good and bad in the 'hood. Herewith we do the heavy lifting for you and present the best of the best. Editor's note: We only cover the half of Leslieville that is west of Jimmie Simpson park, as per the rough boundaries of Riverdale. Occasionally we cheat if we can't resist, but just keep it in mind.
Also: Please note that we have partitioned coffee off into its own page here.
Danforth as a rule skews older and more ethnic, while Leslieville is younger and more dynamic. Rents are very high on The Danforth (Leslieville is not far behind, of course), and so restaurants there need to focus on relatively safe menus and emphasize fresh ingredients, rather than innovating ruthlessly to attract foodies.
Leslieville, on the other hand, sprouts new concepts as quickly as sand roads get created at Burning Man. Only Ossignton in the west end has as much innovation per square kilometre as Leslieville. So there's high and low, new and old in both places.
Taste of The Danforth, the once-a-year food orgy that is like a loss leader for attracting a steady flow of people the rest of the year, sets the tone and pace of The Danforth's eternal pull: Simple food delivered with speed and flourish.
For some time The Danforth has generally been about Greek tavernas and generic, chain restaurants. There isn't much that differentiates the various Greek joints, and most have their itinerate crowd-pleasing dishes and requisite theatrical flair. Messini, Pan, Mezes (for gyros, various seafood, and calamari as specialties in each case) are all good spots that fit the expectations of most diners and fill their tummies with good offerings–the requisite Tsatziki, Skordolia, Tiropita, Moussaka, and of course the star of the show, Souvlaki. These places play hopscotch with owners and investors over the decades, but in the end the dishes are always variations on the same theme. You don't go to these places to be surprised, but for comfort and repetition. This is not a knock, but a testament to endurance of Greek food on the Danforth. (That said, we wish someone on The Danforth would be brave enough to do something as modern as Mamakas on Ossington. It's disappointing that the best Greek resto in Toronto is not on The Danforth.)
However if you want Greek food on The Danforth that is a cut above, check out Athens Restaurant just east of Pape. It's all good there but the lamb and village salad are standouts. This is a place that is unpretentious and delicious. Interestingly, amongst our Greek friends–many of whom are in the food biz' themselves–this is the spot they go on their time off to chow down and relax. Owner and chef George will even invite you into the kitchen to chat and make suggestions about what to eat.
Much like coffee, opinions and preferences around pizza can get heated. If we can be The United Nations for a moment, there's really no need, as there's room for everyone. Bad pizza can be charmingly ignored or even enjoyed, because the market tends to sink bad pizza places, especially in high rent Riverdale. With that caveat, here are our favs: Stalwart Il Fornello has always delivered on good pizza, especially with new menu options over time. Their multi-grain crust pizza might be one of the best we've ever had. Libretto upended the neighbourhood when they arrived a few years ago, and their pies, especially the Cremini Mushroom and Nduja sausage ones, are head and shoulders above anything in the hood. Further east on The Danforth, Danforth Pizza House has been serving up simple, quality pies for an eternity, and when long time owner Angelo passed, friends took over. Beware, though: Take out only, no slices, just pies. La Grotta pizza is decent for delivered pizza, if spotty on delivery times. The charming Pizza and Variety on Pape, which is, surprise, surprise, a variety store that also has a pizza oven, serves up slices and pies throughout the day and early evening, mostly to hordes of kids. It's pretty good!
The Big Carrot's Deli has served up yummy vegetarian for 25 years or so (launched back then by quirky, loveable veggie chef Nettie Cornish). They have set the standard for high quality, organic vegetarian food in this part of town.
The other sure bet in the 'hood is Green Earth on Broadview, which has overcome a so-so Riverdale location to serve 100% vegan fusion food for many years now. Their menu is sprawling, but most if not all of it is quite good. Technically outside our Riverdale boundaries, but worth a mention is Jean's Vegetarian, which does excellent Thai and Malaysian-inspired veggie food.
Fish + Seafood
For quite a long time, Bill's Lobster on Gerrard was the secret fishmonger of those in the know in Riverdale. The other option is the Chinese market along Gerrard, where just about anything that swims in the sea can be found in the cave-like environment in the back. But Bill's has been hit-and-miss last few years, and new vendors have moved into the void. Ocean's Treasure has moved a few doors from its former location at Danforth and Carlaw, and renovated their operation quite nicely. Generally it's good, and prices are lower than others. De La Mar, however, closer to Broadview on Danforth, has taken a bit to hit its stride, but has distinguished themselves as fishmongers on another level. As well as lots of great fresh catch options, they have plenty of sauces, delicious, freshly made soups and in-house and third-party accessories that will dazzle (their salsas and preserved lemon comes to mind). This is what a fish operation should be.
Equally high level is Leslieville's Hooked, owned by Dan and Kristin (both formerly of Jamie Kennedy's restaurants), who have created a fully vertical fish company that emphasizes sustainability and responsibility in everything they do. Their example is quite inspirational, and their enthusiasm never ending. The oyster bar is excellent as a drive-through hangover remedy!
Oysters: Hooked has an oyster bar for on-site slurping, Del Mar stocks three or four varieties of super fresh oysters at most times (Malpeque, Rasperry Point, etc.), and Ocean's Treasure usually has at least one (typically Malpeque).
Individual seafood dish mentions: Libretto's calamari with romesco sauce. Excellent. Off-The-Hook, the fish-n-chip place on Broadview seems aptly named on those days where they actually deliver on the promise of their cooking, and do make a product that will make you sing. However they've had ongoing problems with service, consistency, and execution, and have never quite met their potential. We rarely mention the bad here, but it's a reminder that a good product isn't enough when the supporting cast falls down in every other department. There's an empire in the offing there if they can actually get their act together. We hope they do.
Triple A Bar at Gerrard and Broadview (in the old Mr. Ciao spot) is the area's attempt at Texas style bbq, and they do mean dry-rub ribs, beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches, all smoked daily. The Chichen Itza wall mural seems perfectly, joyously out-of-place. (Editor's note: Did we ever tell you about the time we climbed the narrow stairs of Chichen Itza's El Castillo after four rounds of grade "A" tequila at a bar nearby? Harrowing is the word we would use.)
Newly opened La Diperie does soft serve ice cream with hard dips and toppings. It's Danforth's version of Sweet Jesus, but without the bad reviews ;). Despite the rather threadbare, dark look of it, it's inexpensive and yummy. Maddeningly, though, they only take cash, grrrr.
Leslieville haunt Ed's Real Scoop is already a fixture in the hood, single-handedly inducing diabetic comas with its array of sweets and ice cream. A real 'hood place. On The Danforth, Dolce dishes out very decent gelato, and Leonidas nearby has Coconut-Raspberry ice cream that is blackout-level addictive.
Ahh bread. The elemental chaff of daily life. While we often bake our own bread here at BofR, we love the fact that options for buying good bread in Riverdale have expanded enormously after years of bland, generic grocery breads.
Enter The Brick Street Bakery on Logan, (a tiny re-hash of its Distillery roots) Dough on The Danforth, and the latest yummy addition, Cobs. Dough and Cobs sit opposite each other just east of Broadview, Dough being the mom-and-pop and Cobs being the huge company. Both make excellent breads, though Dough has a better selection of alternative grain breads (their Spelt bread is actually really good.) with Cob having the edge when it comes to friendliness of their staff and diversity of product.
Further south on Broadview is the iconic St. John's Bakery, which though pricey, does good work teaching baking skills to the disadvantaged.
For those who love a good croissant with their coffee in the morning, Bonjour Brioche has been turning out high quality croissants in the hood for twenty years. Danforth standouts are Dough, who bake a large buttery and flaky croissant, and The Shmooz, who twice daily create a caramelized onion and Gruyere croissant which is ridiculously good. Add in a coffee in either case and you're good until well after lunch. Sugar Loaf on Queen in Leslieville does very good croissants, including nutella and guava variations.
Reliable Athen's Pastry has been serving up hangover food, er, cheese pies on the Danforth since 1978. Spanakopita and Loukoumathes fresh out of the oven and you're off. Not much else to say except it's a machine that hums along on a reliable niche product. Village Pie just opened in September a few blocks west of Athen's, presumably to challenge Athen's hegemony. We'll report back soon on whether they have the formula that can match old workhorse Athen's.
Globe Bistro on The Danforth has a strong wine list, local and "global" in reach. Libretto has good inexpensive reds from southern Italy which are juicy standouts. Allen's has a strong Canadian-only wine list, which you either love or hate, but must admire (and enjoy). East Chinatown hidden gem Batifole has a varied (mostly French) list to sample. In Leslieville, Skin and Bones has excellent daily pairings with its food specials.
The two slash-and-burn brekkie places on The Danforth have always been New York Cafe, and the iconic Detroit Eatery. Nothing wrong with either of those, but if you want something on another level, whether it's breakfast, lunch or just about anything that can be called food and devoured, head to Cafe Fiorentina, where Tina Leckie and Alex Chong make delicious, unpretentious magic out of everything they touch. No really, go there. Tina spent six months working under Michael Stadtländer, amongst other work experiences, and it shows in everything she does. They've relocated from their original location closer to Broadview to a new location just west of Logan. We can't say enough good things about them. A neighbourhood treasure. Sugar Loaf in Leslieville isn't quite on the same level, but it's pretty darned good: French toast, the croque madame, and the mushroom and black truffle terrine are all standouts. Old stalwart Bonjour Brioche still packs them in for weekend brunches. Saturday Dinette does most everything well, and has become a top brunch spot in the city straddling Leslieville and Riverdale. Co-owner Suzanne Barr has created a place of spirit and depth, and even schools young women in kitchen skills and empowerment via the YMCA. Extensive menu, all of it deliciously and freshly prepared with flair.
Chain outlet Ali Baba's on the Danforth has never been great, and slew of health warnings from the city have dampened lots of enthusiasm about its pretty decent falafel. Enter Red Castle at Danforth and Carlaw, a strangely named place that might look comfortable in a mall with its generic branding. That aside it is an excellent Moroccan and Lebanese place, with ingredients that are super fresh, and most of what they turn out is delicious and under-appreciated. Succulent couscous and lamb, a very good beef shawarma, and Moroccan tagines to boot. When we first tasted their falafel in its first week of opening, we loved its fresh ingredients and soft spike of mint when it hit the mouth. However it was quite dry, and a few subsequent visits left us disappointed. However, they have corrected it and now the falafel, along with everything else, is delicious.
Tabule: Superb Middle Eastern Menu in a gorgeous setting. Perhaps the best baba ganoush the city produces, but everything on the menu is fresh, delicious and done with care. Can't say enough good things about this place.
Allen's burger is always a go-to. They butcher their own grass-fed beef from a local farm, and it's served as simple as can be, but it's a reliable hit. The redone Maple Leaf Tavern, opposite Gerrard Square, also does quite a fine burger (and many other things). Technically outside Riverdale is Burger's Priest in The Beach, but their delivered cheeseburger and fries is simply divine, so if you have to, UBER it to your pad in Riverdale and thank us (or your skyfather) later.
Tucked in a spot on Hampton just south of The Second Cup, Avoca has lots of artisanal chocolate goodness, and a lovely, tiny shop and patio experience. High marks for locating themselves directly across the street from where frazzled parents drop off their kids for their day: Mmmm, chocolate. Leonidas Cafe, recently taken over by super friendly Lucas Pappas, has plenty of divine truffles and chocolate to nibble on, along with the requisite Illy coffee. Their huge patio in the square at Carlaw and Danforth lends itself to getting high on coffee and chocolate and watching kids dunk themselves in the fountain on a sunny day. Excellent people watching.
But for the single best secret orgasmic chocolate treat of the 'hood, head down to Hailed Coffee and have their cardamon-infused chocolate. It's remarkably good.
Prior to 7Numbers moving in at Danforth and Bowden more than a decade ago, this prime spot has been many things over the years, including a breakfast place, a diner, and a coffee roaster. Thankfully 7 Numbers has managed to survive year upon year with a nice approachable Southern Italian menu and a decent wine list. Service is variable but they're relatively consistent food-wise. Never fantastic but always good and tons of fun.
Libretto crash-landed on The Danforth a few years ago, and forever washed away the dearth of truly good Italian food in the 'hood. Owner Max Rimaldi is very serious about what he does, and almost everything on his menu is between good and delicious on most days, including the flagship Neapolitan pizza samplings, but also their Calamari, Arancini and Octopus Carpaccio. A very decent selection of Southern Italian reds by the glass, as well. There's no reason not to go there. Get a window seat at the front, and watch The Danforth people parade from on-high. A great addition to the neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, there's a reason Il Fornello has survived every new food wave that washes up on The Danforth: They service the hell out of the mostly families that populate their cozy restaurant, and serve consistently good crowd-pleasing pizzas and pastas. They're a Danforth institution. Libretto has pushed them to be even better.
Olives are serious business to some of us in the 'hood, given the Greek influence. A secret few know of: Ellas Meat Market on Pape, a small sliver of a shop, has some of the best olives we've ever tasted. They're sublimely plump and juicy and delicate. One more reason to love this shop.
Allen's famous and enduring back patio gets top marks. Such a pleasure to be in the embrace of its age old willow tree and the din of happy people. Side-by-side pizza places Libretto and Il Fornello both have excellent street side patios to watch the parade of Danforth characters. Aft in Leslieville also has a fun, boisterous back patio.
The Meat Department proved that people aren't quite satisfied with the level of butchery on The Danforth, despite the ever fantastic well-kept secret of traditional butchery in Riverdale, Ellas Meat Market . The Meat Department is definitely more upscale, but it's certainly reflected in the prices. Ella's is very inexpensive, and boasts a mix of ethically-raised/grass fed/free-range meats in with traditional fare. It's certainly the most spirited shop in the 'hood. We frequent both places for different reasons–one is haute, one is honest.
Not far away is Mr. Greek Meat Market, a family-run place since 1972. It has its own devotees.
In Leslieville, Rowe Farms has managed to create a tiny empire of good meat stuff, on the basis of ethical farming. Their stuff is expensive, but the quality can't be argued with, and they keep gobbling up more real estate as Leslieville grows, and consumers get pickier.
Despite an antiseptic environment and often lacklustre staff, Alex Farms on The Danforth has always supplied the 'hood with all kinds of good cheese-ery. They have the depth of product; what they lack is theatre. Its opposite in Leslieville, The Leslieville Cheese Market is cozy and vertical, with a spirited staff, and tons of ancillary goodness, such as savoury pies and gourmet salads.