Toronto, Ontario is known as the "City of Neighborhoods." It's home to a global citizenry, where over 140 languages and dialects are spoken on city streets. It's the most populous city in Canada (over 5 million in the Greater Toronto Area) and while Toronto’s taste for all things Latin has taken a while to catch on, the path beaten by its love affair with the taco has exposed locals and visitors alike to the endless possibilities of Latin American cuisine. And that's part of what makes Toronto particularly exciting for food lovers: its globally inspired, Pan-American appeal. From Mexican street eats made with local products (and with the help of some imported stuff too), to modern Latin bistros helmed by chefs who've trained abroad, there's a little something especial sprinkled throughout the city and awaiting hungry diners. Here are five terrific options in a city full of flavor!
Jose Hadad has been spicing up Toronto with the flavors of El D.F. since he arrived on these shores in 2001. About six years ago, he decided to focus on his Mad Mexican project, which started out as a dream to bring authentic, fresh salsas, guacamole, and chips to the city. Just this spring, he opened an eat-in taco house and market in the city's west end, Baby Point neighborhood. The space features details that are purpose-built for the restaurant, including exposed steel pipes sourced from the building itself, reclaimed wood, and even washroom mirrors that were part of the old display fridges of the grocery shop he took over. Don't miss the best tortilla soup in town, the array of fresh salsas, the house-made guacamole, chips, and Mexican tortas. His signature "La Revolucion", featuring sirloin steak, chorizo, black beans, avocado, onions, Oaxacan cheese and the house mayo is a fan favorite.
Bogota, Colombian-born Natalia "Cookie" Martinez makes the comforting, stick-to-your-ribs street food of her home country in Toronto's first shipping container market. At the Dundas and Bathurst Streets crossroad, right near Kensington Market, you can stop by her container, pull up a bar stool and grab a Colombian empanada with a side of aji, the coastal favorite Patacon Pisao, a shrimp ceviche, or one of her hand made ice cream sandwiches. Perfect, warm-weather, al fresco dining! Locavores will be happy to know that she sources mostly local, organic ingredients to weave her culinary magic. And yes, she's got cold, Colombiana sodas in case you need to crush that craving.
The culinary gang of five behind South American petisqueria (shared-plate dining) Mata met while working in various restaurants across the city. Last summer, the business partners took over a location in Toronto's ever-evolving Parkdale neighbourhood and rang in the FIFA World Cup madness with their launch. Caipirinhas, picanha sliders, and a take on the Canadian classic poutine (fries, cheese curds, and gravy) are updated Latin style with cassava fries and Brazilian cheese. Start with the house made pao de queijo in this relaxed environment that looks like a bar in a bustling Sao Paolo neighborhood. Don't forget about the house made hot sauces- concocted with a spate of Brazilian peppers to turn up the heat un poquito!
First generation Colombian Canadian and former Top Chef Canada competitor, Steve Gonzalez, is the Executive Chef/owner of Valdez, bringing Latino street food to Toronto. Situated in the heart of the King Street west, downtown restaurant corridor, Valdez offers summertime visitors a BBQ menu upstairs on Tio's Patio including a grilled choripan or grilled flank steak with a side of chimichurri. Inside, it's all about the Latino street party where you choose your three courses or you can let Gonzalez (aka El Jefe) make the decisions for you. Arepitas, Peruvian-style causas, chuzos a la plancha, and tiraditos are all on the menu. That "secret sauce" you're tasting in a lot of the dishes? That's likely the chef's fabled "Latino Five Spice" blend. If you need an Aguardiente-based Colombian Sour or a Latin take on a Dark and Stormy, known here as Tormenta Oscura, to wash that all down with, El Jefe's got you covered!
Bloom Restaurant is one of the first to offer a taste of Nuevo Latino cooking to Toronto. Located in the Bloor West Village, Cuban-born Chef Pedro Quintanilla presides over the stoves after having trained in Havana and cooked for the French Embassy there. Today, Bloom's Pan-Latin, seasonal approach might see a Carpaccio Latino on the menu adorned with Balsamic and ancho chiles, topped with a frisée and avocado salad dressed with a huitlacoche-mango vinaigrette. Of course tostones con mojo, yucca fries with a chipotle aoli, and a daily croquette are always on the menu as well as a spate of other platos. Local, Latin musicians such as the Eliana Cuevas Trio and Jane Bunnett and Hilario Duran also perform live at the intimate venue, giving guests access to world class artists in their Dinner & Music Series throughout the year.