I lived near Coxwell and Danforth, in the heart of East Danforth, for a number of years around 2010-ish. At the time it wasn't what you would call a destination neighbourhood. Long overshadowed by its vibrant Greek neighbours a couple of kilometres to the west, the east end of Danforth was a quiet pocket filled with some run down restaurants, vacant store fronts and dive bars with names like Happy Days and Cheers that looked neither happy or cheerful.
It wasn't without its charm and even in those days it still had some real gems. The neighbourhood was long propped up by the Ethiopian community that opened restaurants, shops, bars and numerous other businesses in the area in the early 2000's. It was also home to great fruit stands and butcher shops but for the most part you were heading to Greektown or further west across the DVP if you were looking for a great dining experience or a fun night out.
I haven't called East Danforth home for some time now but still find myself back there quite often and have witnessed an evolution in the area that's been especially noticeable in the last few years.
A number of factors have resulted in an impressive amount of new businesses, especially restaurants and bars, to open in the area. The ever rising real estate prices across the city have pushed people into neighbhourhoods that might have been seen as less desirable in the past but are now seen as affordable and "up and coming." People that possibly have more disposable income moving into the area for these reasons have spurred new businesses to open and give these new neighbours places to shop and eat. The DECA (Danforth East Community Association) and the local Business Improvement Area (The Danforth Mosaic BIA) have done a remarkable job changing the image of the East Danforth and supporting and helping businesses thrive in the area as well.
In true Toronto fashion a great number of these businesses were opened by immigrants and new Canadians creating a new and exciting pocket for some incredible international cuisine in the city.
In a reasonably short amount of time the "other" end of the Danforth has become a destination very much worth visiting. Here is a rundown of some of the standouts you can look out for in the area:
1333 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
This Dutch-Indonesian snack bar can temporarily transport you to Holland without leaving the Danforth. It's modelled after the classic Dutch Brown Cafes with lots of dark wood and shelves covered in Dutch knick knacks and has a great cosy neighbourhood bar vibe.
The menu is a mix of Dutch and Indonesian favourites featuring everything from Nasi Goreng and Beef Rendang Sliders to Mussels and the quintessential Dutch bar snack; Bitterballen.
If you're interested in exploring the Indonesian side of the menu in more detail, Borrel hosts a monthly Rijsttafel (Rice Table) that is definitely worth checking out. These monthly private events feature many, many courses of Indonesian dishes covering everything from sweet, to savoury and spicy. It serves as a great introduction to Indonesian flavours and is a fun setting as all the guests sit together and dishes are served family style.
The "bar" part of this snack bar can't be forgotten either. They feature hard to find liquors such as jenever, an ancestor of Brittish Gin and Indonesian Batavia Arrack Rum. For beer drinkers they have an excellent rotating selection of local craft beer as well.
1360 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
You can't talk about the East Danforth without talking Ethiopian food. This neighbourhood has long been known at Toronto's Little Ethiopia (even if a push to make that an official name fell short). There is no shortage of great options but a favourite is Wazema, one of the older Ethiopian restaurants on this stretch of Danforth.
Wazema features Ethiopian staples like tibs, a dish that's part stir fry and part stew as well as kitfo, a dish of minced raw beef that is something like an Ethiopian beef tartar. This dish can also be cooked to your preferred level of "done-ness" if you're uncomfortable with the idea of eating raw beef.
As with any good Ethiopian restaurant, Wazema also offers a large variety of vegetarian and vegan options. The Ye'Miser Wot is a spicy lentil dish in a pepper sauce. Be prepared for some heat from the bird's eye chillies used in this dish. The Shiro be'Gomen is another outstanding lentil dish. Seasoned ground chickpeas in a berbere sauce are brought to the table sizzling in a pot. The aforementioned berbere is a spice mix that forms the base of many Ethiopian dishes. It usually contains chili, garlic, ginger, basil and a number of other spices local to the region.
Meals here are a great social activity. Dishes are shared and eaten communally with your hands using injera, a spongey fermented flat bread. Coffee lovers should definitely spring for the coffee ceremony at the end of the meal.
1504 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
This Latin cafe has quickly become a neighbourhood favourite. The colourful, beautifully decorated spot offers expertly crafted coffees made with beans from Pilot Coffee Roasters. Other hot drinks, smoothies and a traditional Venezuelan Horchata made with sesame seeds round out an outstanding drink menu.
As great as the drinks are here, the real star of the show is the selection of arepas. Arepas are fried flatbreads made with a ground maize dough and are staples in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine.
Pomarosa serves up the more sandwich like Venezuelan style of arepa. With options like pork, beef, chicken bean & cheese or a fantastic vegetarian version (that can also be made vegan) featuring hibiscus flower and cauliflower.
Each arepa comes with an assortment of other toppings that really tie the whole thing together. For instance, the pork carnitas arepa features slow cooked marinated pork loin with cheese, pickled watermelon and a chipotle-lime crema. Don't miss out on their house made garlic mayo and pepper sauce on the side too. Each one adds some distinct flavours that pair well which whatever arepa you choose.
Pomarosa has become popular with many of the young families in the area and even offer special stroller parking and baby meals so the little ones can have a nutritious meal while you enjoy your arepa & cortado.
Finally, the small selection of baked goods are not to be missed here either. Guava & cheddar or roasted poblano & cheese scones will fill either your sweet or savoury needs.
East of York Gourmet Food Co.
1904 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
East of York has a tight menu of creative, delicious items. Front and centre when you enter the shop are the samosas. These gourmet versions of one of the worlds most popular snacks have been reworked by Ash, the owner, to correct deficiencies he found in other Toronto samosas.
Different flavoured fillings that actually taste vastly different from each other, best filling to dough ratio in the game and little-to-no greasiness while still being fried are the trademarks of the East of York Samosa. Available with meat fillings like buttermilk beef curry, jerk'd chicken & kale or vegan versions such as honey garlic aloo gobi and Caribbean sweet potato, you can get a real mix of flavours between the eight or more options that are normally available to try.
The Butter Chicken Schnitzel will probably catch your attention when looking over the menu and for good reason. The thin breaded pieces of chicken covered in a butter chicken sauce and then topped with a cilantro & lime sauce and mango jalapeno coleslaw are as good as they sound. The Jerk'd Jackfruit is another great option from the vegan side of the menu as well. You can choose to have any of these meals on gluten free tortillas, a ciabatta bun or accompanied by coconut rice & beans.
The fridge here is always stocked with large mason jars of stews and soups that can be taken home and heated up for a quick and delicious meal. The Buttermilk Beef Curry is a personal favourite.
Finally, East of York offers amazing catering options for any occasion. Ash and the team really excel at playing and coming up with creative and amazing meals for any event.
1912 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
Fans of CBC's Dragon's Den might recognize the "Chocolate Heroes" from Mary's from a recent episode where they had multiple Dragons vying for the opportunity to invest in this Brazilian confectionary company.
You may also recognize their Brigadeiros from various cafes and shops around the city but if you haven't visited the flagship store on Danforth you're missing out.
Mary and Jason's shop has quickly become a favourite for anyone in the neighbourhood with a sweet tooth. For those unfamiliar, Brigadeiros are a Brazilian dessert item that is something like a cross between a caramel and truffle. They get their signature creamy texture from the condensed milk that is used to make them.
Mary noticed the Brigadeiro was missing from the Toronto food landscape and decided to fill that niche while also adding a gourmet element to the treat. Besides the classic semi-dark chocolate flavour, you can also try salted caramel, passionfruit and Mexican spice along with many others. My personal favourite is the Dark Raspberry that is only available when they can source the somewhat rare micro dried raspberry used to make it. That means order some if you see it in the shop because you never know when you might be able to get more!
Aside from the Brigadeiros you can also find cookies with a Brigadeiro baked into the middle, tarts made with Brigadeiro spread or jars filled with the spread as well. Think Nutella but about a thousand times better. Brazilian coffee beans, canned cold brew coffee and cacao juice imported from Ecuador round out the options available here. You might assume the cacao juice would have a chocolatey flavour but it is in fact a refreshing fruit juice that comes from the white flesh of the cacao fruit and may remind you of a cross between coconut water and apple juice.
North Pole Bakery
1210 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
North Pole Bakery is a no frills Italian bakery and hot counter that has been serving the neighbourhood for decades. Open since the early 70's, it has been around for all of the ups and downs on this end of the Danforth and still remains a favourite even with the surge of popular new restaurants opening up around it.
Hot items like Lasagna and their famous Arancini move quick at lunch time so make sure you're here early to guarantee you leave with something.
As good as some of the hot items are, North Pole really shines when it comes to their baked goods. People stream in and out to take home fresh breads, crusty rolls and various sweets but my favourite is always their cannoli. You wont' find them anywhere on display in the store so you'll have to ask for them and there's a good reason for that. They fill their cannoli to order to prevent the shells from getting soggy. This means you'll always leave with perfectly fresh and crisp cannoli.
Sala Modern Thai Kitchen
1262 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
This place can go toe to toe with any of the Thai food heavyweights in the city.
The menu consists of Thai classics as well as some modern twists. The service is welcoming and warm and the small restaurant makes for a great comfortable, homey setting. Check out our recent blog post for a more in depth look at some of the incredible options at Sala.
1820 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
When creating these lists and neighbourhood guides I always like to include a place or two that I haven't visited yet but have been meaning too. It serves as a great reminder to try them for myself sooner than later.
Cumin Kitchen is my "I need to go soon" entry for this post. I've heard nothing but great things about this upscale looking spot for Indian food on the Danforth. I've got my eye on the lamb chops or maybe the tandoori salmon.
I'll update the blog when I finally go see for myself.
The Only Cafe
972 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON
It would be impossible to talk about the East Danforth without mentioning one of the best bars in the city that's located here. The Only cafe has been serving the area for over 30 years and has long been known for having one of the best selections of beer in the city.
With 25 taps rotating some of the best craft beers from Ontario and Quebec to go along with a selection of over 200 different bottles and cans from around the world this place should be on every beer lovers list.
Part cafe, part hostel and part bar this place has a lot going on while it maintains a very chill low key vibe. The giant back patio is one of the best places to sit and have a pint in the summer and even features a retractable canopy roof to make it nearly weather proof.
They don't have a kitchen but you are welcome to bring in outside food to enjoy with your choice of beer and there is obviously no lack of great food options in the area.
Stop in for a drink and it will be immediately clear why this has been an East Danforth gem for decades.
If you're interested in exploring this neighbourhood and learning more about its restaurants, history and the people who have made this neighbourhood special be sure to check out our Eat the World on East Danforth Food Tour when it returns in May for our summer season!
Is there anywhere that you love and think is missing from this guide? Let me know!