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  • Jenni Lien

The Yay Guide to Toronto


Women in Toronto with CN Tower view

Toronto is a gorgeous city. Not only is there incredible architecture and an awe-inspiring skyline, but it sits on the northwestern shore of the expansive Lake Ontario. The vibe is incredible too — my favourite parts are the many diverse neighbourhoods and world-class cultural institutions. When I was in undergrad, I used to take the bus up from Waterloo every few months solely to spend a day at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The whole process of driving into the city, exploring a few neighbourhoods, and soaking in the art (and people! Love people watching) was always awe inspiring.



When I graduated, part of me wanted to move to Toronto. I was accepted into OISE (the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Education) for an MEd but was a bit worried about the high cost of living and secretly yeared for an adventure more than an hour-ish outside of my hometown. So when the opportunity came to move to Singapore and then Hong Kong and work there… it was one of those ‘I can’t believe this is happening, thank you Lord for hearing my prayers’ situations! It was a dream come true. But after a decade plus of living and working abroad I found my heart unexpectedly pulled to family and home. Canada will always feel like home — and I can’t wait to explore more of my home and native land.


Earlier this month, I took a spontaneous trip to Toronto with friends. All week we were chatting about going, planning to go, but hadn’t locked down any details until… the day before I think haha. But one of our group offered for us to stay at his condo downtown so with that set, we planned the rest one step at a time — and had a wonderful trip.


Here’s a 48 hour guide to Toronto — great even if you’re on a student budget!


Friday


10pm: Grab a late-night bite in the Entertainment District



We took the GO Train into the city, and arrived around 10pm. Thankfully, things were bustling — Union Station was full of people and my friend’s condo was in the Entertainment District so we passed many buzzing restaurants and bars. Oh how I’ve missed living in a city! After dropping off our bags and freshening up a bit, we walked a few blocks to GDK or German Doner Kebab — a popular Berlin-based kebab chain. Hearty, satisfying and hit the spot. My pick: the doner spring rolls — great seasoning, hearty, and served up piping hot!


246 Queen St W, Toronto, M5V 1Z7


Saturday


10am: Enjoy a flavour-packed breakfast on Queen West


My Roti Place restaurant in Toronto Queen West

One of the things I love about the friends I was travelling with is they are always up to try something new. All of us love roti so when someone (I forget who but I can’t take credit for this find!) suggested trying a highly reviewed spot called My Roti Place, we were all game. We walked a few blocks, past streets I used to know (ahem including shopping paradise Queen West) until we found the brightly painted shopfront. This was one of the highlights of our trip — absolutely moreish paneer curry (we opted for Mom’s Curry — N said it did actually taste like her mom’s) wrapped up in a paper thin roti.


406 Queen St W, Toronto, M5V 2A6


1pm: Have a second (and third!) spontaneous breakfast in Kensington Market


Two women in Kensington Market Toronto eating food

After breakfast stop number one, we continued our city exploration and walked over to Kensington Market with no real agenda. If we saw something we wanted to try, we got it. This lead us to Blackbird Bakery, a popular and stylish local brand, for a brown butter chocolate chip cookie and a pain au chocolate.


Kensington Market Toronto taco

Then there were incredible smells coming from a collective of taco shops, so we went in and tried a couple from La Chilaca Taqueria. My pick: the carnitas! I like my carnitas slightly fattier but the overall bite (spice level, freshness, satisfaction level) was 100.


Blackbird: 172 Baldwin St, Toronto, M5T 1L8


La Chilaca: 214 Augusta Ave, Toronto, M5T 2L6


2:30pm: Soak in the best art Toronto has to offer


A man and a woman at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto Canada

Finally, back at my beloved AGO. My friends also love the AGO, so visiting was an easy decision (and note tickets are free for those 25 and under). I think the thing I love most about museums is getting a glimpse of the result of hours of contemplation from another human. Isn’t it true that we all experience the same emotions but the contexts are different? Sometimes we use our imagination to decipher the meaning of a painting, other times there’s a video of the artist letting us into his/her creative process during the process of creating the final work we see displayed. My favourite exhibit showcased an artist’s work over many decades, and also gave us a bit of a voyeuristic view into the artist’s mind — how he preferred creating alone but would take trips into buzzy Toronto from time to time to meet with dealers, showcase his new pieces, etc. knowing that that was part of an artist’s life as well, but preferring not to live amidst the buzz. I love learning about how artists live.


317 Dundas St W, Toronto, M5T 1G4


4pm: Join the locals for a hearty bahn mi


Two banh mi sandwiches in Toronto

Banh Mi Boys is a local legend. A few years ago, my sister was working downtown and one weekend my brother and I joined her for a weekend trip. She brought us here, one of her favourite lunch places, because it was incredibly tasty and an incredible deal. Years later, it’s still fresh and immensely satisfying — such a good deal and loads of flavour (though I’d love it if the veg were pickled). If I lived in Toronto, I’d be here often.


392 Queen St W, Toronto, M5V 2A9


5:30pm: If you haven’t already, try an egg coffee


Egg coffees from Coffee Dak Lak in Toronto

After banh mi, we were debating dessert or going back to the apartment — when K found an egg coffee place. It was a bit of a walk back deep into Chinatown (maybe 15 minutes) — but it had started to get really chilly. But when on vacation! We speed walked to Coffee Dak Lak (the only place we could find with authentic egg coffee in Toronto), and found the cutest, authentic Vietnamese cafe. Around us were couples on dates, people enjoying solo reading sessions, etc. An\ great find with excellent egg coffees — kind of like a thick layer of creme brulee foam on top of good strong coffee.


283 College St, Toronto, M5T 1S2


8pm: Time for a musical


Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto

OK so theatre tickets can be expensive but is it ever a joy to watch! I love live theatre, seeing humans embody characters with zero editing (all human perfection/imperfection!). After debating between a comedy show, an improv show, or theatre, we found same-day tickets for about $44 including taxes and fees. Score! We opted for Fisherman’s Friends at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, about a group of Cornish fishermen turned chart-topping band who even played at Glastonbury. A sweet show.


260 King St W, Toronto, M5V 1J2


11pm: Treat yourself to late-night grub (again)



After the show, we grabbed takeout burgers and poutine at Matt’s Burger Lab. Interested to try the fried chicken-topped poutine next time.


254 Adelaide St W, Toronto, M5H 1X6


Sunday


12pm: End the weekend with wood-fired pizza


Hey Lucy pizza restaurant in Toronto

In the morning, I had to run an errand in Mount Pleasant and N and I did a tiny bit of shopping down Yonge (the main street). Loads of cute spots including the incredible La Rocca Creative Kitchen, where we stopped for a cupcake but wanted to eat everything in the store. We were back downtown around noon and decided to grab pizza at a neighbourhood resto-bar known for its wood-fired pizza. The Chicken & Brie pizza was recommended, and I’d recommend it too! Think roasted chicken, roasted garlic, brie, shredded mozzarella, double smoked bacon, spinach chiffonade atop a cream sauce.


295 King St W, Toronto, M5V 1J5




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