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Torontoist Love/Hate 2006: City Life

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Torontonians are, to say the least, an opinionated bunch. So instead of a simple “Best Of” list to cap 2006 off, the Torontoist staffers have racked their brains about everything (books, songs, restaurants, people, places, stores, newspapers, politicians, musicians, and a lot more) to bring you their choices for the very best and the very worst of our city this past year. It’s Torontoist Love/Hate 2006, and you can find a new one every day at noon from December 26th until January 1st.
Torontoist presents the fifth day of Love/Hate, with our picks for the places, restaurants, fast food joins, and stores (clothing, 24-hours, cheap, and everything else) that we adore, and a few that we can’t stand.

Place

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Underused and underappreciated, the recreation trails through the Don Valley are some of the most beautiful and useful. Often running along the Don River and below the parkway, there are long, quiet stretches where bikers, runners and bladers don’t even feel like they’re in a metropolis anymore. Bike down from the Ontario Science Centre under the Bloor Viaduct and down to Cherry Beach for a tour through a varying terrain of wilderness and industrial detritus. - MARC LOSTRACCO
Dundas Square really come into its own as an urban gathering centre over the past year. No more crap one-song concerts by U2 required; it’s become a great urban hangout spot and the city uses it expertly for markets and cool free shows (when it isn’t hosting giant pillow fights or zombie walks). Some trees would have been good when they were building it, but other than that, just about perfect. - CHRISTOPHER BIRD
Echo Valley Park in Etobicoke. Really, any park along the Humber River is probably gorgeous and will make your dog feel happier than she ever thought possible. - JOHNNIE WALKER
Home, wherever that happens to be and however broad of a definition you want to apply to it (house, street, neighbourhood, city). For me, I love seeing the “Welcome To Toronto” sign after a long drive, or arriving at the last TTC station before I get to where I’m staying. Is it possible to be constantly homesick for an entire city when you barely leave it? Cause that’s what I’ve got. - DAVID TOPPING
The Islands. Nothing beats the short subway ride and ferry across to the islands when you want to have an escape from the city, without actually having to leave. I love wandering alone for hours with my camera, leaving my cell at home. I always feel very grounded over there. - CARRIE MUSGRAVE
The Toronto Islands. It’s not an original answer, but there’s no better way to escape the big city than packing a picnic, riding the ferry and spending a day in paradise. It’s a little utopia where everyone is walking or on bikes, free from the noise and rushed feeling of the downtown core. And as you return to the metropolis, exhausted and covered with grass stains, the nighttime skyline begs for you to come home, all lit up and reflected in the water. - MIKE WARNER
Trinity Bellwoods Park. With over 35 acres of green, a river running under it, and a huge off-leash pit for dogs to run around and play in, it’s easily my favourite place in the city. Not to mention that there’s always pick-up sports games and a bench right beside my own newly adopted tree. It’s a Kentucky Coffeebean, if you’re wondering. -VANESSA TOYE
The University College quad at U of T. There’s a reason so many people get their wedding photos done there. It’s stunning in the autumn when the leaves are turning colour. - KAREN WHALEY
I like the intersection of Yonge and St. Clair, especially in the summer. I’m not sure exactly why. - PATRICK METZGER
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The club district on a Thursday night. I’ve said it before, but I hate “Clubland” so much. If anyone wants a quick and easy way to really hate this city, I suggest dodging cocky, horny, horribly-dressed drunk/high people at 1 AM on a Thursday night. The experience of seeing a movie at the Paramount (otherwise a completely decent movie theatre) cannot be separated from the horridness of sifting through the crowd afterward. - DAVID TOPPING
Smoky Bloor St. sidewalks at night. Evenings, I like to go for a run to shake my sillies out, but now that it gets dark at 5 o’clock, I stay clear of favourite places like High Park and stick to well-lit thoroughfares like Bloor St. There’s nothing like experiencing our different neighbourhoods with an elevated heart rate — I start out at High Park and Bloor, end up downtown, and TTC home. But since smokers were kicked out of restaurants and bars (and have taken over the sidewalk), my runner’s high tastes like tobacco, and by the time I reach The Annex or The Danforth, I’ve fielded several unwelcome comments and advances from mostly drunken bar patrons. The city feels less safe. I feel for the smokers — heck, I used to smoke — but there must be a better solution for everyone. - SHARON HARRIS


Restaurant

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Aunties and Uncles. I finally went there last week after hearing about a million times how good it was and hotdamn! That croque monsieur with dill and dijon mustard potato salad was out of this world. - KAREN WHALEY
Get Real! On Ossington. I am hesitant to share this one with Torontoist readers, because I may not be able to get a table on Saturday mornings once the word is out, but this tiny 6-or-7 table vegetarian brunch/lunch place is delicious. - VANESSA CALDWELL
Mandarin, especially on the Queensway (the one at Eglinton has a smaller food selection), and especially for weekday lunch when it’s ten bucks. What is better than all-you-can-eat mediocre-tasting food? Is the food potentially unhealthy but still thoroughly delicious? Are the number of “Welcome to Mandarin” greetings you get excessive? Nothing, probably, and of course not. Mandarin just might be the greatest restaurant ever. - DAVID TOPPING
I’m old-school; the best restaurant is the best French restaurant. Merlot, on the Kingsway, is probably my favorite French restaurant in Toronto. Le Papillon near the St. Lawrence Market gets all the hype (and not unjustifiably), and Le Paradis in the Annex is much better value for money (and a better date restaurant), but Merlot does steak in peppercorn sauce and frites better than anybody else, period, and they’ll customize your order however you want and make it work (I’ve had dining companions demand a fried egg on top of their steak and get it done perfectly). And the dessert menu is choice. - CHRISTOPHER BIRD
Mezes, at 456 Danforth. Always and forever my fave. Their kleftiko ( roast chicken breast, lwith tomatoes, spinach & 3 cheeses in filo) is to die for. Mmmm…Greek food. - CARRIE MUSGRAVE
New Generation Sushi. I was absolutely devastated when the restaurant burned down last December, and so when it reopened in May, I was lining up to get in and get my hands on a yummy yummy crunch roll. And much to my surprise, not only did they keep the same mouth watering menu and the cheap prices AND late night hours, the insides were revamped to give it a classy feel. - AMANDA BUCKIEWICZ
Soho Bistro north of Yonge and Lawrence. The food’s ok and not too expensive but mainly they have a great patio in the summer. Also it’s close to where I live. - PATRICK METZGER
The Red Tea Box. This place is my crack. Go there, order a tea bento, smell the food smells wafting in from the kitchen and tell me you aren’t blissed out for the rest of the day. I recommend the orange apricot cake with fondant icing thicker than bubblegum. Especially good while melting in the sun on a hot August afternoon. - JOHNNIE WALKER
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7 West. I think the problem is that I just don’t get what’s so great about the place. I’ve been a few times — in the middle of the day — and the food tastes average, everything costs too much, and the service is merely alright (or worse). Not the worst place in the city, but why all the fuss about it? - DAVID TOPPING
Bistro 422. I never want to hear someone ask me if I want to go to this disgusting hole again. I don’t even care if they raffle of beer or whatever. It’s just gross. - JOHNNIE WALKER


Fast Food

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I know, I know, Amato’s Pizza is horrible – they treat their employees terribly, few of their phone operators or drivers speak English, and the restaurant is just plain toxic – but goddamn it if I have never tasted a better chicken sandwich in my entire life. A guilty pleasure, but so is all fast food. I surrender to you, Amato’s. - DAVID TOPPING
Barburrito expanded to two locations this year (the original on College and a second on Eglinton) and I’m sure it’s only going to get bigger, fast. Absolutely fantastic, fat-ass burritos stuffed to the gills with Mexican-flavoured stuff and a sour cream-based “secret sauce” that works wonders, some of the best quesadillas you can get for less than six bucks, and less than ten minutes’ wait time, every time. Cheap and plenty and good – it’s what fast food should be. - CHRISTOPHER BIRD
For doing one thing and doing it good, nowhere compares to Big Fat Burrito in Kensington. Seriously. I simply will not eat a burrito anywhere else. My tip? Get it with yam in. Absolutely amazing. - MATHEW KUMAR
Deep fried fluffy doubles filled with spicy channa from D&D Trini Style at Greenwood and Gerrard E or a $1.50 sub sandwich stuffed with unidentifiable sliced meats, extra cilantro and loads of thai bird chilis from Nguyen Houng at Spadina and Dundas. - VANESSA TOYE
Pita Pit, particularly their chicken souvlaki pita. It always hits the spot without being too heavy after a night of music and beverages. - CARRIE MUSGRAVE
Shawarma is Toronto’s new noodle house, soon to be replaced in 2007 by the Korean grill house fad. Also known as döner (Turkey) and gyro (Greece; pronounced “hero,” not “jai-ro” by the way), the Middle Eastern rotating marinated meat is shaved-off its skewers for a tasty and relatively healthy fast food meal. - MARC LOSTRACCO
Wendy’s. I like the idea that they’d sell me a whole pound of ground beef on a bun if I asked for it. I mean, I’ve never wanted to, but what if I were on a long flight from, say, Australia and I slept through all the meals because I was passed out from Ativan and red wine? I bet when I got off that plane I’d go for a Wendy’s quadruple burger with Biggie fries. Sorry to any vegans that I’ve just made nauseous. - PATRICK METZGER


Clothing Store

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American Apparel. Say what you will about their prices, their politics, their advertising, and (depending on the location) their staff – they know how to make a fucking t-shirt. It’s gotten to the point where I’m so head over heels in love with their stuff that I don’t trust any t-shirt manufacturer but them. How can I go back to paltry regular cotton when I’ve felt it combed? - DAVID TOPPING
Secrets From Your Sister. A good bra is not something to skimp on. You may find yourself being fitted for a cup size you never dreamed of filling out, but the shocking improvement will cause you to banish everything La Senza from your closet. - KAREN WHALEY
Urban Outfitters. It’s a little expensive, I know, but this is where pants that fit me come from. And no button-flies! Also, they have ironic gifts for all your hipster-scum friends. - JOHNNIE WALKER
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H & M. Too many button-flies! How much time do you think I have when I need to take off my pants? OK, so there’s still a lot that’s good about H&M and I don’t know how I’d survive without its affordable stylishness, but their pants are starting to be a real problem for me. - JOHNNIE WALKER
H & M. Not so much “hate” as just “consistently disappointed in their men’s selection.” The women’s stuff is great, gorgeous, and cheap, but I have never once found a single item in the men’s section that I liked (except for a lone red scarf a year back). It’s a huge let-down every single time. Price is irrelevant if the clothing sucks. (Button-flies, however, aren’t an issue — you don’t have to unbutton each individual button when you want to take them off, you can just pull the top flap of fabric (not the piece with the buttons but the one that the buttons attach to) straight down, and you’re done. Come on, Johnnie.) - DAVID TOPPING


24-Hour Store

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The 7-11 at Dovercourt and Dundas has the nicest staff of any 7-11 in the city, period. (And I’ve been to a lot of 7-11s at three in the morning.) At 5 AM when they are changing the Slurpee syrups, they have frequently given me free Slurpees. I can think of no higher description of their awesomeness. - CHRISTOPHER BIRD
7 West. Great place for a late night snack (the cakes are amazing), for a date, meeting, to break up…I just wish the music wasn’t quite so loud sometimes. - CARRIE MUSGRAVE
Dominion. Maybe it’s because I used to work here, and maybe it’s because I used to work the midnight shifts cleaning up after drunken frosh weekers dripping blue paint everywhere, and maybe it’s because I wasn’t allowed to participate in the Fresh or Free program…ok, those are the only reasons I hate Dominion. I’m bitter. - AMANDA BUCKIEWICZ
You’re paying for the privilege, but every now and then, one really does get a craving for one of Bruno’s granola banana yogurt bowls or a tray of cupcakes at 4 AM from Dominion. - MARC LOSTRACCO
Dominion at College Park. I highly recommend showing up at midnight and scoping out the discount baked-goods rack. - KAREN WHALEY
Obviously, Home Depot. Who hasn’t needed 2x4s at 3am? Or Kinko’s, for when you start a secret club and need membership cards ASAP. - VANESSA CALDWELL
As terrible as it always feels afterward, McDonalds’ 24-hour downtown locations are still my first craving when it’s four or five in the morning and absolutely nothing else is open. Two McChickens and two large fries, and I’m just about the happiest person in the world. Then I nearly vomit, but it’s the happy kind of nauseous. - DAVID TOPPING


Cheap Stuff Store

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There’s a Dollarama in College Park that’s right near my house. If we ever need batteries, dish towels, spatulas, or party supplies, we can usually find it there. But boo-urns to the long line-ups and suing the band of the same name. - MARK MEDLEY
Ex-Toggery. Starting a job that requires a smart casual wardrobe also requires a pretty penny to buy all those blouses and slacks. Luckily, there’s a whole word of people who buy things and never wear them–they take those things to Ex-Toggery, and then you can buy them. - VANESSA CALDWELL
Is there really any other answer to this question than Honest Ed’s? I truly do not think so. From the Elvis busts to the “Religious Time” section (clearly an old Coffee Time sign with a hasty amendment), Honest Ed’s caters to all your household needs with kitschy, depressingly lit charm to boot. Also, someone looted its storefront the other day for some Oil of Olay. That’s just low. - JOHNNIE WALKER
Value Village is the one-stop shop for inexpensive clothing, records, books, and everything you never knew you wanted/needed. Pay a good price for a functioning stereo system from the ’70s and you’ll be satisfied for years to come. - SHARI KASMAN
Any dollar store. I can’t really tell them apart. Even the staff are the same – bored, sullen, and I don’t think they take a genuine interest in helping me find the best picture hooks for my money. They do have a lot of cheap stuff though. - PATRICK METZGER
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You used to be cool, Dollarama. Well, not cool — cheap. But then you went and sued Eric Warner’s bad band of the same name, a band whose very existence was a tribute to you. Dude. I didn’t think you were that cheap. - DAVID TOPPING


Everything Else Store

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One-stop shopping for many new homeowners, Kitchen Stuff Plus offers a relatively inexpensive range of essentials from classy dining sets to quirky shower curtains, including trinkets you don’t yet know you want (single-serving egg frying pan, anyone?). - MARC LOSTRACCO
You know, we should really give some major props to Pacific Mall. Ignore the craploads of stores that sell nothing but pirate DVDs and you can pick up some excellent stuff there — import games, crazy trinkets and the food hall is amazing. Check it out, even if it’s like, a million miles away on the bus and is technically in (*shudder*) Markham. - MATHEW KUMAR
I really like Birds & Bees in Kensington. It eschews both the balls-out sleaziness of Seduction and the curtains-drawn propriety of Good For Her or Come As You Are. This place is clean, classy and not embarrassed about what it is. - JOHNNIE WALKER
Shopper’s Drug Mart for just about anything (no, seriously — anything) that you can get at Shopper’s Drug Mart. I just really like getting 20 Optimum Points or something for really mundane purchases like Kleenex or soap. - DAVID TOPPING
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Wal-Mart. For most of us, we’d just rather pretend that the retail giant didn’t exist in our city, though a few locations always seem to pop up on the corners when nobody’s looking. One near my house that opened up this year, at St. Clair and Runnymede, is an eyesore that has done and will do nothing to help the area other than allowing people to buy inferior merchandise at cheap prices. Yay! - DAVID TOPPING


Thanks to the following people for the shots: Marc Lostracco (The Islands & Don Valley Trails). Melsky (Trinity Bellwoods, from our Flickr Pool), oceanpark (New Generation Sushi). groundglass (Red Tea Box), David Topping (playing in the fountains at Dundas Square). -Kit (Bistro 422), ONE@hame.ca (Amato’s), smaku (Dominion shopping cart), vidiot (7/11), shot by A_I_R_33 (Honest Ed’s, from our Flickr Pool), dmarsh451 (Dollarama), alex_felipe (Birds and Bees), and niltonb (Pacific Mall). Phew.

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