The Toronto International Film Festival is pretty much a huge deal, whether or not you bother going to the movies. In the days running up to the fest, we’ll try to help you survive it.
Illustration by Brian McLachlan/Torontoist.
Whether you’re TIFF-ing hard this year, using up vacation days to cram in as many screenings as possible, or just want to treat some special lady or fella to swanky dinner-and-a-movie date during the festival, you’re going to need to feed yourself. And it doesn’t matter if you’re just grabbing a pre- or post-screening nosh, or treating yourself to a decent dinner, there’s plenty of great eateries in the environs of festival activity that’ll do the trick. These are our picks, organized by proximity to theatres.
Not surprisingly, the Entertainment District sees a lot of action during TIFF. For a quick, tasty breakfast on the cheap, try Zupa’s (342 Adelaide Street West, at Peter). This diner will serve you breakfast and a coffee for under five dollars, and they also offer a mean breakfast burrito to go. For your daily gravy and curds quotient—doctors say we’re supposed to be drinking eight glasses of gravy a day, right?—look no further than Smoke’s Poutinerie (218 Adelaide Street West, at Duncan). We can’t recommend trying to take down 15 pounds of Ryan Smolkin’s ambrosial slop, but even a small serving will fill you up. And if you want to get on the premises of the Lightbox before it opens on September 12, stop into the O&B Canteen (330 King Street West, at John), which recently opened up shop on the first floor of TIFF’s new HQ. The casual café offers sandwiches, salads, pizzas, pastas, and pastries at affordable prices.
On the higher end, there’s Fred’s Not Here (321 King Street West, at Widmer), which does an excellent lobster and crab soup, a one pound cowboy ribeye, and offers some tasty vegetarian options. Just up the street on Queen is Peter Pan (373 Queen Street West, at Peter), a Soho strip staple known for its relaxed atmosphere and formidable pasta portions. To spice things up, try the contemporary Indian food at Babur (272 Queen Street West, at McCaul). Chic décor (including some playful “Keep Calm and Curry On” posters) and a range of seafood options put this spot above other Indian joints on the strip.
There’s obviously a bajillion places to eat on Yonge between Gerrard and Dundas, but not all pizza slices and piping hot bowls of phở are created equal. A best bet for a quick bite around the AMC is Chipotle Mexican Grill (323 Yonge Street, at Dundas), provided you avoid the lengthy lunch lines. Their burritos remain some of the best in town, despite the emergence of madre-and-padre spots like Burrito Boyz and Big Fat Burrito. For a delicious, revitalizing bowl of Vietnamese phở soup, head just a short jog north to the Peach Garden (45 Carlton, between Yonge and Church). And if your tummy’s rumbling for a slab, skip Mama’s and Pizza Pizza and treat yourself to one of the oversized, highly foldable slices at The Big Slice (385 Yonge Street, at Gerrard).
As far as date night locations, carnivores with cash to burn should be all over Barberian’s Steak House (7 Elm Street, at Yonge), known for its expansive wine list, complimentary pickle trays, and prime cuts of beef. One of Toronto’s high-end hidden gems, Barberian’s is also known for attracting stars and stargazers alike. For veggies, there’s the pay-by-weight meatless buffet at Commensal (655 Bay Street, at Elm). But be warned: stuff usually ends up weighing more than you think, which means you often end up paying through the nose for a bunch lentils, leafy greens, and novel preparations of butternut squash.
And for seafood lovers, the gem of the neighbourhood—and also, incidentally, probably the best restaurant in the city, and likely the world—is Red Lobster (20 Dundas Street West, at Bay). In their forty-plus years of casual dining excellence, the chefs at Red Lobster perfected the fusion of garlic salt, butter, and seafood protein. The shrimp Caesar (it comes with a cocktail shrimp!) and decadently cheesy Cheddar Bay Biscuits round out a menu of undersea delights. And bonus: TIFF lands smack in the middle of Crabfest! Who says you can’t get good seafood in Toronto?
In terms of people watching and potential celebrity spotting, the Yorkville/Bay-Bloor zone is usually teeming with activity. This also makes it one of the busiest parts of town during TIFF, as if it isn’t busy enough any other day of the year. There’s also not a lot of cheap food options, as most of the restos around here tend toward the pricey Yorkville variety.
But there are still a few tucked away spots, like Okonomi House (23 Charles Street West, between Bay and Yonge). Conveniently located just behind the Varsity Cinemas, Okonomi House serves up reasonably priced Okonomiyaki, a Japanese crepe filled with chicken, beef, seafood, and other goodies, and topped with sweet mayo and BBQ sauce. For less adventurous grub, try the New York Deli (1140 Bay Street, at Charles). Also located within spitting distance of the Varsity, the New York Deli offers potato salad, latkes, and chopped liver dishes at wallet-friendly prices. And for a classier, nostalgia-trip type breakfast, stop into Flo’s Diner (70 Yorkville Avenue at Bellair), which features hearty servings of waffles, pies, and benedicts in a ’50s diner atmosphere.
But if you’re in the area and want to eat, you might as well re-mortgage your bike and break the bank on some fine dining. A short walk north of the Yorkville strip is Joso’s (202 Davenport Road at Avenue). Boasting some of the best calamari in town, Joso’s may not possess the comforting, uniform brand identity of Red Lobster, but it is a favourite of celebrities taking up temporary residency in town for the festival. And if you want to get really dressy, slap on your Sunday best and try Sassafraz (100 Cumberland Street, at Bellair). The French-inspired menu features dinner entrees in the $30–$40 range (including bison, lamb, and arctic char), and a wine list with bottles fetching prices as high as $1400 (for a 1976 Château Petrus, Pomerol, whatever that means). We’ll probably be sticking with our orange slices and tuna salad sandwiches. But if you can afford to eat here, it sounds like you probably should.
Want more TIFF 2010? Torontoist’s complete coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is all right here.
This article originally included the Cumberland in its list of Yorkville TIFF venues; this year, though, the theatre’s not part of the film festival.