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Some rights reserved - Marcin Skalij

That'll Be a 40 Minute Wait: Sorting Through Toronto's Overhyped and Underrated

By: Eklectish Toronto

The Toronto food scene is incredibly diverse, and arguably the best in North America. However, it is also susceptible to fads propagated by lazy blogs. This means the biggest compliment you can get from a Torontian is for them to be a repeat customer. We’ll be exploring the city with a rating system that uncovers which restaurants are one-offs and those which should become an institution.

Rating Description
Five Star The speechless lean-back
Four Star We’ll be back
Three Star Good, but unlikely to return
Two Star Something forgettable
One Star “You WON’T believe what Toronto JUST got”
(AKA: beware at all costs)

We’ll start off by being completely honest. The Eklectish Toronto writers were not born in Toronto. We are children of the Greater Toronto Area, sure, but everyone in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe Region knows this is not the same as being a Torontonian. Our culinary experiences living in the sprawling suburbs consisted of Swiss Chalet, Boston Pizza, and maybe if we were lucky, a fancy Italian restaurant once in a blue moon. And when we did venture out to Toronto for a Leafs or Jays game, or a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum? A safe and reliable chain restaurant would be the choice for lunch or dinner, because god forbid we take a chance on something new. Homemade meals may have been excellent, but when it came to dining out, we were not even players in the game.

This background of culinary illiteracy set the stage for us to be swept up in the Toronto food scene at just the right time. Coming out of undergrad and beginning to work and live in Toronto, we arrived right when Toronto began shifting from a classic steakhouse and local favourites type of city, to one where the trickle of exciting newly opened spots started becoming a daily flood. We were extremely lucky with our first true Toronto restaurant experience. By some fortunate accident, we ate at The Black Hoof (RIP). Some say this special place that opened in 2008 was the one to kick off Toronto’s new food scene. It is hard to argue with that. As awkward young dudes on our way to becoming awkward yuppies, the first Hoof meal bordered on a religious experience. Bone marrow, foie gras, sweet breads. For a bunch of guys used to gorging on a sweet sweet quarter chicken Swiss Chalet dinner, this was heaven. After the Hoof we were hooked, and the hits kept coming. Bar Isabel was next, and my God, was it special (and still is). From there, only our student budgets were the limit for us aspiring foodies. We splurged at the phenomenal Mediterranean restaurant Byblos, but minded our budget with incredible Ethiopian and Greek feasts at the lively Nazareth Cafe and the sadly defunct Ouzeri, respectively. As Toronto grew and began filling into its forever-claimed status as a global city, restaurants opened at a dizzying pace and it became hard to keep up with. Shortly after these seminal experiences, in our minds the bubble burst.

The restaurants started to become disappointing. Perhaps it was a result of heightened expectations fanned by five star reviews on BlogTO, and strong word of mouth from less irritatingly discerning audiences. But too often, the experience of placing a reservation weeks in advance, or waiting 40 minutes at the door to pay $60-70 (typically without drinks, we preferred to allocate all of our limited money towards food) for a meal that left us unsatisfied became common. Sure, the meals may have been decent in isolation, but in our minds they were overhyped, overpriced, and truly not worth returning to. This did not dissuade us from our culinary adventures, but it did make us more wary of the places hyped by blogs or made famous by Instagram. And lo and behold, too many of these “must eats” ended up surviving only a few years. The restaurant industry is notoriously difficult - there are all kinds of reasons for an establishment to close, let alone in a pricey city during a global pandemic. However, we couldn’t help but get the sense that a lot of these places didn’t survive because few Torontonians caught in the hype had the patience to return to a restaurant, regardless of its quality, when there were five newly hyped “incredible” places opening each week. Our choices became more deliberate and we started searching out the locations that were and still remain local favourites. Despite our reservations (no pun intended), the fact remains that Toronto is still a fantastic culinary hub, with an abundance of restaurants from virtually every culture around the world. Now, nearly a decade later, we feel we have the right combination of cynicism and hopeful naivete to provide a service to all who are feeling overwhelmed by the Toronto food scene.

This monthly piece will provide reviews for restaurants, but also do specials from time to time. You can look forward to a list of what we consider to be institutions in the city, a desperate search for a good Shawarma in Toronto proper, and neurotic debates between friends who wish they were on Seinfeld. Sometimes we may even review restaurants in other cities if we get the opportunity to travel. It will be a fun adventure and we hope you enjoy it as well, 40 minute wait and all.

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