Oh Canada, my home and native...
Sorry, I keep forgetting that I'm not actually Canadian as I recently went on my longest work trip to date - spending a solid three weeks in Toronto, Ontario.
I must say - it's a beautiful city. I didn't have a ton of time to explore, as I was working out of a trailer in a parking lot, but the times that I did get out for runs along the water, November Project workouts, and delicious dinners - I was all about it!
Here's the run down on the spots I enjoyed while in Toronto, eh?
My first night as an 18-day resident of Toronto, I was thrilled to discover that there was a vegan food festival happening a few blocks from my hotel.
I spent the night stuffing myself with vegan food samples – vegan cheese, milk, sausage – you name it, they had a vegan version!
Some of my favorite finds from the night were:
Earth Island Vegan Cheese
They were giving out free blocks of their Provolone cheese and even though it was completely vegan, I was OBSESSED! They served it cold and it was so hard not to eat the entire block of cheese. On my way home to New York, I even bought one of these in the airport as a snack!
These things were FREAKING AMAZING. I could have stood eating the samples all night long. I liked every flavor equally. It's interesting to eat a savory flavored coconut chip because no matter what, it still has the sweetness of the coconut to it. The texture was what made them great.
They also sell 100% hazelnut and almond butter and I cannot explain to you how incredible the taste was. It ain’t cheap - $43 for 35 ounces but it was the purest tasting stuff in the world.
I bought a bag of these for us to snack on in our trailer throughout the week.
This new food delivery service was challenging people to a blind taste test – guess three ingredients and you got a 50% off coupon! I chose the savory and correctly identified onion, pepper, couscous and black beans! It was really tasty.
Though I was stuffed after all of the free sampling, I decided to buy something for a somewhat real “dinner.”
I ordered the Thai Salad think d from Green Zebra Kitchen (a healthy meal delivery system) which came with zoodles, grains, cilantro, veggies and a delicious almond butter dressing. It was light and full of flavor and the perfect way to end the night on my walk “home” along the water.
My second morning in Toronto was a Saturday and I didn’t need to get such an early start. I woke up, worked out at the gym, and ran the quick .8 miles over to the St. Lawrence Market. I of course had a great time looking around at all the stalls and though I was tempted to get a Montreal bagel, I held off until my sit down brunch. The St. Lawrence Market was rated #1 in the world by National Geographic! I was a little skeptical of that claim after my visit, but there was certainly tons of fresh food to look at.
The St. Lawrence Market is closed on Sundays, so keep that in mind on your visit!
A quick shower after the St. Lawrence Market and I was off to brunch at Impact Kitchen, whose healthy eating guidelines are:
Don’t Count Calories Count Quality.
Eat Minimally Processed Food.
All Proteins are Not Created Equal.
Embrace Healthy Fats.
Hydrate With Purpose.
The place is open and spacious with a weekend breakfast menu that includes paleo waffles, a frittata, breakfast bowls, smoothie bowls and avocado toast. It covers alllll the bases – plus offers juices, smoothies and coffee.
My friend and I each ordered a Power Breakfast Bowl – spinach, chorizo sausage, scrambled eggs, salsa fresca, sweet potato, squash mash, avocado and green onion. It was very fresh and filling.
We also split the Superfood Bread (gluten free chia flax bread) with “avocado smash” but the avocado to put on the toast was the same as the avocado that came with our bowl and the bread wasn’t that flavorful.
Our Americano Mistos with Almond Milk were good, but not great.
Though this is my favorite type of place – it wasn’t my all-time favorite. They have many lunch bowls and salads as well, and I’d love to give their smoothies a try.
Plus – free WiFi and we were able to snag an outlet to get some work done.
We also went to Impact Kitchen for dinner one night and I appreciated the fact that they had kombucha. I ordered the Maverick Bowl with vegetable mash, avocado smash, broccoli, salsa fresca, sprouts, hemp seeds, almonds and pesto. I was very underwhelmed, as everything was pretty bland, but the best part was definitely the blackened trout I had added on top!
We also split a Vanilla Berry Chia Seed pudding for dessert that wasn’t thrilling.
Impact Kitchen is one of those places that serves very fresh food with very little preparation – it’s definitely healthy, but it isn’t the most delicious thing in the world. it’s the reason some people think healthy food is a little boring.
Dinner on Saturday night before our 10K was a bit further out of the way than we thought, but ended up being worth it in the end.
The Beet Café wasn’t fancy by any means, but I got one of the best sandwiches in my entire life. I ordered “The Verde” sandwich which was loaded with avocado, tamari ginger tofu, cheddar, spicy mango chutney, fresh herb aioli, pickled red onions, cucumber and sprouts. Paired with a bomb side salad and a side of sweet potato fries for the table, I was in heaven and ate every scrap of food.
Like I said – the ambience was a little lacking, but the food more than made up for it. They also have an impressively large smoothie menu!
For a post-race brunch we headed to a vegetarian restaurant called Kupfert & Kim and I had an incredible quinoa bowl that was very reminiscent of our favorite dish at Galeria in NYC – the Cauliflower Tahini bowl from Kupfert & Kim was packed with quinoa, hummus (some of the best hummus ever at that), roasted cauliflower, za’atar salsa, carrots, cabbage, beets, mint, pomegranate (key), greens, watermelon radish (the prettiest), sesame seeds and a lemon tahini dressing that tasted like heaven. It also came served with a delicious seeded flatbread.
Kupfert and Kim was casual and cute inside with KOMBUCHA ON TAP, WiFi, coffee and club-like music. We were perfectly content to do some work as we listened to “We Found Love” and “Turn Up The Music.” Also – they serve alcohol here – something to keep in mind if you want a healthy brunch with a side of booze (which is the best kind, IMO).
For awhile, I didn’t have a go-to meal before a race, but in the last few months I’ve gotten it down to a pretty standard dinner and that dinner is one of my favorite cuisines – Mediterranean and Greek!
This wasn’t the night before a race, but I was still happy to eat a delicious, somewhat healthy, completely satisfying meal at Tabule.
They have two locations in Toronto, and though we weren’t able to get a table outside, the ambiance at the Queen Street location was great.
We had a FEAST of appetizers and their sample platter (pick any 3 cold appetizers) was an extremely generous portion of hummus, babaganuj (eggplant dip) and labni (a homemade Lebanese yogurt cheese mixed with spices). I think the labni might have been my favorite – it was like a really thick, creamy, rich, savory yogurt.
The pita was thick, soft and warm – aka perfect pillows of pita-y goodness.
We also ordered some vegetarian grape leaves which were a tad on the disappointing side as were the kubbe (whole wheat shell stuffed with ground meat, onions and pine nuts).
The cauliflower appetizer - flash fried cauliflower finished with a touch of tahini – was addictive.
Since we went all in on the appetizers, my friend and I split an entrée – the lamb skewers entrée – two lamb skewers served with rice and vegetables. We should have paid the upcharge for a double serving of veggies as we could have done without the rice after all of our pita!
The lamb we OK, but nothing to write home about. It was a little on the dry side, though slathering it in tzatziki certainly helped.
I’m sure that Toronto has better Greek food, but the atmosphere and apps made Tabule worthwhile and I would recommend it to folks looking to enjoy cocktails and shareable appetizers. Especially if you can get a seat outside! Their cocktails sounded and looked great – though I can’t speak for them from experience.
One restaurant that kept coming up in my “healthy dinner” Google searches was Fresh – serving vegan and vegetarian food with four locations in Toronto.
I had read that their quinoa-crusted onion rings were to die for – and though we didn’t end up ordering them, I saw them at a few tables and they were impressive looking.
We were exhausted when we arrived at Fresh after work one night and immediately ordered some “Green Poutine.”
Leave it to us to find a healthy version of the gravy and cheese-laden French fry dish that Canada is famous for. Our sweet potato fries came smothered in roasted mushroom gravy, steamed baby bok choy, kale & swiss chard, green onions and sunflower seeds. With a side of vegan cheese sauce for good luck. We inhaled it. The roasted mushroom gravy was like CRACK.
The Fresh menu has a large variety of choices – salads, tacos, burgers, and bowls with either rice or soba noodles. There are so many options, as each dish can be customized in a variety of ways. I was a little overwhelmed – but one thing spoke to me – the soup, salad and cornbread combo. Because I LOVE CORNBREAD.
This cornbread was pretty dry, but you could tell that it was a “clean” cornbread made with actual corn. I loved dipping it in my split pea and sweet potato soup (it had a hint of curry to it which was delicious!) The salad that came with it was the superfood salad – edamame, napa cabbage, cucumber, assorted sprouts and microgreens, parsley, cilantro and “fresh salad topper.” Mine was dressed with the “house” dressing – a vinaigrette with flax oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, tamari and mustard that was quite delicious and not too overpowering.
I loved Fresh because while it was, well, fresh, and healthy – it was far from bland and boring.
The service and ambiance weren’t great, but the place was packed and the food was great.
Three things I really love are family-style small plates, margaritas and guacamole.
El Catrin is one of the few Mexican tapas restaurants I’ve been too and each time I look at the menu I am impressed by its depth and creativity.
Not to mention their larger than life bar and restaurant interior which reminds me of the Mexican Tao – you feel like going there for a meal is an event. You feel like a somebody the second you walk through the door.
We sat at the bar because it was bumpin’ – there was even a long line of people waiting to get onto the patio seating. I ordered the Reposado margarita because if I know one thing, it’s that a phenomenal margarita’s secret ingredient is Grand Marnier.
Guess who sat down next to us? Robby from the Bachelorette. No big deal!
We thought I went a little overboard on the ordering, but the serving sizes are pretty small, so it ended up being a pretty good amount of food. Here’s what we ordered (for 2):
Guacamole – Regular size
This is the real deal, made in front of you with a heavy duty mortar and pestle that must be an arm workout for the servers to carry. Served with clearly handmade tortilla chips, it was quality guac.
Loteria Salad – Red beets, carrots, daikon and golden beet fideos, requeson cheese, cilantro and cucumber spicy vinaigrette, roast pumpkin seeds.
This dish was a beaut – it was also tasty, but not mind blowingly so. Who knew that fideos is a noodle in Mexican? And who knew that beets and daikon made good veggie noodles?
Ensalada De Kiko – Quinoa, tomato, cucumber, avocado, quest fresco, cilantro, smoked corn aioli
The smoked corn aioli was magical.
Callo de Hacha Monte Alban – Spicy pan roasted scallops, grilled corn, peanut and arbol chili
Scallops always do it for me. These didn't disappoint.
Pipian Poblano - slow cooked chicken supreme in mole verde risotto, seared sweet potato
This was our favorite and you should definitely order it!
Mini Vegetariano Burrito - Plantain, asparagus, bell peppers, lime juice, chili oil, tomatillo, spinach flour tortilla
Pretty yum - even though I'm morally opposed to flour tortillas. Definitely a bit of kick to it!
Of course, no food guide to a city would be complete without a doughnut recommendation - and this is my first international doughnut review! Toronto's most recommended doughnut shop was Glory Hole Doughnuts.
I sampled quite a few of their yeast doughnuts, including 2 filled, though none of their cake variety. The dough itself was pretty standard yeast-doughnut dough, but I was IN LOVE with their London Fog doughnut - a doughnut with an amazing Vanilla Early Grey filling. It was so tasty - not overly sweet, but the perfect creamy, pudding-y consistency.
Glory Hole is best known for their "Toast and Butter" doughnut - a yeast raised doughnut topped with brown butter frosting, sweet breadcrumbs and cinnamon. Though the topping was certainly sweet and delicious, there wasn't enough of it to make me feel that the doughnut was exciting or unique.
The on in the bunch I didn't sample was the Sprinkfield - a yeast doughnut with pink glaze and rainbow sprinkles.
The Coconut Lime was refreshing and light while the chocolate coffee filled was decadent with a rich chocolate flavor. They weren't exceptional, but they were solid. The Pumpkin Spice stood out from the pack, especially because it was topped with actual pumpkin seeds.
By far the standout was the London Fog – which I didn’t anticipate liking at all! I would put it on a top 5 doughnut list, in fact!
For a girls night out, we made reservations at the farm to table spot called Woods Restaurant.
Want to know my biggest tip for finding restaurants in different cities? Search farm to table - find a place with a constantly changing, seasonal menu, and you're sure to get fresh dishes!
Woods Restaurant uses local, seasonable and sustainable ingredients - even growing their lettuce and sprouts right in the restaurant's main dining room!
Woods was really chic inside and the menu had tons of things I was intrigued by. We ended up ordering:
WILD DIGBY SCALLOPS
Roasted Corn, Tomato, Cilantro, Salsa Verde
Scallops are always a good choice, in my opinion, and these didn't disappoint. We got 2 orders because we were a group of scallop lovers.
House Made Mustards and Pickles, Crostini, Duck Ham
Though we were expecting a cheese plate - must of this got eaten, aside from the pate. The crostini were delicious, though I wouldn't order this again in the future.
Compressed Watermelon, Mixed Lettuces, Cherry Tomato, Sheep Milk Feta, Pistachio, Vincotto
Give me watermellon and feta and I am a happy camper. This was served with big squares of watermelon each with it's own piece of feta.
Lamb Rack, Quinoa Tabbouleh, Cucumber Yogurt, Charred Dandelion Green, Jus
Ok, this might have been the sole reason I suggested this restaurant. This is one of those dishes that I read and think, "Yahtzee!" It's like it was made for me - so many of my favorite things! I didn't even care that this was the second night in a row I ate lamb for dinner. After all, I always say I could easily give up beef and chicken - but lamb, not so much!
The lamb was cooked pretty well, but not fall off the bone like some other places I've had it. the yogurt was thick and creamy and the rest of the accouterments were the perfect combination.
But perhaps the best part of the meal was when we were presented with the check - and a complimentary dessert!
Homemade marshmallows charred to perfection and sprinkled with graham cracker crumbles. We were all in heaven and wanted to ask for a to go container filled with them!
I was most excited for dinner out with my parents at one of Toronto's top restaurants - Byblos. This Eastern Mediterranean restaurant has received high praise for its shareable small plates.
It was a small restaurant and our server was fabulous. We showed up an hour early for our reservation because I was an absolute crank and we were miraculously seated in a corner booth without having to wait!
I started with a cocktail to celebrate my parents being in town. I ordered a gin drink with pistachio and egg white - it was very interesting and overall I enjoyed it!
I'm about to drop a serious accolade here. The lamb ribs at Byblos was the best lamb dish I've ever had - even though it was only three bites. The lamb was incredibly tender and falling off the bone. The dukka spices paired with the sweet carob molasses and buttermilk sauce was an absolute dream and I actually said, "THIS IS LIKE A LAMB LOLLIPOP!"
ROASTED RED BEETS
Again, labneh coming in HOT. This was flavored with honey and olive oil and paired wonderfully with the earthy beets. The Barbari bread that came served on the side, topped with more Dukka spice, was a vehicle for pretty much everything during my meal. I couldn't stop eating it! Barbari bread is a Persian flatbread that's actually quite thick.
CREAMED SPINACH WOOD FIRED PIDE
Pide is another name for pita, and describes an Arabic, Lebanese or Syrian bread. Byblos serves a variety of pides - filled with things like goat cheese and mushrooms, black truffle and halloumi, and feta and za'atar. The creamed spinach pide had feta, toum (garlic sauce) and dukkah (I CANNOT GET ENOUGH DUKKAH! It's a blend of various nuts, herbs and spices and its my new favorite thing).
I was a little disappointed with this dish - it didn't have any real "wow" component. But it looked pretty!
Each piece of perfectly cooked octopus was served atop a piece of fingerling potato. I loved this dish, since it's so hard to mess up octopus. But when you have a good piece of octopus, it's incredible! This had a great, simple flavor.
TURKISH MANTI DUMPLINGS
These were interesting - I couldn't really tell that they were filled with eggplant but the yogurt sauce with molasses was very different. My mom wasn't a huge fan, but I thought it was flavorful, though I couldn't put my finger on what exactly it was.
HAND ROLLED CAULIFLOWER
This cauliflower was cooked in DUCK FAT and it was INCREDIBLE! I think I ate the majority of it, sorry Mom & Dad!
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