For the uninitiated, the main reason to hit downtown Toronto’s Little Italy is for the Italian food. But that’s only part of this lively neighbourhood’s appeal.
The animated stretch along College Street between Bathurst and Ossington is indeed home to some delicious gnocci and linguine, and you’ll see ample evidence of the Italian community’s pride in the neighbourhood’s heritage, which stretches back to the 1920s.
1. Johnny Lombardi
A plaza at Grace and College features a statue of Johnny Lombardi, who established the country’s first Italian radio station there in 1966. As well, you’ll find the "Italian Walk of Fame" on the sidewalk along College in front of the Royal Cinema, with inductees like Dean Martin, Connie Francis and Joe Pantoliano.
2. Boom/Hey Meatball
When it comes to brunch and/or lunch, there are options aplenty. For traditional eggs benny and killer omelettes, Boom always delivers, with thick, tasty home fries and great salads to boot. Utopia boasts a huge menu with lots of inventive vegetarian options, as well as a heated backyard patio (which is usually extremely busy as a result). Hey Meatball is a newer addition to the street, with specialties that include pork and beef meatballs and polenta with braised ribs. For a quick lunch-grab, hit The Fish Store for a mouth-watering grouper burger or wild salmon sandwich with freshly-squeezed lemonade.
3. The Arthur/Motoretta
Browse through an old-school clothing shop with confirmation gowns in the window or carefully curated "vintage housewares" shop The Arthur. Drool over the lineup of colourful scooters in front of Motoretta or a colourful bag from Red Pegasus. Music fan? Check out music geek record shop Soundscapes and peruse their comprehensive list of tickets for sale for every good rock show in the city.
4. Giancarlo/La Carnita
For dinner, you can’t go wrong at Giancarlo, probably the best Italian fine dining in the neighbourhood. Or for something a bit more affordable, hit the dependable Standard or hip Bar Italia for tasty thin-crust pizzas and hearty pastas. For something a little different, get out-of-this-world fish tacos at La Carnita, one of the hottest restos in Toronto right now. Or try Woodlot, where both the vegetarian and the meat menus get accolades for creativity and taste.
For dessert, stroll down the street to Dolce for some mango or tiramisu-flavoured gelato. Or sample a Portuguese delicacy at the traditional Riviera bakery (the custard tarts are a must).
6. Café Diplomatico
Café Diplomatico has the most coveted patio seats in the neighbourhood, especially during the World Cup (the food’s not all that great, but no one seems to mind because the patio is so huge and right on the strip). El Gatto Nero is also an amazing sidewalk patio spot.