People often ask: What makes a city great? What defines it, both for those who live there and for those who visit? Toronto could easily set itself apart by its cuisine, art, history, or sports. And, thanks to a world-class subway system, streetcars and buses, getting around Toronto is extraordinarily easy to do. Aside from the numerous cabs that swarm the city, the Toronto Transit Commission ( TTC ) runs. Wherever you end up, there's sure to be an easy way to get to your next destination. In order to fully appreciate all facets of the city, let's get to know some of Toronto's most interesting districts.
Architecturally speaking, Toronto is an amalgam of different styles. In the early 19th Century, it took much of its architectural inspiration from the Georgian style. By the end of the 19th Century, the city opted for the heavier, bulkier lines of Richardsonian Romanesque. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Toronto City Council opted not to put a height restriction on downtown construction as many other cities had, thus giving rise to some of the tallest buildings in the British Commonwealth, most of which are found Downtown, including the 34-story Canadian Bank of Commerce , the Rogers Centre , the Royal Bank Plaza , and the TD Centre , to name a few. Of course, these buildings have been surpassed in recent years by the silhouettes that give Toronto its unique skyline: the CN Tower , the world's highest free-standing structure, with its rotating restaurant, gives diners a breath-taking view of the city, day or night.
The more than 7000 fine dining establishments, bars, cafes, bistros, clubs and dance halls (a large number of which can be found Downtown) suit every taste from bohemian to business.
The downtown area of the city also houses a number of stadiums and arenas where some of Canada's top-of-the-line professional sports teams—the Maple Leafs , the Raptors ,the Blue Jays and the Argos—play. And race car fanatics will have no trouble picking up the roar of Molson Indy engines come summer.
Running into Downtown is Yonge Street , the longest thoroughfare in the world and the main north-south route. After all, Toronto is the biggest city in Canada and the fifth largest in North America. It is located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario and laid out in a rectangular grid, the city stretches for more than 100 square kilometers (38.5 square miles). Toronto is an important center of international commerce, and in the heart of Downtown houses the Toronto Stock Exchange, second only in North America to the New York Stock Exchange.
The Entertainment District
Overlapping Downtown, the entertainment districts is home to numerous world-class museums, art galleries, theaters, dance companies, festivals and parades that add creativity and culture to an already vibrant city. Any of these could serve to define Toronto. While the city may once have had a reputation as Toronto The Good, a nondescript place which shut down and rolled up the sidewalks at sundown, nothing could be further from the truth today. The city is alive with some of the best theaters, museums and galleries anywhere. For example, Toronto is the third largest center of English-speaking theater productions in the world (next to London and New York), with more than 200 professional theater companies and 10,000 performances a year.
One of the oldest theater spaces in the city, the Royal Alexandra dates back to the early 20th Century. Saved from demolition by bargain store king and impresario "Honest" Ed Mirvish, the theater was renovated at great expense and brought back to its original splendor, and is now home to some of Broadway and the West End's finest productions from Phantom of the Opera to Cats The Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario present spectacular exhibits for the entire family, while the National Ballet is a world-class dance troupe.
There's even a thriving film industry in the city. Often called "Hollywood North," Toronto is sought after for its diversity, locations, excellent production centers and local talent. The Toronto International Film Festival , which takes place annually in September, draws countless filmgoers.
But what the city is really all about is the people. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the name "Toronto" comes from a Huron word meaning "Meeting Place." That's exactly what it is: a multicultural meeting place for more than 4.5 million, home to people of more than 70 different nationalities speaking some 100 languages.
That multi-ethnic gathering has given the city an exciting and awesome energy. It has also created a place of wonderful neighborhoods, each with its defining character and local color. With a plethora of different cultures and neighborhoods bumping into one another like pieces of tectonic plates, the cuisine is as diverse as the population—and matching any taste and affordability, from the unlimited expense account to those counting their pennies. In fact, while there are plenty of upscale haute-cuisine restaurants where price is of no concern, some of the best food Toronto has to offer is tucked away in the small eateries of the city's original Chinatown . Here you will find Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian and Japanese dishes to satisfy both the timid and the adventurous. You can also spend a day shopping at the Dragon City Shopping Mall at Dundas and along Spadina Avenue where East meets West.
Aside from the Air Canada Centre and the Rogers Centre housing the city's pro sports teams, Toronto is also known for its Woodbine horse track, the largest racing property in North America and home to the Queen's Plate thoroughbred race held each August. This racetrack in located in the West Suburbs, an area not often visited by tourists, but charming nonetheless.
While there is so much to see and do, to experience and taste, it's the residents of Toronto who give the city its special cachet. More often than not, people are glad to stop and give you directions. And don't be surprised if they tarry and chat a while, recommending places to go or filling you in on pieces of their city's history. This is what Toronto is all about. Not just a vast, sprawling metropolis. Not just a collection of concrete and cars. But a meeting place. The Hurons gave them the name. They try to do it proud.
From Little Italy to bustling Chinatown , the Annex Yonge Street and Eglinton, the Danforth to the Beaches , Torontonians rejoice in the multi-cultural mosaic they call home. And nowhere is this more evident than in the vast smorgasbord of culinary delights offered by the Greater Toronto area's more than 7000 restaurants, cafes, bistros, diners, pubs, resto-bars and other assorted eateries.
Toronto has everything from the Kama Classical Indian Cuisine 's fiery hot vindaloo and mouth-watering sawara butteryaki at the Rikishi Japanese Restaurant to the upscale French of Arlequin with its duck confit, the power lunches at Acqua , a current hot spot for the downtown business and professional crowd.
Lying west of Yonge, between College Street and Dundas, Little Italy is a natural place to start the gastronomic search. Host to countless classic Italian ristoranti like Giovanna Trattoria , and Trattoria Giancarlo , this section of real estate is the piece of cannoli in a box of fudge. Although the days of the checkered tablecloth and candle in a Chianti bottle may be gone, the mouth-watering food and click-heel service remains. Ironically though, the best pizza does not reside here. We find it a couple of blocks east on Elm, where inside an old Victorian house sizzles Il Fornello . Lest we forget that most important meal of the day, the breakfast-brunch, Toronto offers a variety ranging from the simply solid, void-filling and all-day version at Mars Restaurant to sophisticated entrees, bubbly and jazz accompaniment at Sassafraz.
East of Spadina , from King up to College, sprawls one of Toronto's Chinatowns - the original. It is here among the proliferation of shops, jewelry stores and banks that we'll find some of the best Asian-influenced cuisine on the continent: the emperor's feast at the Bright Pearl Seafood , with imperial lions guarding the entrance; the Thai Princess , with its eager-to-explain uniformed waiters; and the Pho Hung , a Vietnamese hot spot where people actually line up to get in—just like a night club!
Those looking for upscale cuisine and a night cap or two outside the downtown core have only to keep on heading up Yonge towards Eglinton. Clustered around this uptown intersection are some of the city's very best wining and dining establishments—with a little star-gazing thrown in as icing on the cake. Among the group, North 44 , Centro Grill & Wine Bar and Grano stand out: North 44 for the inventive cookery of five-star chef Mark McEwan; Centro for its parade of celebrities and unusual combo of sushi bar and Italian cuisine; and Grano for the fresh bread, pick-your-own display-case antipasti and its feeling of old-style warmth and friendliness.
Framed by Front to the South and Bloor to the North, Toronto's downtown core is at its busiest and most expressive during the lunch hour. Sandwiched between Bay and Jarvis, this area encompasses the business and entertainment district of the city. The Shopsy's Deli location at Front and Yonge is the place if you're looking to ease your hunger pangs without too much of a pain in your wallet. There's pastrami on rye, corned beef on a kaiser, roast beef on an onion roll or almost any other deli meat combination you can think of—all topped off with a kosher pickle.
Sports fans have little to complain about when searching for their favorite foods and ambience. There are plenty of places where you can put your foot on the rail, sip a cool lager and watch your team on a big-screen TV. A good starting point is the Hard Rock Cafe at the Rogers Centre where you can chew on a burger and take part in the seventh inning stretch at the same time. For a more laid-back scene, you can try Hoops Sports Bar & Grill . Located near the Maple Leaf Gardens, this bar went from frenzied to comfortable once the hockey team moved to the Air Canada Centre . And, of course, there's Wayne Gretzky's itself at 99 Blue Jays Way. The Great One, who many argue is the best hockey player of all time, occasionally drops in to autograph a few sticks and napkins.
And we haven't mentioned Turkish (A La Turka), Russian (Samovar Barmalay), Serbian ( Skadarlija ), Middle Eastern (< Free Times Cafe ), Spanish ( Casa Barcelona ) - the list goes on and on.
Still can't decide? Maybe a short list is in order: for the view, 360 Degrees , the Restaurant at the CN Tower ; for the sights, Crocodile Rock on Thursday; for a pint of Guinness or a stout ale Scotland Yard ; for a ball-busting-up game of pool, Milwaukee's Good Bites Beerateria; for the 5:01 blues, Joe Rockhead's Rock Bottom Club or the Jump Cafe ; and for a thick, juicy piece of meat done just so, Carman's Dining Club .
Yes, Toronto has come a long way from its reputation as a steak and kidney pie kind of town. In fact, the culinary school at George Brown College is producing five-star chefs for the rest of the continent, and a person could probably spend decades testing every restaurant in town. But, hey, if you're really desperate to dig into that "eye," try the Elephant and Castle , Foster's On Elm, or Duke of Gloucester . The steak and kidney pie is still there. Only now it has a lot of culinary company.