Coffee guide: The best cafes on Toronto's east side

Photo: Taves/CC

Photo: Taves/CC

Toronto's east side has a coffee scene unlike anywhere else in the city. From Corktown to Leslieville, along Queen East and its side streets, posting up at one of the many cafes is a rite of passage on Toronto's east side. The area is beaming with coffee culture, and much of it can be linked back to third wave originators like Mercury and Dark Horse, and even further back to java stalwarts like Merchants of Green and Tango Palace.

Some east side cafes tap the grab-and-go early morning rushers — quick Americano and you're off to the races. Others strike the hybrid model in which you can lounge away the hours with good coffee, even better booze and a laidback atmosphere.

Whether it's the latte art, barista banter or shock to the system that draws you in, it's easy to fall in love with the vibrant characteristic of the cafes in these parts. Here's a round-up of the best cafes on Toronto's east side.

DARK HORSE ESPRESSO

When Dark Horse Espresso moved its operation into the mint corner space of a recently developed condo building at the foot of the Queen Street Bridge, it left little doubt as to the success of this Toronto mini chain, which got its start on the city's east side. A large communal table — a hallmark of Dark Horse, and a transplant of the original Queen East location — brings caffeine addicts together in a bright, expansive cafe setting with high ceilings, concrete columns and warm wood features. The lattes are strong and richly textured. Look for public coffee cuppings and other regular events hosted at this location.

630 Queen St. E
darkhorseespresso.com

MERCURY ESPRESSO BAR

A neighbourhood mainstay for a decade, Mercury is a cafe's cafe. Sure, it's a spot to get caffeinated, but you can also spit nerdy specialized coffee talk with the baristas (and get schooled) if that's something you're into. It was an early mover and shaker helping usher in Toronto's third wave of coffee culture, and the passion comes through in the magical delivery of one of the most finely crafted pours from a well-curated selection of beans from around the globe. It's no wonder Mercury has retained its strong indie cred that's earned it a place among the upper echelon of the city's coffee bars.

Photo: Te Aro

Photo: Te Aro

TE ARO

Te Aro is hopping with coffee addicts and laptop soldiers any day of the week, any time of the year. And it's easy to see why. They've got coffee down to a science, roasting and blending their own Pilot beans in a nearby lab and tasting facitility. No joke. It's doubtful that you'll find another place in Toronto with the same display of speciality coffee culture functioning at such a high level. Come summer, a garage door flings open with a coffee bar and hopping patio that's ground zero for watching Queen East street life. Add in a laidback Leslieville vibe that's so popular it's been exported to the west end of the city, and you've got yourself a recipe for success.

983 Queen St. E
pilotcoffeeroasters.com

TANGO PALACE

A Leslieville coffee institution if there ever was one. Tango Palace, in all its art-nouveau glory, has roots running deep in the neighbourhood to a time when Leslieville was a gritty part of town. The cozy cafe next to Leslie Grove Park has been pouring coffees for locals for well over two decades, which in cafe years makes them ancient. Before the fine food boutiques, before the dog grooming salons and, well, before the rise of trendy coffee bars in every nook of the city, Tango Palace was keeping things perky around these parts.

1156 Queen St. E

ROOSTER COFFEE HOUSE

Up on Broadview overlooking Riverdale Park, the patio of Rooster Coffee House offers a stellar vantage point to sip lattes while taking in unobstructed views of the downtown core and surrounding skyline. The mellow vibe of this cafe make it popular all day long among locals to kick back and gaze out over the city. Rooster Coffee House also has two more east side outposts, a more central location along King East near Berkeley and a just-opened spot on Jarvis.

479 Broadview Ave.
roostercoffeehouse.com

Photo: Boxcar Social

Photo: Boxcar Social

BOXCAR SOCIAL

Airy cafe by day, cool booze hangout by night, Boxcar Social brought its successful hybrid concept to Riverside (original location in Summerhill). The cafe brews single origin beans from third-wave roasters, and highlights a thoughtful selection of some of the world’s top new-world wines, craft beers and fine whiskeys. All in a brick-and-beam century-old space with soaring 18-foot ceilings, rad custom artwork and a friendly and knowledgeable staff of baristas and barkeeps.

4 Boulton Ave.
boxcarsocial.ca

MERCHANTS OF GREEN

Another early player in the coffee scene, Merchants of Green has changed the way we look at the whole coffee experience, providing information, education, and relaxation for customers. You wouldn't stumble upon this spot unless you were looking for it. Tucked up off Queen on a side street adjacent the DVP, Merchants of Green sits in the historic space of a former jam factory with a view of Toronto’s skyline. The rustic cafe is huge with lots of plants, natural light and comfy seats for lounging. Each morning, Merchants roasts three different single origin coffees, and offers roasting demonstrations and other coffee workshops.

2 Matilda St.
merchantsofgreencoffee.com

Photo: Ryan Fung

Photo: Ryan Fung

ODIN CAFE + BAR

Corktowners can grab coffee with a side of booze at Odin Cafe and Bar along King East. Drawing heavy Nordic influences, Odin is a minimalist's dream with striking angles and a stark white palette.  As far as drinks go, Odin keeps it local brewing the east side's Pilot Coffee along with Pluck Tea, which is also Toronto-based. Things get a little looser in the evenings when a menu of beer, wine and cocktails are available. Expect to find Left Field along with other local micro brewsin the mix as well as Niagara and Prince Edward County wines.

514 King St. E
odinhus.com

REMARKABLE BEAN

A landmark in the Beaches for two decades, the cafe's sister location in Leslieville has been open now for over a year. Remarkable Bean is serious about coffee, roasting fresh bean blends daily. It's also got a stacked lineup of made-from-scratch savoury and sweet baked goods, the likes of which made the cafe popular in the first place.

1103 Queen St. E
On Facebook

Photo: Lauren Howard

Photo: Lauren Howard

HASTINGS SNACK BAR

Cuts and coffees join forces at this side street cafe that dishes out Polish comfort food and pulls outstanding espresso shots from a bright red La Marzocca. Sit at the bar and down a plate of pierogis with your coffee, and then head next door (connected through a doorway) for a fresh cut by the dapper gang at Hastings Barber Shop. Pretty nice little Saturday, don't you agree?

5 Hastings Ave.
hastingsbarbershop.com

THE SIDEKICK

Owner Chris Watton has carved out a niche in which her two passions — coffee and comics — come to life in this Leslieville cafe. The Sidekick has a curated selection of comics titles that highlight indie publishers. The coffee bar offers a menu of double-shot espresso drinks, Chemex and teas, and the cafe brews in small batches, pour-over style for a mighty fine pick-me-up. The Sidekick also hosts live music and has board games for those wanting to settle in for a while.

1374 Queen St. E
thesidekickcomics.com

Photo: Dundas and Carlaw

Photo: Dundas and Carlaw

DUNDAS AND CARLAW

Part daytime cafe, part evening bar (or, if you'd like, the other way around), the corner patio space of Dundas and Carlaw that sits back on the southwest corner of its namesake intersection draws heavily from the crowd living in nearby condos. The atmosphere here evolves as the day goes on — from quiet morning solitude to an upbeat vibe (thanks in part to its impressive beer, wine and cocktail menu).

1173 Dundas Street E.
dundasandcarlaw.com

ASHDALE BRUNCH AND ESPRESSO

The new kid on the block reaches out far beyond the confines of coffee with a menu of lazy Sunday (and, well, every day) favourites such as poached eggs, salads and wraps. But this spot doesn't just have espresso in its name for nothing — the baristas here can expertly pull espresso.

1560 Queen St. E
On Facebook

Photo: Dean Seguin

Photo: Dean Seguin

GRINDER COFFEE

With a Tim Horton's to the west and a now-belly up Starbucks to the east, Grinder has filled the void of high-quality coffee on Gerrard for over five years. Pop in to this corner cafe for comfy seating, fast wifi and a straightforward menu of espresso drinks. Grinder also has pastries and breakfast sandwiches and, for regular commuters on the run, a new loyalty program.

1021 Gerrard St. E
On Facebook

TANDEM COFFEE

Corktown's Tandem Coffee has built up a solid loyal following considering its not even two years old. The cute cafe along King East has a curious mix of modern design and quirky vintage and Japanese elements at play. Coffee drinkers come in for a selection of local roasters such as Cut Coffee, Pig Iron and Detour, as well as seating next to the cafe's living green wall.

368 King St. E
tandemcoffee.ca

THE CANNONBALL

Formerly known as F’Coffee, not too long ago this spot reinvented itself as a fully licensed café and bar. It's one of the most low-key, under-the-radar coffee spots on the east side, and it's got a secluded and leafy back patio. Go in for a coffee, stay for a beer and check out the bands playing live music outside.

641 Queen St. E