In a city as vast as Toronto, it’s hard to deny that smug sense of satisfaction you feel when you stumble across a really cool and genuine place that you know your friends have yet to discover. We’ve all been guilty of doing this at one point or another: “Have you been to such-and-such place? Really? Well it’s awesome, and you just have to check it out,” is truly a passive aggressive euphemism for, “I already know you’ve never been there, but I want you to know that I have, and that makes me cooler than you.”
As much as the east side's biggest destinations remain popular for a reason, there are plenty of hidden gems lurking on side streets and around corners. Whether you're a local or a visitor, head off the beaten path of Queen East, and you'll be surprised at the lesser-known places flying under the radar just waiting to be discovered. Here are five hush-hush spots to check out around Leslieville and Riverside.
Tommaso’s is more osteria than trattoria, but you can’t blame a man for his love of alliteration. Located along a decidely industrial strip of Eastern Avenue, it’s likely you won’t find this place by accident. It’s neither trendy nor fancy, but it's authentic Italian comfort food in the neighbourhood. Opening up six years ago, Tommaso's Trattoria serves all of the Italian favourites for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is the casual place you should head to for staples like veal and chicken parmiggiano sandwiches, antipasto dishes and a over a half-dozen styles of Italian pizzas. Though I’d like to believe Tommaso’s is mine alone, the gluten-free pasta option suggests the millenials have already moved in.
400 Eastern Ave.
MATTER OF TIME
Leslieville has long been a destination for its collection of vintage and antique shops, making the find even tougher when on any given weekend crowds of people are popping in and out along the storefronts of Queen East. Veer off-road to Gerrard and Jones where you'll find Matter of Time, a tiny, family-run hole in the wall that has hodgepodge curiosities for days. It’s literally jam-packed and a little bit difficult to move around, but in it you're bound to discover a one-of-a-kind piece to claim as your own. The odds and ends here range from antique furniture to dusty kitsch and rare vinyl to custom requests, making the art of the find that much more rewarding.
229 Jones Ave.
You might expect to find the much-beloved Merchants of Green Coffee on this list, but perhaps even more under the radar is the event space located on the second floor above the cafe. With a name paying homage to the industrious jam factory that used to call the space home, the funky events venue is a mix of brick, hardwood and steel, that has been left, for the most part, in its original condition. The rustic, charming space accommodates all manner of events from weddings to concerts to art shows. Even the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies uses it for, well, beer drinking, of course.
2 Matilda Ave.
Jam Factory on Facebook
FOOD DUDES PANTRY
The Food Dudes may be best recognized for the food truck that frequents Toronto's streets and festivals, but did you know they also run a local takeout counter that serves up fresh and tasty daily lunch specials? Tucked away on a south part of Carlaw Ave. between Eastern and Lakeshore, Pantry is the storefront to the 10,000-square-foot production kitchen that supports the whole catering operation. The scratch-made, to-go menu here changes frequently, as it's reflective of the goings-on in the back kitchen, and it's only offered during a short weekday-only window from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (or until sold out, and things sell quick). Ordering is simple: You pick your combo, your proteins and your sides. Throw together options like beef short rib, miso salmon and barbecue chicken with sides like mac and cheese, quinoa salad and kale caesar for a lunch that's sure to satisfy.
24 Carlaw Ave.
ANDREA'S GERRARD ST. BAKERY
Andrea’s Gerrard St. Bakery is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it storefront in East Chinatown, perhaps the last part of town you’d think to check out if you have a hankering for, say, a butter tart. Made from local and organic vendors when possible, Andrea’s desserts use simple ingredients to bring delicious results that will immediately bring you back to your childhood. Or just bring you back for more treats. The cakes, cookies and scones are among some of the best in the city and are now being carried by Ryerson University and the Art Gallery of Ontario. In addition to the baked goods, Andrea’s also offers take-out lunch items, such as her famous empanadas that became a staple once she returned from a stint in South America.
635 Gerrard St. E
Let us know in the comments below if we missed another secret spot that should be on this list.