Top Tips and Recommendations for Your Next Visit to Chinatown
A smattering of colourful signs adorns the storefronts of Chinatown’s main avenues where a bustling community of pedestrians weaves their way through the myriad of fresh fruit markets, specialty shops, and restaurants that line the streets.
After plans were made for the construction of City Hall in the 1950s, Chinese immigrants and descendants of Chinese Canadian Pacific Railway workers were forced to relocate. They left the original Chinatown Toronto location and moved a few blocks west to Dundas West and Spadina. The roots they lay down then sprouted into the thriving community that Chinatown is today. It’s an energetic and unique commerce district, as well as a place where people connect with their family and culture.
Visiting the area can be a fruitful and immersive way to experience Toronto’s rich multicultural landscape, but can also present itself as a dizzying array of sights, smells and sensations. This one of several Toronto Chinatowns is one of the largest in North America, second only to New York. Here’s how to navigate the area so you can make the most out of your next visit to Chinatown!
If you’re want to explore further, go on an adventure to these Toronto Tourist Attractions that Aren’t Just for Tourists or discover even more Exciting Things to Do in Toronto this Summer.
Chinatown is a pedestrian-driven neighbourhood that also happens to be located on two of Toronto’s main thoroughfares. With cars and people vying for precious street space, especially on weekends, parking is limited. Public transit the best way to access the sector. Luckily, Chinatown sits at the confluence of several streetcar lines.
If you’re coming from downtown Toronto, the 502 Queen streetcar, 505 Dundas streetcar, and 506 College streetcar will take you westbound from the underground subway system to Chinatown. The 505, in particular, stops right at the heart of the action. To the West of Chinatown, the same routes will connect you to other unique Toronto neighbourhoods. A visit here is also a great opportunity to explore Little Italy, West Queen West, and Trinity Bellwoods. The 510 Spadina streetcar also runs north-south through the area between Spadina and Union subway stations. It stops at several Chinatown cross-streets along the way.
If you are driving to the area, you can find “Green P” municipal parking at 40 Larch Street, just off Dundas, and at 20 St. Andrew Street in Kensington Market.
Once you’re there, getting around Chinatown is best done on foot during any season. Plus, it’s also an easy access point for strolling through vibrant and creative Kensington Market.
Take a Tour
If you’re new to Chinatown or a seasoned local that wants to dive deeper into the history and culture of the neighbourhood, taking a tour is undoubtedly the best way to get to know it. You’ll have the chance to orient yourself within the area, sample some of the best of the best in Chinatown, and meet new people along the way.
The Kensington Market & Chinatown Toronto Food Tour
The Kensington Market and Chinatown Food Tour takes you to several of the best spots in Chinatown, and also dives in to the food and culture of neighbouring Kensington Market for a total of 7 food tastings. The tour is led by an expert local guide who infuses the whole 3 hour experience with fascinating tales from the area’s history, its current residents and with some personal anecdotes, too. This insider look at two distinct neighbourhoods will leave Toronto residents and visitors alike with a full stomach and happy heart.
Where to Eat
One of the main reasons to come to Chinatown is undoubtedly for the food. The area is rich with abundant options for Chinese food and other East Asian cuisines.
While the area’s population has historically been primarily Cantonese (and before that, Jewish) more and more Mandarin speakers are now settling in the area, too. Representative of this complexity, the restaurants in Chinatown serve a wide variety of authentic regional flavours in lieu of the North American-influenced cooking many of us have come to think of as Chinese food.
The following are just a couple of our favourite Chinatown restaurants, so click here for a complete list of our recommendations.
A dumpling institution at the northern entrance of Chinatown, Mother’s Dumplings will treat you to comforting home-style cooking from northeastern China made from recipes passed down through generations. Come by to try their selection of hand-rolled dumplings, and watch the chefs hard at work cutting and shaping dough to make these perfect pockets of flavour fresh daily!
421 Spadina Ave | website
King’s Noodle Restaurant
If you’ve been to the area before, you may have noticed the full barbecued ducks and pigs that have been hanging in the window of this staple Chinatown restaurant for decades. The meat isn’t just for show, King’s Noodle House serves the best Cantonese barbecue in the city! Try their barbecue roast duck congee with Chinese Churros on the side!
296 Spadina Ave
Bahn Mi Nguyen Huong
Although it’s not Chinese food, this family-run restaurant, in operation since the 80’s, is Toronto’s original Bahn Mi institution. Their sandwich prices are unbeatable, ranging from $3 to $5 tax included, but, fun fact: the owner’s children went on to start their own business, Toronto’s newest Bahn Mi institution – Bahn Mi Boys. Bahn Mi Nguyen Huong is Toronto’s go-to, though, for generous sizes, delicious Vietnamese baguettes, and that special something that makes the Banh Mi flavour unique.
322 Spadina Ave | nguyenhuong.ca
Chinese Traditional Buns
After introducing North-Eastern Chinese food to the area, Chinese Traditional Buns more than makes up for it’s questionable decor with some of the best food in Chinatown. The quaint storefront might just be one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Head down the stairs to try their famed Dan Dan Noodles and Soup Dumplings, these unique specialties are not to be missed!
536 Dundas St W | website
Chinatown is notorious for its plentiful Dim Sum options, and Rol San is a long standing favourite, serving all day Dim Sum that’s incredibly affordable. Perfect for ordering a whole bunch of dishes to sample and share, come with your family during the day or pick up some greasier menu items in the early hours of the morning to soak up the alcohol even once the bars are closed.
323 Spadina Ave | facebook
What to Do and See
As you continue to explore the multilayered cityscape of Chinatown Toronto, you’re sure to find more fun things to do after you eat. Simply walking down the street you’ll see storefront after storefront selling souvenirs, produce, imported ingredients, herbal remedies and more. Ducking your head into these shops and even alleyways will help you uncover even more surprises.
8090 KTV is a glossy and almost surreal karaoke bar located right at Dundas and Spadina. Spend a night singing the latest hits with a group of your friends in one of their private rooms. With a full bar and a menu of snacks and appetizers, it’s sure to be an unforgettable night at this lavishly decorated spot.
530 Dundas St West, 2nd Floor | website
There are a couple of major festivals that take place annually in Chinatown. First off, the Chinese New Year Celebration fills the area every year with a spirit of festivity. The festival marks the passing of seasons with traditional celebrations, such as the Lion Dance, among many other community activities and performances.
The other major event is the Toronto Chinatown Festival which takes place in mid August. Local vendors, artists, performers and community organizers similarly take to the streets to showcase and celebrate Chinese heritage through cultural events and activities. Last year, the festival brought over 250, 000 visitors to the area over a 2 day period.
Shops: Groceries, Spices and Souvenirs
Chinatown is surely a good place to find a bargain. Because of it’s immigrant roots and close connection to East Asian markets, much of what you can find here is more affordable than in other parts of the city. Active measures against further development in the area have allowed the community to largely escape the marginalizing effects of gentrification and pass on savings to customers. Supporting local family-owned businesses is one of the best ways to ensure the colourful character of Chinatown can continue to be preserved for generations to come.
The Art Gallery of Ontario
As you travel east on Dundas, the density of Asian businesses begins to taper off. It’s there that you’ll find the AGO, sailing smoothly above the road. It’s unique shape is the work of famed architect Frank Gehry, who renovated the gallery in 2008. Today, it’s home to a stunning collection of Canadian and International Art. With a permanent collection that’s free for visitors under 25 and spectacular temporary exhibitions, a trip here is absolutely worth making a detour.
317 Dundas St West | website
Art in the Streets
The Chinatown cityscape is a colourful one, thanks in part to the themed artwork dispersed around the region. For example, the north and southbound Dundas Street stops on the Spadina streetcar route are ornamented with dragon sculptures. These sculptures are twisted into figure eights, a digit that represents luck in Chinese culture. You can also find several Chinatown murals in the alleyways off Dundas between Spadina and Beverly.