Leslieville: Get A Taste Of Toronto’s East End
While many of Toronto’s hipsters are moving farther and farther west, Leslieville rules the east when it comes to great restaurants, bars, cafes and places to shop. The area is full of artists, foodies, and families, and somehow seems to always be on the verge of becoming the Next Big Thing. It also borders on several other exciting areas, such as Riverside across the tracks to the west. There’s also The Beaches to the east and The Danforth to the north, making Leslieville the perfect gateway drug to all the wonders of Toronto’s east side.
Leslieville could be called the Trinity Bellwoods of the east, but it’s also not too far from the Distillery District, a haven for artists and jewel of Victorian industrial architecture. Check out our guides for those areas too, or explore Toronto from east to west this summer!
1. Stop for dinner and drinks at these restaurants
The first thing you’ll notice about the residents of Leslieville is… they’re foodies! There are so many amazing restaurants in the area and more are always popping up. The next thing you’ll notice, though, is that residents love to get drinks too. A restaurant here isn’t complete without a well stocked bar. These picks have got both sides of the market down:
Frankie’s Italian recently opened up in place of Lil’ Baci, they sell coffee all day from Bob Coffee Bar, their sister next door, as well as breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. Come by for fresh pizza, daily pasta specials, and an exceptional negroni.
If you’re looking for comfort food, Goods and Provisions is a cozy spot with an eclectic but hearty menu, natural wines, and they make a mean cocktail, too. On the other hand, Maple Leaf Tavern is a fine dining experience serving Canadian comforts for brunch or dinner and, in true tavern spirit, lots of drinks.
Depending on where you are on Gerrard, either stop by brand-new restaurant Wynona for natural wines and pasta on a cute little terrace on the west side of the tracks, or if you’re farther east don’t miss the wide selection of local craft beer, and small but mighty Asian-fusion menu at Lake Inez over by Coxwell.
2. Check in, or just have dinner, at the Broadview Hotel
This historic landmark has had a new life breathed into it, check it out!
Newly renovated, the Broadview Hotel acts as a gateway to the east end both geographically and by inspiring a new wave of development around it. The building is historic, having been built in 1891, but the comforts are modern. One of their restaurants, The Civic, similarly puts a contemporary twist on historical classics. You don’t have to be a visitor to enjoy what’s on offer at the hotel. The Rooftop restaurant has amazing views of the bustle of Queen Street, Toronto’s skyline and the Don River that are a wonder for anyone’s eyes. Or, you can also sip coffee and drinks downstairs at their ground floor Cafe + Bar (and it’s available as room service if you’re a guest!) website
3. Get a coffee, or maybe something stronger
Fuel yourself for a big day of exploring the east end! These cafes make a great cup of coffee, and a couple serve stronger drinks, too.
Te Aro is a chill neighbourhood spot with industrial vibes that’s perfect for getting some work done or just hanging out. The Pilot Coffee they serve is exceptional, too.
Coffee in the morning, drinks by night (or the other way around) is a recipe for success. Boxcar Social is spacious and airy so you can really get comfortable with your sippable indulgences, while Dundas & Carlaw reps a key intersection in the area, and has a menu of munchable snacks alongside its selection of coffee and booze!
4. See some theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest
It’s not only a space to catch a play but also gather, connect, share, celebrate and feel.
Streetcar Crowsnest is a hub for the performing arts. The permanent home of Crow’s Theatre, it has a constant schedule of exceptional local performances, event spaces, as well as programming and events for members of the community – including kids! If you’re hungry for dinner before the show, try Gare De L’Est, an upscale French bistro that offers a Prix Fixe menu for theatre goers. Ticket holders also get a free snack at Maple Leaf Tavern, before or after their show. In the meantime, stop by their lobby bar for refreshments, and let the actors steal your heart and blow your mind! website
5. Tour the best bars on a night out
On top of all the cafes and restaurants that’ll serve you some pretty great drinks, there’s some good old fashioned bars in Leslieville that are primed to become your new favourite watering hole.
First off, if you like wine, you’ve got to visit Chez Nous, a wine bar serving only Ontario wines and a couple bottles of locally brewed beer. You can get a cheese or charcuterie plate, but they don’t have a full kitchen so outside food is welcome! Wine, here, is really the star of the show.
Up on Gerrard is the home of Pinkerton Snack Bar. The Asian-inspired tapas menu at this chill bar is hand picked from the market, so there’s always something new to try. Plus, the kitchen is open until 1am for those late night cravings. Right across the street is their new sibling project, Poor Romeo. This place has real neighbourhood bar vibes. It’s inspired by America and Rock n Roll, perfect for having a beer and their famous smashed burger.
Hitch is a cozy spot on Queen Street. It’s named after Christopher Hitchens who was known for being a heavy drinker, so the cocktails are strong – they’re all two-shots. You could say this place is pretty hipster, except its completely unpretentious.
Finally, Lloyd’s on Queen. It’s another cozy bar but this one is named for the bartender in Stanley Kubrick’s movie “The Shining.” Instead of creep-factor, however, this place brings simplicity and familiarity to the bar scene. The staff and regulars are welcoming, drinks are good and the food is straightforward – exactly what you need after a long night of cocktails and good times.
6. Hit the (locally owned) shops
We’re not talking big box stores and international chains. All of these shops give you something new to discover.
Arts Market works like any other market. It’s a space full of stalls and stands affordably rented to local artists, craftspeople and artisans to sell their creations. But there’s one big perk over other artisan markets: you can shop comfortably indoors all year as you support local art! There’s so much to see in store… from furniture and home decor, to jewellery and accessories, visual art, and even edible creations.
Visit Good Neighbour in their little converted bungalow for excellently curated clothes, accessories, knick knacks for the house and even skincare products. This general store is packed with amazing gifts. Watch out, the prices are steep, but Good Neighbour only stocks the best. You get the North American craftsmanship you pay for.
Leslieville may not quite be market Kensington Market, but you can find some really special second hand goods at Gadabout. It’s full of 20th century memorabilia from the Edwardian era up to the 1970s. Beyond clothes (such as exquisite gowns) they have textiles, posters, cameras, jewellery, kitchenware and so much more. There’s even a “Manly Man Corner” of masculine ephemera and curiosities. (If that’s not quite your speed, there’s also a Value Village in the area to fill all your thrift shopping needs.)
7. Head over to the area’s parks
If you’re in Leslieville you’ve got lots of parks to choose from whether you’re looking to play a sport or just relax.
Jimmie Simpson Park is your go-to for sports. It’s fully equipped for a game of hockey, baseball, soccer, tennis or basketball. There’s also a swimming pool and indoor gym at the Jimmie Simpson Community Centre. Greenwood Park has great sports fields too, as well as an outdoor swimming pool, a winding skating track and a dog park. Hideaway Park, meanwhile, is a little nook with a playground and splash pad tucked in between houses that’s perfect for letting your dogs or your kids run free. Matty Eckler Playground will fill those needs, too. If you’re looking for a bit more adventure, head outside of Leslieville and go tobogganing in Riverdale Park this winter.
8. Find your favourite local craft beer
This is really when you begin to sense that Leslieville’s a bit of a hipster haven. There’s a brewery making craft beer tucked into just about every corner of the ‘hood. Most of these places have both a brewpub, a bottle shop, and a kitchen! Here’s what makes them special…
First off, Rorschach Brewing Co. has 16 of their own brews on tap as well as food menus for both brunch and dinner. Stop by to watch your favourite Toronto sports team play! Eastbound Brewing Co. serves fresh food that’s way beyond what you usually get at your local pub. You can get a crowler (that’s not a typo!) of their flavourful beer to take to the beach this summer. Godspeed Brewery, meanwhile, has a menu of Japanese street food thats worth a trip in itself, as well as a truly unique selection of beers inspired by the same flavours.
Saulter Street Brewery is known for their Riverside Pilsner, but you can try their more experimental brews in the Tap Room from noon – 9pm daily. Radical Road Brewing Co. hosts specialty nights to bring your own vinyl or sample one-off beers brewed using wild yeast or bacteria. You can also tour the brewery and become a brewer for the day! Then there’s Brickworks Cider, which does something a little different, and you might have guessed it’s… cider! They have lots of fun seasonally inspired flavours to try in their Ciderhouse.
9. Attend a neighbourhood food and drink festival
Are you sensing a pattern? Leslieville has some of the best food and drink in the city so, of course, they celebrate it!
Sample beers from several of the area’s breweries at the Leslieville Beer Festival. It’s basically a neighbourhood street party that takes over Dundas and features the area’s best brewers, community food vendors and local artisans. Join in this summer on August 25th, 2018, from 1pm to 8pm.
If you’re not a beer lover, don’t worry. The area also hosts the Leslieville Food & Drink Festival at District 28, a multi-media facility in the area’s studio district. This festival has a more diverse selection of vendors than the last, featuring an Artisanal Food Market and displays by local artists, but there’s a bigger emphasis on wine. The festival includes wine tastings and workshops such as food and wine pairing or even oyster shucking. Then, in the evening, there’s live music and a DJ to dance to. If you love beer, don’t worry either, the breweries have opened up shop here as well. Stay tuned for 2020 dates.
10. Make a quick stop for lunch
Sometimes you don’t have time for a full sit-down meal with table service and the whole nine yards. These places are much more casual, perfect for a quick bite on the go, but that doesn’t mean the food’s not amazing too.
Tropical Joe’s is a cheap food stand in the food court of Gerrard Square Shopping Centre, but it’s also so much more. Locals know this is where to go for the best, most flavourful Caribbean takeout. It’s a standout even beyond the borders of Leslieville, and the portions are huge.
This one’s another gem in a funny location: The Leslieville Pumps General Store and Kitchen, or simply “The Pumps” is a Southern style BBQ smokehouse that is repeatedly said to have the best brisket in the city. Where is this place? At a gas station. It brings all the cozy charm of a southern country kitchen to the hungry mouths of Torontonians. They even grow fresh herbs and vegetables in a rooftop garden.
If you’re a meaty sandwich lover, you’re in luck! Pretty much right across the street is another classic, Rashers. Their version of Toronto’s signature Peameal bacon sandwich is simply mouthwatering! Everything is made to order so you can really customize your bacon experience, too.
11. Have a Feast in the East
This event series is the thing to do for anyone looking to explore the city’s indie food, music and art scenes!
Though the exact location of this feast may not always be in Leslieville, if you can make it, the bi-monthly events are something not to miss! Feast in the East is a food, music and art series celebrating Toronto’s east end and its culture. For $10 (in advance) you get a free dinner prepared by a local chef, and a show by several of the coolest bands and artists from the city’s innovative indie music scene, and beyond. You’ll also be surrounded by environs created by some inspiring local artists, making it a night that’s unlike anything else. While you’re at it, take a look at the charming original artwork featured on all their event posters. website
12. Start your day right with a good breakfast
Everyone always says it’s the most important meal of the day, so treat yourself to a properly delicious breakfast and go to…
Bonjour Brioche, a famous French bakery with great croissants, quiches, sandwiches. Their brunch is so good (try an omelette or croque-madame) there’s often a lineup on weekends, but it’s worth the wait.
Or try Lady Marmalade, a go-to for homestyle scrambles, creamy benedicts and lunch, too. They’ll serve you delicious breakfast staples that use locally sourced ingredients all day, every day! Or at least until they close.
13. Catch a show at The Opera House
This historic music venue rocks.
For more live music, check out The Opera House in Riverside. Despite the name, the musical acts showcased cover all genres from rock to electronic to hip-hop, and everything in between. Originally it was a Vaudeville theatre, then a cinema, and finally became a venue for live music, and other variety acts. Returning to its roots, the Opera House is a historic and cultural landmark in Toronto. Plus, cheering on your favourite band is so much fun. website
14. If you have more of a sweet tooth…
Treat yourself! Leslieville’s got all of your sweet cravings covered.
If ice cream is your indulgence of choice, Ed’s Real Scoop makes some quality frozen treats inspired by his family recipes, as well as candy chocolate and fudge. For a less traditional ice cream experience, head over to Wong’s Ice Cream in East Chinatown for some Asian-themed flavours such as Sriracha Buttered Popcorn, Pineapple Cilantro and Black Sesame Salted Duck Egg. You can even get your unique scoops in a little Chinese takeout container.
For baked goods head over to Sweet Bliss Baking Company. Their specialty is decadent, moist cupcakes, but you’ll find a whole range of goodies in every shape… buns, tarts, loaves, squares and cookies!
15. Go back to your roots at the Farmers’ Market
Local food’s the best, right? Plus, the market is so much more than a way to get groceries…
Support Ontario’s farmers and food producers directly when you visit the Leslieville Farmers’ Market. Discover sustainable produce, home baked goods, ethically-raised meat and a huge selection of prepared food – all nestled into Jonathan Ashbridges Park. It’s on every Sunday from 9am – 2pm. There’s even live bands, a kids program, demonstrations and a community garden – you won’t be able to tell if it’s a market or a charming neighbourhood party! website
16. See the art at a local gallery
To get a real feel for a community, check out the art that’s being made within it!
Not only does Blue Crow Gallery have a wonderful space for exhibiting the works of Canadian artists (run entirely by women), they also offer a whole swath of kids programs, summer camps and even adult classes to foster a love for art within the community. There’s also the Gerrard Art Space that regularly runs, exhibitions, workshops, classes and community events, focusing on all mediums such as visual art, performance, music, poetry and even the body. Other galleries showcasing local emerging and mid-career artists include Parts Gallery, which features fun, whimsical and vibrant art based in painting and photography and Project Gallery, featuring artists exploring distinct and innovative contemporary art projects.
17. Get a slice of pizza… but not just any slice
There’s a few pizzerias in the ‘hood that each do something special, bringing their own regional twist to the cheesy dish we all love and think we know.
First off, pizza’s classic Italian version can be enjoyed at Queen Margherita Pizza, they have a good selection of both pizza rosso and pizza bianco, but of course their staple is the Margherita with fresh fior di latte and basil. Next stop on the pizza world tour is Double Ds for some Chicago style pizza. It’s deep dish, cheesy, and stuffed with toppings, really living up to the expectations of a good pie. From the other side of Michigan state comes a whole other pizza experience – Descendant brings you Detroit style pizza that’s square, thick crusted and has the sauce on top.
18. Take a walk to find the best street art
City streets are the ultimate public art gallery.
Walk along any of the main avenues in Leslieville, or the alleyways that run parallel to them, and you’re sure to find some street art brightening up the sides of buildings. Whether its a commissioned mural, an anonymous graffiti artist’s tag, or somewhere in between, the work you’ll find in the streets speaks loudly about people’s relationship to their public space, and what they want to see in it. A notable mural representing the neighbourhood can be found on the west wall of 1401 Queen St. E. It traces the history of the area’s people from left to right and provides an overview of its physical development. Another iconic wall celebrating the neighbourhood, affectionately referred to as Leslieville’s Hollywood Sign, is located on the side of Meating On Queen at 1160 Queen St E.
19. Discover the Gerrard India Bazaar in Little India
The Gerrard India Bazaar is a Business Improvement Area in the west end of Leslieville that’s dedicated to celebrating and supporting all the South Asian businesses along the strip.
The area is small, but it has the highest concentration of Indian owned and run businesses in the city. Visit the stretch of Gerrard between Greenwood and Coxwell, and you’re in for a treat. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the area are sure to stimulate your senses, especially if you stop by one of the many authentic South Asian restaurants and grocers along the strip. Try Lahore Tikka House for halal Pakistani and North Indian food in a bustling atmosphere, Udupi Palace for vegetarian Indian eats, Gautama for an upscale buffet that’s not too spicy and Kohinoor Foods for spices and groceries. BIA website
20. Soak in the sun at Woodbine Beach
If you’re looking to explore beyond the limits of Leslieville, this is the perfect plan!
Walk down Coxwell, on the East end of the neighbourhood, past Ashbridges Skatepark, Woodbine Park and turn into Ashbridges Bay Park until you hit the beach! Woodbine is Toronto’s number one beach destination for beach volleyball, swimming, sunbathing, biking and exploring along its 3km of sandy shores. It’s also a favourite spot for locals to gather on Canada Day and watch fireworks over Lake Ontario or grill some food all season for a stepped up summer picnic. website