Little Italy mostly stretches along Toronto’s College Street where many sidewalk patios make the street one of the most exciting to walk down in the city. Discover the best restaurants, bars, cafes and cultural institutions that make it the destination it is, and soak up some Italian heritage while you’re at it!
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Your Guide to Little Italy Toronto: Food, Drink, Coffee, Culture
Nestled in between the hip Trinity Bellwoods and cozy Palmerston, Little Italy Toronto is a pocket of culture in the heart of the city. It’s great for walking around on bustling sidewalks and sipping espresso on a patio in the summer. True to its Italian roots, the area goes crazy during the World Cup, but you’ll also find influences from all around the world. What the area has become known for is its nightlife and abundance of delicious dining opportunities, so come check out vibrant Little Italy Toronto using our handy guide to the area!
Another great thing about Little Italy is that it’s close to everything! A little walk south will take you to the trendy park oasis of Trinity Bellwoods, and a trip east will land you in the heart of Kensington Market.
Restaurants to Eat At
The culinary scene in Little Italy is so much more that pizza and pasta, but of course it’s got that too!
The name of the restaurant means both “big brother” and “gangster boss” in Cantonese, inspiring the restaurant’s 1930s Chinatown gangster bar look. However, the crowd you’ll find packing the place, and the food, are undeniably modern. The chef was trained in French cuisine and is now honouring his Chinese roots through the menu while retaining the French influence. If you’re there with a group try the whole fried trout, or their fried winter melon salad and pumpkin dumplings. One more thing: DaiLo was ranked at #18 by Canada’s Top 100 Restaurants in 2017, if you needed a stamp of approval to be convinced. dailoto.com
If it’s late or you’re short on time, check out LoPan the dim sum and cocktail bar tucked away upstairs. They serve drinks and snacks until 2 am. dailoto.com/#lopan
This is Little Italy so naturally there’s amazing home-style Italian dining options. Taverniti is a modest and cozy family-owned restaurant, with recipes that have been passed down through generations. They’re all made from scratch, too. They’ve got slices for take-out but if stay for dinner you’ll feel like you’re part of the family watching “Nonna” cook in the back kitchen.tavernitis.ca
There’s a couple wildly popular Starving Artist locations around Toronto’s West End, and they serve breakfast all day at all of them. But here’s the catch: everything on the menu is served on, beside or in-between waffles. Yep, eggs benny on potato waffles, a waffle BLT, bacon and waffles… and on. They’ve even got dessert waffles, of course. The artists might be starving, but you won’t be after you’re done dining here. starvingartistbar.com
For another authentic Italian option, we recommend Il Gatto Nero, a local father and son venture. The name means “The Black Cat,” but this restaurant has been pretty lucky. They’ve been serving authentic Italian meals and embracing customers like family for nearly 60 years, since 1960. Their menu of pizza, pasta and antipasti is pretty affordable too! ilgattonero.ca
Doma is another French fusion restaurant, this time using Korean ingredients and flavours. It was chosen as Toronto Life’s (second) Best New Restaurant in 2017… and eating here is an experience. Every dish (which can be tried as part of a tasting menu) will surprise you. Tucked away off College on Clinton, Doma is for dining off the beaten path. It brings minimalist comfort and elegance, but also a heftier bill. They’ve also got cocktails designed specifically for the restaurant, continuing the Korean influence onto the drink menu. domatoronto.com
An upscale restaurant that has designed its menu of Canadian comfort food around its wood oven. Naturally, they bake their own unbelievable sourdough. They’ve also got two menus that change seasonally: one for meat-lovers, and one for vegetarians, so everyone can find something to eat. The restaurant is on Palmerston Ave, which is one of the most charming streets in Toronto. In this cozy setting, they serve pink and orange wine by the glass – which you don’t see a lot – as well as a selection of wine the bottle, beer, apple and pear ciders, and cocktails. woodlottoronto.com
Bars to Drink At
This section of College Street is perfect for a bar crawl
They’ve got cocktails, craft beer, and a fun party vibe. However, most importantly and best of all: they have games such as bocce ball and shuffle board. You can either reserve a lane, or show up and wait your turn. The unique bar has quickly become a neighbourhood staple. trackandfieldbar.com
They have also recently opened up sister bar Bangarang, where you can play cornhole, some eccentric tabletop games, or dance! bangarangbar.com
With a different team, one of the owners also runs Pray Tell, a snack bar that also doubles as a workspace, cafe and lunch spot during the day. praytellbar.com
A popular tapas bar in the area. You might get eat at a communal standing table since the place gets so crowded, it’s the perfect way to chat with and meet some new people. That, said, the food is delightful, creative, and they are serious about their drinks. They were voted the Best Bar in Canada in 2018 by Canada’s 100 Best. So, when you go, be sure to pay attention to the spectacular woodwork that encapsulates the bar space. thisisbarraval.com
This bar also has a sister in the area: Bar Isabel, which is also Spanish inspired. It serves delicious plates and a big selection of craft beer in a venue ripe with old-world charm. It also takes reservations unlike Raval. barisabel.com
The Coq of the Walk restaurant closes, and L’Absinthe Bar opens upstairs. The Bar serves about a dozen of the best absinthes from around the world, as well as some absinthe cocktails. It’s served in the traditional method where the ice-cold drink is dripped on a sugar cube, and can be accompanied by some absinthe flavoured foods. While the quantities of wormwood aren’t enough to make you hallucinate, the drink’s alcohol content of 35-75 percent is sure to give you an experience, and absinthe is said to hit differently from other alcoholic beverages. coqofthewalk.com
Squeezed into an unassuming alleyway next to the Royal Cinema, Birreria Volo doesn’t let the size of it’s storefront reflect the scale of their business. The Italian Beer Hall style bar has beers from A-Z. Their menu literally assigns a beer to each letter of the alphabet. This wide selection of local and imported beers and ciders is constantly rotating – and funky. They often feature wild and hard to find ales, so make your way to the bar and see what you can discover. birreriavolo.com
The Walton is a stylish little nook in the heart of Little Italy with a Parisian feel. During the day they serve coffee and a whole bunch of irresistible pastries, and at night it becomes a cocktail bar that also serves little bites of meat, fish and cheese. Beyond cocktails they’ve got all the usual drink options: beer on tap, in cans, bubbles, wine and more. This place is cozy and comfortable, making it a great place to take a date! thewalton607.com
Cafes to People Watch At
The real Italian roots of the neighbourhood can be seen and tasted from the sidewalk patios of these cafes
Sicilian’s, as it’s affectionately known, has been a cornerstone of the Little Italy neighbourhood since 1959. They’re well known for their delightful homemade gelato, and incredible tartufo creations, describing themselves as “the granddaddy of Toronto’s Gelateria world.” You can, stop by for a full meal, or just choose from the multitude of desserts. They even have a breakfast menu. Maybe the best part, though, is their sidewalk patio which seats 72 people in the summer. sicilianicecream.com
This one’s more of a grab and go gelato spot. You can wander the streets of Little Italy with your sweet treats, or lounge out on their sidewalk patio… once you’ve picked from the over 60 flavours they have on offer. They also pride themselves on making really good Italian coffee and other Italian-style desserts, making it the perfect place to stop after dinner in the area. dolcegelato.net
Cafe Diplomatico is another one of those spots that just feels like it’s been around forever… an article about Little Italy just isn’t complete without mentioning it. It’s the type of place that if your father grew up here, it was probably his after-school hangout. Now, it’s got one of the most popular patios in the city. The Dip’s got breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night snacks and great coffee, all in an unpretentious and ever-exciting atmosphere. If you can get a spot, it’s probably the best place to watch the World Cup, too. cafediplomatico.ca
Places to Get Cultured At
The hubs of arts and culture in Little Italy… stores, venues and more!
A movie theatre and event venue, The Royal is yet another old-timer in this neighbourhood full of history. They’ll have a couple brand-new flicks playing throughout the week, interspersed with special screenings as part of monthly or bi-monthly film series, as well as private events. It’s a great place to catch a film you wouldn’t otherwise get to see on the big screen, or have an alternative theatre experience such as seeing a band and a movie, or even catching a comedy show. theroyal.to
16. Local Music
Here’s a couple good shops to find your next favourite band in Little Italy:
Soundscapes is a music store that loves supporting local artists. They’ve got CDs from many independent musicians, as well as bigger names, of course. They sell tickets to hundreds of shows around the city and will host in-store sets too. Check their website for their lists of top sellers and staff picks for some music recommendations, or talk to their knowledgeable staff in store! soundscapesmusic.com
Neurotica Records is a record store born from a passion for music. The records are curated and selected by the store’s owner and feel like they’re his own collection, which he did initially put in as stock. The store also offers recording studio services, as well as in-house mastering and analog-to-digital transferring. You also can buy CDs, cassettes, DVDs and more, so there’s no excuse for any music lover not to stop by here. neurotica.ca
A gallery that’ll never feel stuffy – they’re known for putting on zany and larger than life art shows and exhibitions. They’ve got a roster of local artists brimming with creativity, and also host other types of events too. From drag performances, to concerts, to screenings, to rubber chicken themed music video recording parties… there’s always something extraordinary going on at Super Wonder Gallery. Check out their events calendar! superwondergallery.com
The Italian Walk of Fame is a series of about 25 stars in the pavement of College Street, honouring prominent Italians in a variety of fields such as business, science, art, film, theatre, finance, medicine, literature, architecture, religion and politics. Though the stars are there permanently, there haven’t been any new inductees into the Walk since 2014. italianwalkoffame.com/
Balfour Books is a charming secondhand bookstore, but beyond the lower prices, and bargain book bin outside, you’d hardly be able to tell. Their books are in excellent condition and span a range of subjects from art and architecture, to fiction, poetry, and philosophy books. Most importantly their staff is passionate and knowledgeable, so stop by, browse around and have a chat. See what worlds you can discover on the shelves. balfourbooks.squarespace.com
20. Head over to Trinity Bellwoods
Once you’ve had your fill of pizza, pasta and fun, head over to nearby Trinity Bellwoods to lounge in the park, spot dogs at the dog bowl, and discover a whole new culinary world.
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