Hey there Toronto. Got some good response to my query asking for further post-research info prior to my five days or so in your city, so I thought I'd pay back by writing up some quick thoughts. Suffice it to say that I ate well, and I'd love to get back there some time as a real tourist so that I could get out of downtown a little more, but there's sure plenty of stuff down that way to keep anyone busy. I also should have some Flickr pics to append here someday, but that'll have to wait until the gf develops her film. (Yes, film. Old school.)
Anyway, here goes. Thanks in advance for everyone who chimed in with tips on my picks--they ended up very helpful.
--Pho Phuong--had a great meal here. Bahn kot, banh kong + banh xeo app--amazing! Also bun with sour pork + shrimp which was fantastic and the so had com tam ga which she seemed happy with.
--Ematei--this nice little izakaya was right around the corner from my hotel, so for out-of-towners: if you're at the Sheraton, don't miss. Wanted comfort food and got it--a nice chicken donburi bowl + a tofu and bonito flakes cold app. Here the s.o. got tempura udon, and I tasted the broth she had + it was delicious. Nice atmosphere in here as well.
--Bright Pearl--got up early one day and went for some solo dumplings early before conference sessions. Not spectacular but solid--better dim sum than any place in Boston, at least. Good shrimp dumplings + deep fried shrimp, tasty beef ribs in pepper sauce. Wanted to try more but being alone I couldn't justify ordering plates and plates of dumplings!
--Osgoode Hall Dining Room--this was for a business lunch and came as a total surprise because I hadn't heard of it. There was a nice shepherd's pie as a special that was quite good, and the historic room here is pretty stunning.
--Ka Chi--slightly soggy (but still good!) seafood pancake and a really delicious pork and kimchi stew. The place was JAMMED too, but the staff was super efficient and got food out pretty darn briskly considering. Wish there was a place like this near me at home.
--Island Roti--scarfed down a quick lunch here one day, the boneless goat roti was spot on and the doubles was also good. My gf bought some kind of sugar cake thing that was terrible, though. But this is a great cheap lunch spot, I think.
--Jumbo Empanada--just bought a cheese one here since I was on the way to dinner, but it was good + I liked the salsa. The woman here was really sweet too, and I got to walk around Kensington a bit while here which was *amazing*. You're lucky to have a neighborhood like this in your town.
--Chinese Traditional Buns--popped in here for a quick xian pulled pork sandwich, which I liked though I didn't think it was loaded with flavor. Another fine cheap + savory option, though and if you needed something inexpensive and solid while walking around down this way you could sure do a lot worse.
--Matahari Grill--this was by far my least favorite place and the only restaurant I probably wouldn't go back to. The char kway teow was OK if a bit bland, but the service here was really atrocious. Server was so busy fawning over some other customer that it took 20 minutes to get the check in a restaurant with three tables seated. Unforgivable.
--Carousel bakery--In my initial post there was some sentiment that I should get the breakfast sandwich and not the peameal bacon, but c'mon! I'm a tourist! In Toronto! Of *course* I'm getting the peameal bacon! Personally I liked this just fine, though sure--it's just some chewy meat and a white bun. Great for a lunch, and luckily I also got some time to walk around SLM and look at all the vendors. Amazing place--I did sample some mustards at Kozlik's but couldn't take any home since all I had is carry on and I guess mustard is considered a liquid? Also bought some good sour apple licorice in a cool store on the bottom level. Y'know what I said above about you people being lucky to have Kensington? Well, you can double down on that for SLM.
--Lai Wah Heen--I misunderstood the deal about this place and ended up here for dinner, thinking that they always had dim sum. Oops. Had a big fancy Chinese meal with some friends here though + it was good--dong puo pork (which I really liked), barbecue duck noodles, bok choy crab, lamb shank, sea bass w/ roe. All pretty nice, though it was bit pricier than I had thought + I'm sorry I bollixed the dim sum thing. My mistake, though, and not an awful one since I did like the food.
--Asian Legend--very much enjoyed the lunch I had here on my last day. Soup dumplings were better than the ones I've had at Joe's Shanghai in NYC, the jellyfish cold app had a fresh, low-key sesame taste, the crispy pancake was snappy + the har gau and handmade vegetarian roll were both excellent.
--The Spadina fruit/shake place--had a couple here, jackruit and soursop. Refreshing.
--Kom Jug Juen--well, OK. The Asian Legend lunch was supposed to be my last meal, but I couldn't resist the siren song of the glistening meat I saw in the window of this place the day before so I detoured up and had the roast pork lunch which was well worth the 5$ it cost me. Some pieces of pork were better and juicier than others, but overall this seems like (yet another) good cheap lunch option. I admit I didn't eat my mountain of rice though since this was my 2nd lunch in an hour.
--Yung Sing Bakery--the absolute last place I went was Yung Sing Pastry, since we went by walking back to the hotel and I just had to have a sesame ball--which turned out to be one of the best things I've ever gotten at any Chinese bakery. I don't always go for these sorts of desserts, but this one was light and had a really pure sesame flavor and snappy crunch.
Phew. I think that was it for my food tour--not so bad for a Tuesday through Saturday run, I don't think. I'll be back some day to try out some stuff I missed (never did find a space for some poutine or a meal at Black Hoof or Nota Bene) and to make it to some further flung spots like Grand Chinese or the Pacific Mall. Thanks again for all the pointers I gleaned from this opinionated board--overall I think Toronto might be the best food city I've been to beyond New York City and Tokyo. The breadth of things available is really quite vast, and you really helped me sort it all out.