I did a lot of reading and researching before our first trip to Toronto, and you all were kind enough to answer questions and offer advice. I will say that we're not of your upper Chowhound variety...yet we love great food, it just needs to be of value as we are always on a budget. Armed with curiousity and what knowledge we could derive from such websites as Chowhound, we arrived this past Sat. in Buffalo, rented a car and drove to Toronto, stopping for our first association with Tim Horton's for a cup of coffee (why aren't we allowed to sweeten our own cup?) and an awesome vanilla-chocolate frosted donut, that surpassed even Daylight Donuts here in the States. (besides, who actually allows themselves to eat donuts, unless they're on vacation?)
So, Sat., we arrive in Toronto...we're hungry and I'm thinking Hal Burgers sounds great. We grabbed a cab from the Westin Castle Harbour, not knowing how close it really was. It was early and we were the only customers. We LOVED Hal's! I ordered the Burger Trio Sampler, which was a chicken one, pork one, and beef...I added white cheddar...my husband got an 8 oz. Hal Burger w/ Stilton...I got a salad with mine, husband cole slaw, then we shared a small fries. I had two Gl.Pelham Chardonnay, husband two red leaf lager...total bill was $60.09 before tip. I loved the wine, but thought the pours were small (by US standards)...the food was GREAT. Hal's even makes their own condiments (how cool is that?) The burgers were some of the best we've ever had. I actually thought the chicken and pork ones (on miniature pitas) took on the grilled flavor even better than the beef. My husband loved his. The salad was great, and the fries were thin and yummy. We loved this place enough to go back before we left on our short trip.
I will say that I wasn't stuffed after the meal (husband was) but I wasn't in the mood for dessert. We wandered very briefly to The Whispering Oyster for a drink and the ultimate dessert...an order of "Jump Fried Szechwan Chili Shrimps...$4.99" and an order of bread and butter. YUM! This place was hopping early on a Sat. night, unlike Hal's, which was right around the corner, and deserving of the same treatment.
Let me preface Sunday with the statement that my husband is not crazy about breakfast food, so I felt like Terroni's would be perfect for him for brunch before Lord of the Rings. I even called to find out they opened at 9am on Sunday. Unfortunately I failed to ask if they served their regular menu all day. We took a cab and had the place to ourselves, only to be told that two breakfast sandwiches, salads, and some paninis were being served. No thin-crust pizzas or pastas, until 11:30. We needed to be at the Princess of Wales Theatre for the 1:00 matinee. Probably not a problem for locals, but to us, we weren't sure how long it would take us to get there. We opted for a cup of tea, coffee for husband and two ciabatta's. What wonderful grilled sandwiches with the highest quality ingredients! I'm Italian, so I can appreciate the real stuff and this was GREAT. The bill was a mere $24.32 before tip.
Sunday night, after Lord of the Rings, we walked to the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, as I'd read it was easy to get into on a Sunday night, and it was early. Thankfully, a guy at the theatre told us how to get there. My, you really have to know the place is there, don't you? There's no way you could stumble upon it, as you can't see it from the street!
We headed straight for the Chef's Counter, where we ordered a bottle of wine, and started with an order of Poutine (our first experience with such)...it was "Yukon Gold Fries as Oxtail Poutine". Very nice! The oxtail was not quite as lean as I would've liked, but what great flavors! The gravy was so rich and obviously had involved a lot of work on someone's part. We approved. Next we ordered the Rabbit Pate (which amazed me that my husband would even consider it). He loved it and so did I. It came with four very thin "crackers". We asked for more to eat up the yummy pate, and they charged us $1.00 for the "side order of bread". Next we ordered the "Entrecote of Beef with Potato Gratin"...YUM YUM YUM! We graciously shared the three small pieces of incredibly delicious strip steak with two tiny stacks of gratin potatoes. Very nice! After watching many others receive free plates of foi gras, the chef was kind enough to give us a small slab that we thoroughly enjoyed. (not that we asked for it...I guess the drooling did him in)
It was a great experience, and the place was getting crowded, so we paid up and left. ($78.90 before tip). I will say that the food was great.
We enjoyed the wine (a Muscadet), but was surprised that water came without ice, and without the requested lemon. Husband had a hard time getting a refill on his diet drink as well.
Off we went to the hotel to refresh ourselves and look for something near the hotel to do. We asked the Concierge and discovered a Sports bar right across the hotel. Many of you have been asked if there's anything near the Westin Castle Harbour. Across the road, and hiding behind some buildings is the Harbour Grille Sports Bar, where we were able to watch the Carolina Hurricanes play in the RBC Center (where we had just witnessed Champions On Ice a few nights before), playing trivia and munching on mussells. It was surreal and very ok. Probably not up to Chowhounds standards, but really okay to recommend to folks looking for something near the harbour.
Monday we got a late start and headed out on foot to wander this fine city. We opted for Hothouse Cafe for an AWESOME meal. I had what I consider to be a perfect pasta dish. It was a Penne dish with chicken, snow peas, peppers, in a pink creamy sambuca sauce. YUM YUM. My husband got the Paesano pizza which had shrimp and mushrooms. At this point we have ceased to be surprised that diet pop refills were charged at $2.25 each. We would've paid triple that to enjoy this incredible food for just $34.10 before tip.
After wandering the city for hours, getting lost in the Path, we at some point landed at Montana for a drink and an appetizer. I had read nothing about it nor heard about it, we just thought it looked interesting from the road. It was early and no one was there but us. We ordered an order of spring rolls. It came as three rolls with three sauces, an orange one, a green one, and a sweet-sour sauce. We can honestly say it was the first and only time we've ever had egg or spring rolls that were filled with mixed vegetables. They were tasty though, and our bill (before tip) was just $18.45.) We proceeded to walk back to the hotel, where we couldn't resist Hal Burger on the way back. Not starving, after the Spring Rolls, we shared a Baton Rouge burger, a diet Pepsi, and a glass of Gl.Pelham Chardonnay. (darn those tiny Ikea glasses, I like this wine). The burger was AWESOME. And they were kind enough to split it and the fries before bringing it to us. Bite into it and the juice runs down your arm as the flavor explodes in your mouth. I want a Hal Burger here at home! And those wonderful homemade condiments...Toronto, if you don't embrace this place, I will encourage them to travel south!
The next day, we had to leave Toronto (on a Tuesday, we had to wait until St.Lawrence Market opened). We checked out of the hotel, put our luggage in the rental car, and walked to St. Lawrence Market, where we experienced our first ever Peameal Bacon Sandwich at Paddington's. We split it, cause we had no idea what to expect. Asked what to get on it, so went with the recommended pickled peppers, onions and honey-mustard. YUM YUM YUM. I see what the fuss is about. Later I got a veal parmigaina sandwich from Carousel (which was great until I sat by the freight elevator while my husband enjoyed his fried seafood, and I witnessed a "delivery" that made me stop and realize I was full.)
Shortly after, we had to hit the road for Niagara Falls for the night, after which we flew out of Buffalo. We LOVED Toronto! Thank you all for your advice, and may we go back someday with a bigger budget to try the places you REALLY recommended!