For Something Cheap and Cheerful

Cheap and cheerful definitely doesn’t have to mean low quality! For every amazing $100 meal you can get in Toronto, there’s an equal and opposite $15 meal that is just as great, in a different way. All of these restaurants feature easy, satisfying food in a laid-back setting.

Tried and True:

  1. Vit Béo: This is a really cute space in Bloorcourt that has an edited menu of contemporary Vietnamese dishes that are all very fun takes on the classics. The menu changes seasonally so if you like something, don’t miss out. Potential drawback: High top seating only, and limited.
  2. Jin Dal Lae: I’m putting this Korean restaurant in focus because it’s clearly the best not-secret in Koreatown right now (and sadly for Sunrise House and Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu, has taken over that role).
    Potential drawback: The service can be awkward because they usually only one one person taking care of the entire operation at a time.
  3. Damda: This is a relatively new place in Koreatown that serves up all the classics, and is the newest spot that you can go to when Jin Dal Le is too full (just like when Jin Dal Le became the place to go when Sunrise House was to first go-to in the area). Potential drawback: There isn’t as much seating available for small parties (as in, one and two).
  4. Paddler, Thai Boat Noodles: I went here once after a rowing session on the water and I could not have eaten anything more appropriate. If you haven’t had Thai boat noodles before, just come and give them a try. Potential drawback: This place is very far West in the city.
  5. Sea Witch: These fish and chips are on another playing field thanks to their careful fry in rich beef tallow. It’s an experience you need to try at least once. Potential drawback: They are kind of tucked away on St. Clair Ave. West.
  6. When the Pig Came Home: A Junction deli that packs a big punch: think porchetta with rapini and hearty peameal bacon and oozy egg breakfast sandwiches (much better than the St. Lawrence Market). Potential drawback: They have some space ventilation issues.
  7. Kimchi Korea House: Just a solid Korean restaurant downtown that has captured the hearts of so many during the Pandemic. Potential drawback: The lunch rush.
  8. Gus Tacos: This is the only place (more so the one on the West End than the one in Kensington Market) that makes you feel like you’re escaping Toronto and landing in a taco shop in California or Texas. Easy, fun classics. Potential drawback: There is a bit of a IYKYK vibe that can make it intimating for some uninitiated.
  9. Sansotei: This restaurant has just the simplest, cleanest presentation and design. Every bowl I’ve had is consistently good. Thankfully they’ve opened up quite a few locations now and the lines are not as big of a problem, though most spaces are still quite small. Potential drawback: If it’s winter, sometimes the lines are just not worth it.
  10. Wonton Hut: This place gives wontons the respect they deserve! Two locations, but there is an easy one to access on Queen Street West downtown Toronto. Potential drawback: Small menu.
  11. Seven Lives: The authentic Mexican flavours of this taco stand have made them the most famous in Kensington Market (and there are a few!). Potential drawback: No surprise but there is basically standing room only.
  12. Pho Tien Thanh: This is just a solid place to go to when you’re craving Vietnamese classics. Potential drawback: It is extremely casual.

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Black Camel: Rosedale is an extremely expensive neighbourhood, but you can get a quality sandwich here for $8.75. Think saucy beef brisket and pulled chicken served with even saucier sauces.
    Potential drawback: Any additions (caramelized onions, arugula etc.) are 90 cents extra.
  2. Souk Tabule: A sister restaurant to the wildly popular Tabülè, this casual Middle Eastern restaurant is the best thing in the Canary District right now. 
    Potential drawback: It’s an order-at-the-counter operation, and you may have to share your table.
  3. Simit & Chai Co.: One of my favourite spots on King Street West for Turkish bagels and Turkish coffee. They now have a bougier brunch spot called Pasaj which is…fine.
    Potential drawback: This is a stylish spot for Instagrammers and their friends to camp out in.
  4. Manpuku: This is a secret gem known well to OCAD students and one of the best places to get a bowl of udon noodles in the city. Free noodle top ups if you’re feeling very hungry.
    Potential drawback: The location is in a tiny mall, and almost all the patrons are undergrad students
  5. Okonomiyaki House: Literally the same description I would give for Manpuku. Potential drawback: It’s such a specific spot with such a specific offering!
  6. Kinton Ramen: The Kinka Restaurant Group has managed to grow significantly in Toronto and internationally in the last few years. My favourite thing to eat here is the location-specific ramen special that each restaurant has. Potential drawback: Each location has different management and it can be hard to know what you will find on any given day and place.
  7. Poke Box: There are tons of poke spots all over Toronto, but this one delivers the most consistent quality. Hard to find on Toronto Street. Only honourary because it’s not super cheap.
    Potential drawback: There are only two spots to sit at (90% of their patrons take their food back to the office).
  8. Ramen Isshin: This place makes the list because of their special broth bases such as black garlic and black sesame. I also love that they have the decadent option of grinding your own sesame seeds table-side. Potential drawback: Some of the locations have hard to access washrooms.
  9. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka: This is a Japanese chain that has managed to preserve a lot of consistency throughout its international locations. I love that they have combos featuring a bowl of ramen paired with a little side bowl of rice (with toppings) for those days you just want two kinds of carbs. Potential drawback: The locations are an interesting choice.
  10. Dumpling House: This place goes hand in hand with a stay at the Toronto Hostel International. It’s a classic for cheap and cheerful, homemade Chinese dumplings, and the fried lattice bottom is on point.
    Potential drawback: The tables are a bit…sticky.
  11. Tortería San Cosme: A fun, spacious spot to go for Mexican tortas and aguas frescas in Kensington Market. Potential drawback: most of the seating is high top.

On My Radar:

  1. Dr. Laffa: I heard it’s the best kosher food around. 
  2. Han Ba Tang: A fun Korean-fusion restaurant up in Koreatown North.
  3. Itacate: This is supposed to be an excellent taqueria inside a St. Clair West Mexican Butcher Shop. Sounds great!
  4. Oji Sechi: Contemporary place in East Chinatown.

Last updated: July 2023