In Toronto, we’re lucky to be in a city that not only accepts and respects vegetarianism and veganism but also boasts many great plant-based restaurants that omnivores and carnivores alike can enjoy. In 2019, you better believe that the bar for taste and quality is high.
Tried and True:
Awai (now Avelo): To be clear: Awai was a peaceful and luxurious plant-based restaurant that felt like fine dining in a zen garden. It was so zen in fact, that all their menus were prix-fixe, and their servers’ pay is factored into the price of the food (read: no tipping policy). Now, they have moved and rebranded as Avelo, so I hope it can live up to the original. Potential drawback: I haven’t yet visited their new space!
Planta: The Planta restaurants, led by Chef David Lee, are the plant-based arm of the Chase Hospitality Group. They’ve designed a fun but upscale environment to go for innovative fare made without any animal products (try the coconut ceviche). The original location is across from Bay Station with another on Queen West. You can also check out Planta Burger in the Financial District (see below). Potential drawback: No matter how cool, $17 for the “18 Carrot Dog” is too steep for a carrot sandwiched in bread.
Virtuous Pie: This West Coast vegan pizza chain finally opened in Toronto in December 2018, and boasts exciting flavours like “Stranger Wings” and “Superfungi”. They don’t just remove the cheese but offer up creamy plant-based “cheeses” that will totally satisfy. This space is all positive Millenial vibes and then some. Potential drawback: Their meatball recipe needs a bit of work.
Fresh: What started as a humble little juice bar back in the 1990’s is now a thriving Toronto powerhouse for healthy elixirs and vegetarian fare. All their locations are great, but the new Fresh on Front is currently the most beautiful. Potential drawback (and personal pet peeve): It really bothers me that they stick their chopsticks up the air when they serve their bowls. It is quite offensive in Chinese culture, and impractical (read: near eye-gouging accidents all day) for service.
Rosalinda: This is an exciting Richmond Street spot for trendy vegan fare set to a fun Latin tune. They have an affordable and well-designed prix-fixe lunch menu, and a “greenhouse” dining environment, even in the winter. This is also a great place to visit to experiment with natural wines. Potential drawback: They are still workshopping some of their dishes, and there are definitely some that are more successful than others.
Kupfert & Kim: This “meatless wheatless” Financial District takeout spot now has a sit-down location at Spadina and is the perfect place to go after sweating it out at yoga. Potential drawback: They are focused on serving up “boxes of nutrients” more than “dishes”. It’s great for lunch (and I order from them almost once a week), but not for a “proper meal”.
Hogtown Vegan: A fun place to go for vegan food that doesn’t feel like vegan food (think “Unchicken and Waffles” and mac and cheese), based on the soul food of the American South. Potential drawback: Vegan food pretending to be meat may be a turn off for some.
Pukka: Indian food is celebrated for its vegetarian offerings to begin with, but Pukka does it in an interesting and upscale way (they have great meat dishes as well). Potential drawback: This is not the restaurant to come to for a familiar, low-key, Indian restaurant experience.
Sabai Sabai: This Laotian restaurant is not exclusively vegetarian, but they take care of their vegetarians very well and even have a separate vegan menu. Potential drawback: It’s not a plant-based restaurant, so be warned that many meat (and offal) based dishes are on the menu.
The Beet: This is a perfect spot in the Junction to chill out and veg out. Potential drawback: Under the guise of “community feeling”, the level of service may feel too casual for some.
Bunners Bakeshop: A popular vegan and gluten-free bakery located in Kensington Market that has a very cult following. Potential drawback: A lot of dough, so it’s vegan but not necessarily healthy.
Planta Burger: The more casual arm of the Planta restaurants, it’s a great lunch option and features a wide selection of burgers with crinkle-cut, “truffled parmesan” fries. Potential drawback: It’s too popular at lunch.
Hibiscus Cafe: A long-time Kensington Market staple that now has a little spot in the Assembly Chef’s Hall as well. Potential drawback: Everything is healthy.
B.Good: A farm-to-table fast casual operation that has lots of omnivore options. Potential drawback: There are a lot of customization decisions to be made with each other.
Whole Foods Market:When in doubt, just remember that all the Whole Foods Markets in Toronto have a cafe and/or larger dining area that offers up prepared food that you can order from the counter, or bring over from the store. Potential drawback: It’s still a grocery store.
On My Radar:
Rawlicious: I’m not a huge fan of raw food, but I am willing to give it an occasional try.