What to see, eat and do in Toronto

Canada’s largest city and the fourth largest in North America, Toronto received more than 27.5 million visitors a year before the pandemic, making it Canada’s top tourist destination, according to Destination Toronto, the city’s tourism marketing arm.

With the travel boom, Canadian tourists dominate, with traffic from the United States just beginning to return and foreign visitors still minimal, according to data from the agency. Summer is usually the high season. This may be the last year to take advantage of Toronto in warm weather before the city is flooded again.

More than 5,100 restaurants have been closed across the province of Ontario during the pandemic, says Restaurant Canada, a national trade organization. But the food scene in this insatiable city has come back to life. In May, Michelin chose Toronto as the first Canadian city to get its own guide.

“Vibrancy and diversity remain the same,” Scott Beck, president and CEO of Destination Toronto. “Everything that makes our food scene so unique in North America is still there. The diversity in the arts and culture remains.”

And yes, cannabis stores proliferated during the pandemic, but it “is not an event,” Mr. Beck said. “Cannabis is legal across the country. Toronto is not Amsterdam.”

The busiest restaurants usually open on the bohemian fringes of Toronto. But quaint restaurants have now proliferated in the heart of the city centre. “Weekend warriors’ demand for social dining and entertainment is coming back in a real way,” said Hanif Harji, CEO of Scale Hospitality, which operates 14 restaurants. “There’s a commotion in the streets again.”

Mr. Harji’s Bar Chica, open since April, is hiding behind an unmarked door next to the King Street West apartment tower. On a recent Thursday night, the high-ceilinged room buzzed with what seemed to be pre-Covid energy. Chef Ted Corrado adapts traditional appetizers with Canadian items; Think BC shrimp ceviche, or Canadian beef chimichurri with Ontario dips (tapas range from $9 to $24 CAD, or about $7 to $18 USD). In August, Miss Likklemore’s cliffhanger will open a Caribbean spot in the village of King West. Come fall, Skill and Montreal chef Antonio Park AP, a fine dining venue above the Italy outpost in Yorkville, will open.

Also in Yorkville, Chef Rob Rossi’s Ligurian menu at Osteria Giulia attracts elegantly dressed locals feasting on traditional bread, salumi, and pasta (appetizers $32 to C$75). It’s been open since October, and it’s still the hottest schedule in the neighborhood. Nearby, Adraak employs a team of chefs each specializing in regional Indian style of cooking. The non-traditional menu includes smoked salmon with mustard (appetizers $29 to CAD$60).

Toronto offers endless options for all kinds of Asian food. The new place talked about is Cà Phê Rang, opened south of Chinatown by veterans of French pillar Le Select Bistro. The deceptively simple menu leads to great surprises like halloumi banh mi, shiitake escabeche rolls, and praline and peanut dipping sauce (appetizers $15-20 CAD).

At the northern edge of Yorkville, a Chinese meme returns to the future in a neon-lit room of red-velvet banquettes staffed by chained servers. The list extends to the provinces of southern China, from raw yellow king fish inspired by Guangdong Province to charred cabbage from Shaanxi. It opened in October, and it’s still a tough ticket (appetisers $26-88 CAD).

Smorgasburg, the outdoor food market born in Brooklyn, will be launching its first international issue on Toronto’s Queen’s Quay waterfront on July 23; It runs for eight Saturdays, featuring local vendors. In the West Annex neighborhood, the new Superfresh Night Market showcases “Asian-led and owned” food and drink vendors in a 4,000-square-foot hall “alley-style in Asia,” according to organizers.

With commercial rents on the rise, apartments scattered everywhere and in space at an excellent price, the nightlife still has to catch up with the food service. “We have a lot of restaurants, which is great. The challenge is to find a place to dance,” said Michael Narkoh, director of community marketing for the new Ace Hotel Toronto.

Closed to renovations three years ago, the 127-year-old Massey Hall reopened in November with red velvet seating, exquisitely restored stained glass, full accessibility, and a crystal sound system. Her return was of particular importance to this music-crazed city. “Massey Hall was built a year after Carnegie Hall, and a Torontonian dream for the band is to play there,” said Kevin Drew, founder of Toronto-based band Broken Social Scene, who played their first Massey Hall concert in April. He said the $146 million restoration “did a fantastic job keeping ghosts and warmth.” The Hall is played by Canadian music royalty from Oscar Peterson to Rush, whose 2022 roster includes soul legend Mavis Staples and country music star Orville Beck.

Toronto’s live theater scene, one of the biggest on the continent, is coming back to life after the pandemic lockdowns. For the first time since 2019, the Toronto Fringe Festival, which ends on July 17, has brought back live performances. In large Broadway-style homes, delightful openings include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened in May; Jesus Christ Superstar (opens August 10) and sings in the rain (September 23). In February, Hamilton returned. Ticket prices range from about 99 to 260 Canadian dollars.

On independent theaters, curiosities include the suburban drama “Detroit” at the East End Coal Mine Theater (until August 7); world premiere of Shakespeare’s prequel “Queen Goneril” by Erin Shields in Soulpepper (opens August 25); and the Kafka-inspired ‘Cockroach’ in Taragon (opens September 13th). Tickets at these theaters range from $25 to $60 CAD.

After nearly two years of online shows and sporadic openings, Toronto Museums are back with strong lineups. In June, the Art Gallery of Ontario opened for the first time the sweeping exhibition “Faith and Wealth: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire” (through October 10), with 200 works spanning four centuries and three continents. More intimate performances by Canadian artists Ken Lum and Ed Payne explore personal history through images and text. A few blocks north, the Royal Ontario Museum is opening “Fantastic Beasts: A Marvel of Nature” related to Harry Potter, exploring what the museum calls “the intersection of natural history and pop culture” (until January 2, 2023).

A few blocks west, the Bata Shoe Museum has launched The Future Is Now: Virtual Sneakers to the Latest Kicks, showcasing high-tech designs like Nike’s MAGS and a Zaha Hadid/Rem Koolhaas collaboration (through October 2023). The magnificent Gardiner Museum, one of North America’s only museums dedicated to ceramics, features “Sheriff Bay: Colonial Rupture” with African-inspired icons by the Syracuse-based artist (until August 28). The four-year-old Museum of Contemporary Art, in a converted Western auto factory, presents two knockout shows: “Dreamland,” touching portraits of New York-based Shirin Neshat, and “Summer,” the first solo exhibition by Felix Gonzalez Torres, one of the The founders of the seminal queer group, General Idea, who died in 1996 (both until July 31).

This year turns out to be a notable year for hotel openings. Canada’s first Ace Hotel will open this summer in a quiet cul-de-sac between busy Queen and King Streets. Toronto-based Shim-Sutcliffe Architects designed a modern, sinuous facade that includes towering concrete interiors for the Alder House, a Mediterranean restaurant from celebrity Toronto chef Patrick Kress (rates starting at $349 CAD per night).

With a Hudson’s Bay mega store closing in March, the intersection of Yonge and Bloor Streets looked grim. It’s supposed to get a lot brighter this month with the first W in Toronto, on the Northeast side. Formerly a Marriott Dour, the 254-room W Hotel retrofits a brutal concrete building with hushed colors and abundant greenery. On tap: an airy street-level lobby café, a 5,000-square-foot tapas and champagne bar and a massive rooftop lounge seemingly inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s Marrakech villa (rates starting at $475 CAD per night).

The 1 Hotel brand, from former Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht, debuted in Toronto last August on the western edge of the entertainment district. The 112-room hotel, promising “sustainable luxury” – and featuring 3,000 plants – was the only Canadian contender on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2022 hot list (rates starting at CAD$530 per night).

The 19-room Drake Hotel on Queen Street West isn’t exactly new—opened in 1890, renovated in 2004—but its modern 42-room suite debuted in an elegant, compact building next door. This is the type of property with a full-time art curator, colorful interiors by innovative DesignAgency and live music downstairs. Its window restaurant offers a great view of the pier (rates start at $379 CAD per night).

On the site of the former Pilkington Glass Factory near the entertainment district, the Robert De Niro-backed Nobu brand will open its first mixed-use development in 2023, with a hotel, 650 residences and a Nobu restaurant. Toronto architect Stephen Tippel compared the building’s black perforated design to a tuning fork.

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