I’ve always maintained that you could eat your way through Toronto without repeating a single meal. Do I still believe this to be true if you’re a vegan or vegetarian? I do! How about if you’re gluten-free or soy-free? You bet!
Let me guess. You just googled “Vegan restaurants in Toronto” and found a fairly large list, but you’re thinking that my first statement is a bold exaggeration.
Au contraire, mon frère.
You see, a food movement is so much more than brick and mortar restaurants – it’s an entire lifestyle. It encompasses the local farmer’s markets, grocery stores, specialty shops, events, and an open-minded community. I’m proud to say that our beautiful city delivers on all of these fronts.
The neat thing about Toronto’s vegan restaurants is that, contrary to old-school belief, they’re not just your run-of-the-mill salads and raw eats. Instead, fantastic eateries span across every type of cuisine. Our city is constantly redefining people’s perspectives of what it means to “eat vegan” and how effortless it can be without compromising taste or convenience. There is no need to give up your slice of pizza after the bar, an ice-cream in the summer, or sinful greasy Chinese takeout just because you’ve adopted a vegan-conscious diet. For example, quirky Kensington Market is home to organic Jamaican food at Veggie D’Light, savoury crepes and salads at Hibiscus, decadent baked goods at Bunner’s, popular Chinese eats at King’s Café, and brunch options at Karine’s. There are many more places, and this is just within the radius of one small neighborhood!
King’s Cafe Food – Photo by TVJ’s Melissa
It’s also worthwhile to note that while vegetarian and/or vegan restaurants are far outnumbered, many places are becoming increasingly sensitive to offering meat-free menu options and including visual icons on the menus for the conscious eater. The ethnic diversity of Toronto implies that we will never have a completely vegan city, but small steps like these can, at the very least, encourage harmony and happiness for all eaters. Just as a vegan restaurant welcomes non-vegans, non-vegan restaurants are becoming more attuned to the ways in which they can welcome vegan eaters alike. Perfect example is popular Thai restaurant Khao San Road. Foodie friends unite!
Khao San Road Vegan & Gluten Free Menus – Photo by TVJ’s Melissa
Of course, the vegan-conscious eater doesn’t dine out for all three meals of the day, every day (ah, to have a bottomless wallet). Never fear, Toronto has a multitude of markets and specialty shops to keep everyone’s belly and billfold smiling. Our farmers’ markets are a hub of activity that enable us to support the local economy through fresh produce and connect with like-minded individuals. The markets feature fresh fruits and veggies, breads, desserts, single ingredients (i.e. specialty flours), and any other artisan good under the sun. Vegan purses, pastries, or Ontario wine anyone? Any online search can direct you to a convenient location, and believe me, there’s no shortage. I’ve frequented vendors from Trinity Bellwoods to Leslieville, and from 19th Avenue in Markham to Main Street in Unionville.
Keeping in the theme of veganism being effortless in Toronto, grocery shopping can be a cinch. If you’re more of a one-stop shopper like myself, it’s been nice to witness the expansion of many chain grocery stores into the world of specialty items. Loblaws’ organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and meat-free products have definitely expanded over the years. There are also quite a few Whole Foods locations across the city and surrounding suburban areas.
However, we can’t discount the numerous specialty stores that are well worth checking out. Reliable choices include Evergreen Natural Foods and Noah’s Natural Foods, thanks to their vast supplies of supplements and vitamins, produce, beauty products, and foods. For our surrounding-GTA friends, Ambrosia Natural Foods and Healthy Planet offer a similar shopping experience. Downtown forays will also lead you to The Big Carrot Natural Food Market on the Danforth, The Sweet Potato in the Junction, and Essence of Life Organics in Kensington Market.
The cherry on the vegan sundae that is Toronto’s veg scene is the social outreach and vibrant community. There is truly no shortage of ways to get involved in Toronto through, fundraisers, social awareness campaigns, cooking/baking lessons, and expositions. Toronto’s Vegetarian Association keeps people up-to-date with events in the GTA, as do many figures on social media. Some of the city’s most beloved events include The Toronto Vegan Food & Drink Festival at Fork York in August, the Veg Food Fest at Harbourfront in September (the largest veg festival in North America!), and the 2-week city-wide Veggielicious event in November. These events are always lively and I’ve yet to ever walk away hungry. They’re also a great way to scout new places and try new dishes.Veg Fest 2015 – Photo by TVJ’s Melissa
One of my favorite words is the Spanish word ‘sobremesa’, referring to the period of time after the meal in which you sit around the table having food-induced conversations with the people you shared the meal with. There is no single-word equivalent in the English language, but it’s an experience to which we can all certainly relate. If this article influences your future sobremesa, then I can happily say my job here is done.
This article was originally written for Happy Cow in October 2015. Page can be viewed here.