Tasting Toronto's Latin Side
Where to source authentic Latin American flavor in the heart of the city, whether you're shopping, dancing, or dining.
Toronto is known as a "City of Neighborhoods," home to a global citizenry that showcases 140 languages and dialects. Latin Americans make up almost three percent of this diverse population, according to the latest census numbers. Though the city has a Greektown and Chinatown, there isn't one distinctly defined Latino neighborhood, but no matter—if you're looking to take a bite out of some the culture, this list of the best authentic spots in the heart of the city has you covered.
The Market and The Goods
Kensington Market, in the heart of downtown, is an eclectic neighborhood with a street market vibe. You'll find the world's cultures woven into its tapestry, offering fresh produce like tomatillos (when they're in season), dried Central and South American chiles, and blocks of Mexican and Colombian chocolate tablets to make your own "chocolate caliente."
Go-to shops for picking up Latin American pantry essentials include the venerable Perola's, where you can source a tortilla press, a molinillo (for giving your hot chocolate proper froth) and even jars of caramelized, Argentinean dulce de leche. Mexican Dry Goods (200 Baldwin Street) offers a spate of must-haves for avid cooks, including dried epazote and hoja santa, as well as Oaxacan-style cheese that the owner imports from Puebla (some of the best melting cheese around for choriqueso and the like).
There is a spate of great coffee shop options in the market, most of them offering Latin American beans. Swing past Cafe Pamenar for espresso-based drinks made with a rotating blend of Costa Rican, Brazilian, Panamanian, Nicaraguan, Bolivian, and Peruvian beans. They also sell them in bags should you fall in love with a specific varietal. Indie roaster I Deal Coffee's "Dark Organic Blend" marries the chocolate nuances of Nicaraguan Segovia with the crisp notes of Guatemalan Huehuetenago beans. And that's just for starters.
Once you're done sipping and shopping, stop in at Lorena Ramos' Latin Taste, a Peruvian gem in the heart of the market, for a quinoa-crusted empanada, a cheese-filled humita or an alfajor (two sablé biscuits sandwiching dulce de leche). If it's dinner time, head to Torito Tapas Bar for a funky Ibero-American tapas fest, with Spanish wines and a jerez selection to pair with it. Or hit up Seven Lives for the daily ceviche tostada, which is reliably fresh and citrusy.
If it's live music, dancing, and a few cocktails you're after, head west to one of the city's best venues for all the aforementioned, Lula Lounge. Toronto comes out to listen and groove to local and international live salsa, jazz, Brazilian, and world music favorites. Big names such as Metric, Broken Social Scene, and Feist have also played here, so check their listings to wear the appropriate dancing shoes. There's sangria by the pitcher and Margaritas to match, when you arrive.
Mary Luz Mejia covers Toronto for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter.