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Eat & Drink

Toronto Street Food Goes A La Where?

Posted by Lauren / July 2, 2009

roundhouse park torontoOn Victoria Day, the City of Toronto launched its long anticipated and hotly debated A La Cart street food program. It's a program, overseen by the city, that is supposed to expand our street food options and bring more diversity to our otherwise hot-dog-saturated market. A La Cart is beginning its three-year pilot program with eight vendors.

On the day of the launch, I visited each of the four carts slated to be opening. At the end of the day, I was only able to sample food from three.

So this past week I bebopped and scatted my way around the city to try the remaining five carts. The trouble was, I could only find two of them. The other three were missing in action. Has anyone else had this problem?

Being a lover of food and a lover of the city, I was more than happy to travel around to sample the remaining carts. So I went onto the City of Toronto's A La Cart website to get the coordinates for each cart. Initially, I was impressed with the level of detail given - they even included maps!

I decided to divide my efforts geographically into three trips: one to Metro Hall and Roundhouse Park, one to Queen's Park, and one to Mel Lastman Square and Yonge & Eglinton.

Here are my results:

chapli kebabMetro Hall

Location: South side of King St. West, on the east side of Metro Hall, west side of Roy Thomson Hall

Menu: Afghani/Central Asian inspired. Serving up Chapli kebabs, a spiced ground beef patty with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and "secret" hot sauce on a pita for $5 including a drink (sodas, OJ, water). They also sell 3 types of samosas - chicken, beef and vegetable for $2 served with either a small tamarind or cilantro chutney.

samosaService: Friendly, two people on staff.

Rating: Chapli Kebab 6.5/10. The pita got really runny as you reach the end of the kebab, I ended up with a lap full of secret sauce. Veggie Samosa 7.5/10. Dipping sauces were yummy and they tasted equally good when warm and cold.

Roundhouse Park - M.I.A.

Supposed Location: South side of Bremner Boulevard, west of Simcoe before the Rogers Centre, right in front of Steamwhistle.

This is one of the locations I visited on the Victoria Day opening. The cart and staff were at the advertised location but hadn't set up yet. When I went back last week, the cart was gone. There is a lot of construction going on at Steamwhistle and I can only guess they have been displaced. I surveyed the surrounding area but could not find them!

Menu: Eritrean inspired, serving up Injera

Queen's Park - M.I.A.

Supposed Location: At the Intersection of Queen's Park, Queen's Park Crescent West and Queen's Park Crescent East, located near the Highlander Monument, which is at the perimeter of Queen's Park North near the sidewalk. All I could find were some dog vendors at the south side of the park.

Menu: Middle Eastern inspired, serving up chicken/beef kebab wraps

Mel Lastman Square - M.I.A.

Supposed Location: 5100 Yonge Street. Located on the Upper Square adjacent to Yonge Street at the south side of the fountain. I walked up and down Yonge to make sure they weren't near any of the dog vendors on this strip. One dog vendor told me that she still hasn't seen the new cart, and that she has heard that maybe they would be set up for Canada Day.

Menu: Thai inspired, serving up Pad Thai and fresh rolls

KoreanYonge & Eglinton

Location: On the north side of Eglinton Avenue, just east of Yonge.

Menu: Korean inspired. Bulgogi, marinated and fried beef served with kimchi, some fresh cabbage, noodles and rice for $6. All vegetable Bi Bim Bap, a medley of zucchini, been sprouts, carrots and tofu with a red chili paste served on rice for $6. Tokbukki (or Tteokbokki) is a popular Korean snack food of spicy rice cakes for $4 (but alas they were sold out when I was there). Pan-fried pork dumplings served with sliced scallion and soy sauce, four dumplings for $2. Drinks (sodas, juices, water) sold for $1.

dumplingsService: Very friendly, staff of two.

Rating: Bulgogi 7/10. It was raining when I visited and unfortunately I had to haul all the goodies home before I could eat them. First off I should say that the serving sizes for both dishes were more than generous. The beef was a little dry by the time I got it home, but the flavour was good. There was too much rice for the amount of beef (which was already generous). The kimchi was good, I generally like it pretty spicy, but I understand that they have to cater to a variety of palettes.

Bi Bim Bap 6/10. It was a little bland and would have been better with more sauce and less rice.

Pan-fried Pork Dumplings 8/10. These little buggers were tasty. Just the right amount of soy sauce and who doesn't like a little fresh sliced scallion thrown in for good measure?

I both called and e-mailed the A La Cart program several times over the last week and have had no response. Has anyone else sought out a cart but was not able to find it?

It could be that the carts are just not located where they city is advertising them to be. It could be (as in the case of the Mel Lastman Square cart) that they have not started business yet. It could also be that they have already folded for lack of business. In any case, it is both frustrating and disappointing (but not surprising) that the program is not running as it should be, and that my several attempts to contact the program's people have gone unanswered.

Photos by Lauren Wilson



Amanda / July 2, 2009 at 09:42 am
I've been to the A La Cart @ Mel Lastman Square (but not eaten there). I did however see tons of people going up and getting the thai food. It looked amazing, I was late however for an event and had to rush along. So it does exist.

anonymous / July 2, 2009 at 09:46 am
Couldn't find the Roundhouse cart yesterday, either. I also assumed they'd been displaced by the construction, but there was no clue as to where they went: nothing around but hot dogs.

The cart that's supposed to live in Queen's Park has not been set up - there was some fuss over having a food cart so near a war memorial, so the city has apparently offered them other locations, but they aren't to the proprietors' liking. There was an article about the program elsewhere a couple weeks ago that got into it.
Sheilah / July 2, 2009 at 09:48 am
The Thai food at Mel Lastman Square has been missing since the strike began
Alison / July 2, 2009 at 09:50 am
I don't know about the others, but CityNews posted a story about the Queen's Park one yesterday - basically the city didn't check with anyone before telling the guy where to set up, and the people there have told him he's not allowed. So he's apparently lost a bunch of $$..
Glen / July 2, 2009 at 09:50 am
Any word on how the cart owners are doing financially? The program always seemed to be over regulated; hamstrung by bureaucrats and those who need to protect us from dangerous food.

John Kim / July 2, 2009 at 10:17 am
Bulgogi and bibimbap are *NOT* street foods in Korea. I wonder why we are stuck with this option, given that Korea is an absolute and utter paradise for street food! Very unfortunate. This may be an opportunity to make some money, but it is disappointing that somebody sees fit to embrace the strange and bizarre idea to sell non-street food as street food. Go figure. Is this bad choice to sell bulgogi and bibimbap as street food based on petty Korean ideas about what "foreigners" like to eat? (i.e. "all non-Koreans love bland, non-spicy, non-hot, meat-heavy, unexciting food", etc). Where's the deep fried gochu twiggim? Whither ttokbokki? Freshly made gimbap? Where are the common street foods from Korea? This hurts because genuine Korean street food is so tasty! Hopefully the people running the food cart will come to their senses...
Glen replying to a comment from John Kim / July 2, 2009 at 10:25 am
I've always wondered if this will be the undoing of this program. Street food in the rest of the world is an orgy of delight, where I've enjoyed something as simple as toast over charcoal in Bangkok, to deep fried maple leaves in Mino Japan, or all manner of meat on sticks with fresh flat bread in far western China.
But alas we live in sterile Toronto...

Darren / July 2, 2009 at 10:28 am
I've also had trouble finding the Mel Lastman Square cart.
Hamish Grant / July 2, 2009 at 10:55 am

Torontoist covered this a week or so ago.. Got some of the answers you're seeking.
John Kim replying to a comment from Hamish Grant / July 2, 2009 at 11:04 am
Thanks to Hamish Grant. In the photo from Hamish's link I can see that they serve ttokbokki! I stand corrected on that one. Excuse me, gotta run. I'm rushing down to Yonge and Eg to get me some ttokbokki...
Picard102 / July 2, 2009 at 01:25 pm
Saw the cart at Mel Lastman Square today, setting up around noon.
Dawn / July 2, 2009 at 01:44 pm
The Caribbean cart hasn't been there the last two days by my work at Yonge/St Clair.
Brad / July 2, 2009 at 05:33 pm

We live in one of the condos next to the cart that is supposed to be in the Roundhouse location. We have been searching all over for this cart. Eventually we wrote in to the City of Toronto and they responded saying that the cart at Roundhouse will start up again once the construction in Roundhouse is completed. They quoted a completion date of early July but we pass that site every day and it certainly does not look even close to being completed and it is July 2nd. Hope this helps.
Amanda Laird / July 2, 2009 at 10:25 pm
On more than one occasion I've noticed the carts at Nathan Philips Square was missing, much to my dismay!
Richard S / July 3, 2009 at 07:19 am
If I'm not mistaken, at Luminato's harbourfront finale something exploded in one of the a La Carte stands that was setup there; a worker was left with his hand burnt, food was all over the ground, and the fire department enveloped the cart in caution tape.
Chris / July 3, 2009 at 11:35 am
I noticed that the Yonge/St. Clair cart was missing earlier this week, too. Not sure how long it's been since I've seen them, actually. I haven't been outside yet today, so I can't confirm that they're gone for good. / July 3, 2009 at 03:23 pm
One that I didn't see mentioned here is the Jerk stand at Yonge and St Clair. They have been here for about a month and are serving Jerk chicken with rice and beans, Chicken Roti and grilled pineapple...
Mike / July 4, 2009 at 11:34 am
The one at Yonge and Eg is hit and miss. If there is a dark cloud anywhere in the sky you can forget it, it won't be there. They also sold out of the veggie dish last week at about 2 in the afternoon. Ugh.
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