Little Italy

How to spend a day in Little Italy

Little Italy is an ever-evolving neighbourhood, once dominated by pizza and pasta restaurants but now far more diverse. While some might say this well-established neck of the woods has already seen its heyday, I beg to differ - it is, after all, ground zero for any and every soccer-related celebration year in and year out, and the nightlife is as vibrant as ever.

College Street is flush with cafes, bars and pubs, many of which boast prime patios, making it a major summertime destination. The dining scene offers plenty of variety too, from old-school haunts to some of the most acclaimed new restaurant openings in recent years.

Here's how to spend a day in Little Italy from morning to late night.

BREAKFAST AND COFFEE

Little Italy is dotted with great independent cafes, so the best place to start the day depends entirely on which direction you're coming from. Heading eastbound from Dovercourt, I like The Slow Room and Lit, but from Bathurst heading west I find myself torn between Voodoo Child and Manic.

Manic coffee

As for breakfast, there are solid week-round destinations like Aunties and Uncles and Easy Restaurant, while the The Depanneur, Me and Mine and The Hunstman Tavern are among my top picks for weekend brunching.

MORNING ACTIVITY

Primping isn't a bad way to spend the morning in this part of town either - the neighbourhood is peppered with salons and boutique barbers like Lily of the Valley, Blood and Bandages, Proudest Pony and Kings Landing.

west end ymca

If the weather is nice enough, there's a bocce ball court at Fred Hamilton Park, but otherwise, you can drop in at the YMCA (even non members can go for a fee). Yoga enthusiasts might also want to check out Octopus Garden.

Not that anyone takes the GTL regime seriously or anything, but if you wanted to, you could do it at Splish Splash which is a quirky laundromat that's also part convenience store and part internet cafe.

Fish store

LUNCH

Veer off the main College St. drag at Clinton for lunch to discover rival pizzas, panzos and veal sandwich makers Bitondo's and San Francesco Foods. I like Hey Meatball too, where I always order meatballs on a bed of creamy polenta, or you could opt for a fish sandwich, bowl of chowder and a tall glass of just-pressed limeade at The Fish Store.

SHOPPING & CULTURE

When it comes to retail therapy, this area is not as dense as, say, Queen West, though there are a few points of note; The Arts Market at College and Ossington offers locally crafted goods and vintage finds, and hole-in-the-wall Print Vintage carries a well-curated selection of dresses and accessories (just note, the tiny shop keeps irregular hours).

monocle shop toronto

The design-minded and deep-pocketed will find the Monocle shop an interesting attraction, while the selection of giftware and stationery stocked at Red Pegasus is worthwhile too. Music fiends can peruse the selection at June Records or Soundscapes, while the rotating shows at HuntClub are always eye-catching.

The historic Royal Cinema might just be the area's marquee attraction, showing art house or second-run films as well as hosting various events and festivals.

MID-AFTERNOON SNACK

I don't have one favourite place for snacks in Little Italy, but there are certain things I like from certain places; doughnuts and natas from Golden Wheat; pop tarts from the Bake Shoppe and marzipan (when in season) at Riviera.

bake shoppe

When in the mood for something savoury I head to Little Dog for a Montreal-style steamie loaded with the essentials (nothing fancy): onions, slaw, mustard, relish.

There are an abundance of frozen treats to be had, too, and while The Big Chill is among the long-standing ice cream establishments in the neighbourhood, I like to take a "when in Rome" approach and generally opt for the creamy goodness churned out by the Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe or gelato from Dolce.

DINNER

Come dinner time, there's The Dip (Cafe Diplomatico) and its massive patio. If you've already eaten your fill of Italian for one day, opt instead for Persian flavours found at The Pomegranate or Sheherzade.

For something fancier, there's Frank's Kitchen and Woodlot, plus new neighbourhood stalwarts like Bar Isabel and La Carnita.

snakes and lagers

DRINKS & ENTERTAINMENT

Cocktail enthusiasts should start their evening with a meal at Sidecar, prove their mild manners, and then lay on some thick charm in the hopes of being invited upstairs to the members-only cocktail lounge that is the Toronto Temperance Society. If this fails, head east to Bar Negroni (run by the same folks as Sidecar) or west to The Emmet Ray.

For live music and/or dancing there's the Revival, Mod Club, Smiling Buddha and Sneaky Dee's, plus the often-overlooked El Convento Rico where drag shows are the main attraction on weekends.

Personally, I crave a low-key atmosphere, and I'll usually find it at Snakes & Lagers, where $5 buys access to a massive collection of board games, and beers and snack foods are fully stocked. Other places I frequent for their laid-back charm are No One Writes to the Colonel and The Hogtown Pub and Oysters.

johnny jackson

LATE NIGHT EATS

Need sustenance late at night? Little Italy will not disappoint. Ghazale, open until 4am is a great source for an after-hours shawarma, while Johnny Jackson majors in drunk food - specifically, poutines, triple-decker grilled cheese sandwiches and pizzas from a walk-up window. On weekends Mars Diner serves up late-night grub and offers respite in vinyl booths while the neighbourhood is also home to a Smoke's Poutinerie outfit.

What did I miss? Add your suggestions for how to spend a day in Little Italy to the comments.


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