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Best of Toronto

The Best Greasy Spoons in Toronto

Posted by Rick McGinnis / May 4, 2010

greasy spoons torontoThe best greasy spoons in Toronto are a tribute to a vanishing subspecies of eatery. There used to be dozens to choose from - even hundreds - but retirement and health code violations have thinned the ranks in the last few years. The menus are almost interchangeable, and prices vary by only a buck or two, so preference often comes down to a cook's touch with the home fries, or notable breakfast acumen.

Mostly, though, we choose our favourites based on some indefinable calculus of authenticity, where original fixtures and low staff turnover are divided by an indefinable vibe to create greasy spoon alchemy.

Here are the 12 best greasy spoons in Toronto as voted by readers of this site.

Patrician Grill

Patrician Grill

It’s hard to miss how the Patrician tops this list; it has location, location, location written all over it, situated midway between a newspaper (the Sun’s King East headquarters) and the canyons of the business district, in the heart of the city’s original downtown. It gets extra marks for being so well-preserved - that tiny two-person table near the door would have been renovated out of existence in a more self-conscious greasy spoon - and the staff push the ambiance to eleven with their bottomless wellspring of friendly sarcasm. More »

Vesta Lunch

Vesta Lunch

In the middle of the night on this lonely stretch of Dupont, the Vesta looks like an out-of-town tryout for Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks at the Diner. All counter and no filling, its picture windows right on the street make eating there almost a performance. And let’s face it - any place that lives by the slogan “Reputable Since 1955” isn’t guilty of overreach. More »

Aris Place

Aris Place

Kids from the local school line up by the cash for the fries and gravy, while the packed tables inside testify to neighbourhood loyalty in the face of Roncesvalles’ quickening gentrification (dampened though it might be by streetscape renovations.) I can personally vouch for the grilled cheese - two generations of my family have thrived on it. More »

Gale's Snack Bar

Gale's Snack Bar

This Eastern Avenue bolthole isn’t trying to impress anyone; tiny and just a little bit grimy, it’s as uninterested in impressing you as it is in overcharging for diner basics, and prices hover around the late ‘80s, not adjusted for inflation. Soak in the realness as you listen to the rumble from the busy street outside. More »

Avenue Diner

Avenue Diner

A diner that’s gone through finishing school, you’d be tempted to call this Av and Dav eatery a cunning recreation, but it’s been here since 1944, and the polish is really only skin deep, though the souvenir t-shirts are made by Roots. The tony neighbourhood means a buck or two added to the prices on the menu, and the regulars couldn’t be further away from a hard luck story. More »

Good Bite

Good Bite

Another homely relic in an upscale strip, Good Bite is to nearby Mars Uptown what Chuck Berry is to Sha Na Na. The staff couldn’t be friendlier and breakfast packs the place out most mornings. Only in business since 1969, but it feels like it’s been here since Eglinton was a dirt path and this stretch of Yonge looked like Aurora. More »

Avenue Open Kitchen

Avenue Open Kitchen

A tiny place on a garment district side street, the Avenue has been left to wave the flag for diners since the Stem closed its doors. The good news is that the food is way better than the Stem was for most of its last decade; the bad news is that you’re not going to find a seat if more than a dozen people decide to sit down for lunch. More »

Bus Terminal Diner

Bus Terminal Diner

Truth in advertising - this was once a real bus terminal, serving the city’s far eastern fringe back before the TTC had the monopoly on transit. Over the years it has developed a thick layer of flair inside, from movie memorabilia to a truly comprehensive collection of easy listening album covers. The food is a bit more ambitious than standard diner fare - the cream of chicken and broccoli soup would do a place with tablecloths proud. More »

Dairy Freeze

Dairy Freeze

It looks like the kind of place where hot-rodders should be congregating at dusk, revving their hemis and buffing chrome, but this stretch of St. Clair isn’t drag-race friendly, so the Dairy Freeze will have to get by on its signature steak sandwich and some seriously addictive fries. More ‘70s flannel flag than ‘40s film noir, the Dairy Freeze is one of the last remaining latter-day diners that once based its name - and its reputation - on its shakes. More »

Mars Food

Mars Food

The tide has ebbed back over Mars, whose late ‘80s popularity spearheaded a citywide diner resurgence, and left behind outposts in the Beaches and midtown. The crowds are thinner and the once-famous baked goods conspicuous by their absence, and Mars has returned to its humble origins, a little more worn and retrenched to its short-order roots. More »

Bloor Jane Restaurant

Bloor Jane Restaurant

A shrine to all things Leafs, the Bloor Jane is also a relic of Bloor West’s long dry spell, when the strongest thing you could get on this side of Bloor was a cup of coffee. Bright and airy, the Bloor Jane features a hefty corned beef sandwich and shakes as thick as shag carpet. More »

Detroit Eatery

Detroit Eatery

It goes without saying that you’ll find souvlaki on the menu at this Danforth diner whose name has inspired a red-and-white colour scheme and an idiosyncratic worship of the Red Wings. Dark and manly, the big TV over the bar is tuned to cable sports and the vibe is just a little bit wise guy. More »

Discussion

60 Comments

Bonk / May 4, 2010 at 01:42 am
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Has the Cow and Pickle located at Dundas and Parliament been checked out yet? I keep meaning to go by there, if only because their 'strung out pickle holding a happy-as-a-clam cow's hoof' painted exterior is a delight.

http://waheedaharris.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/cow-and-pickle.jpg
Chino / May 4, 2010 at 08:16 am
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long live Stem!
Barf / May 4, 2010 at 10:00 am
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Mars may look frozen in time cool, but it's disgustingly filthy beyond all imagination.

The food is barely acceptable at the best of times.

Do not ever ever ever use their horrific washrooms.

Not sure what a sh*thole like that is doing on a best of list.
Mike / May 4, 2010 at 10:01 am
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I love Bloor-Jane. I've been eating there since I was a kid, but for the love of all that is good and holy, you might not wanna watch your food being prepared. A lotta sneezing and no hairnets.
HUK / May 4, 2010 at 10:12 am
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WAT NO AUNTIES?????????????
Jane / May 4, 2010 at 10:25 am
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Bus Terminal breakfast SUCKS!!! Awesome decor, though ....
Andrew replying to a comment from Jane / May 4, 2010 at 10:38 am
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Agreed. Just went there recently. It was crap even compared to the mediocre Sunset Grill next door
bunnyhero replying to a comment from Chino / May 4, 2010 at 10:48 am
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amen. i really miss stem.
Agatha / May 4, 2010 at 10:52 am
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I love going to Vesta. Their burgers are to die for!
chris baptista / May 4, 2010 at 11:00 am
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um...

I continue to worry about your editorial acumen. Howz about The Senator at #1.
http://www.thesenator.com/
John / May 4, 2010 at 11:04 am
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I think the reason Aunties and the Senator aren't on here is that they aren't really greasy. These choices are more old-school greasy spoon than greasy spoon redux.
nick replying to a comment from chris baptista / May 4, 2010 at 11:06 am
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the senator has a website (albeit mired in flash), and is kind of trendy.
not sure it qualifies as a greasy spoon.
it's certainly in a different league than vesta or mars, that's for sure.
Moi / May 4, 2010 at 11:26 am
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LOVE that you posted this article

I miss the Bloor/Jane restaurant, such a nice couple run it:)

I would love love to try Gale's Snack Bar...great prices. WOW weeeeeeeee!
Joe Scratch / May 4, 2010 at 11:27 am
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I've been to Vesta Lunch a few times and I can say it's definitely not a good place to eat.
Dawn Mills / May 4, 2010 at 11:28 am
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I miss Elvis at Queen/GroupofSevenmember st. Shit. not farley, not casson, not macdonald, not harris, not donner, nor blizzen...
At least it is a bar now!
Chester Pape / May 4, 2010 at 11:29 am
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Don't know how Steve's Best Westerns wouldn't be on a list like this, appropriately scummy (go for a late breakfast some day, say around 10:30AM which is about the time the second wave regulars start to trickle in for their first beer of the day).

Food at the Detroit is horrid and the service worse, there's a fine line between a curmudgeon and an [vulgar term for a private orifice] and they go WAY over it. The New York on the corner of Broadview and Danforth is a much better choice (or possibly the new place two doors south, owned by the New York's former owner [long story] but I haven't had a chance to try it yet)
mr hate / May 4, 2010 at 11:50 am
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In the mid 90's Vesta Lunch had a cook who looked exactly like Pacino in Scarface.

We always hoped that one night he would see the cockroaches scurrying around on the floor and walls and scream HEY YOU F'ING COCKAROACHES! but he never did.
Lorna Young / May 4, 2010 at 12:12 pm
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Johhny G's on Parliament just north of Carlton. Best home fries of anywhere, bar none!
John Richardson / May 4, 2010 at 12:18 pm
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I know for some it's way out in the boonies (New Toronto) but The Lucky Dice at Lake Shore Blvd & Fifth Street is a classic.

Packed for breakfasts on the weekend and now that the new Police College has just opened up the street, likely jammed at lunch.

Eclectic crowd: old timers, young couples who have discovered the hood, cops, fire fighters and just normal folk.

Terrific fresh hash browns which you can order with or without onions.


Mashley / May 4, 2010 at 01:49 pm
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Tom's Diner at Queen and Ossington.
BlkNailsChef / May 4, 2010 at 03:08 pm
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@zuza - thank goodness you don't walk amongst us, or we'd have to shove our black nails up your boojaja.
Yougay / May 4, 2010 at 03:12 pm
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People have to watch Man vs Food or Food Wars on the travel channel to see what greasy food should be and taste like. Everyone of these restaurants on this list is crap in comparison.
mondayjane / May 4, 2010 at 04:05 pm
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MARS??? Are you JOKING? "Greasy spoon" does not = inexcusably inedible.<br><br>

You really missed the boat in not mentioning The CoachHouse at Yonge/Wellesley. It has been there forever, run by the loveliest Greek family. The food is great as are the prices, and the place has not an ounce of irony. <br><br>

MARS. Honestly.
Mark Gowdy / May 4, 2010 at 04:07 pm
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What about The George Street Diner? Or Jim's Best Western at Queen/Logan. I know a list like this will never get everyone's favourite restaurant, and that's OK. Perhaps a clearer definition of greasy spoon might have helped.

That being said, I didn't realise Gale's Diner was still open. May have to try that sometime soon.
mp / May 4, 2010 at 04:39 pm
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P'raps it's because I work more or less across the street, but can I get a what-what for Zupa's at Peter & Adelaide?
Karen / May 4, 2010 at 05:25 pm
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I second Tom's at Queen and Ossington!
Amy / May 4, 2010 at 09:05 pm
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I second Zet's and where is The Tulip?????
JR replying to a comment from Yougay / May 4, 2010 at 09:14 pm
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Translation:
Dear Best Greasy Spoons in Toronto list, there is a restaurant in which I once witnessed more and/or tastier grease through the medium of television. Accordingly, you are invalid, since you do not include said restaurant that I saw on TV this one time when possibly under the influence of some banned substance or other. That imagined greasy food was far better than these many restaurants that I have never heard of.
Chester Pape replying to a comment from Chester Pape / May 4, 2010 at 10:24 pm
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Of course I MEANT Jim's Best Westerns, not sure why "Steve's" ended up on the screen...
confused / May 5, 2010 at 07:44 am
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No Tulip Restaurant?? The Avenue diner sucks...And so do their prices.
DennisHarvey / May 5, 2010 at 08:55 am
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This list just makes me miss my favourite greasy spoon of all time. The Homeway Soda Bar on Mt. pleasant at Erskine. Though a restaurant called homeway may still operate there, it is a sad, gentrified version of what was once there. I tried it once in its new incarnation, but was way too bummed out by the size of my bill and the pictures of the old Homeway hanging on the walls.

The decor used to be such perfect greasy spoon that the Food Network shot promo spots in there.
Tammy / May 5, 2010 at 01:47 pm
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How about The Gingerman at VP and St. Clair. One of the best greasy spoons around.
scott / May 6, 2010 at 11:00 am
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tulip used to be the best but has gone downhill somewhat. sad but true - same with motorama. will have to try jim's best western...always been a little bit scared.
jennifer / May 6, 2010 at 01:45 pm
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What-what for Zupa's!!!
warm / May 9, 2010 at 08:43 pm
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How did Mars end up on this list? It's awful.

And the Coach House, which is GREAT, isn't even on the list.

JEB replying to a comment from Chester Pape / May 10, 2010 at 07:46 pm
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I am in complete agreement.

I went to Detroit Eatery a few months back and didn't enjoy it at all. The food wasn't good, the restaurant itself is dirty and sketchy, and the waiter made us feel really uncomfortable. I understand that some restaurants have their own vibes, and some even have bad food or service or what have you, yet still remain a good time. But I really don't see that in Detroit Eatery at all, and I think there are many other great places in the area that could better represent Greek Town.

I'll have to check out The New York soon!
David replying to a comment from andyd / May 12, 2010 at 03:20 am
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Peoples should definitely be up there.
daniel / May 25, 2010 at 12:04 am
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To echo, jennifer and MP: WHAT WHAT (for zupas)
Jimmy / June 3, 2010 at 11:17 am
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Diner scene in TO is weak at best. A few places have the décor, but few of them are doing anything interesting food-wise - all frozen, fried, pre-packaged items, and most offensive: overpriced.
Jane replying to a comment from Bonk / June 10, 2010 at 03:00 pm
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re: the cow and the pickle... the exterior always creeps me out. doesn't it look like the cow has drugged the pickle and is now leading him by the hand to go to an undisclosed location to do terrible things to him? i am frequently unnerved by this.

i can't bring myself to go inside.
Mogat replying to a comment from DennisHarvey / July 1, 2010 at 02:42 pm
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I went to Northern Secondary, and used to eat at Homeway all the time. I haven´t lived in Toronto for a while and when I recently went back to visit was sad to see it had been replaced by a trendy ne restaurant. Oh well, I guess that´s the way North Toronto´s going these days, all of the old families are totally priced out of the area!

I went to George Brown and ate at Patrician a lot too. It´s a fine greasy spoon indeed, the service has the perfect blend of friendliness and unpretentiousness, glad to see that they are still in business.

One sign of an authentic greasy spoon is a hamburger with bacon should always be called a "banquetburger"!
Jack replying to a comment from Mogat / March 8, 2014 at 08:31 am
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Isn't that a cheeseburger with bacon?
pz / March 8, 2014 at 08:51 am
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Vesta Lunch is my local diner. Sad to say, it's gone downhill the last few years IMO...while prices have gone up. weak.
Jess / March 8, 2014 at 08:54 am
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Beware of Mars...went in there once w/ a friend and while we were waiting for our food we looked across the floor and something moving...got up looked closer - big cockroach on it's back trying to flip over. We grabbed our stuff, cancelled our order and left immediately!
MissJulia / March 8, 2014 at 09:18 am
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Why do people get so upset about these?! My fave part of BlogTO Top 10 lists is the other suggestions in the comments.
David / March 8, 2014 at 10:16 am
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every time i come to Toronto, my friend takes me to Vesta. we're usually there at 3am and are recapping the previous evening and barking drunken profanities at one another til 5am. it's a wonderful place.
soprano55 / March 8, 2014 at 10:49 am
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Johhny G's, Carleton & Parliament. Best home fries
Joe / March 8, 2014 at 12:31 pm
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Vesta diner? That place is awful. I can't figure out why it keeps showing up on these lists.

The food is awful and it's not cheap, either.

I think the only reason it exists is because there's nothing else in the area for drunk people to go to and scream at each other at 4 a.m.
Joe replying to a comment from pz / March 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm
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Yeah, I really don't understand why it keeps appearing on these 'best-of' lists.

It's awful food and not cheap.
scott / March 8, 2014 at 01:04 pm
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Little sad the barn didn't make the list. The place is fantastic
Janet / March 8, 2014 at 02:07 pm
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What about Chew Chews on Carlton near Sherbourne and the Jumbo Burger on St Clair near Birchmount. Both great places, good food, and friendly atmosphere.
Kate replying to a comment from Janet / March 8, 2014 at 04:14 pm
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I think Jumbo might have been mentioned on a list of late-night burgers, but it also belongs here, (oh, and Dairy Freeze also could appear on best late-night burgers, if it doesn't already).

I'm sorry but Vesta is awful. Last time I was there my fries were cold and burger way too greasy (and I love grease).
seymour butts / March 8, 2014 at 04:54 pm
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Vesta Lunch was on the dinesafe report not long ago.

Did someone not do the fact-checking?

Mela / March 9, 2014 at 12:04 am
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I would have chosen The Tulip over Mars if you wanted somewhere decent in that area. Even the Beachside Grill would have been more noteworthy.
Paul / March 9, 2014 at 01:41 am
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Skyline in parkdale rocks!
Parliamentarian replying to a comment from Bonk / March 9, 2014 at 05:10 am
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Cow and Pickle long gone.
Mindjudo replying to a comment from HUK / March 9, 2014 at 10:32 am
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Aunties is not a local diner it is a high-concept hipster trap.
Poy / March 9, 2014 at 12:33 pm
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Mars should not be on this list, a greasy spoon shouldn't guarantee you diarrhea .

Avenue Open Kitchen should be on this list.
Jay / March 9, 2014 at 10:54 pm
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I miss Brothers restaurant. It was located on Yonge St. at the Church of Scientology building. You just had to duck past the scientologists trying to get you to take a personality test.Once inside,the food and friendly service and atmosphere of the place was great. I have yet to find anyplace in Toronto that is comparable.
kris / March 11, 2014 at 10:01 pm
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Mars diner is an all time low. I ordered a chicken burger and the cook produced a frozen patty from the basement, defrosted it in the microwave and then grilled it right in front of me, all whilst farting loudly as he prepared the bun.

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